There is so much to criticize in culture. Even more so in pop-culture. Pop culture is filled with all manner of sin, humanism, and blasphemy. We live in a culture that murders, steals, blasphemes, glorifies debauchery, and much more. This is, quite frankly, obvious, but should be said loudly and clearly.
There is, however, sometimes a tendency and an attitude that discounts, disparages, and condemns anything and everything that is popular in culture. The Christian commentators who engage in such criticism, instead of judging each slice of culture according to its merits, observe popularity—of a book, a social media “trend”, or a film—and promptly revile the fashionable bit of pop-culture. After all, what good can come out of Nazareth? **cough**cough** I mean Hollywood.
These grumpy sorts will rightly criticize the sort of individual who blindly follows the crowd. They will point out that we Christians should not “go with the flow” and we should “stand apart.”
But why should we stand apart? Should we stand apart for the sake of standing apart? Nonconformity in of itself is not a virtue. Nonconformity is only a virtue when it means we are being conformed to His Image by the renewing of our mind. We should stand apart when that means standing for truth. We Christians do not stand apart in the name of being a cultural reactionary. We stand apart for God’s Law/Word.
It is a wrong-headed trend when Christians, in an almost conspiratorial manner, condemn media such as films and music just because it is popular media. However, when the conservative Christian culture turns its back on worthy causes and goals for the same reason, it can have devastating effects. For example, it is a sleight of hand from Satan that causes Christians to let Progressive Liberalism “own” justice. Liberty, justice, equality, and even progress itself are co-opted and falsely “owned” by humanism and the Left. Justice is now largely seen a tenet of the left. Speaking out against ethnic-based hatred and prejudice is automatically labeled “Marxism.” Standing against hyper-patriarchal systems that subjugate women is called “liberal,” or even a cause of great evil. Showing special care to love and protect the weaker vessel is automatically labeled “feminism.”
Far too much of the conversation is not a conversation at all. Far too often, talk about these issues is muzzled by painting with a broad brush, an absolute lack of nuance, and (most of all) condemnations based on guilt by association.
This is a limp-wristed and defeatist stance. It puts Christians on the defensive and gives up real and true Biblical terminology (liberty, justice, etc.) and righteous causes. It is nothing but a retreat and a ceding of the terminological and ethical high ground. This reactionary attitude is driven by backward-looking and pessimistic mindsets. It is driven by a romanticized view of history coupled with a knee-jerk reaction to oppose whatever the left is saying—almost merely because the left is saying it.
When terms and their corresponding causes are surrendered to humanism, it affects how we act. We may not realize this shift of behavior right away, and change may occur slowly, but words have power. When “justice” becomes seen as a leftist cause, or when racism is seen as a “liberal thing,” this changes the church’s actions. It is not merely semantics, but feeds into practical living and how we engage the culture. When the church cannot speak on injustices that are culturally “owned” by the left without being slandered as “Marxist” or “SJWs,” it de-legitimizes the integrity of anything we have to say. We are expected, in one way or another, to speak against abortion. But racial injustices? Class-based injustices? Gender-based injustices? Injustices within the government, or the criminal justice system itself? It is safe for Christians to talk about some kinds of justice, but it gets more complicated when Christians speak out against other injustices that have now been allowed to be appropriated by humanism.
We simply cannot have such a view. We know that justice belongs to the Lord as we know we have liberty in Christ. There is no justice apart from the Law of God and true Liberty is found in Christ alone. Therefore, what the humanistic left is doing with their equality movements and social justice schemes is a twisted version of something good that we have given over to the left on a silver platter. When humanism is able to discern that there is a problem with, let’s say, the sexual objectification of women, this is an example of Common Grace. It does not mean their solutions are good and right; but it also does not mean that dismissing a real problem because of who points it out first and loudest it good and right, either. It is reactionary and an implicit denial of Common Grace.
It is easy to imagine wealthy and powerful men in Old Testament Israel who scoffed at the Law and the Prophets every time they focused on justice for classes of people of significantly less socioeconomic power. It is easy to imagine the indignation of the socially powerful when God gave special instruction ensuring the provision for and justice for those other than themselves. With what we know of Israel, the mumbling and scoffing of those whom God did not specifically address is almost certain. No matter this hypothetical scoffing, the Law and the Prophets did repeatedly focus on justice for those with little to no power (Exodus 22:21–25, Deuteronomy 10:18–19, Deuteronomy 24:17–22, Psalms 146:9, Isaiah 1:17, Ezekiel 22:7, Zechariah 7:10) as well as promising special curses upon those who did not give justice to those without the power to seek it for themselves in an equitable manner (Deuteronomy 27:19). This is not to say that the Law and Prophets were not concerned with justice for all. The same law applied to the native and the foreigner under God’s Law (Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:22). Regardless, God in His infinite wisdom deemed it good repeatedly to specify the social classes that were easier to manipulate, discriminate against, abuse, and oppress. The civil standard for justice was the same, while the moral imperative to ensure justice was secured for some was different. Immigrants, orphans, the preborn, the elderly, the poor, ethnic minorities, widows, and other socioeconomic groups are to have special advocates within Christendom while those who are privileged to have vast amounts of social power do not require the same uncommon care. Yes, the rich and powerful receive the same civil justice, but the rich and powerful are their own advocates.
If the idea of focusing on justice for certain classes is startling, consider the preborn. Do even we not give the preborn an inordinate amount of time and focus? Why is this? Why not “Abolish Murder” instead of “Abolish Abortion”? Are abortion abolitionists trying to engage in “Marxist class warfare” because we recognize that a certain class of Image Bearers of God are less able to advocate for themselves? Abolitionists often expose the hypocrisy of the Left by contrasting their care for animals with their lack of care for the preborn. We, however, must be careful not to be guilty of a similar error. If we flippantly dismiss struggles, injustices, and abuses under which women, the poor, ethnic minorities, and immigrants may suffer, then are we not guilty of very similar hypocrisy? The reason why we say, “Abolish Abortion,” is the same reason many say, “Black Lives Matter.” It is not because white lives don’t matter, but because a special focus is needed.
Those reactionary curmudgeons that hate anything that too many people like are certainly right about one thing. Our opinions, support, admiration, and so on should not be controlled by the culture. What they have failed to realize is that by condemning anything that is popular, their positions are every bit as much controlled by the culture.
We should never adopt ideas from the world. Truth is objective and from God’s Word. However, we should be equally careful about having a reactionary theology that, in a knee-jerk fashion, dismisses and demonizes ideas simply because the ideas may have some popularity within the broader culture or outside of a narrow tribe of thought. Both errors allow truth to be dictated by the world: the first by determining what is true, and the second by determining what is false. Both use the world as a standard, and both stand upon autonomy rather than theonomy. Both tendencies have men and women being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Originally published on Feb 4, 2019 at The American Vision.