Against Pop Culture (Brad East)

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.[1] 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. 😉


[1] 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.”

Jon Hanes on a Christian Approach to Environmental Concerns Such as Climate Change

I lead a small group at my church, CrossWay Community Church (Milwaukee), called “Christ & Culture,” where we examine various social and cultural issues of our day and try to consider how we might engage these things Christianly and Biblically.

Last night we had the privilege of hosting my dear friend, Jon Hanes, who delivered a talk on a Christian approach to environmental concerns with particular attention on the example of climate change.

Jon Hanes is an adjunct geography professor at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) and a deacon at Lake Drive Baptist Church on the northside of Milwaukee, where I was a member with him for approximately eight years.

Many folks who were not able to attend asked me to record his talk, which I’ve provided below. We had some additional discussion and helpful conversation after the close of this recording. But the audio below reflects the “lecture” portion of his talk.


Dr. Jon Hanes
January 16th 2019


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by Jon in this audio are his own and are not representative of his employer or church.


Books Jon mentioned in his talk:

Immigration & Refugees — Small Group Discussion Questions

The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout December 2018 and January 2019.


  • Understanding ourselves:
    • What influences are at play in your own life shaping the way you react to and approach this topic (e.g., experiences, sources of news, upbringing, neighborhood, relationships, political views, etc.)?
    • What concerns do you have / what things are important to you in this controversy and subject matter?
    • What are our biases?
  • Understanding our Christian starting point:
    • What values, priorities, and principles should we, as Christians, be applying to this situation / question?
    • What Bible passages speak to this issue?
    • Are there any seeming tensions? If so, how do we resolve or reconcile them?
  • Understanding the role of government:
    • From a Christian perspective, what is the government’s obligation to immigrants and/or refugees.
    • As Christians, what should we hope or strive to see realized in our government when it comes to policy on immigration or refugees?
  • Evaluating society’s approaches:
    • What are the common approaches and reactions to immigration, immigrants, and refugees we find in our society? What messages are we hearing?
      • On the Right:
        • “A government needs law or order” (e.g., controlled borders). And with that, “If you come here illegally, you need to face the consequences” (e.g., deportation or sanctions of some kind).
        • “Immigrants need to assimilate to our culture and learn our language.” Or, resistance to immigration/immigrants on the grounds that, “We need to preserve our culture.”
        • “We need to spend our resources taking care of our own before we take care of others.”
        • “We might let in terrorists” (in the case of refugees).
        • “They are violent gang members and drug pushers” (in the case of immigrants).
        • “We’re not saying you can’t come here. We’re just saying, ‘Do so legally like other people.’ Follow the process that’s in place. When you come here illegally, you undermine those those who seek to come here legally.”
        • “They’re taking our jobs” (referring to immigrants, legal or illegal).
      • On the Left:
        • “Borders are an arbitrary or outdated concept. We don’t need them. It’s a human rights issue — people should be free to migrate and move as they please.”
        • “These folks are simply seeking a better life here.”
        • “It’s okay to break the laws” (e.g., sanctuary cities) “if those laws are unjust.”
        • “It’s not realistic to deport all these people who are here illegally.”
        • “This is the only life and country they’ve ever known” (speaking of illegals who have been here for quite some time, or who have grown up here). “They are American for all intents and purposes, even if they are undocumented.”
        • “You can’t punish children for the crimes of their parents” (speaking about so-called DACA individuals).
        • “You’re tearing families apart” (e.g., by deporting parents who are illegal, but who would leave behind legal children, or by not allowing individuals into the country who have family members here).
    • Why do you think folks think these ways? What concerns are at play in these sentiments? Can you see how these expression could be (or could seem to be) reasonable, or come from a place of genuine good-interest and sincerity (even if misguided or erroneous)?
    • How might we analyze, assess, or critique these arguments, beliefs, reactions, dispositions, etc. from a Christian perspective?
  • Considering policy questions:
    • How can we justly, fairly, and compassionately treat migrants seeking to enter our country?
    • How should we assess policies that demonstrate partiality towards would-be immigrants based on where they are from? Is this justifiable?
    • Should we build a border wall, as the Trump administration is seeking?
    • What do we make of the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border? What is a Christian response to this policy?
    • What policy changes could be made to improve the immigration system in our country?
  • Considering our responsibility:
    • What is the church’s responsibility in addressing or engaging these matters?
    • The individual christian’s responsibility?
  • On the ground:
    • What are some practical things we can do to make a difference here?
    • What are some ways we can helpfully speak to others (Christians or non-Christians) about these matters?

Discussion Questions — Contemporary Sexualities & Gender Identities

The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout November and December 2018.


Same-Sex Sexuality:

  • What does the Bible have to say about same-sex sexuality?
    • Is same-sex sexuality sinful?
    • What Biblical or theological questions do we have about this issue?
    • If someone is — as one might say — “born gay,” than how can we condemn their same-sex sexuality as sinful?
  • Can someone be same-sex attracted and Christian?
  • Is same-sex attraction a choice?
  • Is same-sex attraction itself sinful? Why is this distinction (if valid) important?
  • If someone is same-sex attracted and becomes a Christian, what should we expect their discipleship and sanctification to look like? For example, should we expect their same-sex attraction to go away? Why or why not?
  • Should same-sex attracted Christians embrace the label or self-identification of being gay (e.g., “gay Christian”)? Why or why not?
  • How should we evaluate the cultural phenomenon of linking one’s sexuality with one’s identity?
  • Are same-sex attracted individuals, by nature of being same-sex attracted, called to a life of celibacy?
  • What can we do as a church, as believers, to better help those in our midst or those in our community who are same-sex attracted? What has the church previously done well in this matter? Done poorly?
  • Many same-sex attracted Christians who choose a life of singleness can be susceptible to a sense of loneliness. How can we as a church help, encourage, and be more mindful of them?
  • Self-professing Christians disagree on this question — is homosexuality sinful? Is this an area where we can just “agree to disagree” and still maintain unity?
  • How can we help children (our own, or those in our church) navigate this topic in a culture that is increasingly affirming (and with insistence) of same-sex sexualities?
  • What should Christians make of “gay marriage”?
    • Should Christians support or oppose the legalization of gay marriage?
    • Should Christians attend their homosexual friends’ wedding ceremony?
    • Should Christians in certain professions (e.g., bakers, photographers) refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages?
  • How should we counsel someone who is in a homosexual marriage (according to law) and becomes a Christian?
  • How can we winsomely communicate our convictions to non-believers?

Transgenderism & Gender Dysphoria:

  • What should we make of “gender dysphoria”? Is transgenderism a choice, sin, disorder, and/or valid expression of self-understanding?
  • What does the Bible have to say, if anything, about gender dysphoria or transgenderism?
  • How can we help those experiencing gender dysphoria or self-identifying themselves as transgender?
  • Should we accommodate and use individuals’ “preferred pronouns” even if they conflict with their known biological sex?
  • How should we counsel someone who becomes a Christian and previously underwent sex reassignment surgery?

Misplaced Hope & the 2018 Midterms

If you are overly excited about the results of the midterm elections, your hope and confidence are misplaced. And equally so, if you’re despairing or doomsday-like about the midterm elections, this also is symptomatic of a misplaced hope.

Christian, engage in politics. Exercise your Christian social responsibility. But do not place your hope in the political arena.

Christ is king. He was king before this. He’s still king today. And he won’t stop being king at any time in the future. God’s kingdom purposes are sure and immutable. Our politics neither make him king, nor hinder his kingship.

Christ’s kingdom is everlasting and without end. It is the only kingdom that will ultimately last; and it will eventually eclipse all worldly kingdoms. These midterms are a mere a blip, a speck, on the timeline of God’s eternal purposes.

Engage. Don’t make too little of politics and dismiss it altogether. But don’t make too much of politics either — leading towards either despair or misplaced confidence.