The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Should Christians Embrace Pop Culture?

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Most Americans, many of them Christians, have had their worldview shaped, for good or ill, by information gathered through pop culture channels. There is nothing new in this phenomenon. Like electricity that follows the path of least resistance, pop culture makes its way into our homes through easily digestible media like newspapers, comics, novels, radio, films, television, music, sports, graphic novels, video games, advertising, and the internet. Ancient cultures were similarly influenced by popular culture ideas even though the media may have changed over the centuries. Should Christians take advantage and even create better, more affordable, and efficient ways to teach and propagate ideas?

Paul encountered the exchange of pop culture ideas in Athens, Greece, where “all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Paul was thought to be an “idle babbler,” someone who makes his living by picking up scraps of information and passing them on to others as established fact. In this case, scraps of the latest in fashionable ideas about “‘strange demons’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (17:18). The Areopagus was the rallying point for new ideas that could be disseminated without the usual informational chokepoints controlled by political, academic, and religious high priests. Academics were present at the Areopagus, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (17:18), who were used to hearing and evaluating new ideas but who looked down on those who were not part of the professional guild. Even so, they could not stop these ideas from being discussed in non-formal settings (17:32). Instead of shunning the new medium, Paul embraced it and used it to his own advantage: “But some men joined him and believed. . .” (17:34).

The transmission of new ideas is difficult when the channels for propagation are controlled by those whose power will be jeopardized if people are exposed to opposing views. For example, there was a time when church and political authorities controlled the translation and publication of the Bible. The printing press made it possible to disseminate new ideas to the masses at low cost. Of course, there was a high price to pay for those who used the new medium. For example, William Tyndale’s English translation was banned by the authorities because it was viewed as a threat to the religious and political status quo. For his efforts, Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 at the instigation of agents of Henry VIII and the newly formed English Church. Even so, Tyndale and those who followed him persevered and changed their world and ours:

It is surprising that the name of William Tyndale is not more familiar, for there is no man who did more to enrich the English language. Tyndale is the man who taught England how to read and showed Shakespeare how to write. No English writer—not even Shakespeare—has reached so many. According to a recent exhibit co-sponsored by the British Library and the Library of Congress: “Contrary to what history teaches about Chaucer being the father of the English Language, this mantle belongs to William Tyndale, whose work was read by ten thousand times as many people as Chaucer.”

Tyndale’s contributions, enshrined in his and subsequent English Bibles, molded the speech of even those who condemned him. The British Library described Tyndale’s New Testament as “the most important printed book in the English language” and paid more than one million pounds for it. Only two complete copies are known to have survived: most were burned or literally read to pieces.[1]

King James I of England (VI of Scotland) (1566–1625) had a strong distaste for the Geneva Bible because he believed that some of its notes called into question the guarded principle of the “divine right” of kings. For example, the note on Exodus 1:19[2] read: “Their disobedience in this was lawful, but their deception is evil.” Unlike the King James Version, the translation project of the Geneva Bible project was funded by English exiles living in Geneva, Switzerland, not by a church or civil government. Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible. Christians embraced the new technology.

Endnotes:

[1] http://www.williamtyndale.com/0crimesofwilliamtyndale.htm
[2] “And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women [are] not as the Egyptian women; for they [are] lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.”

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