Doug Wilson wrote an article recently that has caused a lot of conversation online regarding tattoos. Article is found here. The issue with the article is that it engages the same defense so many elders and pastors have regarding tattoos, without all of the necessary exegesis. In other words, it is one man’s personal preference and opinion on what many would consider to be a Romans 14 issue. (A grey area regarding conviction).
*It should be noted that I respect the work that Doug Wilson does in bringing the Gospel to the world, this is by no means meant to be disrespectful.
Now, I am not a book writer, nor am I an accomplished anything. I am, for all intents and purposes, a layman. Someone who loves Jesus, called to study the bible and to live my life pleasing a Holy God. I have tattoos, lots of them and even do tattoos as a hobby. An immediate response from someone would be that I am biased, and I probably am. I believe that Mr. Wilson is also.
If you would like to understand more thoroughly my position on tattoos, giving proper exegesis and context, you will need to read my article Should a Christian Get a Tattoo? The following article is responding to Doug Wilson’s objections only. My article covers his first point, so I will begin with #2.
2. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).
All the energy in the tattoo industry is coming from the world. This is a thing, it is a fad, it is a fashion, and it is all these things because of what the world is doing. If no unbeliever in the last hundred years had ever gotten a tattoo, you can be assured that it wouldn’t be such a thing among us. That being the case, how confident are you that this is not simply yet another massive display of evangelical copy-catism? Before you go under the ink, ask yourself if you would be able to lead a thorough Bible study on a very important question that runs this way: what are the differences, if any, between being cool and being worldly?
Response: The only difference between tattooing and any other cultural “fad” that Doug compares tattoos to is that tattoos are permanent. The only way this argument could hold water would be to say “stay away from all fads”. In other words, don’t grow a cool hipster beard, wear flannel or color your hair. Don’t participate in Movember or do anything that may be considered “trendy” in today’s world. The ONLY difference is-is the permanence in which tattoos stay on your body. Sure it’s always good to reflect on what tattoo to get and what meaning it has, so you won’t regret it later. All things we do should glorify God, and we must be introspective and rely on conviction by the Holy Spirit in things that are considered “grey”.
3. “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Deut. 5:16).
The chances are excellent to outstanding that if you are a Christian contemplating a tattoo this would also mean that you are a Christian contemplating distressing your parents. When factoring this element in, don’t allow yourself to argue to yourself that a tattoo “doesn’t necessarily dishonor them.” The Bible doesn’t tell you to not necessarily dishonor them. It says to honor them. It says to listen to their wisdom. “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, And forsake not the law of thy mother” (Prov. 1:8).
Response: This answer seems to be a catch-all for any person. In all things we should strive to not bring dishonor to our families, but I don’t think it incorporates the context of the commandment properly. What if your parents are Arminian and hate Calvinism? Should you deny your stance regarding biblical things that the Lord has revealed to you, simply because your parents don’t like something? Especially a cultural issue, and one that I propose is not anti-Biblical in the first place. If you are no longer under your parents rule, you have “left your father and mother” and now cling to your spouse (Eph 5:1) at what point do you adhere more to your Heavenly Father and not your earthly parents? I would say to be found pleasing in the eyes of God is more important.
I also don’t appreciate the presupposition that all parents won’t like tattoos. This may be the case for many, but to generalize all parents as an excuse for not tattooing is “dirty pool” in my opinion.
4. The tattoo removal business is a multi-million dollar industry, and growing. Most of their clients are in their 30’s and 40’s. How confident are you that you will not be in that number a decade from now? and how confident are you that you are not creating real challenges for those guys because of the number and/or intricacy of the tatts you are getting now? Will your opinions change? Will your aesthetic values change? Will your spelling improve? Are you inking yourself into a corner?
Response: I have a few tattoos that I don’t like. Do you know what I did with them? I covered a few up and left a few others. My tattoos tell of my past, give testimony of the change God has made in me. Many of the tattoos I regret are ones I got before I was in Christ, but that stands to me as a reminder of the goodness of God. Tattoos aren’t the only mistakes we can make in our immaturity. Shoot! I was an Arminian for many years before I embraced the Doctrines of Grace. Should I look back and “wish” I would have started off a Calvinist? Heaven forbid!
5. Tattoos are a way to “commit” yourself to something. The point is to make people think, “Whoa, he really did that.” You have done something that appears to be an irrevocable step. You are an “all-in” kind of guy. But if you cash this out, what you have is “all of the dedication, none of the accomplishment.” Another name for that is boasting, or showing off.
Response: I am unconvinced that anyone gets a tattoo with the thought of “I will commit myself to something and this is how I will do that”. I can’t agree with the notion that this is showing off. I definitely agree it’s possible that many people get tattoos wanting to show off their new ink, but some people get tattoos as a matter of expression of an experience or an emotion.
6. Henry Van Til taught that culture is religion externalized. If this is the case, as at least all Kuyperians among the Reformed would grant, then why have we given ourselves over to this cultural expression that has a distinctively pagan heritage, and does not have a distinctively Christian one? Why do modern Christians have an intense desire to look more like a Maori tribesman than like Edith Schaeffer? This is a cultural phenomenon, and we should want to know a lot more about the hidden cultural drivers.
Response: It may very well be a cultural phenomenon but that doesn’t mean that we are going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly be outcast for the cultural influences we have been given in to. One could honestly say that every way in which we live is a cultural phenomenon. The internet for example could be considered the same. There are in fact people who still don’t use the internet for things, social media specifically. Should we speak out against Twitter and Facebook for being cultural phenomenon or maybe educate people regarding it?
7. And last, one of my fundamental concerns has to do with the relationship of tattoos to ours baptisms. The fundamental external mark of a Christian is baptism, and it is striking that this is a mark that dries invisibly. The mark of our older brothers, the Jews, was a cutting of the flesh. Just as the Old Testament sacrificial system was replaced by the simplicity of bread and wine, so also the mark of circumcision was replaced by baptism (Col. 2:11). So all Christians are already marked in our baptism. This is the mark of Christ on our bodies.
Response: I am perfectly uncomfortable to liken tattooing to the sacramental obedience of baptism and circumcision. There are very specific reasons these things were done and yes they were an outer appearance but in this same argument you can also downplay the wearing of a cross, or having the Ichthus on your car. We take these symbols as a way to glorify God as a wearable outward appearance and sure, we can take them off, but even though, what is the difference? If I tattoo the 5 Solas on my arm (which I did), how does that do anything but remind me of where I stand theologically, but allows others to see it too. It reminds me of the joke concerning the cop pulling over the lady who was cussing people out and flipping them off. When she asked him why he pulled her over, he said he saw the Ichthus on her bumper sticker and thought someone must have stolen the car, because no Christian should act like she was.
We all have to consider what we think about in cultural norms. It’s easy to have a prejudice over something that we grew up being told was right or wrong, regardless of whether it actually is. It’s our job as believers to search the scriptures and our hearts, and then the scriptures again to live in obedience to God. We should always be careful not to be a stumbling block to others in areas that we ourselves are convicted about.