Christian Pop Culture and Its Fallacies

Hanna Rosin writes a brilliant commentary on “Slate” this week about Christian flirtation with pop culture that is worth a read. She points out the fallacy of faith that flirts with pop culture in order to “spread the news” but does so using cheap production, “off-brands” (think the “Christian” version of Britney Spears or Nickelback), and less than artistic creations. In other words, the movies, music, toys and trinkets made for Christians often are laughable and fake. What does that say about Christian faith if it simply is just an “off brand” of a secular artistic expression?

Rosin writes of this creation of pop culture for the Christian subculture, “For faith, the results can be dangerous. A young Christian can get the idea that her religion is a tinny, desperate thing that can’t compete with the secular culture. A Christian friend who’d grown up totally sheltered once wrote to me that the first time he heard a Top 40 station he was horrified, and not because of the racy lyrics: “Suddenly, my lifelong suspicions became crystal clear,” he wrote. “Christian subculture was nothing but a commercialized rip-off of the mainstream, done with wretched quality and an apocryphal insistence on the sanitization of reality.”

The new generation of Christians is likely to be a different kind of audience. Raised on iPods and downloadable music, they find it difficult truly to commit to the idea of a separate Christian pop culture. They might watch Jon Stewart or Pulp Fiction and also listen to the Christian band Jars of Clay, assuming the next album is any good. They are much more critical consumers and excellent spotters of schlock. The creators of Christian pop culture may just adapt and ease up on the Jesus-per-minute count, and artistic quality might show some improvement. But in my experience, where young souls are at stake, Christian creators tend to balk. It’s always been a stretch to defend Christian pop culture as the path to eternal salvation. Now, they may have to face up to the fact that it’s more like an eternal oxymoron.”

While I agree with Rosin, I do not believe that this means that Christians should disengage from artistic expression, even of pop art. The point is that they should not primarily seek to share “the gospel” with their art but to share themselves authentically … and as they do so, they also will share their faith to the extent that faith is an authentic expression of their own lives. Otherwise, we begin to evaluate the gospel by the artistic expression, and that can cheapen both the gospel and the art.

One of my favorite scenes in a film is the scene in the recording studio in “Walk the Line”. Johnny Cash was recording his first record, and he attempted to sing a gospel hymn. It seemed lifeless and without a connection to something deep in him. The record producer looks at him, and says, “Sing something you really believe.” And Cash belts out the opening lines of “I hear a train a coming …” and suddenly we see the heartfelt connection between the singer and the song. No one would question Cash’s own faith commitments as well, but he never cheapened a gospel song. He didn’t sanitize life, he sang about pain and loneliness as much as salvation and Jesus, and somehow it all seems to be real. The Christian ghetto doesn’t deal too well with darkness, pain and brokenness(“Go, God!”), so art that is made to appeal to those who only want sweet positive messages will never truly seem real either.

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One Response to “Christian Pop Culture and Its Fallacies”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Who needs “a separate Christian pop culture”? What’s needed is to identify those things within the mainstream pop culture that contain biblical truth.Reverend John Stott (“Basic Christianity”) has said: “The great tragedy in the church today is that evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. We need faithfulness to the ancient word and sensitivity to the modern world.” Check out:Johnny Cash quiz Good Dr. Seuss’oh! — The Simpsons Bible Quiz Almighty Neon Bible Study As Super Savior quiz

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