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What Luther Says

The 'Selfie Subculture' And 'Selfie-Righteousness' (Even Though No One Is 'Unique')

Yesterday, we looked at the Gospel of Self-Esteem and the "Make A Difference" mindset and considered its negative effects upon our spiritual health.

It just so happens I came across two recently published pieces -- one from a popular Evangelical source and the other from a popular Lutheran source -- that both speak to this very same thing and issue the same exact warnings that we did.

The first article is from Josh Philpot and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and, even though it's from an Evangelical source, it pulls no punches and is worth reading.

Selfies, Self-Deception, And Self-Worship

In 2013, the word “selfie” made it into the official Oxford dictionary. In fact, it was the “word of the year”. This little event reveals a couple of important things about our culture, or at least about what we value: 1) We value ourselves, which is not necessarily a bad thing when rightly focused (see Lev 19:18), but primarily 2) that we value what other people think about the way we look, especially in front of bathroom mirrors (#filtered). Our culture values what other people think so much, that many of us are willing to post regular photos or videos of our faces on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the paragons of selfie-tech. I’m thinking of Instagram in particular since it promotes selfies more than any other application. After all, in the Instagram world the first day of the week is not the Lord’s Day, but “selfie-Sunday.”

The Problem

The ubiquity of an application like Instagram, an app that promotes the idea that the self is supreme (whether intended or not), reveals a basic but problematic characteristic within the culture at large. Like the Greek mythological figure Narcissus, we’ve seen our own reflection and we’ve fallen in love with it. We’re enthralled with our own faces, our own beauty. And we’ve been deceived. We’ve given in to selfie-social technology which claims to do one thing (connect people together) but actually delivers on something else. In truth, we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that our iPhones are actually helping us stay in touch with people at all, even though the hook for using the technology is the “connection” you make with other people. The reality, however, is that you’re really just connecting with yourself: this is what I look like; this is what I do; this is my identity. The tech reveals that what matters most to us is, quite obviously, us. Indeed, many of our actions and decisions are now made on the basis of how they will be viewed or perceived in the social sphere. It is as if the lure of social technology has trained half of the world to say daily, “Look at my face! I’m here! I’m important! I matter!”

Our selfies are deceiving us. Hence, we’ve created a world of selfie-deception.

There's much more that he writes about in regards to diagnosing the problem (and he does an excellent job at that!). The words "After all, in the Instagram world the first day of the week is not the Lord's Day, but 'selfie-Sunday'" summarize where he was headed.

Being an ex-Evangelical myself, I need to caution you that while he calls attention to a very important subject in the church at large today, and even succeeds at diagnosing the problem to some extent, there are still some places where things don't quite hold up.

However, I don't want to quibble too much about them right now only because this is the first time in a long time that I've seen a popular American Evangelical source like TGC getting this close to understanding that most of what masquerades as "Christianity" today is done under the banner of a "Theology of Glory" as opposed to the banner of a "Theology of The Cross" instead.

Being a "Worship Leader" himself, he writes from that unique perspective too, and as I was reading I couldn't help but think that many participants and proponents of LCMS Contemporary Worship (CoWo) Services should read this article too.

Did you catch that though? How self-righteous of me, huh? Dare I say that was even a little pious too? As if I'm somehow "better" than those Christians the author is writing about, or somehow "better" than my fellow Lutherans who lead CoWo Services! The arrogance, the hypocrisy, the sin!

Thankfully, it wasn't long after reading that piece from TGC that I came across this next one from Steadfast Lutherans that put me in my place. It's about how none of us is as "unique" and "special" (or even "better") as we'd like to think we are, or as those who preach The Gospel of Self-Esteem regularly tell us we are.

You’re Not Unique.

In today’s world uniqueness and individuality are praised and encouraged ad nauseam. You can be anything you want to be, do whatever makes you happy, or as the Fleetwood Mac song says “You Can Go Your Own Way.” I really have no problem with being unique, but sometimes I think our hearts aren’t in the right place. What are we really trying to prove by standing out from the crowd? Have our personal preferences and unique personalities become the only thing people see when they see us? Sports, hobbies, games, relationships and everything else we spend time on sure shine a light on what’s truly important to us. Making yourself happy isn’t unique at all. In fact it’s the gold standard in this world of sin and selfishness.

Growing up, I thought I was unique. Upon starting high school I started listening to rap music, wearing baggy clothes, and talking like an idiot. I didn’t want to conform to what everyone else in the small North Dakota town I grew up would describe as the norm. Luckily for me the fear of my father kept me from doing anything really stupid. My parents would probably have described me like parents today would describe their “unique” kids. “He’s a good kid.” “He’ll grow out of that.” “It’s just a phase.” The problem with my uniqueness was that it was not unique at all. I wasn’t unique and neither are you. In trying to be unique I was really only thinking of myself and what I wanted. I was and still am truly a son of Adam. Born into sin; I just can’t help myself. I want to do things my way and I’ll be damned if I let anyone tell me I can’t do something.

I know what you thinking. “So you’re saying that wearing certain clothes, listening to certain music, or enjoying the many great things God has given on this earth is sinful?” I’m no Pietist but in this world of sin it doesn’t take much for things to go from hobbies to coveting to breaking of the 1st commandment. I regularly buy a $3.00 cup of coffee instead of giving money to the homeless. I love coffee more than my neighbor. I love watching my favorite television shows more than I love reading Word of God. I’m a damn sinner. The world will embrace your sinful uniqueness as your own “personal choice”. You can’t trust the world to judge things correctly. You can’t trust yourself to make the proper decisions on your choices in life. The devil is in your ear 24/7. He knows the things you want and the things you want to spend your time on. The world, the devil and your sin are a perfect combination for making bad choices.

Enter in the Word of God. The Holy Bible is truly unique. This true and perfect Word of God teaches and strengthens us in our lives here. The law condemns us of our sinful drive to be unique apart from Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ assures us that we are forgiven because of his perfect uniqueness. In this world, we are not unique. In Jesus Christ, we are unique. He takes all our sins to the cross. Our individual forgiveness is unique. As redeemed children of God we are unique in our father’s eyes. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are all unique. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is unique. Our salvation is unique because our savior is unique. Jesus Christ is all the uniqueness we need.

So true, indeed. It's the uniqueness of Christ that matters, not our own perceived uniqueness.

In that TGC article, we read, "In reality, selfies can be just another form of self-deception (or selfie-deception, as I’m calling it), a way of telling ourselves that we are what is most important, that we matter, and that our self is supreme." Isn't that the truth too?

Now, does that mean I'm suggesting that Christians should no longer (never) take a selfie and publish it online to share with their family members and friends? No, I'm not, because that would be rather pious of me, wouldn't it?

However, I am suggesting that we prayerfully consider these things though.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, sadly, one of the direct results of constantly preaching The Gospel of Self-Esteem is this "Selfie Subculture" that ultimately leads to selfie-deception and selfie-righteousness.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in interpreting a specific portion of Scripture exegetically, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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