The Church and Culture: An Uneasy Alliance

Neal DeRoo, co-convener of a conference at which I am presenting a paper (which is sure to bring Peter Rollins to his academic knees*), writes at Church and Pomo about what elicited this conference:

“Culture” is an amorphous, vague thing that is next to impossible to pin-down. It is only slightly better than a child’s sense of “they”: “But mom, if I do that, they will laugh at me.” Similarly, Christians tend to make a lot of our decisions based on what “culture” will do: “This culture is going to hell in a hand basket and that’s why God is punishing it” or “We have to do this to keep the Church relevant to our culture.” Both the idea that the Church can avoid culture, can hide from it somehow, and the seemingly opposite idea that the Church must engage with culture share a common problem: in both cases, Christians assume a certain distance between the Church and this thing called ‘culture.’

But the Church is not distinct from culture. It is thoroughly infused with cultural products, artifacts and institutions. The Church, any church, requires human interaction, and therefore requires using the products of previous human interactions: language, customs (as simple as a hand-shake or a smile as a greeting and as complex as guidelines for institutional decision-making), reference points (we’ve got to talk about something), and so on. As Christians, we should not call for the Church to engage culture, but rather to engage culture better, which means, in part, to be more self-aware of the ways in which it has always already been engaged by culture, by what Michel de Certeau calls the “practices of everyday life.”

While we tend to think of “popular culture” as referring only to the entertainment industry (films, TV, music, video games, and so on), it more accurately refers to all those cultural elements that are popular because they shape the lives of so many people. While TV shows or movies may be a part of that shaping, formative process, so, too, are our customs regarding food (what we eat, how we eat it, and how we produce it), fashion (what we actually wear, not just what some guy in France thinks we ought [or haute?] to wear), and functionality (what technology does for us, what it doesn’t do, and how we decide on that). As Christians whose lives are thoroughly enculturated, we have not avoided culture so much as we have evaded dealing with it directly and purposively.

Read the rest: Conference: The Christian Evasion of Popular Culture : the church and postmodern culture.

*And if that doesn’t do it, I’m taking Pete pheasant hunting the next day. That will surely cause him to starting praying again.

Are You a Gay P.K.?

My friend Sam Brink, on staff with the American Baptist Church, and his son Andrew are conducting a survey of pastors’ kids who are LGBT. If you qualify for that, please take a few minutes to complete their survey.

Find the survey here.

The Problem with Pietism

Last night, I was at a public conversation between two evangelicals (more on that soon). After the the dialogue, there there was a private gathering for the interlocuters and some others, with a table of finger food and a few bottles of wine.

The evangelical leaders didn’t drink any wine. One looked at the wine in my hand and made a comment to the effect of, “Looks good; wish I could have some.” I took that as a challenge and spent the rest of the evening trying to ply him with wine or get him to join us at the Town Hall Brewery afterwards. He didn’t bite, nor did the supporters of his ministry who surrounded him.

At one point I exclaimed, “You know, you can love Jesus and drink wine!” to which he chuckled uncomfortably. He then told me a story about a very famous evangelical leader who sent the organization’s custodian to the store to buy his wine.

I didn’t grow up in cultural evangelicalism, nor in pietism, so I can’t quite say that I understand from an insider’s perspective. However, I’ve been told about it. The pietistic behavior among evangelicals is an attempt to maintain “holiness,” as exhorted in biblical passages like,

[Read more...]

Megachurches Make You High

According to a new study, attending worship at a megachurch is similar to getting high:

By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

Published on LiveScience

DENVER — More and more Americans are spending their Sundays at megachurches, enormous churches with congregations numbering in the thousands. Despite the size of these churches, members don’t get lost in the crowd, new research finds.

In fact, a new study of 12 representative megachurches spread across the country finds that the size of these churches is a major part of their appeal. Members report that the experience of worshiping with thousands is intoxicating, the researchers find.

“It’s an addicting experience, it’s so large, it’s so huge,” said study researcher Katie Corcoran, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Washington. “One respondent said you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football game.”

Read the rest: Megachurch Study Suggests Big Congregations Make Worship ‘Intoxicating’ Experience.

I have been to megachurches, of course, and they always make me cynical. But I’m sure that some readers happily attend them, so tell us what you like about your megachurch.


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