Pot Shots at Soft Targets
It is interesting to observe how ready a market there is for posts of this kind. We could probably double the readership of THINK if we kept it up: how about a series on the insipidity of Christian coffee, the dullness of Christian sermons, the naffness of Christian fashion, and so on? It looks like there is a lot to be disappointed about in our Christian world – specifically the evangelical Christian world – and we are eager to beat ourselves up over it. For every culturally naïve, creatively inept, and cheesily expressed Christian sentiment, there is a corresponding wearily worldly, theologically savvy, and effortlessly superior Christian critic ready to take a pot shot at soft targets!
It might look as though evangelical Christianity is especially prone to producing embarrassingly poor cultural output. Maybe there is something about our ‘low’ churchmanship that encourages this, in contrast to the more sophisticated branches of Christianity. Maybe it is because evangelical Christianity appeals more directly to the common man, rather than the sophisticate, that evangelical writing, producing and composing tend to be more, for want of a better word, ‘common’.
But perhaps this is actually a reflection of the gospel.
I remember as a teenager feeling frustrated by the clankiness of the writing of much of the New Testament, and puzzled about why new birth and the presence of the Spirit didn’t seem to result in Christians dominating the upper echelons of the arts and sciences. I found that confusing, and troubling. To a large degree I still do, but I have also come to see that central to so much of the gospel message is a message that is simple, and biased towards the poor. I’m certainly not advocating films, books or songs that are (in Andrew’s wonderful phrase), scatty, cloying, fluffy, incoherent, repetitive, flighty, bumbling, empty, careless, shallow, heretical, repetitive, nauseating, anaemic or repetitive, but perhaps – just perhaps – there is something about the gospel that leans towards low, rather than high culture, no matter how much some of us might kick against that.
And it’s not just evangelical culture. The reality is that the output of most TV channels, radio stations, movie makers, publishing houses, newspapers, magazines and – most definitely and! – the internet is scatty, cloying, fluffy, incoherent, repetitive, flighty, bumbling, empty, careless, shallow, heretical, repetitive, nauseating, anaemic or repetitive. So perhaps this is a general problem in western culture: we are drowning in naffness, and (to mix metaphors) swimming in those waters as we do it is difficult for evangelical writers and producers to kick against the pricks.
I’d love to see evangelicals leading a cultural charge that resulted in better books, movies and songs. I think we need that: the church needs it, and so does the world. But I also recognise my personal bias – that I prefer documentaries to soap operas, Wagner to One Direction, Augustine to Dan Brown, and home-baked sourdough to shop-bought white – and my bias is very different from what is generally popular. It is easy for those of us with more developed palates to take pot shots at soft targets; but, sometimes, a Big Mac is not only acceptable, it is actually quite welcome!