Friday, April 17, 2009

Piper on Attraction

In part 4 of an interview with Matt Chandler, John Piper makes the following comments in a conversation about the cult of personality, video churches, and the attraction to our churches:

If the attraction to come to your church is your form—that is dress, handsome, articulate, forceful, good music, good stories—if the form becomes the attraction and you know that and you start to work that, that’s wicked.

I have to think this is true from both ends of the spectrum.

Are not the churches with “high standards” who “don’t do entertainment” sometimes just as guilty of using “form” as an attraction as are the seeker churches?

“Come to our church because we don’t have a praise band” seems not all that much different than “Come to our church because we have a praise band.” In neither case is the gospel the attraction.

Should we not give more critical thought to what we lead with?

When “conservative” or “traditional worship” is the first thing people know about your church, or “our pastor wears a suit and tie on Sundays and our girls wear bell-bottom shorts coulottes,” and “We still meet on Sunday nights at the church building,” perhaps there is just as much of a problem as there is with the other end of the spectrum.

If our churches are known predominantly for anything other than the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perhaps we are missing the boat. Perhaps we are leading with the wrong thing. 


Anonymous said...

good stuff...I like your blog more and more

Kent Brandenburg said...

I don't know that we can control what our church is known for. What I'd like it to be known for is love for Jesus Christ, but I'm sure some might know it as the church where the ladies don't wear pants. I know this. When we go out into the community representing who we are, we are preaching the gospel. We say that Jesus is the only way of salvation. Therefore, we're known as the intolerant church or dogmatic church.

Most of our people dress in a representative fashion for Sunday worship. I don't expect unsaved people to understand that. Since there are churches that have put an emphasis on dressing casual, more for personal comfort, someone just might make a contrast if he visited one of our services.

By the way, I googled the term "culottes" with "bell bottomed shorts" or "bell bottom shorts" and it retrieved 6 total hits between them and all in online forums and by someone who is obviously bitter. No sane definition of "culottes" is bell bottom shorts.

Here is an actual definition and history. I don't know why anyone would be bitter about this.

"During the Victorian Era (mid- to late-nineteenth century) long split skirts were developed for horseback riding so that women could sit astride a man's saddle rather than riding side-saddle. The term "culottes" was co-opted from the original French definition of the word to describe these split riding skirts. Later, split skirts were developed to provide women more freedom to do activities such as gardening, cleaning, bike riding, etc. and still look like one is wearing a skirt."

Here's the definition in Websters': ": a divided skirt ; also : a garment having a divided skirt —often used in plural"

I think you might find a better cause than to oppose culotte wearing, especially in light of the purpose for them, that is, to have a distinctly female garment that is more practical for certain physical activities. What is the problem with that, Larry?

Larry said...

I think we control what our church is known for by what we lead with, and what we preach, and by what we base our preaching in. If we lead with "form," we will probably be known predominantly by our form, whether that be our old-fashioned fundamenatalism or our seeker drivenness. If we lead with the gospel, a lot of this other stuff will go by the wayside. Preaching that Jesus is the only way is not leading with form. Preaching that "we don't do entertainment" is leading with form. Preaching that "we have a great band" is leading with form.

The point was simply that leading with form seems to be a problem no matter which end of the spectrum you are on.

If you think my reference to culottes as "bell-bottomed shorts" is from someone who is "obviously bitter," you are clearly mistaken. I don't care. I am not bitter about it. I don't even think about it. It was a comment made to point out a clear irony.

Think about it for a minute. Shorts are pants that have been cut off. They are not full length. They are "short." Bell bottoms are pants with a wide flare at the bottom.

Culottes are divided, just like pants; they are cut off, just like shorts; and they are flared just like bell-bottoms. Having a different name for them doesn't change the substance of them.

Interesting that you chose the definition you did. I looked at several, almost all of which said "women's trousers." Which is fine. Again, if we look at the issue itself and put aside the name, it is fairly easy to see the point I was making. And it should be fairly easy to see that I don't really care.

I am not against culottes. But pointing out the irony doesn't make me bitter or the bad guy here. I think they are practical for certain activities, just like pants are or shorts that aren't flared.

So I agree with you that I don't know why anyone would be bitter about it. I certainly am not.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't think you can judge that someone emphasizes external forms just because they might be known for that. I know what we emphasize and it starts with the God and the hearts of men. I know we're not moralists, because our sanctification comes out of our justification.

However, unsaved people, who are blind and undiscerning, might think of us as the intolerant bigots. We might be thought of as the spanking church because that was a local headline in our newspaper and in television news when California tried to outlaw spanking. We didn't even make a big deal about it. Someone else told the news media that our school uses corporal punishment. To the Sikhs, we might be considered the anti-Sikh church because we passed out tracts from which Sikhs would conclude that they would go to hell without receiving Jesus Christ. I'm sure we might be the door-to-door evangelism church.

This statement in your post---""---clashes with these statements you made in comment to me---"I don't care. I am not bitter about it. I don't even think about it." You did care and you did think about it. Giving it the "bell-bottomed shorts" definition shows you are thinking about it.

It is easy to see the point you're making. You think it is vital to take away the distinctions between male and female dress. You won't find "male culottes" to purchase. You are more likely to find a "male skirt." You think that if you could refer to culottes as pants or shorts then somehow you have, with that argument, done away with that particular distinction. I just don't get why a preacher of the Word of God would want to do that, Larry.

Kent Brandenburg said...

The statement I meant to have in the first set of quotes was: "our girls wear bell-bottom shorts coulottes" (sic).

Larry said...


First, perhaps this is a case of innocent misreading on your part. This is not about what someone may conclude about your church. If you read the post, Piper specifically says "if the form becomes the attraction and you know that and you start to work that." I specifically talked about what "we lead with."

I said nothing about incidentals or impressions from the community around us. I was specifically addressing what we as pastors and leaders emphasize.

Second, when I said I don't care about culottes and don't think about it, you decided to call me, in essence, a liar, by asserting that I "did care and ... did think about it." Quite frankly, I don't get that. I imagine that I am better equipped than you are to know what I care about and what I think about. When I say I don't care about culottes and don't think about it, I am quite serious. Yesterday was the first time I have thought about culottes since I don't know when, and I didn't think of it after I wrote that until you brought it up in your comments. If you church wants to have the ladies wear culottes, I could not care less. I don't think about what your church or any other church does in that respect. If someone in our church wants to wear culottes, I don't care.

Third, when you say that it is easy to see the point I am making, it is clear that you missed the point I am making. The point has nothing to do with "taking away distinctions between male and female dress." I didn't even comment on that. It doesn't have anything to do with dress at all. The point was about how we present our church particularly with respect to form. The comment about dress was an illustration of how some churches might present themselves.

Fourth, I am not taking away vital distinctions between male and female dress. I haven't even addressed that topic here. For all you know, based on what I said here, I could be of the school that believes culottes have taken away the vital distinction by splitting the legs like men's pants do. On the basis of what I have said here, I could be a dresses only kind of position who believes that if a woman can't do it modestly in a dress she shouldn't do it at all. I could be of the school who thinks all women should wear culottes, but we simply shouldn't lead with it in explaining what our church is about. Based on what I have said here, you simply don't know.

BTW, you would have a hard time distinguishing shorts from culottes without mentioning the flared legs. But that's beside the point really.

Truth be told, in several cases in this post alone, you have jumped to unwarranted conclusions, failed to read closely, and attributed to me things I did not say and positions I do not hold. This is, unfortunately, all too typical of what I have seen from you in the little bit I have seen from you the blogworld. You don't read carefully; you don't process information critically; you don't think about issues sufficiently. You simply rant against those that you perceive some sort of difference with.

I appreciate your reading and commenting here. In the future, I ask that you read closely and comment on things I actually do say. If you have questions, feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer them.

I welcome you to interact with my views. If you think we should lead with form, then explain why. Because that is what this post was about. It wasn't about culottes (which were apparently originally men's wear ... talk about erasing distinctions).

Kent Brandenburg said...

I welcome people to judge on their own whether I got what you were saying or not, Larry. Piper was obviously talking about unbelievers' attraction to a church. Your last paragraph made that "what your church is known for." I argue that you can't control what unsaved people know your church for, and then you say that I didn't get your article because you were referring to what other preachers know your church for. And you chide me for not reading carefully.

Regarding your "point" of having a line drawn through "bell bottom shorts" and then putting "culottes," it is obvious that you are taking a shot. I say that you are taking a shot about this particular distinction and you say that I miss the point of your article. Actually, Larry, I have found this conversation to be very normal for a conversation with you.

I think there is a legitimate point of using attraction with the lost by using "form." I would see that more in the realm of Roman Catholicism. Maybe there are a few right wingers that are attracted to the culture of a culturally conservative church. They're more comfortable there because of the form. I live in the most liberal area in America and I don't think it would work here even it it were some strategy. However, I don't see a belief about dress or any other external standard is the same thing (this was the example you used).

So do I understand you? Yes, on the theme of your blogpost and on your reason for putting a line through the few words to make some point (which isn't even legitimate). It's an inane, moot point to look somewhere back in some culture at some point in history to find that some French used the term culottes to describe male dress; therefore, culottes in this culture are also male dress. It is a worthless point. Anyone in his right mind should be able to see that.

Larry said...

Again, Kent, you miss the point, or at least are ignoring it. Look at what was actually said. The issue is attraction to come to your church. I don’t know that Piper was “obviously” talking about unbelievers. I actually watched the interview. I don’t know if you did or not. I don’t recall that distinction being made, but perhaps it was. I didn’t make that distinction in my post that I recall.

You may not be able to control what you church is known for, but you certainly have a big say in it by what you emphasize, what you advertise (whether formal or informal), what you are “successful” in, and the like. Furthermore, and this was my point, you can control what you lead with, and that was my point. People who attract people with conservative form are still attracting people with form, not with doctrine and not with Jesus. And I question that. That’s my point. Get it.

You say, then you say that I didn't get your article because you were referring to what other preachers know your church for. And you chide me for not reading carefully.Yes, I chided you for not reading carefully, and now I do it again. Where did I say anything about what other preachers know your church for? Is that anywhere in my post or my comments? As far as I can tell, you are the only one who mentioned preachers. I never said anything about what preachers know your church for. I am not concerned about that. The only thing I said in this vein was about pastors and what “we as pastors and leaders emphasize.” So it appears yet again that you still aren’t reading carefully.

Regarding “bell bottom shorts” and “culottes,” if I was taking a shot, which way was I taking it? Based on what I said, I could have been taking a shot at those who think culottes are okay, and pointing out that they are merely shorts with flared bottoms. If shorts with narrow legs are wrong, then why is it okay to have shorts with wide legs? Shouldn’t we do away with shorts altogether? Of course, I could have been taking a shot the other way. Truth is, the only way you would know what I think is when I said I don’t think about it. That indicates it’s not that big of a deal to me. (Of course, you disagreed with me, apparently claiming to know what I think better than I know what I think.)

You say this is a normal conversation with me. I hope so. I tend to use words with a purpose, intending to talk about a particular thing and objecting when someone misses the point and makes my words about something else. I don’t particularly like it when people don’t read carefully and I do point it out when that happens. I don’t mind disagreement, even heated disagreement. It doesn’t bother me that you differ from me. It does bother me when you make a point out of something that wasn’t a point, particularly when you miss the point that was made.

You say there is a legitimate point of using form to attract. Finally, after all these comments, you have reached the substance. You didn’t say much about it, however. I think there are a lot of people who use form to attract. Read the phone book, and see how many emphasize “conservative music” or “contemporary music,” “casual dress/come as you are,” “KJB,” or “Saturday night services so you can sleep in” or some such that has to do with the way we carry out ministry rather than the gospel and the doctrine itself. Honestly, I am not entirely sure about a lot of this. I am quite sure about some of it. I am hesitant on others because I think form matters. But should it be the attraction? Willow Creek thinks so, as does Saddleback, as do the Emergents, as do you. (Now get mad that I included you with those people … :D).

I know of one church who had a big billboard that read something along the lines of “We don’t do entertainment.” That is attracting on form. It wasn’t “We do Jesus” or “We do expository preaching” or “We don’t do the Q’uran,” something like that. It was a naked appeal to form, just like Willow Creek does.

You close with So do I understand you? No, I am not sure you do. You are still hung up on culottes, which wasn’t a point in this post. Take my word for it. As the author, I know what I intended, and it wasn’t to make an issue about what women wear.

Again, I would like to see how you make a distinction between shorts and culottes without appealing to the flare of the leg. Seriously. I am not baiting you into something. Why do the dictionaries define culottes as “women’s trousers”?

As for the reference to men and culottes, yes it was an inane point that I didn’t know about previously. I thought it was interesting and a little bit funny. I thought it was particularly poignant since you were the one clamoring about erasing distinction when the very term from men. I just thought it was funny. I am still chuckling about it. Of course, I have a demented sense of humor to be sure.

Truth be told, your biggest issue seems to have nothing to do with the substance of my post, but with the fact that you think I took a shot at what seems to be one of your pet issues.

Kent, realize I don't really care what you do or what you believe. It doesn't bother me. You have your local church to which you are accountable. It isn't to me. You don't have to answer to me and I don't have to answer to you. You don't need to get angry at me. You can make your point without missing mine, and without misrepresenting what I actually said.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I recognize that culottes were not the point of your article. I know that it was about using "form" as an attraction. I also realize that you were taking Piper's evangelical critique and applying it to the kind of "form" that fundamentalists might use---and that both are wrong.

My major point was that you can't judge what your emphasis is by how the world reacts. I gave examples.

The culottes issue was a subpoint based on your crossing out "bell bottom shorts." I don't enter into a discussion with you without understanding your position. You are not a no-pants-on woman person. I already knew that. Do you think that culottes (as we would know them in our culture) are a male article of dress? What is your point of crossing out "bell bottom shorts"? I thought it seemed obvious what you were saying, but I'll bite and say I have no idea what you were talking about with the line crossed through those words.