We have all heard this before, “Christians are supposed to be in the world not of the world.”
But what does this actually mean? Is it being “of the world” to go see movies like The Hangover and The Wolf of Wall Street? What about listening to bands that aren’t deemed “Christian” because they swear from time to time or only get played on “secular” radio stations?
All of these questions can be very difficult to navigate as Christians. There is so much out there, and many times churches just don’t prepare us to make wise decisions.
One of my aims is to help us pursue truth in culture. We are constantly being asked to buy into ideas, products, and ways of life, many times it isn’t even our choice–TV ads, Facebook posts, billboards, and even our own friends force-feed culture down our throats–and we need to be prepared to respond.
So, how do we react as Christians? Maybe it is easier to completely remove ourselves from “secular” culture. Instead of listening to top 40 radio stations we could listen to Christian radio stations. Instead of watching movies that come out of secular movie studios, we could stick to “Christian” movies that are “family friendly”. Did you know that there is even a Christian alternative to YouTube? Yep, its called GodTube. We could completely remove ourselves from culture and live in a Christian utopia.
However, is that the best way to live? Around the world instead of in it? I think there is a better way. These things that are strictly “Christian” aren’t bad. I enjoy some Christian music and I thought the Left Behind movies were awesome going up. However, we need to learn to also engage with the broader culture around us.
How do we accomplish this? Here are three questions that are a great starting place for engaging with our broader culture. They end up building on one another but don’t miss understand them as a formula. As we get better at consuming culture, these questions should naturally become part of living out the Christian Life.
1. What is the content creator trying to communicate?
Every movie, song, book, TV show, and ad has some sort of message. We need to become experts at recognizing that message. This isn’t always easy, and there isn’t always one right answer. However, once we master this skill consuming culture becomes a totally different ball game. Instead of mindlessly watching Breaking Bad we begin to ask what message the writers are communicating.
In the case of Breaking Bad, we see a man who begins with the hope of leaving his family a little bit of cash after he dies. Then, by the end of the series, this man has become money and power hungry to the point where human life has no value to him. Everything is at his disposal when rising to the top.
A possible message is, stop at nothing to get what your family needs.
The next question that is helpful to ask is:
2. How does the message of the content resonate with my Christian convictions?
The message of Breaking Bad is in direct contrast with the Gospel. Jesus brought a message of peace and love. It is better to be poor and close to God than rich and condemned. Further, our Christian convictions tell us that all humans are made in the image of God. This places the utmost importance on all of human life, regardless of past sins.
When comparing the witness of Jesus to the witness of Walter White we see two extremes. Walter will stop at nothing for his family. However, this eventually drives a wedge between him and the rest of humanity that is irreconcilable. Jesus’ one goal was to bring humanity together. He desired to reconcile humanity. Walter has no desire to value him life outside of the lives of his family. Thus, the contrast between the two “ways of life”.
Now we have seen how Breaking Bad conveys a message about particular way of living life. And we have seen how that message compares to the Christian conviction, but we still don’t know what to do with what we have learned. This brings us to one more helpful questions.
3. What would life be like if we bought into the message of the content?
This question does two things. First, it places us in the position to contemplate life according to the message of the content in contrast to the message of the Christian conviction. Sometimes the messages converge while other times they diverge. Both can be equally helpful in our Christian life. The value in this is seeing how the Christian life is different from the world’s. Of course, we all know this, but seeing pieces of culture demonstrate the differences is valuable (more on that in the next paragraph). What may even be more valuable is seeing pieces of broader culture proclaiming the truth found in God. These proclamations may be inadvertent, but the imprint of our creator is embedded in his creation; as Christians, we can find his witness in culture and proclaim it to the world.
Second, it gives witness to the ways in which the world tries to live. When the message of culture diverges from the message of the gospel we can better understand how those round us live. We are then able to better positions ourselves to be effective witnesses in the world.
It doesn’t take much to see that the message of Breaking Bad diverges rather quickly from the message of the Christian conviction. So, when we ask ourselves how life would be when pursing money and power, we can see that the pursuit never ends. No matter how much we want, we never get enough. Once we have positioned ourselves to understand this, we can witness to the value that Jesus brings to all things in life.
We can’t escape culture. Many times we don’t want too. However, if we are going to be consumers, then we need to be smart consumers. I believe that the gospel depends on it.