Pop Culture Christianity

Since the box-office success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, there's been a lot of hoopla about the big, previously neglected "Christian audience" (and how to cash in on it). But the strange truth is that most Christians—including evangelicals—are already quite comfortable with mainstream popular culture. Despite frequently denouncing the values of Hollywood, religious people are indistinguishable from nonreligious people when it comes to watching movies and television shows, according to a recent study. It seems we have assimilated—behaviorally, at least. Yet what lens (if any can be considered fundamentally "Christian") should we use to critique what we see, hear, and create?

In Eyes Wide Open, revised and expanded since its 2001 publication, Calvin College professor William Romanowski presents one approach, after first examining three other frameworks Christians often use to critique popular culture—frameworks he calls moralist, ideological, and theological.

It's not revelatory to read that Christian voices often denounce films because of isolated incidents of what they consider immorality (Schindler's List), or because the implied political or theological messages clash with their beliefs (The Cider House Rules), but Romanowski defines and illustrates well the limitations of these three approaches. While dismissive of the theological approach because he believes it's often forcefully imposed (Austin Powers as a meditation on Pauline freedom and restraint, anyone?), Romanowski is more thorough in his deconstruction of the other two. Usually, he contends, moralist and ideological approaches are piecemeal rather than holistic, and they're not consistently applied.

The "Christian framework" he proposes is very different. He calls us to evaluate cultural works based on the extent to which they represent—realistically—what it is like to live in God's "good but fallen world."

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Sojourners Magazine June 2007
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