Pop Culture & Pilgrims
Engaging Art & Culture With the Gospel
God’s artwork reveals his true nature
Art is always a reflection of the artist. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans chapter one that “[God’s] eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world.” If we look closely at the opening passages of Genesis, which chronicle the creation of the cosmos, we find God, like a sculptor, separating light and darkness, day and night, ocean and sky. In each of these creative acts God defines what is good, what is beautiful, and what is true, all in accordance with his character. Similar to the way creation generally reveals God’s character, Scripture reveals God’s character in a unique and special way. Throughout all of the poetry, wisdom literature, histories, songs, and prophecies of sacred Scripture, God reveals his character and nature to his people.
Popular art & culture reveals the world’s true nature
In the same way that God’s works of art communicate a message about who he is, human art communicates a message about the artist and culture that created it. This is perhaps especially true of popular art, which as the name suggests, appeals to a large majority of the culture. Because of this, popular art functions as a useful reflection of the society’s most common values and ways of thinking. For this reason, Christians should seek to actively observe and engage the art and culture around them, keeping in mind that as Christians we must pursue purity and avoid cultural artifacts, such as music, movies, television shows, and books that would entangle us in sin.
Discerning & reflecting on art & culture
Actively observing the art and culture around us, rather than passively consuming the culture of the world, helps us in the pursuit of holiness, of keeping oneself “unstained from the world”(James 1:27). The art and culture around us constantly bombard us with false messages about what is most precious in life, what we should desire, what we should fear, and what it means to be human. In order to protect ourselves from this, Christians must learn to discern what a work of art or product of culture is saying about reality, and if this message is consistent with what God says about reality in his word. Usually, the question is not “if” a work of art or product of culture is out of step with Scripture, but “how”. Thinking deeply about how art or culture specifically contradicts God’s word can be a fruitful opportunity for reflection. The times we are inadvertently reminded of the precious truths and promises of God’s word are opportunities to offer prayers of thankfulness to God for his regenerating grace in our lives, which opens our eyes to see the resplendent beauty of Christ and the hideousness of sin.
An example of Christian engagement with art
I was struck recently when I stumbled across a song entitled “Cough Syrup” by alternative band Young The Giant. The lyrics were striking, almost prophetic. The singer describes his life in “A dark world [that] aches for a splash of the sun”. He goes on to describe a seemingly hopeless search, “I run now to the things they said could restore me, restore life the way it should be, I’m waiting for this cough syrup to come down.” I couldn’t help but think of the song as a reflection of our lost world’s groping in the dark for meaning, for purpose, for redemption. The vocalist’s longing for “cough syrup”, something that can bring healing and restoration, reminded me of the lyrics of the old hymn “Rock of Ages”. In the hymn Christ is described as the “double cure” who saves us from the wrath of God and makes us pure. In response to a blind world’s longing for salvation, Heaven replies with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To a dark world aching for a splash of sun, heaven offers the Son, Jesus Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3). The Son who is the true light of the world (John 1:4-9). Rather than run to the things the world promises to offer peace, comfort, and pleasure, the gospel beckons us to run to Calvary where God cancelled the record of debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Running to anything, or anyone but Christ to find restoration is vain and futile. But in Christ, we find an unshakable foundation on which to place our hope. For God has revealed to us that Christ is coming back to restore all things, to restore life to the way it was meant to be: with God dwelling among his people. Last, The strange and vivid description of cough syrup as a metaphor for redemption reminded me of the bitter taste of the gospel of faith and repentance to a world so in love with its sin. As Paul reminds us in Corinthians, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God”(1 Corinthians 1:18).
Opportunities for engaging the lost
Observing and engaging with art and culture also provides opportunities for Christians to engage with the lost. For example, occasionally the university group will host a “faith and film” night. During this time Christians are invited to come with their non-believing friends to a movie. After the film, we spend some time reflecting as a group on how the film was consistent with, or different from, the truths of Scripture. This often leads to gospel centered conversations among believers and nonbelievers alike that wouldn’t occur if we were simply going to the movies without the intention of observing and engaging with the film from a Christian perspective. This is not the only way of engaging with the culture, though. Perhaps you could ask your co-worker what the tattoo they recently got means to them. You might find yourself in a conversation about the nature of suffering, why it exists, and how you face the pain and trials of life as a Christian. Or, the next time you see your friend jamming out to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” you could ask them about where they think happiness comes from. You might find yourself explaining how the Lord Jesus Christ offers us, not merely happiness, but joy.
G. Wil. currently serves as the counseling ministries intern at First Baptist Church in Canyon, Texas. He studies English at West Texas A&M University. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, listening to lectures, watching Star Wars, and spending time with family and friends.