Do We Have to “Redeem” Everything in Pop Media to Give God Glory?

harrypotterPastor Jared Moore took time out from welcoming a new baby into the world in order to offer up ten rebuttals to my review of his book, The Harry Potter Bible Study.

Did Paul “Christianize” a Pagan Poet? A Response to Fred Butler

Regular readers may recall that I did a review of his book and made some rather critical conclusions as to what he was attempting to accomplish with it.   In short, I thought his book, centered around turning the last four Harry Potter movies into “Bible studies,” diminished the ability of the Holy Spirit to sanctify individuals and trivialized the teaching of biblical doctrine.

Pastor Moore, on the other hand, believes his Harry Potter “Bible study” is teaching Christians how to discern and “redeem” the pop culture that is so prevalent in our society.  Because, as the summary on the back of the book implies, learning how to discern God’s truth in the Harry Potter movies will help Christians to distinguish between Satan’s lies and God’s truth in the media, and draw our hearts to worship and enjoy Him which is the ultimate purpose of life.

As I noted in my original review, the fad among young, Reformed folks these days is to “redeem” everything for God’s glory.  However, they typically define the “everything” in need of “redeeming” for God’s glory as drinking beer and how much movie and TV watching a Christian can do.

The second category of pop entertainment has been the subject of a number of books in recent years.  Some of these titles include, Finding Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner, Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop-Culture Icons by David Dark, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William Romanowski, and Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective by Ted Turnau.

So the overall concept pastor Jared presents in his book of “redeeming” pop entertainment isn’t necessarily new.  He just focuses his attention upon Harry Potter specifically.

Now. Just so I am clear: I am not a fundamentalist alarmist like David Cloud who says Christians are forbidden to watch movies and TV (or read Harry Potter) and if they do so they are woefully compromised with the devil. Though I believe watching movies and TV is a terrible waste of time, I watch select TV programs and enjoy a movie on occasion.

The larger problems I take issue with pastor Jared’s response are two-fold:  First is the entire idea of developing a small group Bible-study curriculum from four secular fantasy movies about wizards that I detailed in my original review, but the second, which comes from this most recent response to me, is the insistence that I, as a Christian, am required to watch all movies and TV with the intent of “giving God glory.”

“Giving God glory” being defined, at least in this context, as proactively attempting to locate Christian themes in whatever it is I am watching so I can learn proper discernment and challenge the worldview of unbelievers. It is what pastor Jared describes as learning to “recognize God’s fingerprints in the entertainment” and connecting those “truth-claims” back to God.  If I don’t do that, then I am, as pastor Jared concludes, “sinning against God.” It’s that “sinning against God” comment that makes the bumps stand up on my arm.

Rather than offering up a point-by-point rebuttal, it may be helpful to hit upon the more  salient disagreements I have with his overall argument, because I am of the strong opinion that Christian’s do not have to always “redeem” culture.  I’m truly certain they aren’t sinning against God if they can’t find God’s “truth claims” in a fantasy movie.

First. Pastor Jared writes that I am treating the engagement of pop culture as a “neutral” endeavor.  In other words, he believes I am ignoring the fact movies, television programs, and secular music are mediums that are actively presenting a “worldview” in the messages they proclaim.

For instance, Jared writes under point #4,

Unfortunately, many Christians view interacting with popular culture as a neutral endeavor that is neither good nor bad. God’s glory is not their goal, and in my book I attempt to train Christians to enjoy God through rejecting and enjoying various elements of pop culture.

And then under point #6,

To answer Butler’s question, “No, you cannot interact with pop culture for the glory of God by believing pop culture is neutral (fun).” Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

And finally under point #10 he concludes,

You are required by God to live for His glory in all that you do. You cannot participate in Harry Potter or any other form of popular culture as if God is silent and Christ is not Lord.

He mistakenly assumes that by saying I watch the Harry Potter movies for “fun” I am concluding entertainment is “neutral” or doesn’t have a message.  So in his mind, saying I watch a movie for “fun” equals watching it in a “neutral” fashion and thus silences God by excluding His sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship.

But I am not excluding God at all when I enjoy watching something just for “fun.”  Am I denying Christ’s Lordship any less when I watch a basketball game for “fun”? Christ is still very much Lord over all the earth for that 90 minutes or so I sit in the gym cheering on my team whether or not I may have varying degrees of “spiritual” conversation with my friends. Oh, and I recognize that watching a sport is not the same as pop entertainment, but I am working from the larger principle pastor Jared insists must control my life, that being: God is Lord overall.  That axiom would apply just as equally to interacting with a sporting event as it would pop culture. Hence, taking pastor Jared’s directive, I can’t watch a football game in a “neutral” fashion, either.

In the same way, one can watch Harry Potter, or any movie for that matter, just for “fun” and still maintain a distinct understanding of Christ’s Lordship clearly in one’s mind.  By merely enjoying the film for “fun” sake, I am glorifying God. The key difference is that I am not doing what pastor Jared claims to do when he supposedly “identifies” God’s fingerprints in the stories.  And, I’m certainly not developing a Bible Study curriculum for small groups based on the movie.

Second.  Pastor Jared wrestles a couple of passages from their context in order to bolster his case against my criticism. I’ll consider them in turn.

First is 1 Corintians 10:31, which says, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  I think the mistake  a lot of these “redeeming culture” advocates make when they cite this passage is they wrongly believe the “eating and drinking” Paul is writing about means the mundane things in life.  In other words, in every simple thing we do, as simple as just eating and drinking, we are to give God glory. So, in the same manner when we watch a movie or TV program, we are to give God glory by redeeming the activity of movie going and TV watching. That’s the identifying God’s fingerprints part that pastor Jared says we must do.

But Paul isn’t writing about the mundane, simple things in life when he tells the Corinthians to give God glory in whatever they do.  His exhortation is part of a larger context about eating and drinking food that had been offered to idols in a pagan temple. Paul goes on to explain that “giving God glory” is giving no offense to either the Jewish believers, who may still maintain a kosher kitchen and the gentile believers, who are coming out of rank paganism and may still believe eating food offered to idols is sinful (10:32).  Thus, this verse is not a directive to seek out God’s fingerprints in popular entertainment.

Next is Acts 17:28 which is Paul’s citation of two Greek poets, Epimenides and Aratus, when he was preaching to the intellectual elites on Mar’s Hill in Athens.  He says, for in Him we live and move and have our being as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Jared writes this under point #6 about Paul’s words,

Butler is welcome to argue that I have failed at training Christians to interact with pop culture for God’s glory, but he is unfair if he acts like my goal for interacting with media is not found in Scripture. Paul quoted a pagan poet since this pagan ripped off God’s truth. That’s not “Christianizing,” that’s “Recognizing.”

As Jared goes on to explain his use of this passage, I kind of agree with him in that unbelievers who unwittingly acknowledge their creator in the things they say or do can be shown the inconsistency of such actions with their overall unbelieving worldview.  The problem I have, however, with appealing to Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill as a Scriptural proof-text for “Christianizing” American pop-culture, is that it stretches his words beyond their intended purpose. Paul wasn’t turning those poems into the Epimenides and Aratus Bible Study.  It’s one thing to point out worldview inconsistencies within pop culture, its another to build a small group Bible study curriculum around that same pop culture in question.

Third. Under point #9, Pastor Jared took great umbrage that I likened his work to “the Arminian classic apologist trying to show unbelievers that Christianity is a viable option in the market place of ideas.”  The reason I drew that conclusion had to do with his stated objectives he had with his book. Even though he insists in his response, as well as in the comments under this response posted over at SBCvoices.com that his work is meant merely to train Christians in biblical discernment and not to teach the Bible with Harry Potter, I didn’t perceive such a motivation when I originally read his book.

He writes in the introduction about the best way to utilize his book and under the second suggestion he states,

In Neighborhood Outreach.  Although it is difficult to reach out to  our neighborhoods, this Bible study may help.  For example, you  can  invite your neighborhood over to your own home for a specific night on the weekend for successive weeks to watch the  Harry Potter  movie series and to participate in this Bible study.  You can offer popcorn, soda pop, etc. as you engage  Harry Potter  unto the glory of God. Moreover, the gospel is presented numerous times in this Bible study.  All hearers will be confronted with the good news of Christ’s finished work saving sinners from Satan, God’s wrath, and themselves.  What a wonderful opportunity to present the gospel!

Pastor Jared says he is not going the way of pragmatic “seeker-sensitive” evangelism, but how else am I to read this? You invite the unbelieving neighbors over to watch Harry Potter and then incorporate a Bible study fashioned around the film they just watched? This just screams Saddleback/Purpose Driven Life pragmaticism.  Inviting neighbors to watch a popular movie and then surprise them with how relevant the Bible can be when applied to Harry Potter.

The reason I tie Jared’s material to Arminianism is that the method of engaging the culture is anthropocentric. It’s man-centered. It places something that allegedly stirs up the sinner, in this case, a fantasy movie about a wizard, and then sneaks the Bible in behind it. My old church use to do these kind of tricks with folks at our college. Promise a pizza bash, but only after you hear a revivalistic hitman smash you with a Bible.  A truly Reformed approach will trust God’s Spirit to draw the neighbors to hear the Bible taught minus any regard to Harry Potter. It is God who saves people and He does so without the gimmicks of making secular movies supposedly tied back to God’s “fingerprints.”

I’ll wrap up with a couple of thoughts.

First, I don’t believe Christians are required to ask quasi-spiritual questions of a particular movie they just watched in order to “glorify God.” In an ironic twist, because I know this isn’t pastor Jared’s intention at all, to insist that a Christian must engage pop culture in the way he proposes or you’re “sinning against God” hints of a veiled legalism that says a Christian isn’t truly spirit-filled or glorifying God UNLESS he identifies the fingerprints of God sprinkled throughout the movie.  Certainly he doesn’t want to be guilty of placing such a burden upon his audience.

Second, and this is just my personal opinion here, but I think pastor Jared is overly fixated upon identifying God’s so-called truth claims in popular media to the point he is in danger of shipwrecking the souls that have been entrusted for his care at his church. By that I mean I believe he is providing unwarranted license for members of his flock to wrecklessly engage pop culture with abandon because they are under the impression that because the pastor wrote a book about how we can recognize God’s truth in the Harry Potter movies, we can be safe watching anything just as long as we are recognizing God’s fingerprints.

Of course I understand that pastor Jared would respond with a “God forbid,” but in this instance, Christians are rightly identified as “sheep:” they can be slow, dim-witted, and easily misled.  It is their pastor who sets the trajectory of their spiritual life and it shouldn’t be directed to evaluating pop culture.

How then do we train Christians to “discern?” I do recognize this is an important spiritual discipline, however, it is not accomplished by teaching them to identify God’s fingerprints in secular movies and television. It is accomplished by directing them toward a high view of God and the authority of His written Word.  A pastor should aim to cultivate those passion in the hearts of his people and only then will they learn true discernment.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Do We Have to “Redeem” Everything in Pop Media to Give God Glory?

  1. Fred, our discussion would be more beneficial if you didn’t stereotype me as pursuing some “fad.” This comment for example is uncalled for: “As I noted in my original review, the fad among young, Reformed folks these days is to “redeem” everything for God’s glory. However, they typically define the “everything” in need of “redeeming” for God’s glory as drinking beer and how much movie and TV watching a Christian can do.” I’m a teetotaler by choice,for example. Your stereotype simply proves that you don’t know me.

    Also, I think your comments about my approach to media hurting my congregation is unwarranted. I suppose I could tell them that they have no obligation to love God and their neighbor as they participate in media, that they can “just have fun.” The two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. As Christians participate in media, they should be at least asking “How am I loving God and my neighbor by enjoying this media, sport, etc.” The “have fun” approach sounds self-centered. Even unbelievers can “have fun” while enjoying Harry Potter. What’s the difference between your enjoyment of Harry Potter and their enjoyment of Harry Potter? Can an unbeliever agree with you, saying, “By merely enjoying the film for “fun” sake, I am glorifying God.” Is it enough to merely have Christ’s Lordship “in your mind,” or should His Lordship affect how you enjoy media, sports, life, etc.? If you so choose to enjoy Harry Potter, would you not agree that it’s sinful to not pursue loving God and your neighbor through enjoying Harry Potter?

    Finally, I don’t understand why you keep insisting that I’m arguing for a “seeker-sensitive” approach. You’re reading my book in the worst possible way. I suppose you could fellowship with your neighbor, enjoying Harry Potter together, while never talking about that gospel. That sounds great, doesn’t it? Just enjoy Harry Potter with your neighbor; don’t talk about God or Jesus or redemption in Christ. Don’t use Rowling’s hijacking of the gospel to present the true gospel, after all, that would be “seeker-sensitive.” Or, you could actually love your neighbor, actually enjoy the fellowship with Harry Potter, and actually discuss the themes therein and how they remind you of the Christian gospel?

  2. If I didn’t know better and I bought into this ridiculous notion of finding value in Harry Potter Bible studies, I would feel pretty good about finding a way to be “of the world” and call it “in the world”. That would be very pleasing to my flesh which loves finding loopholes to carry out it’s deeds.

  3. Hey Jared, and thanks for the challenges. We’re probably more aligned in our thinking than what is displayed in our exchange, so I am grateful for that. On this issue, however, I think you are terribly misguided. It’s similar to how I view the apologetic methodology of Greg Koukl or J. Warrner Wallace, if you know who they are.

    At any rate, you write,
    Fred, our discussion would be more beneficial if you didn’t stereotype me as pursuing some “fad.”… I’m a teetotaler by choice,for example. Your stereotype simply proves that you don’t know me.

    If you read what I wrote, I think it’s fairly clear I am speaking in broad, super-sized paint brush terms. So I expect that a few redeeming culture advocates will be teetotalers or not into watching Harry Potter for that matter.

    The reality, however, is that the concept of “redeeming pop media culture” is most certainly a fad in that, well, pop media is a mid-late 20th century invention. Did Christians redeem culture in the same manner you propose say, 120 years ago? Do you know of any “Alice in Wonderland” Bible Studies that attempt to pin-point God’s fingerprints in Lewis Carrol’s novel? or a “Princess of Mars” Bible study that teaches Christians about “discernment? What about “Wizard of Oz” or “Gone with the Wind” Bible study? I don’t know of any, because Christians didn’t see a need to do such things. This whole notion that we somehow have to connect Christians to God’s veiled truth claims that may or may not be found in a movie is complete novel to recent generations who are more techno and media savoy.

    I am not saying that there may be opportunities for Christians to engage his or her unbelieving friends with God’s truth when it relates to the media. For instance, I’ve raised the Matrix in previous exchanges when Neo is set free from the Matrix. It is a good picture of the new birth in that a Christian now sees the world and man-kind for what it is, enslaved to wickedness. Could we reference that scene in a Gospel encounter with an unbeliever? Sure. However, did those filmmakers intend for that scene to display Christian regeneration? No. They saw it as a man being freed from mediocrity and the “system.” More in an anti-religious fashion than anything else.

    Lookit. I’ve been a believer for nearly 20 plus years. In all of that time my understanding in matters of discernment has been grounded squarely in the the Bible rightly interpreted. I never had to have anyone teach me to “discern” with the use of movies or TV. If anything, the more I grow in my understanding of God’s character, man’s falleness, Christ’s salvation, the more I recognize the foolishness of the message often presented in movies and TV. I guess, in a sense, I am learning discernment in that I am wasting my time trying to find something redeemable in pop culture.

    continuing,
    Also, I think your comments about my approach to media hurting my congregation is unwarranted.

    Well, you can take that or leave it. That is for you and God to determine. Like I wrote, you as a pastor set the trajectory for your congregations spiritual life. How they perceive your opinion about pop culture is going to impact their opinion and how they handle such things. I am merely exhorting you to take seriously how they react to your views on such matters.

    Can an unbeliever agree with you, saying, “By merely enjoying the film for “fun” sake, I am glorifying God.” Is it enough to merely have Christ’s Lordship “in your mind,” or should His Lordship affect how you enjoy media, sports, life, etc.? If you so choose to enjoy Harry Potter, would you not agree that it’s sinful to not pursue loving God and your neighbor through enjoying Harry Potter?

    We definitely part company when it comes to the value you place upon Christians and media. I honestly do not believe my understanding of Christ’s Lordship has in relation to me attempting to find God’s truth nuggets in every movie I watch. I enjoy Harry Potter for what it is, fantasy entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less, though I think it is wise for those Christians who do watch Harry Potter to be prepared with explaining how one can love God and suffer the witch-craft presented in the films.

    A Christian is not in any danger of any sin, or not loving his neighbor, if he just enjoys Harry Potter, or Star Wars, or Jaws, or Dr. Who for being interesting and engaging and entertaining. God does not obligate us to identify his “fingerprints” in order to give Him glory. I think you are way off balance with this point. Unbelievers do not “give God glory” in the same way Christians do. This is clear from Scripture.

    I don’t understand why you keep insisting that I’m arguing for a “seeker-sensitive” approach.

    I never said you are. You continually insist this isn’t your intention, and I have always taken you at your word But note what I wrote that draws me to that conclusion. Any comment about that?

    Just enjoy Harry Potter with your neighbor; don’t talk about God or Jesus or redemption in Christ. Don’t use Rowling’s hijacking of the gospel to present the true gospel, after all, that would be “seeker-sensitive.” Or, you could actually love your neighbor, actually enjoy the fellowship with Harry Potter, and actually discuss the themes therein and how they remind you of the Christian gospel?

    Jared, the last place you want to talk about the Gospel with a neighbor is while watching Harry Potter movies. You give too much credit to alleged spiritual touchstones woven in these movies, and honestly, they’re just not there. It’s the same thing with Louie Giglio (see HERE and HERE) locating crosses in molecules. If anything, such movies would distract from any clear, biblical presentation of the Gospel especially if you are insisting to the unbeliever there exists elements that aren’t really there. You really need to re-evaluate your position on this.

  4. Well of course you just dashed my hopes for doing a finding Christ in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars Stories. But then again the fact that the movie did so poorly probably shot that down anyway.

  5. Great points, Fred. The description of the neighborhood Outreach event sounds very like what a large Arminian Baptist church here regularly does: invite unsaved friends to a secular sporting event, and then the person finds out it’s a deceptive tactic to tell them about Christianity. A close family member, a nominal Christian, still talks of such an event years ago and how he was “tricked” into going there and how that friend was so deceptive, etc.

    And well said, that “It’s one thing to point out worldview inconsistencies within pop culture, its another to build a small group Bible study curriculum around that same pop culture in question.”

  6. Pastor Moore,

    I am a completely out-of-step-with-the-culture 33 year old male. People at work talk about television shows and my usual response is, “Wait…that’s a show?” I love God’s word, I have the mind of Christ, I am indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, and I know the gospel. But I’ve only casually watched a few of the Harry Potter movies (probably out of order) and really didn’t pay attention to any of the larger themes so I can relate to others. Did I watch them for fun? To God’s glory? I don’t know. Truth is, I wasn’t very interested at all.

    My question is this: what hope do I have of reaching others with the gospel? I am so hopelessly out-of-tune with today’s increasingly bad-to-worse culture.

    As sarcasm is meant to do, I hope this little personal story shocks your senses and makes you realize that your position on this matter is a little off-kilter.

    I think your comments about my approach to media hurting my congregation is unwarranted.

    I can’t speak for Fred and I don’t know all that is behind his comments. But, in my opinion, I agree that your approach to media, if it is not currently hurting your congregation, has a great potential to do so. How? By marginalizing that faithful old woman that can quote you Romans by heart, loves discipling the young ladies, and is a fearless evangelist. By marginalizing that elderly man that loves God’s word, is full of wisdom for the younger men, has a prayer list a mile long (and prays through it everyday!), and regularly visits each family in church to love and encourage them.

    These are just two examples of elderly servants in my church. I doubt that they even know who Harry Potter is, nevermind being able to interact with the culture regarding the movies/books. What I have witnessed in many churches is that these type of mature saints are essentially pushed out the door of young, hip churches that gear everything — music, preaching, clothing, programs, etc. — to the…well…young and hip. They can’t relate to culture through the latest fad so, they are kind of pushed aside.

    These elderly, mature saints are INVALUABLE to a congregation. They should be embraced and their experience and wisdom put to good use.

    All this to say that this whole “redeem the culture” model can leave men like me, folks like the two elderly saints described, and others that don’t care about the latest cultural “thing” but are faithful saints, hopeless. That they have nothing to offer if they are not up-to-date on the latest and coolest.

    Just some thoughts. Grace.

  7. Pingback: The Harry Potter Bible Study – A Review | hipandthigh

Leave me a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s