Some of you may know that in a previous life, I wrote movie reviews for a couple local papers in Louisville. It was a great job: getting paid to eat popcorn and write about movies. That’s a lot easier than writing about God! In fact, sometimes when I’m stuck or looking for inspiration, I’ll go see a movie.
The difference for me now is, instead of watching a movie through a critic’s eye, I’m watching it through a Christian’s eye. So many movies today contain deep spiritual truths embedded in their compelling storylines and explosive special effects. And of course, many others convey an anti-Christian message.
Take, for example, the recent controversy over “The Golden Compass,” the movie based on a book by atheist author Philip Pullman. Opponents claimed that the movie was anti-Christian and was based on a series of book in which a God-like character is killed. While I didn’t see the movie, I did read the first book and plan to read the other two in the series.
But would I let my kids read them? That’s the question I want to answer when I finish them, and one I think we as Christians need to think about. Our children and grandchildren are saturated by popular culture at a level we can’t even imagine. The explosion of the Internet and other media technology have put virtually millions of songs, images, and videos out our fingertips. When it comes to the larger culture, what’s a Christian to do?
Some people think Christians should completely divorce themselves from anything outside the realm of the church. This approach of alienation seeks to cut off Christians from the evil influence of society. But my experience has been that the best way to get a kid to do something is to tell them they can’t do it. Because pop culture is so pervasive, alienation is not a realistic strategy unless you are willing to go to extremes (like the Amish, for instance).
The opposite end of alienation is accommodation. Some Christians are open to the outside culture, but in a naïve or uncritical way. Instead of processing what’s coming into their eyes and ears through a Christian filter, accommodators devour whatever they can get their hands on, and often their lives don’t look much different from the lives of their non-Christian friends. Their faith has little or no bearing on their life.
The middle ground, which I strive to stand on, is what is called engagement. Instead of alienating myself from the culture, or uncritically taking it in, I like to try and participate from a Christian perspective. Jesus called this being in the world, but not of it. The only way we can redeem and transform those around us is by engaging them at their level. As a pastor, I try to stay conversant in what’s popular in today’s world, for the purpose of being able to discuss it and help people think about it from a Christian mindset (as we have done here at CCC with “The DaVinci Code” and “The Life of Pi,” among many others).
For example, Leigh and I are reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” with our daughter Sydney. The derogatory name for African-Americans (the “n-word”) is used liberally throughout the book. When I came upon it the first time, I mumbled and stumbled and finally replaced it with “that guy.” Later, I talked with Sydney about what that word meant and why we don’t use it anymore. Was I going to accommodate the word and say it? No way. Was I going to completely avoid it? I could, but I would miss the teaching opportunity.
Engagement means meeting the culture where it is for the purpose of education and transformation. Don’t miss the teaching opportunities our culture presents us every day. I plan on seeing “The Golden Compass,” and then I hope to have some really good conversations about it afterward.