In this series, we are looking at relationships between Christianity and popular culture. This post will consider references to Christianity in media that is basically secular. This relationship is sometimes found in political commentaries that express a favorable attitude toward Christianity. Also, you may find some movies which have Christian characters and dialogue, and seem favorable to Christianity overall, but are not marketed as Christian movies in an exclusive sense.
So, is this a good approach to popular culture? Should Christians support this kind of media by recommending it to others or financially contributing to organizations that produce it? Should Christians create such media online as a form of outreach? Well, that’s a decision for individuals to make, but in this post I want to highlight the potential advantages and disadvantages to consider when making that decision.
So, what are some advantages of such media? I think the biggest benefit is that you can get people thinking about Christianity and stimulate curiosity about what the Bible says. Some people are rather averse to attempts at religious proselytization, but this kind of media could introduce Christianity in a way that does not feel threatening. Another advantage is enabling Christians to have public influence in ways they ordinarily could not.
As for disadvantages, I think the biggest disadvantage is that, in order to portray Christianity in secular media, you have to make some starting assumptions about Christianity. Since you are not supposed to talk about religion in secular media, you have to frame religion in terms of something that you are allowed to talk about. For example, a typical starting assumption is that God is love, and that since most people want to believe in a God of love, you can present Christianity in a way that could appeal to everybody. Or, another starting assumption is that the Christianity causes people to live responsibly and is thus good for society as a whole, justifying a favorable attitude from the government. Or, another starting assumption is that the United States has historically been a Christian nation, so a favorable political stance toward Christianity is merely an attempt to stay true to the country’s founding principles.
So, let’s consider the starting assumption that God is love. To say that God is love – what does that mean? For me, to be comforted by that claim in and of itself, I would have to project my own ideas of what love is onto God. But where does the Bible fit into this? Instead of starting with the idea that God is love, my approach would be to consider what the Bible says about the plan of God for mankind, and then decide whether God is love or not. Suppose you did that and came to the conclusion that God is not love after all? What now? Well, I would step back and reconsider one’s interpretation of the Bible to see if there is another reasonable interpretation which takes all relevant Scriptures into account but leads to a more loving portrayal of God.
But obviously, this approach to Christianity is not suitable for secular media because it entails deep theological matters that not everybody could be expected to agree upon. When we introduce Christianity with certain starting assumptions, people tend to build upon those starting assumptions with their own ideas. But are the advantages of presenting Christianity in secular media greater than this disadvantage? That is for you to decide.
Now let’s consider the starting assumption that Christianity makes people responsible and is thus good for society as a whole. A potential consequence of this assumption is that it could diminish Christianity to a self-reform program or a social agenda. Now, I do believe in the power of Christ to change the lives of believers, but what is the process by which that happens? I think it is the result of faith in a spiritual process involving Christ’s death and resurrection, which I described in my series titled “Being a Real Christian.” This process is probably not a topic that could be portrayed in secular media.
Lastly, I want to consider the claim that the United States has historically been a Christian nation. This claim rests on historical observations of visible, public Christian influence. However, when using this observation to justify political agendas, there is the risk of reducing Christianity to a set of historically observable traits. But these historically observable traits are not a full representation of Biblical principles, so are these the elements that we want to brand Christianity with? That is for you to decide.
So, having read all of this, don’t get the idea that I am opposed to portrayals of Christianity in secular media. As I said earlier, there definitely are advantages to this approach to popular culture. But as with all approaches, some potential drawbacks exist, and you can decide for yourself whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.