Christians quite rightly want to know what they can do when faced with the issues surrounding something like pop culture. I believe that the overall most important thing is knowing what a biblical worldview is, because all of the arts and forms of communication are dependent on ways of looking at the world rather than a single message.
I come across a lot of people involved in the expressive arts who want to do something reflective of their Christian faith, but they’re unsure how to proceed. What they need is a biblical worldview that would enable them to look at such things as poverty, loneliness, architecture, fame and sexuality as God would look at them.
If you are primarily a consumer of pop culture, you want to know what to consume and how to consume it. There are some things better not consumed because of spiritual negativity or because they waste valuable time. The important thing is to resist the pressure to consume something just because everyone else is doing so, and to realize that, as one book title [by Richard M. Weaver] puts it, “ideas have consequences.”
The other side of this is that there is a lot of popular culture that we’d be well advised to consume for the sake of our own enrichment as well as for enjoyment, enlightenment, pleasure and the connection it makes with the mind of our present age. This means putting ourselves in the way of good “stuff”—movies, books, records, shows and exhibitions that have recommendations that suggest we’ll be better, or at least better informed, for having seen, heard or read them.
We should always consume thoughtfully with our minds alert to the text but also to the subtext, to the words but also to the signs and symbols. We should have the biblical worldview so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that it’s second nature for us to compare the way God looks at things with what we’re being presented with.
The critic is a representative consumer. At times ministers and other church leaders find themselves playing the role of a critic when informing an audience of something they think worth watching, or explaining the perspective of, for example, a new novel or film. Increasingly movie clips are being used in the pulpit, and it’s important to remind viewers of the context, to explain the premise of the whole film and to accurately report the view of the director or screenwriter.
Some others of us might find ourselves studying popular culture at school, college or university, or even lecturing on it. The challenges at this level will be even greater because most of the approved schools of thought on popular culture have deeply secular if not atheistic roots.
C. S. Lewis is an example of someone highly regarded for his literary criticism that spoke from a Christian standpoint, but not always to a Christian audience. He once said that what we need is not more books about Christianity but more books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.
Last, we have the Christian who is ultimately a creator. These are the people who want to design, make films, entertain audiences and write books, and who wonder exactly what their role is as Christians. Should they be evangelizing, creating work that can be safely consumed by fellow believers, entertaining the masses or simply making a living in as honest and honorable a way as possible?
We need popular culture that is transformed by an alternative view. It’s out there with everything else but is somehow different. It adds to the conversations that are going on between artist and artist, art and art, and public and art.
I think the secret of what a Christian creator of popular culture needs is contained in God’s dealings with Bezalel, the first artist mentioned in the Bible. He was “filled … with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills” (Ex. 31:2-3, TNIV). At first glance this list might seem like repetition, but I believe these are four distinct areas, and each one needs to be attended to.
Workmanship is craft and technique, and it comes from education and practice. It should be unnecessary to state this but there are Christians who believe that they’ve been called to be writers or artists with such conviction that they think they can skip this stage. Just as God promises to give us the words to say if we’re called to testify, they believe He can step in and overcome our lack of training.
In fact, some have argued that by not training we are proving that it’s all of God. Eager young people regularly turn up in Hollywood claiming to be on a divine mission to transform the film industry, but they don’t even have the basic skill set necessary to make movies.
If God has gifted you, get the right training. Become as good as you can be. Don’t despise the lessons that can be handed down by people who’ve been in your profession for years. A friend of mine who works in Hollywood recommends that anyone contemplating writing a screenplay should read a thousand scripts before starting.
I would urge anyone to gain strength in the areas that Bezalel was strengthened so that we might find students and practitioners of pop culture who are workmanlike, knowledgeable, understanding and wise. I don’t think we’ve yet seen a fraction of what we’re capable of.
Adapted from Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media and Entertainment by Steve Turner, copyright 2013. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. For more IVP titles, visit www.ivpress.com.