The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

For God's Sake, Make Art! (Part 1- What does the Church do with Pop Culture?)

This is a new blog series I am going to develop over the next few months. It is something that I have had an increasing awareness of and passion for, and I believe its importance for the Christian is far greater than one might imagine. This first post is going to be more of a general overview. Basically, I am going to try and convince you that what I am saying is not merely true biblically, but important. Something very important. Something, perhaps, as important as evangelism itself.

First, let's talk about pop culture. I like the way Wikipedia defines it:  

Popular culture (commonly known as pop culture) is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes,[1] images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.

There is much that could be said about this. For now, let's discuss how the church has generally viewed pop culture. It seems that it wavers between shunning it altogether to accepting it as is and incorporating it into the church itself with all its worldly baggage still intact. Some churches don't allow viewing of secular movies, dancing, reading secular works, listening to any secular music, drinking alcohol, attending plays, playing cards or any kind of games, etc., thus divorcing the secular from the sacred. Other churches, such as the seeker sensitive churches, almost want to merge pop culture with the church itself, utterly obliterating any distinction between the secular and the sacred, or really, failing to recognize the sacred and making everything secular.

The problem with the first view, that the church should have nothing to do with the secular, is what I am going to address primarily. Many who read this will agree that Perry Noble bringing in provocative, secular songs into the church service to cater to unbelievers is wrong. That seems fairly obvious for most of us. But to think that the secular is unimportant, neutral, or sinful is a huge mistake that I think almost all of us apart from the seeker-sensitive type make.

I've read one book and part of another so far that has recently been influencing my thinking very much in this area. The first is called Art for God's Sake by Philip Ryken. Unfortunately, I only borrowed that one and do not have the copy with me at this time. The other, Plowing in Hope by David Bruce Hegeman, I may perhaps like even better, but I have not finished the book. Therefore, I won't be able to dive into all of that in this blog post, but I hope to in later parts of this series. What they have shown me, though, is that our purpose before the Fall was to make art, create culture, till the earth and subdue it. Sin made that more difficult- now we have thorns and pain to deal with as we progress in making culture, tilling the ground, and so on, and childbirth is painful. Nonetheless, the command is the same- to make art, culture, do work, for the glory of God. It was what we were made for! The end of salvation, then, isn't a static rest in heaven. In heaven, we will be working, without the effects of sin that make some aspects of it arduous, boring, and undesirable. No, in heaven work will be unending bliss. And we will always have more to do, on behalf of God, for His glory and our greatest joy.

So what about pop culture? If it's important, but shouldn't become what the church does inside its doors on Sunday mornings, what place does it have? I think many decide to marginalize it, at least that's what I did and have seen many other Christians do. What I mean is, we push it to the fringes and give it little actual thought. For those who are allowed to watch movies, it just becomes what you do, and is most likely viewed as neutral- something Scripture doesn't really speak to, thus making it neither good nor bad. Nothing, however, is neutral. Scripture says whatever we do, to do it to the glory of God, do it as unto the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17, 22-23). Now if enjoying or creating pop culture cannot be done unto the Lord, then clearly we are sinning, since we are commanded to do all for God's glory, and as a service unto Him, and not merely man. On the other hand, if culture can be enjoyed and developed unto the Lord, and we are enjoying it without that in mind, without that as our goal and purpose, then we are likewise sinning because we are abusing and misusing the good gift and purpose of culture, art, and work. That would be akin to misusing the gift of sex by fornicating or committing adultery, or rape, or viewing pornography, or whatever the case may be. It is robbing the good gift of all its splendor and actual purpose, like playing football just to get dirt and grass stains, but not to actually enjoy the sport!

So then, it is my belief that to say pop culture is a secular institution/creation, and thus should be avoided at all costs because it is unclean, unholy, and inherently evil, is to shun the very purpose for which we were made according to the book of Genesis, while on the other hand, to merge culture with the church as it is, tainted with the sin of unbelievers, is nigh unto bringing idols into the house of God! And to say that culture is neutral and thus should only be pursued in a limited way without much thought, is to go through life lukewarm, neither hot nor cold for God, in which case He will spew us out of His mouth!

So all three positions then are untenable, all three are dangerous. If we were made to till the earth, to cultivate it and bring out all that we can, for God's glory, then avoiding that altogether, allowing it to develop in such a way as to be tainted with sinful passions and goals, or to think of it as unimportant and/or neutral is serious sin. I believe making culture can be subservient to evangelism, but it is even more than a means to that end. It is an end in itself. It is the end in which we were created for. It is the outward expression, the glorious manifestation of our love and devotion and worship of our Creator, because we were created for this very purpose. Because of that, the our work, art, and general culture making will have a certain mold to it, since our motivation for engaging in it is the goodness and love of God being accented and displayed. Another post will be devoted into how that is specifically done.