Engaging Meaningfully With Pop Culture – Matt Slater
It’s great to be back on the blog. The last time I wrote, I talked about some of the tensions and stories around politics in the church. This time around, I’m thankful I can write about something that is a bit lighter, but still incredibly important. Today I’m writing briefly on the importance of engaging pop culture as a Christian. Now, I can’t say I’m the pop culture expert of all experts. But I can say I own over 300 movies, plenty of music, and loved Pop-Up Video on VH1 when I was a teenager. Also I totally called Antonio Brown and Terry Bradshaw on the Masked Singer (and not because I’m a Steelers fan ::shudder::).
There are some people, Christian or otherwise, who write off pop culture. They think pop culture is a diversion from all the actual things happening in this world. Some people think pop culture is keeping people from growing up (if you don’t believe me, go see what Bill Maher said about Stan Lee, oh warning, profanity). And then of course, some people in the church think that pop culture will cause us to live differently than what Christ has called us to live. And each of these groups have some valid points.
But in a developed society that distracts itself with entertainment constantly through social media, movies, music, books, sports, and celebrities, you cannot deny that pop culture affects people in the way they think, feel, speak, and act. And if we as Christians do not know how people think, feel, speak, and act, we will likely not be able to understand where people come from.
Pop culture is a great thing to engage as a Christian. We shouldn’t at the cost of stumbling into sin, but rather to engage a medium with which many people connect. These pieces of entertainment, whether they are pure art or are cash grabs, tell stories of the human experience and we bond over them. It’s why the moment we leave a theatre where we saw movie that moved us, we go to our friends and ask, “Have you seen this movie yet? How have you not seen this movie yet? It’s amazing!”. Pieces of pop culture make us laugh together, hold our breath together, get angry together, jump out of our seats together, and cry together. Missing out on these things just because we follow Christ will cause us to miss out on connections with people who are completely different from us. Pop culture is a language we can learn to relate and connect with others. If you need evidence just look at the unity in a football stadium after a touchdown. You could make a case that unity is strong than in some of our sanctuaries on Sunday morning (that’s a post for another day).
The other reason it should be engaged is simple, God is working in pop culture. While other messages can be found in pop culture, there are plenty of moments in pop culture that reflect Christ and the Gospel. And to think God cannot work in pop culture means we think that God only works within the culture of the church. That is definitely refuted in scripture and definitely thinks little of God’s ability. I’m thankful in my faith tradition we specifically articulate this reality. We believe God is continuously reaching out to every person in the world with his grace, and when humans or culture live or speak His will, we believe God is working to draw those without faith to Him. If this is the case, why wouldn’t the church miss an opportunity to witness God in moments of pop culture? We should be right there alongside those who don’t know God pointing out when sacrificial love is given by Harry Potter and how Jesus’ sacrificial love has brought salvation to the world. When T’Challa opens up Wakanda to benefit the entire world instead of isolating themselves, we point out that Christ calls the church to go into the world with Christ’s blessing and love. When we cry alongside the women of The Help, we see the value of every person and seek justice in our world as God has always intended. These are stories with the Gospel interlaced and we cannot give up the chance to see how God is interweaving Himself in the creativity of others (regardless of their religion or viewpoints).
Now I understand pop culture is far more complicated than what I have just presented. Are there economic injustices from pop culture? Absolutely. Does pop culture exploit the people who work in it? Totally. Does pop culture promote worldview and actions opposite of the Gospel? Definitely. However, I would challenge any human endeavor we engage in has these same issues (take an honest look at politics or technology). This means that we must engage pop culture with clarity and a solid foundation in the Gospel. It must be done with caution because of the moral and economic implications. If you struggle with the temptation of sexually explicit material, violent tendencies, or addictive tendencies, it’s important to guard yourself from engaging with those realities in pop culture. It’s not an easy task. But when your neighbor knows more about which Avengers are still alive than how many disciples Jesus had, you at least have something to talk about. And when we are called to love our neighbors, shouldn’t we at least be able to talk with them?