Theology & Pop Culture 2: How?

The last post in this series explored why it is important to have communication between Christian theology and pop culture. This post will show seven broad ways this can be done. Most of the following is taken from Gordon Lynch’s Understanding Theology and Pop Culture. His book is great for, among other things, laying out some basic methods.

1) Study how religion and popular culture of everyday life interact. How does religion shape the way people live life? How does pop culture change the way people believe?

2) Study the ways pop culture serves religious functions. When people point out the religious nature of football games, they are doing this.

Similarly, you could see in pop culture a way of doing theology. Remember, theology is a way of communicating eternal truths to a particular situation. Christian theology, then, is a way of communicating eternal truths, particularly about God, to a particular situation. Robert Beckford has shown how Bob Marley works out theology in his music. The blues was originally a way of doing gospel music for themes that were not to be discussed in church. Worship music, which is absolutely a piece of pop culture, is a way of doing theology.

3) Understanding pop culture in order to respond to it missionally. This is exactly what many missionaries do all over the world, except in the United States, or Britain (or wherever).

4) The use of pop culture “texts” and practices as a medium for theological reflection. Every time your pastor works some cheesy reference to pop culture into a sermon, she is doing a very basic example of this.

“We’re like iPhones, and we don’t have any bars. But when we are in better communion with Jesus, we get more bars!”

This could also be done in a deeper way, such as I did with Lady Gaga’s “Judas” here.

4a) Relate pop culture to the Bible. For example, you could point out that Mumford & Son’s “Sigh No More” is similar to 1 Corinthians 13:4 (“love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, etc.”), and 2 Cor. 5:14, 17:
Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be.
There is a design,
An alignment to cry,
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

2 Cor. 15:14, 17 (NIV)
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

4b) Compare certain theological ideas to certain pieces of popular culture. Considering how closely Neo (The Matrix) fits Christology is an example of this. I did this with P. Diddy here, and with Christan Bale’s infamous rant here.

Seeing the variety of ways this can be done is helpful to clarify one’s thoughts and aims. It also is a testimony to how important these comparisons are, because they are so versatile.

4c) Search for theological truth in popular culture. This depends on a respect for pop culture, and a recognition that Christians do not already know everything there is to be known about theology. This fact alone limits the variety of Christians able to participate in this method.

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  1. So what do we do with the ‘cheese’?

    So many people are turned off by ‘cheesiness,’ and to some extent I am among that number. I guess the real question is: what do we do when people get really cheesy (like your iPhone example, or some of the Veggietales adventures)?

    Do we embrace being cheesy, since none of us are as cool as we think we are, or do we strive to make our ‘pop culture theology’ ‘cool’?

    My thought (at the moment) is that band that feels like they have to say Jesus in their music, no matter how cheesy the reference (ala Relient K’s first album; “You, Me and Jesus at your mom’s pizza parlor!”) vs the band that doesn’t want to say Jesus and let the ideas and truth express itself, in a sense.

    I think my stance is to let them coexist, and be glad for both. But I have criticized cheesy in the past pretty heavily.

  1. February 2nd, 2012

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