Consuming with Clear Eyes: Why Cultural Discernment Is up to You

Consuming with Clear Eyes: Why Cultural Discernment Is up to You October 2, 2013
Illustration by Seth T. Hahne

A high number of visitors to our Web site find us by googling for answers to the question of whether they should be consuming a certain cultural artifact: Is Twilight right for my child? Is Harry Potter satanic? Is Mumford & Sons a Christian Band? Is it okay to watch or play football? All of these questions betray a perennial problem in the evangelical church: when it comes to questions of discernment, our growth is stunted. We rely on the advice of “experts” and set up extra-biblical hedges to keep us from stumbling into something unpleasant or spiritually oppressive.

Our aim at Christ and Pop Culture has always been to short-circuit that mindset by encouraging the reader to engage in basic cultural criticism, what the apostle Paul might call “sober-mindedness.” While our comments may often contain a reader pointing out the “mature” aspects of the shows, albums, and films we cover, we have always been content to place a significant amount of trust in the intelligence of our readers to discern and the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and guide.

Our goal is to equip you for the task of cultural discernment, not necessarily to do it for you. Sometimes we do this by laying the groundwork. Other times we do it by modeling what cultural discernment ought to look like.

We rarely want to build solid walls around cultural works. Our experience has been that God often works and speaks not only through surprisingly dark or worldly works but also through our interaction and engagement with them.

Cultural consumption is a calling we all have, a task that none of us can escape. Interacting with a work cannot be avoided, not even with resolute boycotts or ignorance. We are affecting the world and our own culture with our response, no matter how we choose to color or disguise it. Even worldly concepts and ideas will conjure ideas within us, and our best response may just be to outwardly acknowledge that impact, then praise or push back accordingly.

The most recent issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine is all about that inevitable heavy-lifting that every Christian must embrace. It goes beyond pointing out what is right and wrong and extends to considering purpose, intent, pomp, circumstance, and the manner in which grace and sin interact; messy, God-acknowledging ways that simultaneously proclaim and obfuscate the truth. In this fallen world, even God-honoring, Christ-centered, “Christian” works will be marred by the repercussions of the fall. Conversely, dark, disturbing, offensive, “worldly” works will praise God just as rocks, oceans, and preachers do.

Perhaps the main reason the evangelical church has such a hard time with cultural discernment is the uncomfortable grey areas that so often result from paying attention to and truly engaging a work. Evangelicals have always been a people of clarity, for good reason. But if we abandon the neutral colors present in God’s creation, even while affirming the bold reds and blues, we’ll inevitably find ourselves missing out on the full beauty available to us.

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.

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