Archives For witness

COMMENTARY | Nick Rynerson

“Pop culture” is often treated like a dirty word in the church—thought to consist of mostly irredeemable entertainment produced to make money off the masses. A common approach is to avoid secular music, films, art, and television, or at least to not admit to consuming it all that much.

But that isn’t often what our real lives look like. Most of us are at least closet pop culture consumers—we indulge in one or two sitcoms, a favorite secular radio station, or a superhero movie every now and then.

And maybe that’s okay.

Nick_Rynerson_March15Popular culture is not the enemy; first and foremost, pop culture is a place for storytellers to, well, tell stories. Moral discretion is important. (And biblical! See 1 Corinthians 8:7-9.) But we miss a wealth of spiritual and theological depth if we chalk up all entertainment created by non-Christians as irredeemable and misguided; we also miss out on the opportunity to identify and empathize from a distinctly Christian perspective (Acts 17:28).

Stories offer us insights into our culture’s longings, revealing God’s truth in the world around us. In his excellent book “The Stories We Tell,” Kentucky pastor Mike Cosper reminds us that a story is never just a story—it’s a window into our culture’s imagination and longings (see Romans 2:12-15).

“Storytelling—be it literature, theater, opera, film, or reality TV—doesn’t aim at our rational mind . . . It aims at the imagination, a much more mysterious and sneaky part of us, ruled by love, desire, and hope,” Cosper writes. “When people, against their better judgment, find themselves hooked on a show, we can trace the line back to find the hook in their imagination.”

Stories, according to Cosper, can reveal much more about a person, people group, or culture than a strictly informative presentation or a list of facts. Stories communicate what people truly desire.

Take, for example, a certain Best Picture nominee from last year. The movie contains some strong language, an ambiguous ending, and other elements that might lead some Christians to believe that it has nothing to offer spiritually (and for some to wisely not engage the film). However, if we look closer, we can clearly see some distinct things the storytellers—the director, writer, characters, etc.—believe about God, life, and themselves.

Without spoiling the film, which centers on the relationship between a talented young jazz drummer and his demanding/abusive instructor, the characters have a very human desire: to be great. The devotion of the characters to the pursuit of greatness, and its sway over their future happiness, is deeply identifiable. Like the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, the characters sacrifice their life for the pursuit of self-glory, predictably leaving themselves and others miserable.

Ever since the Fall, man has been trying to claw his way back to perfection. Everybody longs for his or her flaws to be taken away, and many of us think that if we just work hard enough, we will reach the promised land of perfection.

As Christians, we know this is vanity (Romans 3:23), but the characters in the film sacrifice their lives and their sanity to meet every iota of their own personal law. This pursuit is hardwired into us and until we find personal and entire perfection in Christ, we will always fall short.

That’s serious, biblical truth, communicated (probably unknowingly) in a 2-hour movie produced with a secular audience in mind. The next time a movie, song, or TV show comes on that you are tempted to write off as irredeemable, consider if it might have something to teach us about God, the creator of all things.

In Acts 17:22-27, Paul not only quotes Greek poetry, but also alludes to the radical truth that we’re put where we were (i.e., in our cultural context) to speak eternal truth into subjective cultural contexts. In his book, Cosper uses this example to illustrate a distinctly Christian way of story-listening.

“As Christians living in the midst of these stories, we have an opportunity to both learn and bear witness. Stories teach us a lot about ourselves and our neighbors, and they provide windows into how our world is wrestling with the effects of the fall.

“They also present opportunities to respond with the truth.”

Nick Rynerson is a staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture and works for Crossway in Wheaton.

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently Chicagoland church planter Dave Andreson was addressing a group of mostly college students on the subject of how to pray for your community. I was there primarily because our son Noah was hosting the meeting at his church, Calvary Baptist in Elgin.

Nate_Adams_blog_callout_Dec1Most of the students were from Judson University there in Elgin, where IBSA is developing a church planting partnership. Dave spoke pointedly to them. “If you’re not currently praying for your community, let me tell you why that probably is,” he said. “It’s because you haven’t really taken ownership of this community. You think of your community as the place that you’re from, or where your family lives. You figure you’re just here for a few years, going to school, so why bother? In the meantime, many of the people you will meet here desperately need to know Jesus Christ.”

I winced with conviction at the truth of Dave’s observation, and not just for college students. Sadly, I’ve known people who seem to have the mindset that their situation is temporary, and as a result they seem to be just biding their time spiritually.

“Oh we just came here for Bill’s job, but we’ll be going back home eventually,” they sometimes say. And yet when asked how long they’ve lived there, the answer is often twenty or thirty years.

Or, “When our kids are older and life slows down some, we may have more time to do missions or help with outreach.” Especially in today’s ever-changing and mobile society, we cannot wait until our situations are more “permanent” to take ownership of our communities. That day may never come.

Dave went on to speak of the passion that Jesus had for a city, and for a crowd, and for a man named Zacchaeus. He urged us to be like Jesus and see our city, and our crowds, and the God-created individuals around us with spiritual eyes. And he invited us to pray with him for Avondale, the Chicago neighborhood that he has now made his home, and where he is seeking to plant a new church. Avondale is a community of only two square miles, yet 40,000 people live there. It has no Baptist church, and little if any evangelical witness.

Dave challenged us all that night to take ownership of our communities, wherever we find ourselves, and to do it now. We can’t wait for more permanent or ideal circumstances. People need prayer, and relationship, and the Gospel message.

His challenge reminded me of a time that our family ate at a fast food restaurant, when our boys were still little. Though the employees were working hard, the dinner rush had overwhelmed them and more than half of the tables were a mess while the trashcans overflowed. So as we left, I asked our boys to help me clear the rest of the tables in the restaurant, in addition to our own. “But Dad, we don’t work here!” one of them cried. And yet because I asked them to, they helped me take responsibility for other people’s messes, there in our temporary community.

As we enter another Christmas season and begin reflecting on the birth of Christ, let us remember that Jesus willingly entered our world and made it His home. He “became flesh and dwelt among us.” He saw us in our sorry state, and paid the price to clean up the mess of our sin that he didn’t make.

So let’s enter in and spiritually invest in our own communities, even now. Let’s take ownership of where we live, even if it doesn’t feel permanent, or even if it’s in a difficult place like the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. Our community, wherever it is, is our mission field. Home is here, and the time is now.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.