Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pastors and Pop Culture

An article in today's The Tennessean discusses the fact that most clergymen have less knowledge and interest in pop culture than many of their parishioners. In some ways that is a bad thing; in many others it is not.

For much of the last century, the dominant evangelical and fundamentalist forms of American Christianity have been characterized by an other worldliness formed by a commitment to separatist values. There has always been tension between those Christians who believe that their task is to engage culture as a means of glorifying Christ, and those who believe that the larger culture should simply be avoided as evil. In the United States, perhaps the Amish represent the separatist extreme. On the other end of the spectrum, liberal Christian groups have sometimes jetisoned virtually every foundational Christian belief in order to accomodate prevailing intellectual fads in the world around them.

Most Christians fall somewhere in between, though there is a strong separatist element in popular forms of American Christianity. Of course, the separatists sometimes only understand worldliness on a superficial level: they understand that naked pictures are a bad thing; but they do not understand that the values of the marketing world, when applied to churches, may also be antithetical to the mores of the Sermon on the Mount.

In the name of those marketing values, some Christian groups are trying so hard to be relevant that they have become irrelevant. There is no value in a Christianity that simply recasts itself in order to capture the moods and beliefs of the times. Christian churches that have decided their job is to find a need and fill it may be forsaking the gospel in the process. Answering the questions people are asking is important, but sometimes people ask the wrong questions. Christianity ultimately has answers about sin and redemption, judgment and forgiveness, hope and eternity. Sometimes people have to be prompted to believe that those are the penultimate questions. Pep talks about how to be successful on Monday do not really pass on the deep resources offered in the Christian faith.

That being said, the British pastor and writer, John R. W. Stott, has said that a preacher stands with one foot in each of two worlds: the world of the Bible and the modern world. His task is to bring the one world's vantage point to bear on that of the other. Much of the modern world, as embodied in pop culture, is trivial and banal, and it doesn't merit the time or attention of the modern pastor. However, it can be valuable to know at least enough to relate the deep riches of the Bible to the relative poverty of pop culture.

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