Church today looks vastly different than it did 50 years ago. Sanctuaries are darker, there’s coffee and doughnuts served, and on any given Sunday there are probably more blue jeans than an American high school.
Church has done quite well in keeping up with culture. But there’s always the age-old debate: how do we stay in the world but not of it? How do we stay relevant and up to date, while still keeping in time and not keep our churches from feeling like the minute we step into church we’re stepping into the 1950’s?
Our culture shapes us, there’s no doubt about it. The quicker that we are aware of how much the culture around us shapes how we view the world, the more we can critically think about our own specific worldview. One of the main ways that culture is being shaped today is through social media. And culture has always been largely shaped by artists who know how to interpret humanity around them and twist it in a way that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes self-deprecating, and sometimes quite scary.
The link between culture and the arts is no stranger to time. And the Bible is no stranger to poetic riffs and musical lines. The first place anyone needs to look to know this is true are the Psalms – written by a musician, it’s a book quite literally filled with poetry, that was no doubt influenced by the culture at that time.
The book of Acts gives us an interesting peek at the culture of the day, and how Paul uses that to his advantage while preaching a message. Speaking to a crowd he deemed to be quite religious, he spoke eloquently of the wonder of God.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17: 24-25)
The purpose of Paul’s message was to inspire people once again to the majesty of God – not anything that we as mere humans can do to sustain God, but rather the opposite. He goes on to write “and in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
It’s a poetic line; Paul had knack for some beautiful one liners. This one, however, was not actually Paul’s – but a line from the Greek poet Epimenides. He penned the line in reference to Zeus, Greek god of the sky, in his poem Cretia.
Paul knew quite well what he was quoting, having mentioned it in his writing. I’m not sure whether or not that specific line would have been well-known in those times, maybe enough for the people to perk up when they heard it preached in a sermon. I can only imagine the expressions on their faces when they realized this man of God was quoting pop culture at them and reframing it to express the one true God.
And lo and behold, that sermon was recorded in the Word, and the line now has become a verse that we use to express our relationship with our Creator.
In terms of art and culture and its intersect with faith – in many ways we’ve stayed and kept up with culture, and in many ways we’ve dropped the ball when it comes to using art as a way to express the gospel message. Regardless, this is not an argument for either stance. It’s an acknowledgment of culture’s effects.
We can be of the world and not in it, absolutely, but let’s not be blinded to beauty that is divinely inspired, or reframed to proclaim the goodness of God.