As you may well know, one of the books I am currently working through is Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. One of the things that has really delighted me about this book is the amount of cultural and sociological content that Keller has sprinkled throughout it. If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning of the year then you will know that a large number of my posts have sprung from books I’ve read on cultural studies (particularly from a Christian perspective).
As I was reading the other day I came across a section in which Keller addressed how the past two generations of Christians have dealt with their surrounding culture, particularly popular culture. Here’s what he says:
In general, the Christians’ reaction to popular culture in the last eighty years has been some form of disengagement. Music, movies, and television have been sweepingly evaluated as dangerous, polluting, or degrading. The withdrawal has taken different forms. One form is complete renunciation. Another form is the creation of an alternate Christian subculture littered with sanitized, overtly evangelistic forms of music, movies, TV shows, literature, vacation destinations, and so on. A third form of disengagement is uncritical consumption of popular culture without worldview discernment. Why this disengagement without culture?
One reason is a “thin” or legalistic view of sin, where sin is seen as a series of discrete acts of noncompliance with God’s regulations. You pursue Christian growth largely by seeking environments where you are less likely to do these sinful actions or to encounter others who have done them. Sin can essentially be removed from your life through separation and discipline. This view of sin comports with a lack of understanding of the thoroughness and richness of Christ’s gracious work for us. For without an understanding of grace we will believe we must (and can) earn our salvation. But to accomplish that we will need a view of sin that is easier to conquer through conscious effort…A theologically “thick” view of sin, by contrast, sees it [sin] as a compulsive drive of the heart to produce idols. This view should lead neither to withdrawal nor to uncritical consumption, but rather to humble, critical engagemnet with culture. (pg. 192-93)
I thought these two paragraphs were a fine assessment of the knee-jerk reactions that we have seen from the church to cultural developments in recent history. Keller does a great job of explaining that many of the church’s reactions are based more on a poor view of the cosmic realities of the gospel (like sin and grace) than necessarily on a lack of studied advice on cultural engagement. While I still believe that Christians need a lot of studying up to do in the area of cultural engagement, I still think Keller does a fine job at presenting an argument based on a misconception of both the pervasive realities of sin and grace across all cultures (even Christian sub-cultures).
Food for thought.