Those who are wise understand that when it comes to moral exhortation, one size doesn’t always fit all. The same piece of advice can be good or bad depending on the person and the situation.

Think, for example, how best to respond to belligerent nonsense. On the one hand, you should ignore fools full of such folly. If you try to answer them you’ll just end up looking foolish too (Proverbs 26:4). But on the other hand, go ahead and answer a fool. Otherwise he’ll continue in his smug stupidity (Proverbs 26:5). Sometimes fools should be ignored. Other times they should be answered. The wise man can discern which response fits each situation.

Similarly, the same exhortation can be wisdom for some people and foolishness for others. For example, Jesus instructs any who would be his disciple to “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” (Luke 14:26). Is this good advice or bad advice? Well, Jesus said it so we can’t say it’s bad advice. But in some situations it certainly could be. If you counsel a rebellious teen or a self-mutilating young woman with Luke 14:26 you’re probably giving bad advice. This is not because Jesus’ words are untrue. It’s just not what they need to hear at the moment. But on the other hand, if you are part of the gawking crowd, more interested in being entertained by Jesus than following him, then Luke 14:26 is precisely the word for you.

Which brings me to Jared Wilson’s comments from January which created quite the buzz on Justin Taylor’s blog over the weekend.

Yes, people watch too much TV and play too many video games and spend too much time on the Internet and what-have-you. But the proper response to our media over-saturation is not a rigorous attention to the explicitly “spiritual” in every margin of life. Be a Christian, not an ascetic. Don’t be lazy, but realize that Jesus Christ did not die and rise for you so that you would stress out about whether you’re being spiritual enough. So take a nap. Watch some television. The gospel frees you to chill the heck out.

Seven score and ten comments later, what’s left to say about this simple paragraph? Not much, except to remind folks that what Jared says is surely good advice for many people and bad advice for many others. Of course, the slacker Christian addicted to the Gilmore Girls and Halo 3 (this is a remarkably diverse slacker) will not do well to receive Jared’s advice. But given Jared’s larger body of work, not to mention Justin’s obvious appreciation for John Piper, it’s safe to assume neither of these guys are encouraging a mindless binge of media saturation. In fact, not only is it safe to assume this, considering the source, the caveats and the context, it’s uncharitable to assume otherwise.

The fact is some Christians do need to chill the heck out. There is such a thing as pathological seriousness. It is possible to be too intense. Young Christians, especially when they are getting meaty theology and God-centeredness for the first time, can be prone to manic bouts of self-flagellation, spurts of judgmentalism, and unhealthy hyper-watchfulness. I know because there have been times in my life when I’ve been prone to all three.

Of course,young Christians are prone to laziness too. And I suppose they might go off the deep end after reading Jared’s post. But if that paragraph ruins their spiritual lives, they were probably eager to be ruined anyway. Likewise, any teenagers in the crowd listening to Luke 14:26 who took Jesus to mean “Be a jerk to you mom” were no doubt jerks all on their own already.

I’m not arguing for careless exhortations, nor do I espouse moral relativism of any kind. But discernment is not the same as selling out. If you don’t need to chill the heck out, don’t. But some people do. And if you don’t think any Christians are wound too tight or introspective in unhealthy ways, then I’m concerned for you. Just like I’d be concerned if you thought the gospel was essentially about taking it easy.

It feels safer at times and more heroic to be unrelentingly consistent in every situation with every individual. But in reality, maintaining gospel consistency means we understand that the same piece of advice is sometimes wise and sometimes foolish. The hard sayings, C.S. Lewis observed, are beneficial only to those who find them hard. So if chilling the heck out feels like more of the same for you, go read Don’t Waste Your Life (a book I highly recommend). But if some down time feels a bit naughty, you may need to go on a long walk, play Settlers of Catan, or even watch the Final Four.

And by the way, if you do the latter, be sure to root for the Spartans.

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30 thoughts on “Wisdom, Complexity, and Chilling the Heck Out”

  1. LaughingLady says:

    I AM reading Don’t Waste Your Life right now. It’s an excellent book. (And it probably wouldn’t take nearly as long if I wasn’t ever so slightly addicted to my computer!)

    Thank you for putting good perspective on this issue. We definitely seem predisposed to one extreme or the other, which will, necessarily, affect our interpretation of passages like these that seem diametrically opposed. ‘Everything in moderation’ appears to be the key here, too ~ not just for eating!!

  2. Jared Wilson says:

    Kevin, a good word, brother. Thank you.

  3. Justin Lonas says:

    No way is Settlers of Catan relaxing…unless you’re losing so badly you can sit back and watch those with a chance of winning desperately flail at any offer to trade off a sheep.

  4. Michael says:

    Kevin, as a pastor, do you see more Christians who need to “chill the heck out” or do you see Christians who need to not “waste their life”?

  5. Jon says:

    Kevin-

    I know blogging is very time consuming. Please receive this encouragement….Keep it up! You are a gifted writer and thinker, and I enjoy learning from you daily.

  6. It really needs to be said that there is no contradiction between “chilling out” and “wasting your life” (we really need to stop the sloganeering in this “controversy”). In fact, one will miss out on the abundanlt life Christ has for us by becoming rapantly intorspective, heavy-handed, and severe. All who are mature know this. Thanks Jared for preaching the word.

  7. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Very true Adam. Thanks.

    As far as what word do people need more? I think we all need both. In our flesh it is difficult to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, and it is hard to avoid tendencies to self-righteousness and self-reliance. We need the gospel to free us to live lives of radical, joyful, unfettered obedience and rest.

  8. MatthewS says:

    I am one of those wound-too-tight people who needs to be reminded that part of serving Christ is playing games with my family. They need me to look them in the eye. They need me to laugh with them. Not a polite laugh from a distance, a genuine laugh from a shared moment.

    I do play Settlers but…if anger often results from blocked goals, and Settlers seems all about everyone blocking my goals, then it takes some very intentional chilling out on my part to even pretend to enjoy it!!

  9. I was all good until you mentioned Catan and that other thing. Then I realized that if I do not even know what those things are, I may need to chill the heck out.

  10. Doug Hibbard says:

    You proved with this post that a wise, thought-out, and helpful message can be utterly demolished by one bad sentence at the very end.

    Although, I suppose you’re predestined to root for Michigan State.

    However, the rest of the post is spot on. I’m trying to learn to balance it out myself. Never played Settlers, though I’ve heard of it.

  11. Jeff Schultz says:

    Go Sparty!

    Oh, and thanks for another very wise, helpful, and grace-filled post.

  12. “it’s uncharitable to assume otherwise”

    I have to wonder if your use of the word “uncharitable” is a little too, er um, charitable.

  13. DJ says:

    Rooting for the Spartans, I will not be doing ;-)

    Signed,
    make your foul-shots!
    Knoxville, TN.

  14. Jay Turner says:

    AMEN!
    …except… GO DUKE!

  15. donsands says:

    Excellent word and response. Thanks.

    The Terrapins should be where the Spartans are. I’ll probably cheer on the ACC. I do like Izzo though; I like his style, good coach.

  16. bob schultz says:

    Kevin,
    Thanks for the all-too-often lacking follow up. Great work. I started reading your blog about 9 months ago, and really appreciate your tenacity and prolific commentary. Especially great to see at a huge university environment.

    I used to live in Michigan (Canton) and have been rooting for MSU, but now in Indiana, the blessed negev of MI. so, sorry, but… “Go Butler”.

    blessings,
    -bob

  17. Nancy says:

    Final Four – Go Butler, Go Duke!

  18. Nancy says:

    PS – I am actually doing a “double chill” – NIT tonight and Thursday, NCAA Saturday and Monday.

  19. David Zook says:

    Excellent balance … I am learning again to chill out it and it is wonderful. When I do, I now longer feel compelled to get off my bum to do something for the sake of doing something.

    Sometimes, rest and relaxation is the best way that I can honor God.

  20. Matti says:

    I agree we need relaxation but why do we have to chill the “heck” or out? For me it seems a bit provocative. I read from dictionary that “heck” is euphemism for hell.

  21. Ben O'Toole says:

    Do not be excessively righteous, and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? (Ecc 7:16 NASB)

  22. donsands says:

    We could, as Christians, chill the hades out of us, maybe not hell so much. It does sound over the top when we use the word hell in such and such a way. And so heck fills in for those occasions in a good way, I always thought.

  23. S.D. Smith says:

    Great word of wisdom.

    Go Mountaineers.

  24. Evan Howard Sells says:

    call me i need help 931-200-0977 i am Evan Howard i mean to one of my friends

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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