In the introduction to All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Kenneth Myers makes the startling assertion that popular culture is to the modern Church what persecution and religious wars were to Christians in ancient Rome and the Reformation. In some ways, he says, the danger is even greater because it's so much more difficult to detect—the threat of death is obvious, secular thought posing as Christian ideals is not. Written two decades ago, this book is even more pertinent now because the trends he observed are more fully developed.
Many Christians choose to ignore culture altogether. Afraid of its potentially harmful effects on morality and spirituality, they avoid all forms of culture (good and bad) in favor of ignorance. This only leads to a bad cultural life in place of a good one. But far more evangelicals simply take the forms of secular pop culture and attempt to "Christianize" them, a response Myers characterizes as misguided, unchristian and highly dangerous to the cultural life of the Church.
Pop culture is the real enemy here. High culture and folk culture both have recognizable standards and conventions by which they can be judged. By contrast, pop culture promotes cultural relativism, which in turn leaves only novelty and accessibility as legitimate criteria for the "goodness" of art, music, literature, etc. Plenty of Christians, Myers admits, have rightly judged the content of much popular culture; but very few have questioned the validity of its forms, considering them to be amoral.
But form is essential, Myers argues, and ably demonstrates his contention. Pop culture is necessarily bite-sized, catchy, glitzy and easily understood. It avoids deep meaning, abrogates close reading, and kills contemplation by shortening attention spans. The result is a malaise of shallowness and ignorance in which true Christian piety and wisdom cannot thrive. Only by returning to objective standards for judging culture can the Church regain its glory and status as a purveyor of genuine creativity and intellectual rigor.
While some of his cultural references are a bit outdated (everyone still knows who Madonna is, but Casey Kasem has faded), Myers' wit and intellectual astuteness ensure that his message is not lost. Showing a desire to see secular and Christian culture improved, his criticisms are as convicting and uncomfortable as they are legitimate and truthful. If you want to be involved in culture or if you're affected by it (so everyone, basically) this book should be near the top of your list of must-reads.
Table of Contents:
- Of the World, But Not in the World
- What is Culture, That Thou Art Mindful of It?
- Would You Take Jesus to See This Planet?
- Popular Culture and the Restless Ones
- Accounting for Taste
- Better to Receive
- Before the Revolution
- Where Have All the Standards Gone?
- Popular Culture's Idiom: Rock Around the Clock
- Popular Culture's Medium: The Entertainment Appliance
- Where Do We Go From Here?
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
Did you find this review helpful?