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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

5.5.  This post is dedicated to the Sermon Writer’s Block.

5.  I really liked Michael Bird’s (relatively) short post on how the Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Christus Victor models of atonement work together. 

4.  His biting sarcasm is largely what makes Carl Trueman so popular, but it also makes it easy to miss some of his better stuff.  In an article titled “The Price of Everything,” Trueman suggests that “cynicism, along with its close cousin pessimism, are among two of the greatest contributions that historians can make to the life of the church.” 

3.  Some of you have heard about Harold Camping and his predictions that the end of the world is coming in October of this year (and the rapture is only weeks away!).  W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California has written an intriguing, if not sad, series on “Harold Camping and the End of the World”.  It’s worth reading through it, as it’s both insightful and instructive, from someone who has known Camping for a long time.  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.  Update: I somehow missed Part 5.  Sorry.

2.  Earlier this morning Justin Taylor posted a really helpful chart called “Differences between Jesus and the Levitical High Priests,” based on Hebrews 7 and 9.  Don’t think I won’t be stealing this for future use.

1.  The aforementioned Carl Trueman has created a bit of a stir, particularly with the “New Calvinist” crowd, recently with some posts regarding American mega-conferences and the celebrity culture of American evangelicalism.  As I said earlier, I think his sarcasm (not to mention his vast use of over-generalization, which granted is a feature of satire but can be counter-productive) can obscure his point.  Never fear, the ever reasonable Tim Challies steps in to help a bit (with links to Trueman’s posts, if you’re interested).  It’s a good read, and a great topic to consider more deeply.  I’d like to think we can learn a thing or two here.

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There’s a new surge to put “Christ back in Christmas” going around these days, headed up by James Dobson and Focus on the Family.  You can check them out at Stand for Christmas.  On this website you’ll see reviews and ratings of various retailers to help determine whether they are “Christmas Friendly,” “Christmas Negligent” or “Christmas Offensive.”  Have you ever walked into a store and hear “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and bristled with righteous indignation?  Now’s your chance to let them hear it… by posting a comment on a website no one outside of a relatively small number of evangelical/fundamentalists will take seriously.  Yeah, that’ll show ’em.

I’m not even sure where to begin with this one.  Maybe the site’s subtitle: “Now Customers Have a Voice.”  Hmm, I thought customer’s always had a voice: their wallet.  You know, if you don’t want to shop at a store, you don’t have to.  Wow, that capitalism sure is crazy.

Or maybe we should talk about how this group has fallen into, what I deem to be, a problem of our culture at large.  That is, everyone is just so easily offended.  Really, you are offended because the 18-year-old working at American Eagle for the discount said “Happy Holidays” to you as you checked out?  Yeah, I really hate that jerk, too.

Being offended is a proud heritage in our culture.  In fact, it’s even #101 on the list of Stuff White People Like.  Maybe my skin is too thick, but I just can’t get offended that easily.  Christians, though, and evangelicals in particular, have a bit of a persecution complex.  In some cases, it’s legit.  But I’m not sure how someone not using the term “Christmas” is truly an offensive thing to me.  I’d be much more offended if the kid at American Eagle said, “hey, you might want to but those pants one size bigger… I mean, you’re not getting any younger and studies show that you’re much more likely to expand than shrink at your age, especially with the holiday (oops, I mean “Christmas”) season coming up.”

After all, why should I expect a non-Christian business (we’ll set aside the issue, for the moment, of whether or not a business can be “Christian” anyway) to celebrate the birth of the Savior they don’t believe in?  Tell me, does it honor God for someone who doesn’t even acknowledge him in thought or deed to say the word “Christmas?”  We’re talking about the same God who rejected the sacrifices (which were commanded by him, unlike this holiday) of his people because they didn’t honor him with their lives.

Now, I think it’s ridiculous that retailers can be skittish about saying “Merry Christmas,” too, but for the same reason I think it’s ridiculous that the Stand for Christmas website even exists: it succumbs to the easily offended culture.  Retailers are afraid that someone will be offended if they say “Merry Christmas” when they actually celebrate Hanukkah.  In my experience, most people are not offended by such a thing.  Before I was married, I used to frequent Quiznos.  There was a girl working there who I talked to every now and then when I was eating there.  One winter I wished her a Merry Christmas, only to have her tell me she celebrated Hanukkah.  So, I wished her a Happy Hanukkah.  Simple as that.  No offense given, none taken.

Forgive me if I’m upset that there are a group of Christians out there who have decided to fight fire with fire, or “being offended” with “being offended.”  If the non-Christian world thinks they can be offended, well we can be too!  I can’t believe this masquerades as a strategy to battle “censorship.”

There has to be a better way to stand for Christmas.  How about this: when you walk into a retailer, strike up a conversation with the workers there.  Ask them about their holiday plans.  See what holiday they celebrate and ask them why.  Tell them why Christmas is special to you.  Tell them about how God became man in order that we might know God.  Tell them about why the manger scene is so important- that God wasn’t born in a beautiful palace to a king with a royal court celebrating, but in a manger with farm animals present.  Talk to them about the angels’ appearance to the shepherds.  Tell them about those who waited in eager expectation for the Messiah to be born.   It seems to be that this is a much better way to put Christ back in Christmas.

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A friend of mine at work sent me a link to a review of Guitar Praise.  The subject of the review is a new video game based on the immensely popular “Guitar Hero.”  The reviewer dubs it, “Guitar Hero minus the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.”  In effect, the game will be strikingly similar to the multi-million dollar Guitar Hero series of games, save that the music will be of the “Christian” variety.  Dust off your yellow and black striped leather pants; Stryper is back.

Any thoughtful observer, Christian or not, will note that Guitar Praise is one of a plethora of “Christian-ized” products that are on the market today.  For a few decades now, Christian versions of otherwise secular wares have flooded the marketplace.  The formula for the creation of said wares is apparent in reviewer’s title above:  Take a product (Guitar Hero), clean it up (in our case, subtract the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll), and ship it.

The discussion of Christians borrowing from popular culture is probably as old as Christianity itself.  When our theological pens have spilled their ink, we are still faced with the very practical issue of living within a culture.  Such issues are not uncommon in the NT (e.g., food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8).  Part of the project of how Christians ought to “be in but not of” the world is concerned with adopting (or not adopting) the cultural forms that surround us.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time thinking about such issues is hardly want for literature about the subject.  BBG, still wet behind the ears, already has an article about it; I daresay it will have many more.  As such, I cannot help but rehash much of what is already written on the topic, but I think the occasion of Praise Hero warrants the beating of what some might consider a dead horse:

First, having a Christian flavor of something, be it music or merchandise, does little to differentiate Christians and Christianity from the rest of the world.  There are two sides to this coin:

  1. On the first side, in our choice-saturated consumer culture, Christianity can appear as just another lifestyle choice among many; one more product on the shelf, similarly packaged and priced along side others.
  2. On the second side, Christianity is finding a touch-point with the world around it.  “Hey, you like video games?  We do too!”  Herein is an expression (though perhaps unintended) of the sentiment that Christians are really “normal” people, who enjoy and interact with many of the same things found in the secular world.  I’ve had much success building relationships through interests I’ve shared along these lines.

Second, we also have to remember that there are few, if any, “neutral” carriers out there (I’m a broken record,sorry).  Whatever we adopt carries with it certain assumptions or other baggage with it.  As one example, for Guitar Praise, consider the enjoyment one achieves through escaping into a fantasy world where one is “playing” the guitar with great proficiency.  In reality, of course, learning to play the guitar well would require hours of diligent practice; something that is not always fun.  With Guitar Praise, we get the superficial “glory” that would otherwise only be acheived through hours of hard work.  Note also that true musical success comes to most as a mixed bag, full of other unpleansatries which I’m sure the game ignores.  I’m reminded here of EPCOT’s “World Showcase”:  You get the glory of (superficially) traveling around the world with none of the headache (and I’m not just talking about jet lag).

Third, we have to ask, ought Praise Hero (and its ilk) occupy the time and effort of Christians?  There is a slippery slope here.  On one end of the spectrum is the idea that any recreation, or time spent away from healing the sick and reading the Bible is intrinsically “lesser” than any obviously “Christian” activity.   Are not video games an tremendous waste of time?  Moreover, if our raison d’etre is to glorify God, how exactly does this game do that?  Is it not another distraction from our calling?  On the other end of the spectrum is the thought that it’s not intrinsically bad to rest (nay, it’s good; c.f., the Sabbath), and we need to punch out every now and then and relax.  I would only bring to bear two considerations:

  1. What are our time ratios?  What is the “time spent playing video games” to “time spent reading the Bible” ratio?  Does God favor a high one, or a low one?  Additionally, does one get attention to the peril of the other?  What gets a higher priority in our lives?
  2. There are other ways to “punch out and relax.”

Finally, I’m reminded of a quote from Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind that Danny shared with me: “Orthodox Christianity has always had better things to do than simply echo the gifts that the despairing world wants to give to the church, or to borrow hungrily from the world’s constantly changing aspirations.”  Amen, anyone?

I am acutely aware of the fact that this post comes across as largely pejorative.  I am equally aware of the fact that there aren’t easy answers here, and I can understand why some might think Guitar Praise is a great idea (apart from the revenue it will generate).  As is my custom, I would simply urge my Christian readers to think Guitar Praise through, before it is condemned or…well…praised.  We must never forget that when Rome was Christianized in the 4th century, Christianity was also Romanized, and the results weren’t all positive.  So also, when we Christianize a product, idea or medium, we must remember that we too are subject to changes which are all too often ignored.

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