From the Editor: Faith and Popular Culture
Although the theme for this issue is “Faith and Popular Culture,” the articles in this issue (even apart from those that are clearly off-theme) don’t all fall neatly under that umbrella. Bruce Guenther’s fine lead article, for example, while it references popular culture and acknowledges the need for a “sounder theology of culture” to deal with its challenges to the Canadian Mennonite Brethren church, focuses on dimensions of culture like language, demography, education, Protestant evangelicalism, and ethnicity. Still, Guenther’s overview of the Canadian MB experience provides a rich historical context for appreciating MB patterns of dealing with external social pressures, of which popular culture is a powerful instance.
Popular culture does not figure significantly in Michael VandenEnden’s challenging article on Aboriginal cultural recovery either. However, his hope and conviction that redemption is possible for objects that once had a different spiritual meaning may be relevant to the “faith and popular culture” discussion. For they raise the question: In what ways might the artifacts of a secular popular culture be similarly redeemed?
Continuing with the theme of Christianity and the religion of the “other,” but steering clear of the popular culture question altogether, is Robert Boyd’s essay on the relationship of evangelicalism and world religions. Boyd calls for an evangelical theology of religions characterized by optimism and agnosticism—optimism that God works redemptively among people ignorant of the gospel but humbly agnostic regarding the details of how God might be redeeming them. His argument is likely to provoke discussion among the mission-minded.
Nathan Tiessen’s article on the theology of Ruth also has nothing to say about contemporary popular culture, but his interpretation of that remarkable book is intriguing. Tiessen creatively applies hermeneutical principles developed by Walter Brueggemann to this sometimes neglected book and finds that its consolation remains significantly contemporary. He persuasively draws out the dialogical quality of Ruth and demonstrates its awareness of competing and equally compelling arguments about the nature of God in a way that will appeal to postmodern readers.
David Brattston’s discussion of litigation among Christians provides a useful summary of ancient Christian opinion on the issue, which helps us understand the broader cultural context of Paul’s condemnation of the use of secular courts by Christians. His is one of two pieces on this subject that have serendipitously found their way into this issue of Direction. (See also Russel Snyder-Penner’s review of First Be Reconciled: Challenging Christians in the Courts.)
Other articles more directly address the theme of popular culture. Richard Kyle examines the relationship between popular American culture—especially as disseminated through television—and televangelism’s electronic church. He finds no significant difference between the two and laments the deleterious effects of the electronic church on local congregations.
Television, however, is old technology which is being eclipsed by the Internet and cell phones and their growing number of applications. Popular culture in the twenty-first century is suffused with digital technology that, some think, is rewiring our very brains. Jason Derr’s wide-ranging article explores the impact on Christian faith and practice of the new technologies that form the infrastructure of what he is happy to call “ADHD culture.”
On a very different note, Michael Gilmour takes a leisurely stroll through the mad world of Gary Larson, creator of the Far Side cartoon. Popular culture certainly has a sense of humor. But how should Christians react when it is their notions of God, heaven, and hell that get lampooned? Gilmour’s article offers much food for thought.
Randy Klassen and Brian Froese look at two Christian popular culture phenomena. Klassen delves into the literary art of C.S. Lewis—perhaps evangelical Christianity’s favorite fantasy writer—carefully exploring Voyage of the Dawntreader for clues to Lewis’s thoughts on how Christians might best relate to those of other faiths. His conclusions may surprise many readers. Froese examines—among other end-time fiction—the LaHaye and Jenkins’ Left Behind series so wildly popular among evangelicals in North America and beyond. He does so from an unusual point of view, asking the question: What insights into popular evangelicalism might be gained if this kind of literature were treated as a species of the horror genre? His observations will be thought provoking even for those who might cringe at his approach.
In our Ministry Compass column, Rafael Zaracho carefully considers a particular case of the faith and culture problem: communicating the gospel in a culture where shame and honor are the dominant values. The Recommended Reading section consists of a brief bibliographic essay on the topic of faith and popular culture. Book Reviews—playing their usual supporting role—complete this issue of Direction. Enjoy.