The topic of Christianity and culture has been front and center for me over the past several months. I am really intrigued by the topic and I honestly think a lot of the voices speaking on the subject do a pretty poor job. I hate to be negative but many times when Christian leaders speak about Christianity and culture they are completely bogged down in the the sensibilities of popular culture and therefore don't really say anything at all. These Christian leaders tend to focus on the content of songs, movies, and television shows and often look to create Christian meaning from the images of popular culture. The reason this is no good is because "culture" is much more than the content of songs, movies, etc. Culture in its truest sense creates an ethos through the very mediums it uses (television, radio, etc.) regardless of the content. Therefore, in trying to grad from the culture and make Christian distinctions from it we actually reinforce the preexisting sensibilities the culture was already enforcing (in our case mainly selfishness).
The best book I've read on the subject thus far has got to be Ken Meyer's book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christianity and Popular Culture. Meyer's book is a winsome approach to a proper Christian stance toward culture; furthermore, Meyer's comes at the question from a completely different perspective. Instead of asking the common questions of what a Christian can and cannot participate in culturally, Meyer's is more concerned with how popular culture affects our sensibilities regardless of the content and calls for the Christian to adopt a mind of wisdom and discretion when approaching popular culture.
Even though Meyer's book is the best I've read about Christianity and culture, it is not the best thing I've read. Last fall Douglas Wilson wrote something on his blog on Christian cultural engagement that I hope to never forget. Here is what he wrote:
We should be in the market for young Christian men and women who are willing to be trained in genuine cultural engagement. They won’t be embarrassed by old-fashioned virtues, like hard work and discipline. They will respect authority and defy the authorities. They won’t get fired from jobs because of laziness, and they will get fired from them because of something they said about homosexuality. They won’t resent money and success, and they won’t be dazzled by money and success. They will laugh at the hipsters, and they will laugh at themselves laughing at the hipsters. They will loathe the enticements of corrupt entertainment, and they will love a true story. They would rather die than become one of the cool kids. They will be cool.
When I read this I was simply blown away! What a vision of cultural engagement. Instead of adopting everything hipster and trying to squeeze Christian meaning from it, Wilson thinks that Christians should laugh at the hipsters and then at themselves. As I continue to study the topic of Christianity and culture (and I plan to) I hope to continually come back to this understanding of genuine cultural engagement again and again.
Too many Christians are interested in culture simply because they want to be accepted as one of the cool kids. Unfortunately, this usually ends up looking something like Facing the Giants (no offense). When it comes to Christianity and culture we can never forget that the Church is the true culture. What I mean by that last sentence is that the Church is the body of Christ and Christ is the Resurrection. This being the case, whatever is in Christ will ultimately last eternally. All other cultural fads will come and go. But Jesus has filled his Church with His Spirit in order that we might walk in good works (Eph. 2).
What are these good works? Well, when God filled people with His spirit in the Old Testament it was for any number of reasons. Sometimes He did it so they could build beautiful things for the Lord (Exodus 35:35). Sometimes He did it in order to tear something down that was blasphemous (Numbers 25: 6-8). And most of the time He did it in order that His word might go out into the world (All the prophets). Considering that we too have been filled with this same Spirit, only to a greater degree (Acts 2), we should look to emulate the works of Old Testament saints in building lasting glory for God, tearing down cultural idols in the name of Christ, and boldly proclaiming the truth of God to whoever will hear!
This is the true culture that is coming down out of Heaven from God (Revelation 21-22)!
Food for thought!