Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christianity-Lite

I've just finished reading Dick Staub's excellent book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. The tagline for the book declares it to be "a manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-Lite", and indeed it is. Staub's thesis centers around Evangelicalism's capitulation to the ways and forms of popular culture, which has resulted in a weak, insipid form of the faith he calls "Christianity-Lite". The way out, he postulates, is to deepen our faith and become deeply well, enriched people who are then able to enrich culture.

This is such an excellent book that, rather than giving it a one-time review, I'd like to spend more time with the material. I'll begin with this quote from the Introduction:

We've arrived at a crossroads in faith and culture. The Christian community has degenerated into an intellectually and artistically anemic subculture, and the general population is consuming an unsatisfying blend of mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional entertainment. We are caught between a popular culture attempting to build art without God and a religious culture that believes in a God disinterested in art.

The American Music Awards were on TV this past Sunday, and I watched some of it with my wife. The terms mindless, soulless, and spiritually delusional apply nicely to the dreck I saw celebrated that night. Neither a note of the music nor a syllable of the lyrics was true. It was all false--an ecstatic, hedonistic, autotuned Bacchae exalting the worst and most deceptive elements of our culture. And this is the culture to which Evangelicals seek to be relevant--to imitate and sanctify, if such a thing were possible.

We Christians are, in large part, intellectually and artistically vacuous because we have followed popular culture down the spiraling whirlpool of eros-replacing-agape, emotional sentamentalism, self-defining reality, and the victory of style of substance. We have elevated product over process and justified the means by the ends, which we have devastatingly misinterpreted. Though we set out to transform popular culture, we have been transformed by it. We have turned our pastors into celebrities, elevating them to god-like status while they produce to our liking, but then discarding them with the Paris Hiltons and Brittany Spearses of the popular culture machine when we are done with them. We have exchanged discipleship for consumerism, true community for celebrity-association, and transformation for trendsetting. We have turned the deep and vibrant faith of Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Lewis into "mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional entertainment."

As a result, we are an insecure and fearful people embracing a decontextualized faith-substitute. We are biblically illiterate. We are theologically anemic. We are intellectually vacuous. We are artistically derivative. We are, in a word, unwell. This is not the way the people of the creating, redeeming, resurrecting God ought to be.

4 comments:

Brandon said...

Hmmm...one might say that could have been started with a "Thus saith the LORD."

Kelly said...

Uh-huh.

A-men.

Breena said...

This book is "straight up" and I like it. I wonder if the Christians that he is speaking of (the ones who are striving to make Jesus as cool as possible, in my words) would even recognize this of themselves...I guess that would require humility, prayer and a whole lot of Jesus...the not so popular Jesus...the REAL Jesus ;P

Eric said...

It was all false--an ecstatic, hedonistic, autotuned Bacchae exalting the worst and most deceptive elements of our culture.

Don't sugar coat it. As a connoisseur of fine music I find myself simultaneously disgusted by major label secular music, and disappointed by mass market Christian music. I recognize that there is a place for simple chords and song structures for worship music to make the music more practical for communal worship, but lyrically I feel as though most popular worship music contains a mix of trite christianese and very limited theological content. I don't know if this is the result of seeking mass appeal, or merely a reflection of our simple understanding of the Bible, or perhaps something else. Have I missed the modern equivalents of Be thou vision or Amazing Grace?