Meaningful discourse is always about something else, it transcends itself- you could say, it has a trajectory. Bob Dylan once said that art always leads you somewhere- but it never leads you nowhere. It is this characteristic of art that has proven to be difficult for the church. Christians are often fearful of the “hidden” meaning in “secular” media that may lead us astray. I remember the crusade against rock music for its subliminal messages on an album that if played backwards and three times slower could be deciphered as mantras to Satan. I remember the alarm over the New Age movement that had suddenly possessed pop culture in the late 80’s- we followed suit in the logical boycott of everyone’s favorite cartoons. It is this "witch-hunt" stance that marks the evangelical’s participation in the arts with superstition and suspicion, therefore removing us from the conversation and making any “artistic” efforts seem flat, irrelevant and ultimately narcissistic.
The invitation to the concerned Christ-follower is to engage with culture by being in, yet not of the world. Jesus himself articulates this tension in his well-known prayer for the disciples in John 17:6-19. As we begin to dialogue with the world in the arena of culture we will have moments where we exclaim, “Yes! This is my home!” But suddenly, all of creation will counter, “No! This is not your home!” Yet somehow, these seemingly contradictory statements are both correct in that the eschatological nature of our presence here infuses every moment and action with meaning. Turnau understood this when he said that it is hope that trains the imagination to see the world differently and then to follow that sight to act redemptively in culture.
How would things be different if followers of Jesus saw culture as the interplay between "General Revelation" (God's self-disclosure in creation) and "Common Grace" (God's good gifts to humankind) ? Wouldn't cultural engagment actually be, on some level, a conversation with God himself?
in response to:
Turnau III, Theodore A. (2002). Reflecting theologically on popular culture as meaningful: the role of sin, grace, and general revelation. Calvin Theological Journal: 270-296.