Religion

Thoughtful responses to culture

I like movies. I like books. I like music. And I’m absolutely enthralled by people whose skill sets allow them to create movies that thoroughly entertain, books that take us into other worlds, and music that elicits deep emotion.

But I have been nurtured by a tradition that teaches us if not to completely avoid these cultural products, then to keep them at a distance: to listen only to Christian (or classical?) music; read only nonfiction; and avoid all R-rated movies.

Much heat often arises when Christians sit to discuss these matters, heat that may be less necessary if we were to take to heart the insights of Andy Crouch in his fascinating and helpful book, “Culture Making.”

Crouch points out that when people orient themselves the same way in every situation, that becomes their posture toward the situation. He finds that Christians want to find a posture they can easily assume toward cultural products.

One might determine that all movies, for example, are bad, and so withdraw from them. It’s easy, categorical, unshakable. Others might determine that art is something worth studying and talking about, and so, no matter the content, they engage the culture. Still another might conclude that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the products of culture, and so he creates a music industry that substantially copies, with Christian lyrics, the secular works. And finally, another simply determines that this is all God’s world, and we worry too much about it, and so culture is uncritically consumed.

Withdrawal, engagement, copying or consumption are all postures Christians have assumed toward music, television, movies and the like. And because we like our decisions to be easy and black and white, we find it easier to simply assume the same response to every occurrence without variation.

What Crouch commends is a more subtle and reflective approach – turning these postures into gestures. A gesture is a movement in a certain direction, but one which is not fixed. A gesture can vary; a posture is permanent.

Christians should have a posture toward pornography. We should not advocate a pornography study group at our church to determine the worldview of the pornographer or to assess the redemptive aspects of his art.

Nor should we create a Christian pornography industry or simply consume it uncritically.

In the face of an undeniable evil, withdrawal is not only the proper gesture, it is the proper posture. But toward many cultural goods our response should look more like gestures.

Some art or movies or music may demand engagement, others imitation, some consumption, and others withdrawal.

How we respond depends upon the work itself.

The trick in engaging culture — in living in the world, but not of the world — is that very little of our response should be defined by postures.

We should be those of thoughtful gestures, not unbending postures.

Crouch calls us to such thinking response. Thoughtful Christians will listen.

Rev. Randy Greenwald, senior pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, 4455 30th St. E., Bradenton, writes a blog at somberanddull.blogspot.com. For more information about the church, visit www.gohope.net. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Herald, written by local clergy members.

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