Saturday, January 19, 2008

In But Not Of

With the spring semester starting this week, I probably won't finish this book for a while. That being the case, I want to share something from Kenneth A. Myers', All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians & Popular Culture—a horrifically bad title for an outstandingly great book—before I forget. By the time I finish the book, the current passage I'm mulling over will have been replaced by countless others, I'm sure.

First of all, a word about the book in general. It was written in 1989 so, lots of the "popular culture" Myers addresses is not so popular anymore. But so far, none of his now-outdated references have negated any of his principles. You can take out references to VCRs, cable boxes and Bon Jovi and replace them with DVD players, Wi-Fi and Justin Timberlake and the message hits home just as effectively. In sum, Myers warns us against completely removing ourselves from culture—which would be not in and not of—and against mimicking our culture by keeping all of its forms but replacing the secular content with Christian content—which would be of but not in. He proposes that we live in such a way that we influence our culture towards consistency with what God intended for it in the beginning. Christians, being Spirit-filled, live sanctified lives that can affect and influence the unsanctified culture in which we live. This is how to truly be in and not of. The rest of the book is a discussion of how we got the popular culture we have, how to assess it and how to go about influencing it for the better.

The passage that struck me today is about properly evaluating various pop culture products (songs, books, films, etc.) and determining which, if any, are acceptable for us to consume. Being the kind of person who often wonders whether or not I'm consuming too much, the chapter seemed directed right at me. I was relieved and encouraged to hear Myers express these concluding thoughts, not just because they leave a place for the intake and enjoyment of popular culture but because they correctly reflect my take on the Bible's instructions to us about culture. I think they should serve as a challenge to every citizen of the Kingdom of God as we enjoy the world into which God has placed us and, at the same time, try to influence it to be as reflective of its original intent as it can be this side or our Lord's return.

"Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive, says Paul in I Corinthians 10. Eating meat offered to idols is no problem for the Christian as long as the Christian doesn't believe that the idols have any spiritual reality. As long as the Corinthian believers were not caught up in the Zeitgeist of Corinth, as long as the sensibility of the culture did not dominate their own sensibilities, they could participate in the intrinsically innocent activities their culture afforded. But if someone was gripped by the culture's own myths, even the meat was tainted."

"The same holds true in our day. There is nothing wrong with frivolous activity for one whose life is not committed to frivolity. There is no harm in superficial pleasures for one who also has a knowledge of the tragic and of the transcendent. The subjectivism of popular culture is impotent for someone whose life is characterized by a rootedness in objective reality."

"Christians should not fear the idols and myths of our day, as long as they have no reverence for them. But idols and myths can take the form of moods and sensibilities as well as stone and creed, and there are many disturbing signs that many contemporary Christians have made the limited and limiting sensibility of popular culture their own."

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