LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Christians must engage popular culture, not by becoming a cheap imitation of it, but by proclaiming the only story that makes sense of the fallen world — redemption through a crucified and risen Lord, Russell D. Moore told a group of college students.
Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology and vice president for academic administration, urged students to avoid two extremes in regard to pop culture: separating from it because they deem it evil and beyond rescue or creating a subculture that includes such pop culture rip-offs as “Christian” boy bands and “Christian” movie stars.
“Built within us, there is a longing for a story that makes sense of the world,” Moore said during the fifth annual “Give Me An Answer” Collegiate Conference Feb. 18-19 at the Louisville, Ky., campus.
“And what you and I often want to do as Christians is to say, ‘Let’s not talk about the Gospel story; instead, let’s talk about how the Gospel will make us better. Let’s stand up and bring out a beauty queen to talk about how Jesus has made her life and her ministry as a beauty queen that much more effective. Let’s bring out the quarterback to talk about how knowing Jesus has made him so much more effective on the field.’ When instead, what we really need to be doing is standing up to people and saying, ‘We have a different understanding of the world that focuses in on a dead body that came back to life.’”
Speaking from Acts 17 –- the Apostle Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill — Moore pointed out that Paul neither capitulated to the Greek culture nor recoiled from it in moral indignation.
Instead, Paul demonstrated that the first-century Athenians did not live in a manner consistent with their own worldview, one rife with worldly philosophies and pagan deities, Moore said.
“Paul is not standing back clucking his tongue saying, ‘Isn’t this awful?’” Moore said.
“He comes in and starts pointing out aspects of culture that are present in Athens…. [H]e is not trying to build a bridge to the Athenians; he is trying to critique what they believe and say to them, ‘You really don’t believe what you say you believe. There are aspects in your own culture that show what you are really looking for is Christ.’”
The themes that characterize contemporary sitcoms, reality shows, movies and music all point to a deep-seated search for meaning and purpose, Moore said, noting that people today are no different than the Athenians of Paul’s day; they are looking for a genuine authority with the definitive answer to life’s thorniest questions and they are longing for genuine relationships within a loving community.
Only Christ and His church can fulfill these desires because God has made all people in His own triune image, Moore said. They have been created to desire authentic love and genuine relationships, he said, pointing out that pop culture has become obsessed with sex for precisely this reason.
“Sexuality has been designed, [according to] Ephesians 5, to express the great mystery of the cosmos — the relationship between Christ and His church,” Moore said. “So, when you have individuals who are longing for sexual connection, what they are doing is taking that desire that has been programmed into them to reflect Christ and His church and they are perverting it through a fallen understanding of sin and they are seeking to connect to this deep mystery of existence in ways that will never show the mystery.”
Moore encouraged the collegians to be experts at evaluating pop culture in light of the Scriptures and to act on their analysis by offering a definitive story that is utterly unlike the culture, one that is wholly “other” — the Gospel.
Believers must not merely seek to make individual Christians or to live as “lone wolf” believers, Moore said. Instead, they must engage and critique the culture while living as members of the body of Christ, the visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth.
“The mystery of Christ is that these little gatherings of the church would be a sign, not just to the outside culture, not just to popular culture, but to the principalities and powers, to the demonic order, that the Kingdom is coming, that God is crushing the head of the serpent through Jesus Christ,” Moore said.
“So the message that we have to give to pop culture is not just ‘your way isn’t working,’ and it’s not just ‘judgment is coming upon you.’ We need to say, ‘There is a new order, a new Kingdom, and if you want to know what that looks like … come see this community of the Kingdom. See peace and love and righteousness and joy and self-control. And you cannot see them as individuals, you can only see them working together in community.
“‘You will see it imperfectly and it will be messy. You have human beings involved, so you are going to see some squabbles and you are going to see some fights, but you will also see the Kingdom of Christ. You will also see an outpost of the Kingdom here. You will make sense of what you are really longing for that you can’t find out there.’”