16 May 2013

Sacralism, The Culture War and Marketing the Gospel

Listening to Christian radio the other day I overheard an author discussion regarding a new work of fiction, a Christian alternative to the 'Twilight' series.

The author wished to deal with the reality of the supernatural but present it in a Christian manner and one that Christian teens could relate to.
As is so often the case, the cure proved worse than the disease. Obviously I haven't read the book but based off the description I was less than impressed.

She spent quite a bit of time talking about Guardian Angels. This popular doctrine can't be found in the Scripture. While there might be one verse (two at best) that alludes to the concept, the mountains of theology that have been developed are nothing less than pure speculation. So right off we were in trouble.

Basically instead of a Twilight inspired vampire friend/paramour the Christian work contains a female protagonist who has a Guardian Angel that's 'cool' and break dances and what not.

Christians seem to flock to this material. They're so threatened by the pop culture's alternative to Christianity that they're just thrilled when something comes along that gives them an 'alternative'.

And yet I would contend the Twilight series (garbage that it is) really poses no threat to Christians. Anyone grounded in the Scriptures will not for a moment be taken by the cosmology or ideology of the Twilight universe. It's a work of fiction and not likely to actually take anyone in.

But what about the 'Christian' alternative? Here it gets kind of fuzzy. We have truth mixed with a great deal of error. In fact the overall message can actually prove more harmful than merely leaving Twilight unanswered and providing no Christian alternative.

Exterior cultural forces are only a threat when we let them into the Church. We need to be vigilant and guard how we think, the values we hold and what kind of perspective we embrace. Our culture is powerful and can deceive us, so we do need to be aware. 

But the culture never presents an existential threat. It's not going to 'conquer' the Church or invalidate the Gospel. It can pollute and corrupt the Church...if we let it. Sacralism actually invites the World in and baptizes its message and values. Rather than provide a mechanism for the conquest of culture, all too often the world seems to all but conquer the Church.

In this case a misunderstanding of the Church vis-a-vis the World has led many Christians to provide these 'alternative' pop culture forms for the Church to digest. The author's motives were right. She wants to protect her kids.

But sadly the theology is so bad that the end result has not only cancelled out any good, but in fact provides a much greater danger. In the end I would rather have my kids read Twilight than read this Christian alternative. I'd rather they read neither, but perhaps you see my point? The one is clearly non-Christian and so it can be read with that mindset. The other will only confuse and by promoting false teachings and certainly false spirituality it presents a greater danger. I've always found the same to be true with regard to the Frank Peretti novels that were so popular a generation ago. Besides being just poorly written and shoddy stories, the theology simply wasn't in accord with Scripture.

It's much the same with what happens on television. Christians love shows like 'Touched by an Angel' or 'Highway to Heaven' because they supposedly have some sort of Christian message. They like to hear God mentioned or they just gush when the Waltons all pray over dinner.

I would rather see no references to Christianity on prime time television than to see these examples which are along the same lines as the book I mentioned above. While our household certainly appreciates 'The Waltons', all too often whatever Christian elements there are in the show are pretty bad. In other words, the celebrated Christian elements are the worst part and will actually prompt me to hit the 'pause' button to explain why something is in error.

And the other shows I mentioned are just plain terrible and completely unscriptural. In fact I think these shows do a great deal of harm. People seem to think of them in evangelistic terms but I think that's actually where they are the most harmful. A false gospel is always more dangerous than no gospel at all.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I can watch a show, read a book, or listen to a song and do it as a Christian. This means that in some cases I may turn it off or set the book down. In other cases I can listen, read, or watch but I always remember what I'm doing and what I'm handling. We can learn things from unbelievers and sometimes understanding how the lost mind works can be helpful. I don't think we live as monks and hide ourselves away.

Having a little (just a little mind you) cultural familiarity is not always a bad thing. I do draw the line and in many cases am completely out of touch with pop culture, but at some level we do need to relate to people. Where to draw the actual lines I believe is a point of Christian liberty. I may watch a movie that you won't but I will give an answer why. It's not pure entertainment. In the end I want to redeem the time and that is an ethical mandate that guides my schedule and shapes even my entertainments.

I can hear a song and know it reflects the mind of a lost person. On a certain level I can enjoy it but I always better be more than willing to turn it off. And if it's affecting me, then I better do so.

But with Christian music I am even more on guard. The minute I know something is being pushed as 'Christian', I must employ a different set of criteria. I know that Carpenters or Simon and Garfunkel song was a written by a lost person. But what about the one by the Christian artist? What if it's promoting heresy and error? That's even more dangerous to my heart especially if I'm not listening with the same critical ear.

In the end Christian attempts at pop culture can be dangerous and ultimately do more harm. There are exceptions. In many cases it would be better to just write a book or a song. It doesn't have to be overtly Christian to communicate the values. If you're trying to set up a Gospel alternative that in itself is problematic. The Word primarily through preaching/proclaiming is what converts. When we try to dress it up, disguise it, or deliver it through some other motif we end up with a cheap imitation, a gimmick.

People often counter this by pointing out that Jesus himself told stories and used illustrations and thus so should we. Thus we can innovate and accommodate when it comes to our Gospel presentation. That Jesus spoke in parables is certainly true, if they would read their Bible a little closer they would discover that in fact Christ tells us in Luke 8 why he spoke in parables.

9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”

10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that

‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’

I don't think that's what contemporary attempts at fusing the Gospel with art have in mind. The parables weren't innovative attempts to present the Gospel. Christ was speaking the mysteries of the Kingdom of God and only those with Spirit-born hearts would understand him.

The Word is life...and death. But it's never a game, never entertainment.

I'm not arguing against Christians writing fiction or music or producing art. Far from it. But beware of gimmicks. Beware of letting the pop culture shape what you do and in your zeal to promote an alternative, end up with something worse. If something is specifically 'Christian' it's going to promote a theological message. If that's not right, then it risks being quasi-Christian which is not Christian at all.

In the end there is no such thing as 'Christian' music or art. These things may be enjoyed but they are not sacred. Innovating in the realm of worship and the sacred presents great dangers. While I won't play the legalist and bind the consciences of others at the same time I will warn there is a real danger in seeking to worship the true God and instead end up erecting and venerating idols. One may seek to 'improve' or add to the Word and yet instead is actually blending paganism, worldliness and bad philosophy with the message and thus corrupting it.

Thus they were defiled by their own works,
And played the harlot by their own deeds.

(Psalm 106.39)




val said...

The true Gospel is now delivered as a witness Matt 24:14.
Our heavenly Father will not put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 on these websites http://thegoodtale.blogspot.com, http://thegoodtale.wordpress.com

God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17. Those professing themselves to be Christians would be wise to hear all Acts 3:23 BEFORE making any judgment. The proof of what I tell you is in the hearing. For once in your life obey God's word and prove ALL things 1 Thes 5:21.

Protoprotestant said...

Sounds like Herbert Armstrong...universalism, Anglo-American Israelism....with a dash of 7th Day Adventism.

Whatever the combination, patently unscriptural.