Popular culture in Christian perspective
Some of you may recognize the name Ted Turnau. On Ransom’s website you can find an eBook by Dr. Turnau, Reflecting Theologically On Popular Culture As Meaningful: The Role of Sin, Grace, and General Revelation. As the title suggests, it is a scholarly piece, an essay that was originally published in a theological journal. I sought permission to post it on our site because in it Turnau unpacked with biblical fidelity the theological lens through which we should see the world of popular culture.
I am aware that not every Christian is drawn to reading works of serious theological scholarship, nor do they necessarily need to. Some of us believe our calling includes bridging the gap between the world of scholarly theology and the world of the pew, just as your calling requires you to read material I would likely either skip or fail to comprehend. As a community of God’s people we can each be faithful, and enrich one another’s understanding of things without falling into the trap of feeling guilty that we haven’t—and won’t—read everything. It’s a relief, when you think about it.
But now Ted Turnau has published a book, Popologetics that I want to recommend as widely as possible. Though the work of a thoughtful scholar, Turnau writes in terms that are practical, accessible, down-to-earth, and up-to-date. “The main question that drives this book,” Turnau states at the beginning, “is, How should we as Christians engage non-Christian popular culture?” Popologetics will sharpen our skill in being discerning, help us see and hear with greater clarity, identify mistaken approaches that are popular in Christian circles, and be better able to shine the light of the gospel on the idolatries that keep so many of our neighbors and friends in bondage and that subtly threaten our souls as well.
Popular culture affects us and those around us on the level of world-view—the assumptions we make about reality every day—often without our realizing it. This worldview effect is both obvious and elusive: we know it happens, but we don’t often stop to think about what it means. How should we respond when our worldview is challenged? Though it might be tempting to move to a high and lofty mountain to avoid popular culture altogether, such a tactic usually doesn’t work; you only end up creating another type of popular culture. Rather, I believe that a Christian’s proper response to a worldview challenge from popular culture is to ask questions, to understand from a biblical perspective what popular culture is and how it works… A biblical worldview helps us to sort out the good from the bad. Our task as Christians, then, is to respond to popular culture as a messy, deeply meaningful mixture. And I believe the only appropriate response to something that messy and that meaningful is apologetics.
Popologetics would be a great text for classes and small groups, important reading for church leaders, parents, and educators, as well for all those who simply want to think through what faithfulness looks like living in culture that is suffused (Turnau’s term) with popular culture.
When biblical authority is slighted or popular culture is deemed insignificant—errors too often committed by evangelicals—21st century Christian faithfulness is undermined. Human beings made in God’s image express their deepest fears, hopes, and yearnings in the art they produce, and today popular culture is central to this cultural dialogue. Ted Turnau recognizes the vitality of popular culture and knows that because God has spoken in Scripture we have a plumb line by which to uncover the idolatries and ideologies that seek to seduce us away from the truth. In Popologetics, Turnau explores the meaning of popular culture, identifies insufficient ways of engaging it, provides clear instruction in being discerning, and helps believers see how the gospel speaks to the deepest questions of life. This is a book that will help ordinary Christians move from understanding to gratitude to obedience to faithful witness.