God moves toward us and we need to move toward Him. What moving toward Him entails, at times, is accepting His view of the popular culture in which we live and how we should relate to its elements in ways that enable us to grow.
What do we mean by “popular culture?” Here is the definition from the Wikipedia:
“Popular culture (or pop culture) is the culture—patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance—which are popular, well-liked, or common. This is often defined or determined by the mass media. Popular culture is deemed as what is popular within the social context. . . . Popular culture is also suggested to be the widespread cultural elements in any given society that are perpetuated through that society’s vernacular language or lingua franca. It comprises the daily interactions, needs and desires and cultural ‘moments’ that make up the everyday lives of the mainstream. It can include any number of practices, including those pertaining to cooking, clothing, consumption, and mass media, and the many facets of entertainment such as sport and theater. . . . Popular culture often contrasts with a more exclusive, even elitist ‘high culture,’ that is, the culture of ruling social groups. The earliest use of ‘popular’ in English was during the fifteenth century in law and politics, meaning ‘low . . . base . . . vulgar’ and ‘of the common people’ until the late eighteenth century, by which time it began to mean ‘widespread; and gain in positive connotation.”1
Pop culture finds its expression in the mass circulation of items from areas such as fashion, music, sport, and film. The world of pop culture has had a particular influence on art from the early 1960s on, through Pop Art. When modern pop culture began during the early 1950s, it made it harder for adults to participate. Today, most adults, their kids, and their grandchildren “participate” in pop culture directly or indirectly.
If “popular culture” is defined as those elements of culture that are widespread and accepted by the majority of any given society, then we can see immediately a striking and enormously definitive difference between the cultures of Jesus’ day and our own. We call it the “global village.” When life all over the planet moved no faster than the pace of a fast horse, and most often at the pace of a person, a people group could be almost completely isolated, even from other groups that were geographically nearby. Someone in a village in China knew little about what went on even in the next valley, and nothing at all about what went on in a village in Guatemala, or even that such a place existed.
Culture, art, and religion moved with trade and exploration, so Italy heard about Asia only a few decades after Marco Polo traveled there, and Galilee and Judea knew something about Egypt, the near East, and the eastern Mediterranean because they were centered in the intersection of many trade routes. But you could have an alien place called Samaria right between the two. “We don’t associate with those people.” We may not know much, but we know they’re different, and different is bad.
Human nature is what it is, and there are still enclaves and prejudice and “us-them” ways of thinking. There are still valleys in Appalachia or Quebec or maybe even neighborhoods in New York City or San Francisco, where people do things “the way they’ve always been done” and look with deep suspicion and mistrust on outsiders. Today, however, they have televisions and computers and cell phones in those valleys, and the world has shrunk mightily.
So now we can talk about “pop culture” and mean a kind of people group so huge it would have been unimaginable in Jesus’ day. Now you can see Bantu and Brazilian, Indonesian and Inuit, Mongolian and Manx teenagers wearing blue jeans and little white earbuds created by North American pop culture and made in Asia. And they’re all texting each other about the latest episodes of television programs their parents never heard of. Consider these questions:
1. Is it possible to figure out how Jesus wants us to live in this world, but not of it?
2. How on earth can we even talk the same language as these millennial children, let alone reach them with the Everlasting Gospel that’s supposed to go to all tribes and kindreds and nations?
3. What could you and your church be doing to make a broader impact?2