Monday, September 16, 2013

Pop Culture

I'm not an advocate for Christian isolationism.  I don't agree with the Amish lifestyle or any type of Christian-only community; although, at times, it does sound appealing.  In God's sovereignty, Christ has not taken believers out of world, (John 17:15), but the Bible does warn us not to conform to the world, (Rom. 12:1), not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, (2 Cor. 6:14), and not to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, (Eph. 5:11).  Of course, the obvious question is how does this look in a Christian's life?
Ted Turnau, a lecturer at the Cultural Studies and Religion in Prague, Czech Republic, recently wrote a book called Popologetics:  Popular Culture in Christian Perspective.  I have not read his book, but based on his reasoning for writing the book, I don't think that I will.  Let's look at what he says:
"'Popologetics' is my term for understanding and apologetically engaging with non-Christian popular culture. I wrote the book because I think Christians typically do not respond to popular culture well. We don’t know what to do with it. We’re tempted to just reject it, surround ourselves with Christian culture, and live in our little bubbles where it’s warm and safe for us and our kids. Or we’re tempted to just dive in without thinking about it, and enjoy it as if there were no dangers or risk involved. Both options are bad. Both are, in my opinion, sub-Christian. We are called into our world, but not to be conformed to our world. We are called to understand our non-Christian friends and neighbors, and that means understanding the world they live in. And a big part of that world is shaped and informed by popular culture. As I see it, popular culture is a mission field all around us. We just cannot afford to live in our Christian subculture, and we cannot afford to just enjoy it uncritically. We’ve got to be prepared to engage the wider culture in a way that brings us closer to the hearts of our non-Christian friends and neighbors. We need to be able to speak their language.
But there’s another reason I wrote the book, quite apart from any evangelistic concern. I believe that enjoying popular culture is very human. Popular culture, in part, reflects God’s glory, fractured and distorted though it be. And when we cut ourselves off from that, we cut ourselves off from a very human enjoyment. It diminishes us somehow, as well as distances us from those around us. So I wrote Popologetics as a way to give permission to Christians, to say that the thoughtful enjoyment of popular culture was OK, wasn’t sinful."
First, let's consider Mr. Turnau's biblical support for writing his book.  Granted, this is a short, promotional excerpt, but there's not one Bible verse listed to confirm his reasoning.  Christians are exhorted not to let the words of the Lord depart from us, but to meditate on them, (Josh. 1:8; Psalm 119: 10-11; Prov. 3:1-3 & 4:20-22).  Mr. Turnau has made at least one biblical statement with no citation, but he has also mixed in his own reasoning, leading the reader to think that he has complete biblical support for his writing endeavor.  He says:  "We are called into our world, but not to be conformed to our world."  This is an accurate paraphrase of Romans 12:1.  Therefore, he reasons, in order to evangelize the world:  "We are called to understand our non-Christian friends and neighbors, and that means understanding the world they live in."  Mr. Turnau does not cite a biblical reference for this claim because there is no biblical call for Christians to understand non-Christians or the world we live in.  Actually Romans 12:1 tells us not to conform to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  Mr. Turnau equivocates on the word 'world'.  Christians need to be educated, and as a homeschool mom, I'm not saying that Christians should be ignorant of the world's teaching.  However, Mr. Turnau is using the word 'world' to mean our pop culture, but understanding pop culture so that we can engage the hearts of our non-Christian friends by speaking their language is exactly what the Bible prohibits Christians from doing, (Rom. 12:1, 2 Cor. 6:14, & Eph. 5:11).  His reasoning to find a balance between Christian isolationism and full indulgence is not realistic.  There's no middle ground in the scriptures; you are either with Jesus Christ or you are against Him, (Matt. 12:30).
Apart from his evangelistic concern, Mr. Turnau also says that popular culture (even if it's fractured and distorted) reflects God's glory; therefore, we should not isolated ourselves from human enjoyment.  There is clearly no biblical support for this self-centered view of man.  From Wikipedia:
“Popular Culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.”
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question #1, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  We see the glory of God in His general revelation through nature, but works done by unregenerate men, though they may be of good use, are not done in accordance to God's word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, (LBCF Chap. 16, paragraph 7; Matt. 6:2 & 5).  Therefore, pop culture in a fallen world does not and will not reflect the glory of God.
The Great Commission to go, teach, and baptize, (Matt. 28:18-30), is very important for all Christians.  However, we do not accomplish this command by partially assimilating to our culture.  God's word transcends all times and all cultures.  We influence the world by holding to God's commands in His word and living out our faith in Christ apart from the cultural norms.  In today's world, even the Christian bookstore can be a dangerous place.  Christian discernment requires knowing God's word and rightly dividing it.  In his zeal for relativism, Mr. Turnau has lost the Christian focus on Christ and Christ alone.
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," (2 Tim. 2:15).