In last month’s
column, I reflected on a helpful book that offered a five-way discussion
about how the changes in culture and society should or shouldn’t shape the way
churches do their work. The Church in an Emerging Culture: Five Views
(edited by Leonard Sweet, published by Zondervan, $14.95) is a wide-ranging debate
and I commended it highly. It is fun and insightful, offering passion and concern,
with everyone from postmodern pastors Erwin McManus and Brian McLaren to Orthodox
post-feminist writer Frederica Mathewes-Green; from thoughtful Gen X smart guy
Andy Crouch to heavy-weight Reformed theologian Michael Horton. It is the sort
of debate that will be going on for quite some time, and I encourage you to dive
in if you haven’t. This is a good place to start, or continue, the conversation.
the end of that review I suggested that another way to learn Godly discernment
and experience Christian engagement with cultural forces is to be intentional
about reflecting on popular culture. Just dive into the movies, talk about the
deeper messages behind those Super Bowl ads, pay attention to Hip-Hop culture.
(One easy way to start that is to pick up the nice little paperback, Jesus
and the Hip-Hop Prophets: Spiritual Insights from Lauryn Hill and Tupac
by Alex Gee & John Teter (InterVarsity Press, $7.00). Both of these guys are
dynamic communicators with a love for these artists. Much more may be said about
rap and the rhythm nation, but this makes a helpful contribution to our understanding.)
suggestion: Subscribe to the wonderful, wonderful, excellent newsletter published
by Denis and Margie Haack, whose ministry, Ransom Fellowship, publishes the handsome
monthly Critique. Check out their brilliant resources on their great Web
There you will find movie reviews by the likes of Steve Garber and CD reviews
by John Seel. I think the best thing I’ve yet read on the upcoming movie, The
Passion, most of which has bored me, was written in Critique this month,
asking how followers of Christ might talk about this film with their non-believing
neighbors. Skip a pizza this month and send ’em some cash. They don’t ask, but
I know they can use it.
Bill Romanowski’s Eyes Wide Open: Finding
God in Popular Culture (Brazos Press, $12.99) is, of course, the first
book we always suggest for those wanting our in-the-world-but-not-of-it approach.
students, CCO workers and nearly anyone who has been reading this column for the
past years know of our affection for Bill and our rave reviews to this engaging
and biblically-based, open-minded book. This is, in our opinion, simply the best
book out there on how to engage the world of popular culture, film, and TV.
that, we always recommend next the brilliant Everyday Apocalypse
by David Dark (Brazos Press, $13.99), which offers a close and truly insightful
— dare I say radical? — Christian reading of all sorts of contemporary
media issues. Or it could be described (as the subtitle puts it) as "The
sacred revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons and other pop culture icons."
I would bet you’ve not read anything like it, and Dark is, I might add, known
to be both a cool genius and a truly nice fellow.
Not only college students
should use books like these, as we all need to gather wisdom and grace to allow
us to be faithful in our media-oriented world and the ethos in which we are engulfed.
It is our Christian duty, and these books help us, to evaluate cultural movements
and social icons, learning together to "take every thought captive"
and to "receive all things with thanks." Although for most of us, it
is quite a lot of fun, this is a matter of our obedient discipleship, and we remind
readers that our promoting these books is done with that sort of sense of calling.
As a New Testament writer once said, brothers and sisters, "I beseech you…"
those who want a serious-minded case study approach, William D. Romanowski’s first
book, Pop Culture Wars (InterVarsity Press, $22.00) is well worth
working through. As I’ve explained before, it is a history of how faith communities
have related to the rise of popular entertainment. From contemporary debates about
public funding of the arts, Romanowski goes back to movements such as Vaudeville,
looks at the rise of Burlesque and, of course, the advent and popular growth of
film (even the rise of rock soundtracks in film), all topics Bill has extensively
researched. Bill comes up not only with genuine Christian insight, but his eyes
of faith have allowed him to discern some things — issues of race and immigrants
and class, for instance — that not everyone sees. He has made an important
contribution to the study of this field, and PCW is an informative study.
For those serious about a pursuit of this topic, it is a must-read.
Pop Culture: A Kingdom Approach by T.M. Moore (Presbyterian & Reformed,
$11.99) is a book that differs with Romanowski’s only in small details. It offers
what might be considered a more theological approach (integrating, as he does,
insights from Jonathan Edwards) and tons of Bible verses. If Romanowski wants
to affirm — in neo-Calvinist ways common to those who refer to "common
grace" and a Kuyperian worldview — Moore perhaps insists on a bit more
critique, equipping us to quite intentionally glorify God in our thoughtful appreciation
and discernment of popular entertainments.
A brand new book that truly deserves
mention as a pretty serious, nearly scholarly treatment is in the Baker "engaging
culture" series. (The earlier ones in this great series include probably
the best Christian book on film, Reel Spirituality by Robert Johnson
and For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger, surely
the most significant book on Earth-care and environmental stewardship I’ve seen.
William Dyrness, an editor for the series, himself did Visual Faith,
a study of the visual arts — again, a top-shelf book.) Adding to the great
reputation of this solid series is A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in
Pop Culture by Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor (Baker Academic, $17.99).
It is the latest in this series and it looks very substantial, both intriguing
and well conceived. Detweiler teaches mass communication at Baylor and spoke at
Jubilee a few years back. His co-author teaches at Fuller. It has garnered rave
reviews from people we trust, like Robert Banks, John Drane, Stan Grenz…
Lamb: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner (Zondervan,
$12.95) is, of course, the very popular and influential invitation for evangelicals
to involve themselves graciously in "salt & light" ministries in
media, journalism, and other such culture-shaping careers. (And not all that radical,
despite what the subtitle says.) Dear Bob Briner was a professional example to
many, a kind mentor to some of our best young artists (including an encourager
of the aforementioned Romanowski). His final book, put out after his death a few
years back, was appropriately called Final Roar (Broadman &
Holman Publishers, $17.99). This stuff isn’t rocket science, but it is so very
reassuring to hear someone of his mature credentials and Godly stature to be goading,
reminding, inviting, and calling for us to be the sorts of disciples we ought
to be, alive with purpose, mission, cultural relevance and professional excellence.
That there is a youth curriculum based on Roaring is great, too. It isn’t
enough, but it is a very good start.
Dick Staub is not as well-known as
Briner, but his story is equally important and perhaps more substantial. A right-wing
radio guy, he came to the conclusion that this sort of grousing just wasn’t effective;
worse, it wasn’t a biblical approach to being faithful. Too Christian, Too
Pagan: How To Love the World Without Falling for It (Zondervan, $16.99)
is his hardcover broadside against both escapist pietism and worldly accommodation.
As John Ortberg notes, "Staub calls us to follow Jesus not just to the synagogue,
but also to Samaria. You’ll see the Great Commission in a brand new light —
and as never before, you’ll discover the incredible, grace-driven potential of
your own life." Very nice.
Forgive me for once again mentioning a favorite
recent book of ours. It is a cogent and inspirational reflection on what some
call common grace, written by one of our favorite practical theologians, Richard
Mouw. Anyone following this essay this far will surely know that this is one of
the critical matters — just how do we theologically frame the goings-on of
this fallen world and our efforts at redemptive acts within it? Does God really
care about TV shows, baseball, a meal well cooked, a well-constructed house, sentence,
or political platform? Starting with a line from a great old hymn, Mouw has written
He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Eerdmans,
$14.00.) Don’t go too far in reading these visionary tracts for making a difference
in post-Christian America without struggling with the wisdom and wonder of this
* * *
At the very end of last month’s
column, I felt like I dropped a bomb. I made a too quick notice of a great new
book, a book that had just come out the very day I was writing. I had seen advanced
copies of a few of the extraordinary chapters and was assured of the book’s character.
I wanted folks to know.
Now that I have spent some time reading through
the sermons in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching Through the U2 Catalogue,
which has been lovingly compiled by Raewynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard (Cowley
Publications, $14.95), I am even more excited to tell you about it.
can I say? It is of no small note that one of the most important rock bands of
all time — the Belfast boys of U2 — are deeply rooted in a Christian
faith experience and in biblical literature. That they have been accused by some
in the secular rock press (especially a few years back) of advancing their art
with too much self-important grandeur shows that they are watched, even by those
who may not fully understand what it means to be a biblical prophet.
is known the world over that Bono has shown determined effort for the Jubilee
campaign to cancel Third World debts and has nurtured amazingly graceful interest
in the AIDS crisis in Africa. A rock celebrity using his fame in such savvy ways
for such things is nothing short of stunning. And they have done this after a
walk on the wild side of electronic irony and rock and roll excess. (For several
years, Bono would don a devilish outfit, impersonating himself, perhaps, impersonating
the Faustian devil. He once told a Christian critic that she couldn’t understand
that era of their performance art if she hadn’t read C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape
For those who don’t follow the rock press, you must know
this. It is amazing that one of the most flamboyant and well-known icons of popular
entertainment reads the work of C.S. Lewis. (How many of the CCM pop singers have
read thusly?) Similarly, Bono’s Rolling Stone interview about his use of
Eugene Peterson’s good Bible paraphrase, The Message, has earned
him further acclaim. His spiritual influence over stars such as Billy Corgon or
Irish bands like the Waterboys is well known. This is important and good, despite
— or, perhaps because of — U2’s rather unevangelical rowdiness. It was
Mark Heard who called himself a "profane saint," but the moniker works.
but, please understand: I write all this in case gentle readers seeking book reviews
here don’t know who this man with the funny name is, or what the to-do is about
the band. I am setting the stage for those unfamiliar with the rock subculture
to tell you about a great book. I am reminding those who may be suspicious that
Bono has, indeed, shown himself, despite certain troubles and bad habits, to be
a Christ-follower and biblically-literate thinker.
But, but, please understand:
this is just background. What I want to holler is the great news that this book,
these sermons inspired by the lyrics of U2, really is a fine collection. It reminds
us of the power of using contemporary poetry alongside biblical poetry. It juxtaposes
modern rock culture with stories of biblical times. It allows the contemporary
anguish carried by the band — about the horrors of "The Troubles"
in their homeland, about South Africa, about global poverty — to influence
our reading of the Bible. It is a collection of good sermons in their own right
and can serve as case studies of sermon construction. (It is too often embarrassing
and frustrating when a well-meaning preacher throws in a line from a rock song
or, these days, a movie clip, without adequate awareness of the piece, or without
allowing the song or film clip to have an intregal role in the sermon.) These
sermons are not just about "using" pop songs to relate to a young audience,
say, but rather invites us to seriously engage the serious art of this serious
band. And it is about developing a Christian perspective on pop culture —
one that, also, as the books above try to show, celebrates moments of insight
or grace that appear there and which necessarily informs our Bible reading as
it is the contemporary context from which we do our reading. This book shows you
how to do it and get it right!
I said last month that at least four of the
essays are by two good Hearts & Minds friends and are truly superb. Brian
Walsh, for instance, compares the slightly controversial "Wake Up Dead Man"
with the truly subversive psalms of lament — Psalm 44, in this case. (Jamie
Howson has a very good reflection on "40" influenced largely by Walter
Bruggemann’s three-fold assessments of the various psalms.) Steve Garber’s dear
wedding sermon — preached at the wedding of CCO staff Sandie Starr to Nathan
Everhart — is a delight, citing Bono and Wendell Berry. His message “To
See What You See: On Liturgy, Learning & Life” should be required
reading for all college students.
The book is arranged in six parts, with
brief meditations welcoming us into a theme. The sermons are somewhat topically
arranged, although nearly all have this constant refrain: that the realistic and
painful and hopeful lyrics of U2 allow us to recall that Jesus was human, that
faith is gritty, that the seasons of the church year are a time for transformation
and change. Christ was, as Beth Maynard puts it in one stellar radio sermon, "in
the mud." This is what the theologians call "incarnation." It is
what good preachers flesh out, week in and week out. Indeed, in Raewynne Whiteley’s
impressive afterward, "What Does Popular Culture Have to Do With Preaching"
she calls preachers to just this kind of engagement that, if unsettling at times,
is finally altogether orthodox. It is, she says, "the language of love."
Up Off Your Knees simply cannot be summarized. Each sermon deserves its own
critical and prayerful engagement. The study guide looks very, very useful. As
Eugene Peterson says in his moving forward, this book of sermons may help us "prepare
the way of the Lord."
* * *
Tom Beaudoin is
an author well known by many of our customers. Those in campus or youth or 20-something
ministry know him as the author of the insightful and thought-provoking Virtual
Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X (published by Jossey-Bass,
$16.00). I know some who have become engaged with that book because of the Gen
X arm with the strikingly huge Jesus tattoo on the cover.
I wish his new
book — more important than the first, I think — had a more striking
cover. Ironically, Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With What We
Buy (Sheed & Ward, $19.95), a book about branding and consumerism,
has suffered due to the corny-looking cover. It just doesn’t look that hot. (And,
as New York Times writer Virginia Postrel has written in The Substance
of Style (Harper, $24.95), "the rise of aesthetic value is remaking
commerce, culture and consciousness.")
Beaudoin’s good book, though,
is hot. Perhaps too hot to handle for those who, to use the indelicate observation
of Jesus toward a certain yuppie hipster, "he loved his possessions."
Not that Consuming Faith is against possessions. But it does raise big
questions. The very first paragraph is a narrative of Beaudoin’s nearly humorous
Roger and Me attempts to track down somebody as some of the manufacturers
of some of his favorite personal items — belt, a pair of jeans, sneakers
— to learn about how and by whom they were made.
is a perfect book to tell you about after the above discussion about books on
popular culture. It starts with Beaudoin being confronted — by a Lutheran
cleric during B’s lecture on the pop culture spirituality described in Virtual
Faith — about his lack of an analysis of the economic systems in which
pop culture is embedded, a critique which has driven him to this work. Here, he
develops just such an economic analysis and explores the deeper meaning of shopping,
branding, consumption and the hunger (especially among the young) for products
which are justly made without excessive pollution in sweat-free facilities.
is a very important work. It is readable, interesting, and informative. It invites
us to consider how to be faithful amidst not only the icons of pop culture, but
also within the ethos of advertising, the culture of consumption. For those of
us who have worked on this and who have read the essential book on biblical concerns,
Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Word, $15.99),
or the anti-globalization text, Naomi Klein’s must-read No Logo
(published by Picador, $15.00), this new book really will help us piece together
a theologically sound framework. For those who have not done much reading in this
important area, it is a good intro.
It is a clear example of just how important
this slim book is that the lead endorsement on the back is a rare blurb by one
of the most significant Catholic theologians of the 20th century, Hans Kung. As
another Catholic lay theologian writes, "Economic spirituality? Yes, of course.
And now with Consuming Faith, we have an examination of conscience about
what we wear, eat, and watch. You’ll never look at a logo in quite the same way
It is a rare theologian who plays in a rock band, as Beaudoin
does. And rarer, the theologian who quotes Radiohead and Rolling Stone magazine.
Few who quote Levinas and Rahner do so with such verve. And fewer still who read
pop culture, Christian theology and biblical ethics with a sociologist’s eye for
the social significance of corporate branding, the global economy and postmodern
(and Christian) views of the body.
He shows us the way forward, happily
aware that buying is not bad, branding not necessarily wrong. He invites a maturing
spiritual take on our economic lives, an integration of who we are and what we
buy. I would like to think our little project, encouraging folk to buy good books,
is a part of this reformation of marketplace values. I know we have much to think
about. This is a great, great book. May many of us take it to heart.
the closing line of Kung’s back-jacket blurb: "Although Beaudoin calls for
a ‘spiritual indifference to numbers,’ I wish his new book a large sales success."
* * *
Announcements of Brand New Titles
Ethical Ambition: Living a Life
of Meaning and Worth by Derrick Bell (Bloomsbury, $13.95). Now out in
paperback, this book asks deep questions about making a difference, pursuing a
career and holding to one’s principles, written by a heroic civil rights leader,
legal scholar, and a very fine writer. Jonathan Kozol has called it an "immensely
stirring work" and suggests that "a generation thirsting for a life
of meaning in an age of market-driven anomie will be profoundly grateful to the
author for the lessons he has drawn out of a long career of activist integrity
within the ever-uncompleted work of justice."
United By Faith:
The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race by Curtis
Paul DeYoung, Michael Emerson, George Yancey & Karen Chai Kim (Oxford University
Press, $27.00). Most Hearts & Minds customers know we have a major commitment
to racial justice and stock tons of books on African American concerns and other
titles about faith-based approaches to matters of diversity. This book deserves
mention largely because it is the long-awaited sequel to the very popular Divided
By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Faith in America.
Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class by David McCarthy (Brazos,
$13.99). Another winner in the thoughtfully helpful and exceedingly interesting
series "The Christian Practice of Everyday Life." This asks tough questions
about consumerism — which encourages shallow relationships — but allows
for a right ordering of life that affirms the good "stuff" of creation,
from material goods to popular art, family life to work and careers. This is the
sort of Christian book we need more of, at once theologically informed, ecumenical,
and practical, without being formulaic or simplistic. Reading work like this is,
we believe in our deepest hearts here at the store, part of what constitutes "the
good life." Kudos to Brazos for all their hard work to bring these kind of
titles to publication!