The case for more cultured Christians

by La Shawn Barber

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013, at 1:16 pm

“Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (Romans 14:3)

Imagine how straightforward dealing with secular culture would be if the Bible contained an exhaustive list about what Christians should and shouldn’t do. We are to avoid fornicating and practicing sorcery, but what about watching movies that depict fornication or sorcery? We can extrapolate from what God does forbid, of course, but scriptural silence on a particular issue isn’t license to do it or to shun it. In some matters, we can think beyond black and white.

“Christians have a hard time with nuance,” Brett McCracken writes in Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty (Baker Books, 2013). “Gray areas are not our strong suit. It’s way easier to just say yes or no to things, rather than ‘well, maybe, depending. …’” Complicated questions might require more than simple responses to avoid Christian legalism on the one hand (shunning all secular music, movies, and television, for example) and libertinism on the other (getting drunk, cursing, and embracing “anything goes”).

We are consumers—a neutral word that’s gained a negative connotation. But rather than consuming to avoid dealing with problems or to raise our status over others, we should partake with the goal of enjoying God’s creation.

“[T]he very activity of consuming is an extravagant gift of God,” writes McCracken who covers eating, listening to music, watching movies, and drinking alcohol, includes personal anecdotes and history, and states that his goal is to “help us think about how a healthy consumption of culture honors God, enriches the Christian’s life, strengthens community, and advances the Christian mission.”

McCracken makes the case for more cultured Christians who recognize the goodness in culture, and that in the here and now, we get a glimpse of what’s to come as we experience “great-tasting food, transcendent music, or beautiful images.” For example, the Christian approach to movies in the past tended to focus on whether they portrayed vice or virtue. These days, the approach seems more nuanced. In exercising discernment, we ask a series of questions about a particular movie: Will it cause you to stumble? Is it edifying and of good quality? Are you using it to fulfill a desire in an unhealthy way, or does it point you to Christ? Is the storytelling redemptive?

In his first book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, McCracken examined the “cool Christianity” subculture of his Christ-following millennial peers and argued that celebrating what’s good about art and culture should be centered on Christ and not consumption and image. Although Gray Matters addresses similar readers, the overarching message is universal to all Christians.

Our purpose on earth is to glorify God. How and what we consume reveals our character. Our consumption choices, McCracken contends, can connect us to others, set us apart as salt and light, affirm the goodness of God’s creation and bring Him glory, and be used for good.

La Shawn Barber

La Shawn writes about culture, faith, and politics. Her work has appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Christianity Today, the Washington Examiner, and other publications

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