I grew up the kind of Pentecostal that disallowed its members to attend movies and listen to secular music. Outside of Southern Gospel music, we listened only to Country. I do not wish to use this space to whine about my childhood deprivation, but I think this might explain why I care so much about culture now. The consequence of my not attending movies or listening to secular music meant that I was, for the most part, ignorant of what influenced others in school. I felt left out.
Once I decided I disagreed with the idea that holiness meant avoiding secular entertainment all together, I began to consume it. I developed a voracious appetite for all things media. After consuming so much, I began to develop more and more of a discerning palate. From middle school to now, I have managed to go from listening to the Gaither Vocal Band to Michael W. Smith to Creed to Arcade Fire.
Recently I realized that I did not need to know everything about everything. I need not worry myself with who people listen to or what the latest social-networking platform is. I do still in some way participate in this system. I write this as I listen to M83 and type on a WordPress blog. I do not mean that we must listen to bad music and communicate through stone tablets. I do think we need to take note of what forms our souls.
I have discovered that, when I unplug, I become more interesting to everyone around me. No longer needing to be relevant frees me to simply be present, to listen. The need for relevance enslaves us to a culture whose minds have been lulled to sleep by spectacle, whose imaginations have atrophied through the razzle-dazzle of CGI and numbed by over-stimulation. Relevance becomes a curse when it prevents us from speaking to the culture because when it comes time to speak, the only words we know are those the culture taught us. Our thoughts belong to the culture, our beliefs belong to the culture.
This is the reason why Christians must produce great art. I do not mean to legitimate the category of “Contemporary Christian Music.” I mean that Christians can produce music, movies, and literature of at least the same quality as secular culture. It will not do to simply produce low-quality copies of the world’s music. Evangelicals have typically understood the didactic capacity of media, but they have not truly grasped the ability of a great movie or song to shake you to the core. Good or mediocre media cannot do this the same way as great media. Fortunately for the Church, we have great resources at our disposal in our hymnody and literature. We need not just look to our past, as many new artists have arisen and will continue to arise.
I do not wish for my fellow Christians to shut the world entirely. I do not want to advocate a strict diet of Christian media, nor do I wish to denigrate such media. The question is, what is forming us? We can be formed by secular movies just as well as “Christian” movies. I just want to suggest discernment, and that means more than avoiding the Saw movies. If we are to speak prophetically to the world, our imaginations must be formed by the Church.
The alternative to the worldly imagination is not crappy Christian art but worship. This is why how we worship matters. This is why we need to pull upon the great resources for Christian worship — our hymnody, the Psalms, not to mention the rest of Scripture. Worship shapes us so that we are not limited by the dead imagination of the world. Scripture gives us new grammar with which to speak. Worship reforms our hearts and minds and turns us to delight in our Lover, Savior, and Maker. This is a big task and this is why so much of the worship music that exists now will not cut the mustard. So, let’s worship in a way befitting of this task. Let us sing a new song.