Some of the most spiritual experiences I've had have been outside the walls of the church. I remember one time I was at a Sigur Ros concert when I was 19. As the band played, my heart was uplifted. As I heard the voices of the masses united, I heard angelic choirs. I’ve always had a love for art, music, and culture and I've always had a tension with how to engage with them. But I know that the testimony of nights similar to the one above show me that there may be going on in pop culture than mere entertainment.
More often than not there are things in our culture that can be redeemed rather than rejected. Obviously there are certain things that need to be not embraced. If you want to be a Christian stripper to reach people for Jesus you need to go back to the drawing board. However, there is so great opportunity in what can often be seen as a gray area. Redeem the gray area by shining light on it. All too often we make or promote art or music that specifically resonates with Christians. We give immense grace to the less than quality film or the cheesy lyrics because it is the heart that counts. I think that we can have both. I think we can have the standards of popular culture and the values of Christ all at the same time. Claiming the Sigur Ros concert as an encounter with God might just be a powerful testimony.
Everything in some way gives glory to God. Saint John of Damascus says “Greeks sacrifice to demons, but Israel blood and burnt sacrifices to God(Damascene, 74).” The medium and content are important but who you direct the adoration to is even more vital. There is a lot of non christian specific content that is full of good values and good questions. Be aware and able to discern what is nourishing and what you need to excrete.
Furthermore it says in Colossians that everything was created by God “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him(Colossians 1:16).” If the hand of God has touched it, It is in some way blessed. We can either pervert the blessing or embrace and multiply it. Why not take a stance on drawing out the meat in every situation, praising what is worthy of praise. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not withhold good things because they may be bad. Train in yourself and your community the art of discernment.
God permits a great amount of freedom in what we should take in. There are consequences to our actions but there are also potentials. It says in 1 corinthians 10:16 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” this scripture is talking specifically about food laws held by the Jews; however, there are parallels we can draw out. If you can have an encounter with God in an unorthodox place, so be it. This is not a careless freedom but rather an opportunity to be with and proclaim Jesus. The values and heart of Christ should be in you no matter where you go. So walk faithfully in everywhere you go and whatever you make.
If the incarnation shows anything it's that God is willing to embrace the world. Truth and the gospel should not reside in heaven rather it should step over cultural lines. The declaration of truth is not reserved for sanctuary; it needs to be proclaimed in the public square, the academy, the movie theater, the music venue, and the art shows. It is important to have sacred places, but sometimes it is even more important to bring sacredness into the world. Often in the modern church a goal is to bring people to church. It is almost as if we view ourselves attempting to hurry people to an escape pod as a space station is exploding. If Christ is victorious then
wherever Christ is salvation is. Whether that is at an altar or a beer soaked floor. Truth is not confined to a certain place; the presence of God is not confined to a certain place.
So make coldplay your anthem of truth. If you are a creator, don't be trapped in the box that for truth to be proclaimed it needs to end with an alter call. And more so, I’ve noticed that more than anything our call as Christians is to love people. It is to build compassionate and trustworthy relationships with others. The content of what we embrace or create is important but the people we encounter is even more important. So view concerts as an opportunity to meet people and “. . . Be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have.”
Often I have seen Jesus really come out not in the vessels of entertainment and creativity but our interactions with the people we encounter. “ Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
All this to say I think that we can discern cultural engagement rather than retreating. If nothing else we need Christians in the mainstream to proclaim Christ. Maybe just because a concert doesn't end in an alter call God can't work through it.
Mitch Johnson is a recent graduate of Crown College who Studied Theology, Music, Worship and is on the team at The New Young Christian building community and the worship culture