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Culture High

Christians should not subsist on pop culture alone.

It’s worth asking whether pop culture is a sufficient vehicle for representing and advancing the Kingdom of God. Pop culture matters, and we ought to participate in pop as Kingdom citizens, as I argue in my book, Redeeming Pop Culture. But the neglect of “high” culture on the part of Christians today is not only a betrayal of our Christian past, but a dangerous acquiescence to the spirit of the age. 

Joseph Epstein examines the declining state of “high” culture in America (“Whatever Happened to High Culture?” The Weekly Standard, November 8, 2015). He observes, “Among those of us fortunate enough to have grasped its significance, high culture took us out of our small worlds into a larger universe where human possibilities were immensely enlarged. But now high culture, once thought to be not the shortest but the surest way to the good life, is no longer the main quest in artistic or intellectual life, having been not so much defeated as replaced by noise, nervous energy, sheer distraction.”

The culture that appeals to people today is largely sensual, commercial, and fleeting – that is, pop – and has little regard for such things as tradition, our cultural heritage, or even beauty and goodness. The effect of the decline of high culture into just another form of pop is that the audience for culture loses its vision for anything other than a culture that entertains, distracts, and diverts rather than one that edifies and provokes to wonder.

We see the same thing in the Church, I fear, where all things pop continue to replace the long tradition of Christian worship, hymnody, preaching, and even theology, and where the rich Christian cultural heritage is all but ignored. Mr. Epstein observes, “Culture comprises connections and interconnections between past and present, and these in turn comprise the future of culture.” If we insist on cutting ourselves off from our vast Christian cultural heritage, we will consign ourselves to looking, increasing, only like the world around us.

If all our culture is merely the culture of the moment, then are we not doomed to repeat the cultural – and moral – mistakes of the past, being ignorant of them? Can anything be done about “the present state of extreme thinness of culture”? It all depends on our vision of what culture should be, how culture should be used, and what standards of beauty, goodness, and truth should guide our cultural preferences and practices. For those who have made the Kingdom turn, higher standards of culture await our aspirations and endeavors.

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