According to T.M. Moore, America is kudzu-saturated. “Ku-what?” you ask. Kudzu—that resilient, spreading vine of the southern United States. So where’s the connection you wonder. Like the spawning kudzu, the phenomenon of pop culture has spread it tendrils into every crack and fissure of American life. The problem for Christians is whether they should ditch it, ignore it, or join it. In his book, Redeeming Pop Culture: A Kingdom Approach, Pastor Moore attempts to address this concern by offering exactly what the title says—a kingdom approach to pop culture. But what exactly does this “kingdom approach” look like, and how does help us, as the title claims, “redeem” pop culture?
Moore begins by highlighting four common approaches to popular culture: the phenomenological, the celebratory, the ideological, and the moral. The phenomenological approach attempts to merely study and describe pop culture as a fact—an example would be a newspaper report on a professional basketball game. The celebratory approach focuses on enjoying the positive and pleasing aspects of pop culture, and includes the idea of being a “fan” of a particular cultural expression. The ideological approach is analytical, studying the messages and meanings of cultural expressions. Finally, the moral approach inculcates the other three but proceeds to issue warnings regarding the influence of certain pop culture expressions on attitudes and behavior. Pastor Moore argues that we must incorporate all four aspects into our approach to pop culture, and include one more, which he terms the missiological element. He says, “Here the objective is to take popular culture captive, so to speak, in ways that will allow evangelicals to enjoy and use it in service to the kingdom purposes of Jesus Christ.”(pg. 8) Now, before you are turned off, thinking this is just the old “Slap the label ‘Christian’ on it” method, I must says that, encouragingly, Moore’s approach is decidedly well thought out and Scripturally-based.
In the first chapter, Moore makes the argument that culture is inevitable, because men made in the image of a Creator God will go about creating and expressing themselves through various forms. Pop culture, as a unique form of culture, is also inevitable, and while some of its expressions are less than desirable and even decadent, it also offers great opportunities for Christians to exercise its forms for God’s glory.
Chapter two places our relationship to culture in the context of the kingdom of God. As members of that kingdom, we have not been called to abandon the world, but to redeem it for Christ, to spread His rule over the earth. This includes something even as “secular” as popular culture. While the Christian has both an eye and a hand lifted toward heaven, signifying the spiritual source of his values and power, he also has both feet firmly planted on earth, signifying his call to subdue the earth and exercise its resources in dominion for God. Moore also points out the individual and communal aspects of the kingdom: while in the body of Christ there is a multitude of gifts and individual expressions, there is also a unity and a pooling of those gifts for a common purpose. Finally, the kingdom also gives a vision for where we are headed, which gives us hope and strength for our present labor.
The third chapter explores the sources of the popular culture we see propagated all about us. One source is the image of God in man—primarily, that divine creative urge inside the human soul. Longing to fulfill that urge, man goes about creating. Another source is the giftings that God has given individual men and women, giftings that should drive them to seek and love Him for His goodness. People are also affected in terms of their cultural expression by the very environmental influences they were raised under. Finally, there are the influences of sin, including the Devil, and also the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. These various sources and influences all work together in conglomeration to produce a pop culture that does not fit the neat categories of “spiritual” or “worldly”. The result leaves us with some sorting to do.
Chapter four, entitled “Judging Pop Culture” may be the most influencing and instructive. Here Moore outlines Biblical standards of discernment by means of illustration. He presents the picture of a three-legged stool on which the legs are goodness, beauty, and truth, supported by the braces of revelation, tradition, and the work of the Spirit. This entire section is very practical and fascinating. To top it off, he ends the chapter with a brief discussion of the highly controversial issue of personal taste.
In chapter five, Moore, as he puts it, throws down the gauntlet, reminding us of our duty to redeem the culture. He offers a few well placed darts of conviction, including this one at the beginning: “We must not approach our use of time, and the activities that fill it, like the fool, who says in his heart, ‘There is no God’—that is, as if God is not concerned with the matters occupying my time at any particular moment.” (pg. 108). He then spends the rest of the chapter outlining how we can approach pop culture prayerfully, intelligently, purposefully, critically, dialogically, and redemptively.
Chapter six, “Moments of Transcendence”, caps its all off by answering the big question, “What’s the purpose of doing all of this?” Moore presents us with a mountaintop view of how interacting with and engaging pop culture can increase our effectiveness, expand our joy and delight in God’s good gifts, and most importantly, give Him glory.
Redeeming Pop Culture is one of the best books I have read in a long time, because number one, it is so relevant to modern American Christianity, and number two, Moore doesn’t merely say that we have to redeem the culture—he offers us a biblical way to go about doing it. Read this book, ponder its truths, practice them, and see the fruit.
(Redeeming Pop Culture: A Kingdom Approach by T.M. Moore, is published by P & R Publishing Co, ISBN O-87552-576-8)