Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Pop Culture

An unlikely resource for a sound mind.

The Mind of Christ in His World: Part 2 (4)

This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. Acts 10.16

Three times, for emphasis
The first time Peter was treated to the Divine Artist’s vision, he may have responded something like, “Wow! That’s interesting.” The second time God unfolded this grand scenario before him, Peter might have scratched his head and said, “What the…?”

The third time God showed it to him, the images were unmistakable, and the message began to assault Peter’s thinking. This was unlike anything Peter had ever seen, or ever been instructed to do by the Lord. But, after three takes, the vision and its message were clear – though the meaning would unfold only later – and Peter began to understand that God was speaking to him through this bit of visionary art. As he entered the home of the Gentile Cornelius, his mind, awash with this vision, adjusted to God’s plan for the Gospel, the Gentiles, and the Kingdom; and a new chapter in Church history began to unfold.

When, a chapter later in the book of Acts, he reported his vision to the Church, he had no doubt about its content or meaning. That vision was strong, memorable, and mind-changing, even when Peter related it to his colleagues in Jerusalem.

Art and other forms of culture that serve truth yield their message after repeated viewings, readings, or hearings, and can shape our minds to expand into or otherwise conform to the mind of Christ. We know this is true with our reading of Scripture. But it’s also true of other forms of art and culture to which we return over and over. When these forms bear a Christian message, they can help to create sound thinking and a strong soul. And when we can readily share these with others, they can shape their minds as well.

For seeing or hearing things over and over, by many viewers or audiences, there’s nothing quite like pop culture.

Pop culture and the Reformation
Pop culture is culture that is readily available far and wide in forms that are easily acquired or accessed. Think: pop music, comic books, art prints, film, TV programs, YouTube, websites, and so forth. We tend to think of pop culture as a uniquely 20th or 21stcentury phenomenon. But it’s not. Even during the Protestant Reformation, great artists like Albrecht Dürer, teamed-up with writers to put culture to widespread use in challenging people’s thinking about important spiritual and ecclesiastical matters. In Dürer’s case, it was woodcuts.

Woodcuts are made by etching an image on a block of wood, then rolling or painting a layer of ink over the surface. Paper is then pressed onto the ink to transfer the image from the block of wood, which works like a big stamp. During Dürer’s lifetime, woodcuts were relatively inexpensive, widely circulated, and easily incorporated into books, especially, pamphlets.

Peter Matheson writes concerning the many inexpensive pamphlets circulated during the Reformation, “The availability of the printed book and pamphlets allowed the private scrutiny of public verities” (The Imaginative World of the Reformation). Pamphlets, and their woodcut images, could be read and viewed over and over, and by many people. They were passed around among friends and discussed in private meetings in homes. The power of the printed word, coupled with the woodcut, for criticizing ecclesiastical powers, exposing ecclesiastical foibles, and pointing toward a new conception of the Gospel played a significant role in helping to solidify in the public mind the more scholarly and theological arguments of the reformers.

Matheson writes that, back of the very public work of the reformers was “the quiet, creative leadership by poets and pastors, activists and dreamers, little groups that had been meeting for years…From them flowed a fresh language of realism and hope; they provided much of the human leadership, the disciplines, the symbols, the songs.”

In his book, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bernard Bailyn explains how the widespread distribution and circulation of revolutionary pamphlets, including sermons, laid the foundation for American independence. Pop culture so shaped the colonial mind that when the Declaration of Independence was published in 1776, the response, up and down the eastern seaboard was, “It’s about time.”

Pop culture and the mind of Christ
Pop culture is at its best when it is consciously employed in the service of truth, working to change or nurture minds toward maturity in Jesus Christ. The psalmists understood the power of pop culture, and frequently drew on apparently well-known folk songs or neumes to surround their psalms with a setting or mood. Ancient pop art thus could make even more compelling to the mind the message of the psalmist’s poetic verse.

For example, David selected what appears to be a pop song of his day to carry the words of Psalm 22. That psalm begins in the darkness of suffering and death (vv. 1-21b), with the familiar image of the suffering Christ being set upon by His enemies. But in the last clause of verse 21, the Suffering One reports that His prayer has been heard by God. Now the psalm takes a completely new turn, as if one had suddenly emerged from a dark forest, or the blackest night, into the dawn of the new day. The remaining verses of the psalm grow brighter and brighter as the Suffering One looks through His agony to the coming new day of His Kingdom and glory.

When David set this psalm to a melody called, “The Deer of the Dawn,” he was using pop music, and the image and mood it suggested, to heighten the intellectual and emotional impact of one of his most important psalms.

Pop culture reaches a large number of people, over and over, at very little expense and in forms they can easily acquire. Pamphlets, brochures, study guides, songs, photo montages, prints, PDFs, and more can be used for the cause of truth by shaping our minds for God’s Kingdom and glory.

While it tends to be fleeting, there’s more to pop culture of all kinds than we may at first appreciate. But if we can remember that God can inhabit and use even these forms of culture, our minds may be piqued and stretched by pop culture into new dimensions of nurturing the mind of Christ.

For reflection
1.  Pop culture is not entirely or inherently bad. How can we tell the difference between pop culture that does not help us grow in the mind of Christ, and pop art that does?

2.  Have any expressions of pop culture particularly affected your way of seeing the world, or thinking about your life? Explain.

3.  Do you think the church should teach its members about pop culture – its character, power, and capability for helping to renew our minds? Why or why not?

Next steps – Conversation: Talk with some Christian friends about questions 1-3. What do they think about pop culture as a resource for growing into the mind of Christ?

T. M. Moore

Pop culture today can distract us from the Gospel and undermine faith. Our book, Redeeming Pop Culture, can help you understand how to make good use of these ubiquitous forms. Order your free copy of Redeeming Pop Culture by clicking here.

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All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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