Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cowboy Up!

In a recent article in The Tie (Southern Seminary’s Magazine) entitled Pop Christianity and Pop Culture on Mars Hill, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology addresses some issues confronting the church of America today as it engages American culture. Citing two groups of “evangelicals” which he labels as “Off-Brand Evangelicals” and “’South Park’ Evangelicals” Moore points to the weaknesses in the ways that popular culture is being addressed by the church today.

The “Off-Brand Evangelicals” are those Moore classifies as the money making branch of American evangelicalism. This group, according to Moore, seeks to “listen to trends within pop culture and to reproduce them in Christian dialect for use within the evangelical subculture.” Quoting directly from GQ Magazine, Moore remarks that much of Christian music is like the “perfume dispensers they used to have in pharmacies—‘if you like Drakkar Noir, you’ll love Sexy Musk?’…Well, Christian rock works like that.” (No doubt, these guys have been listening to much of the same Christian “music” I have heard in recent years.)

In his next category, “’South Park’ Evangelicals,” Moore makes mention of the emerging church as the poster child for a Christian culture who snubs its nose at Christian pop culture to “bask in whatever Hollywood and Manhattan churn out, looking for ‘signs of redemption therein.’” Citing this group, Moore says that they seek to know pop culture, using it as a medium through which common grace can be communicated and for a point of reference in developing a common cultural dialect with unbelievers. He seems to view “’South Park’ Evangelicals” as those who seek to not merely relate to pop culture, but to embrace pop culture in an attempt to mold their Christian understanding and identity into it. If you need a specific example to give skin to this concept, I am sure that Don Miller would fall into Moore’s “South Park” category.

Moore goes on in the article to address several issues relating to engaging pop culture in light of Acts 17. I agree wholeheartedly with Moore’s exposition of the message on Mars Hill as it relates to the particular issue of engaging pop culture. Moore points correctly to the fact that Paul did not go to Mars Hill to engage the culture, rather he was invited to Mars Hill because he spoke of things that seemed strange to those within his hearing. Once in the Areopagus, Paul did work to contextualize his message to his hearers, but not in a way that made the gospel fit the culture, but rather in a way that showed his audience that the gospel stood contrary to their culture. Paul’s understanding of the Athenian culture enabled him to speak with intelligence about their customs and in doing so enabled Paul to contrast their beliefs with the truth of Christ.

I wonder, however, why Moore, and others who address the issues raised by the emerging church, does not cite Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians concerning their use of Scripture and methods of sharing the gospel. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Christ encountered culture daily, but we see clearly in the Scripture that Christ’s role in culture was one of redeemer. He may have been seen talking with a woman of loose morals, but Christ spoke with her about the sin in her life and her need of a Savior. It is true that Christ ate with tax collectors, but Christ also reprimanded them and condemned dishonest practices. Through Christ, these people were changed. Indeed Christ loved those steeped in the culture of his time, but he loved them enough to exhort them to better living.

Much of the background in the emergent church has to do with those who are disenchanted for whatever reason with the traditional church. Their dissatisfaction has led them, not to seek reformation in the church, but to embrace culture with a slightly Christian spin. I ask, does the emergent church truly speak the “open statement of the word of Truth?” Moreover, are the “Off-Brand Evangelicals” speaking the truth of God’s word without tampering practicing cunning?

I say today that culture must be addressed. As Christians we are called to live in this world, but to be reminded always that we are citizens of a heavenly realm. We are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. As such, we do not renounce popular culture. We enjoy movies and television and good books. We place value on relationships built through every day interactions at the coffee shop or the gas station. Christians can and should enjoy music, secular and spiritual alike. But, as we live in the culture, we must be always engaging our culture with the Truth of God’s Word.

Sure, we can derive a Christian theme from almost any movie. As a matter of fact, given loose enough hermeneutics, Monday night wrestling could probably be a lesson in sin and redemption, but will it be a message true to the gospel or would it be an underhanded or disgraceful attempt at making the sinful spiritual? Paula Cole asked the question several years ago, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? In the days before Brokeback Mountain, John Wayne was the quintessential all American cowboy, a man who spoke his mind and stood for something. Maybe a Christian cowboy wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I’ll admit, it would be nice to find an evangelical engaging culture with the honest truth of the gospel that was not afraid to stand for the Truth though it ran counter to the entire flow of popular mores. John Wayne could and would take on an entire army with a six shooter. I wonder if there are Christians today committed enough to the cause of Christ and the salvation of our society who would stand up in the midst of the army of pop culture, outnumbered many times over, and be willing to proclaim God’s truth that brings redemption from this world and reconciliation to the Father? Cowboy up!

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