A Dysfunctional Social Order (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16)
CrossWay Community Church
November 17th, 2019
See Brad East’s recent piece, Against Pop Culture.
The author’s language is a bit strong, and he probably extends his argument too far at times. For example, I’m not against engaging or doing analysis of pop culture. But notwithstanding those things, I think this is a thoughtful, challenging, and relevant piece. His argument reminds me a bit of James K.A. Smith’s anthropology and work on the “cultural liturgies” that shape our loves.
The below quote captures the gist of his case:
My argument here is not against the liceity of ever streaming a show or otherwise engaging pop culture; it is against the ostensibly positive reasons [emphasis mine] in favor of its being a good thing Christians ought to do, indeed, ought to care about doing, with eagerness and energy. …
Any and all libertarian (in the sense of a philosophy of the will’s freedom) Christian accounts of pop culture, Netflix, social media, etc., fail at just this point, because they view individuals as choosers who operate neutrally with options arrayed before them, one of which in our day happens to be flipping Netflix on (or not) and “deciding” to watch a meaty, substantive Film instead of binging bite-size candy-bar TV. But that is not an accurate depiction of the situation. Netflix—and here again I’m using Netflix as a stand-in for all digital and social media today—is a principality and a power, as is the enormous flat-screen television set, situated like a beloved household god in every living room in every home across the country. It calls for attention. It demands your love. It wants you. And its desire for you elicits desire in you for it.
It is, therefore, a power to be resisted, at least for Christians. Such resistance requires ascesis. And ascesis means discipline, denial, and sometimes extreme measures. It might mean you suffer boredom and lethargy on a given evening. It might mean you have to read a book, or use your hands. It might even mean you won’t catch the quippy allusions in a shallow conversation at work. So be it.
Portions of this piece reflect a decent bit of my own sentiments towards pop-culture.
If you know me, you know I’m not exactly “up to date” and “in the know” on most things pop culture. People often express shock or will give you slight grief if you show your lack of awareness of these things. They will also predictably try to convince you that should really be giving more of your attention to them (as if they somehow matter). In other words, there’s a good deal of social pressure in our society to care and know about these things. No one wants to be weird. But pop culture is so, well, popular, that not knowing about it inevitably makes one weird.
And so, my lack of pop-cultural awareness sometimes becomes something of a joke among my friends. But my friends also know I’m not bothered by this at all. I’m fine being weird on this front. I don’t feel the pressure. I guess I’m immune to it, because I just I don’t care to conform at this point.
But, to be clear, my lack of attention to much of pop culture isn’t just coincidental (i.e., I just don’t care about it or like it — although that’s true); it’s also a bit principled, which hopefully is also why I don’t care (i.e., I don’t want to care about it; I find it a bit unvirtuous [ducks head], unprioritzed, disproportioned, and hence a bit intemperate to care so much about it). So good luck trying pressure me to care about something I kind of feel like is a waste of time at best, and an existential opiate at worst. 😉
 At this point, I want to make sure we draw a distinction between being knowledgeable about pop culture and being knowledge of, discerning about, and able to analyze culture. For instance, Andy Crouch doesn’t have a TV in his living room, and John Piper doesn’t own a TV at all, although many hold them up as some of the most astute and observant theological, cultural analysts.
So to be clear, I think cultural engagement is good, and the ability to do cultural analysis is important and valuable. I also acknowledge that pop culture provides a good portion of the subject matter, trends, and (at times) “cultural artifacts” for such engagement and reflection — no denials there. I’m just not convinced I need to know about all the latest songs, movies, TV shows, or celebrity gossip (what happens on the “surface level,” if you will) in order to do that sort of discerning analytical work on the more foundational “deep level.”
The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout May 2019.
ASSIGNMENT: Read chapter 2, “You Might Not Love What You Think” in You Are What You Love (or alternatively listen to James’ video of a talk by Smith on this subject).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Think about your last trip to the mall. What did you do there? What did you buy? How were people around you spending their time or money?
SCRIPTURE TO CONSIDER:
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed. … The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice. … True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world.
What’s true in what each is saying? What are the potential pitfalls of each?
CLOSING APPLICATION: Studies show that some brands can inspire worship-like devotion (see box on p. 52). When does brand loyalty turn into worship? What brands do you have religious devotion to in your life? How should you reconsider your relation to these things? Continue reading
The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use in March of 2019. It is based on chapters 2 and 4 of James K.A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.
Jim Samra, Mini Theology of Technology (from Gen 1-11)
Definition (broad) — “Technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them.”
Questions for discussion:
The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout February 2019.
Defining terms (my best attempt):