Sunday, August 3, 2008

Review: Redeeming Pop Culture

T.M. Moore includes the following passage in the dedication section of his book Redeeming Pop Culture: A Kingdom Approach: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33, KJV). Moore, however, does not view careful involvement in popular culture by Christians as a conflict with commitment to "the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Rather, Moore seeks to outline a well-reasoned, biblical and discerning Christian approach to popular culture.

Moore states that the purpose of his book "is to provide guidance for evangelical Christians in dealing with popular culture in a way that fosters appreciation for it and even enjoyment of it, without compromising Christ's call to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (4). Moore proposes Christians accomplish this task by incorporating aspects of four approaches to popular culture into a more fully orbed biblical perspective (5-8).

Christians implementing a biblical approach to popular culture must "be alert to developments in the popular culture," "extol certain aspects of popular culture," seek to "determine the overt and covert messages of various cultural forms," "must not shy away from the moral duty of exposing what is evil or what threatens to bring harm to individuals or society," and "include a missiological element as well" (8). Moore strikes a healthy balance between the two common evangelical reactions to popular culture: asceticism and immersion.

While Moore rightly believes "it is the very nature of our kingdom calling to interact with the world," (40) he stresses this must be done within the confines of a proper understanding of the kingdom of God. Moore lists "five aspects of our calling in the kingdom of Christ," (42) consisting of "the spiritual nature of our calling, the temporal and material mandate it entails, the manner in which that calling is uniquely fitted to each individual Christian, the communal nature of our kingdom calling, and the eschatological dimension of the kingdom" (42, 43).

Believing that "the world and everything in it belong to God" (Ps. 24:1), Moore remarks, "whatever we encounter in the world is a legitimate target for our kingdom calling of reconciling all things to Him" (41). Moore then proceeds to define "kingdom" as "not a place, but a dominion" (41). God is present in the world in various ways, such as through His Word, through the Holy Spirit, through believers, etc.

Because believers are not of this world, it is natural that proper Christian behavior will "provoke" others to "strike out at them" because "they have different values and ethics" (44). Stressing the importance of his kingdom approach, Moore writes, "The kingdom of God has a mandate to grow and fill the earth with the presence of the divine glory ..." (45).

Moore cites numerous passages of Scripture in support of his kingdom-based position, including Matthew 5:13-16, which emphasizes the role of believers as a light in the world. He adds that part of our kingdom calling involves bringing "the temporal and material realm into subjection to Christ" (46). Seeking God's kingdom first is central to Moore's position and, as a result, Christian involvement in popular culture must be based on the supremacy of God and his kingdom, not on getting our "jollies for a few minutes," as a result of uncritical exposure to pop culture (56). Moore also stresses community aspects of the kingdom and eschatological aspects ("History is on a course determined by God," 51).

Moore includes an important chapter regarding judgment of pop culture. He makes a brief but somewhat weak case for the validity of biblically based judgment. Moore quotes John 7:24: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (KJV). A contemporary translation would probably have made Moore's point clearer: "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment" (NIV).

Moore presents three arguments for the place of judgment. First, he observes that we are to judge "works of culture, not souls" (80). This is an important distinction. Second, Moore rightly notes that "judgment is not optional" (81). Since we are surrounded by pop culture, Moore states that "we cannot help but judge" it (Ibid.). Third, Moore notes that "Jesus commands discernment" (Ibid.). In order to assist in making proper judgments, Moore discusses an illustration of a three-legged stool (82-99). The three legs are beauty, goodness and truth. Supporting the legs are the three braces of revelation, tradition, and the work of the Spirit.

Moore begins his chapter on "Approaching Popular Culture" by agreeing that navigating pop culture from a Christian worldview can indeed be difficult. Unlike some Christians who make the Christian life out to be a non-stop blessing in order to appeal to unbelievers, Moore rightly observes that "being a Christian is the most demanding way of life that anyone can follow, and no one should embark upon it without first counting the cost of being a disciple of the Savior" (109).

Moore then offers six points of advice for approaching popular culture. First, Moore wisely suggests beginning with prayer regarding what we can learn from culture and prayer "for those who shape culture" (112).

Second, Moore suggests Christians approach popular culture intelligently. At a time in history when American evangelicalism is known for anything but rigorous intellectualism, Moore's advice is refreshing.

Third, we should seek to approach culture purposefully. Since "Christians are people with a mission, called to embody, proclaim, and advance the kingdom of God and His righteousness," (117) we should not lose sight of this goal.

Fourth, pop culture must be approached critically. As an aspect of this approach, Moore states we should "ferret out the presuppositions" or those producing pop culture and "analyze the various messages they send" (120).

Fifth, we should approach pop culture dialogically. By this Moore means "firsthand discussion with those who are immersed" in pop culture (124). While studying pop culture in a detached sense is useful, Moore rightly observes that face-to-face dialogue is also important.

Finally, Moore advocates approaching pop culture redemptively in the sense of "our own redemption," (126-127) "the redemption of our witness" (127-128) and "the redemption of popular culture" (128-130).

Moore's optimism regarding the extent of influence Christians and the church can have on society may not sit well with certain perspectives. For example, while a postmillennialist would likely agree that the church indeed will overcome the negative tangle of popular culture and usher in Christ's millennial reign, certain amillennialists and likely most premillennialists would take issue with Moore's repeated optimism. Of course, this does not mean that those who disagree with such optimism are exempt from involvement in popular culture and, in this respect, Moore's points regarding Christian involvement in popular culture are valid and applicable to Christians of all theological persuasions.

Moore obviously lives and breathes Scripture, as is evident from his many endnotes. As such, I would encourage readers to look up these notes and read the relevant passages cited.

In a fallen and depraved world, God has called believers to be salt and light, not bland and hidden. Redeeming Pop Culture succeeds in assisting Christians in navigating the maze of popular culture thoughtfully.


Karla said...

Are you familiar with Lance Wallnau? He is all about taking about the high places of culture and what it really means to disciple nations. We tend to think the only arena Christians are to be about is the Church. We let the world go it's own way and ridicule them for doing so. We ought to be engaging the culture and teaching Kingdom Principles out in the mainstream world.

Robert Velarde said...

No, I'm not familiar with Wallnau, but thanks for the tip. I'm reminded of the title of a book, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World by Rebecca Manley Pippert (IVP, 1979), as well as biblical passages about being salt and light, of course.