The Necessity of the Church in Cultural Engagement

Do you know more about Captain Jack Sparrow or the Prophet Jeremiah; Elvis or Elijah; Jack Bauer or Jeroboam; American Idol or the Book of the 12?

Peter Leithart, a Christian scholar, has recently addressed the issue of The Church and Pop Culture on his blog (ht). His post consists of his notes from a talk he gave to college-bound high-school students designed to prepare them to engage their culture in a distinctly Christian manner. He begins with a pop culture quiz and then discusses how believers must not only resist a "worldly" worldview but also produce their own. He asserts that,
We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world's desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.
Leithart's thoughts are thought-provoking and convicting. Wherever you fall on the culture debate, the core of what he says is essential. It's not wrong to be culturally literate, but it is wrong to be biblically illiterate.

As Leithart concludes his article, he gives a few specific examples of this positive resistance and the necessity of the church:

Branding and baptism:
It is not a sin to wear a brand name article of clothing, particularly when there is often little else to choose from. Given the pervasive brand-consciousness among some young people, though, it's hard to see how wearing brand name clothing could do anything but send a message about where you're trying to position yourself in the teen pecking order. We need to think of some creative ways to resist the whole branding mentality. But the most central Christian response is sacramental: To take your identity, self-image, and sense of standing from your clothing brand is to sin against your baptism. You're already branded, and any branding that marks you as something other than, more fundamental than, a disciple of Jesus, is wrong. And you need to be in a church to remind you of your baptism, of the brand you've already received in Christ.

Psalms vs. popular music: God gave us a song book in order to sing it, but how many Psalms do you know by heart? If you were to tally up the number of pop songs you can sing along to, and then the number of Psalms you can sing along to, which list would be longer? And, given the power and importance of music in education (something known to the Bible as much as to Plato and Aristotle), how much of a Christian education do you have if you can't sing the Psalms? You need the church to do that, a church that will surround you with Psalm-singing, and will make those Psalms more a part of you than any other music.

Peer group: Peer groups are, of course, made up of peers, of people near your own age. The church is not such a community. The church is made up of people of every age and walk of life, and intends to be a community where every tribe and tongue and nation finds a place. Now, if you are at college, and spending time only with your peers, you're surrounded by people with the same level of experience, and the same insight and wisdom that you have, which may not be very much at all.

June 13, 2007


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