The Culturally Savvy Christian

Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian needs to be read by every Christian. Some time back, I quipped that Christians have some thinking to do on the question of what materials/experiences are appropriate for Christians. I’ve often wondered about secessionist Christians who avoid all contact with culture inas much as it’s possible. To me, it is the obligation of all Christians to be culturally savvy.

Staub says that The culturally savvy Christian is serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled in relating the two.

Staub sees the church at a crossroads in faith and culture.
He rightly recognizes that the Christian community has “degenerated into an
intellectually and artistically anemic subculture, and the general population
is consuming an unsatisfying blend of mindless, soulless, spiritually
delusional entertainment.”

The Culturally Savvy Christian is a somewhat melancholy, but altogether insightful book that challenges us to not only engage culture, but to participate in the creation of a better culture at the level of music, the arts, film, etc. Staub is not
interested in creating a Christian sub-culture, but in leading culture with
our art, values and creativity. As one who loves both faith and the arts, I found Dick Staub giving voice to thoughts I’ve had for some time.

Here’s the question: should Christians listen to music, watch films, that have questionable content, as a way of listening to the voice of culture, and finding God in unexpected places, or should they shield themselves from things that are ungodly?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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16 thoughts on “The Culturally Savvy Christian

  1. My actual point in all of this is not that we should run and hide from the realities of life. Jesus mixed it up with the worst of them and told us to walk in His steps. So it’s not about trying to hide from evil to keep ourselves pure. It’s about missional living that actually gets its momentum and sustaining power from real people in the real world with real problems. That’s the theatre in which we should find ourselves in to engage culture and find God.
    Emily asked a valid question of how we are going to know the people we are seeking to help. It just seems incongruous to think the best way to identify with the plight of sinful man is to immerse ourselves in movies and music. My point is let’s deal in the reality of people’s lives. Let’s eat at the house of tax collectors, not watch a movie about it. Let’s rescue young women from the strip clubs instead of watching them dance on screen. It’s about engaging culture where real culture is, the lives of real people.

  2. OK…as usual, I agree with what my wife says on this one. More on Monday…but this is a tough one that Christians need to be able to talk about civilly. I’ll tip my hand on this one just a bit…I would suggest it’s a lot more complex than either connecting with culture, or keeping oneself unstained by the world. It’s not either help the poor, or study culture. It’s a much more nuanced problem than that…as you all know.

  3. >>seeing a police officer stick his hand up a woman’s dress and fondle her, what has that got to do with engaging culture<< I saw the movie. I too was angered and repulsed by his actions. But that’s not the end of the movie. I saw a man ask for forgiveness and I saw a woman give forgiveness and I as a viewer gave forgiveness to the officer as well. This discussion is on very tough stuff for the Christian. When we bring Christ to the lost, we are going to see plenty of bad things. But we do have to be prepared…….no?

  4. I’m speechless. Exposing ourselves to the biblical narrative of sinful, fallen people and how God responds is somehow equal to paying money to willfully watch two people copulate on screen, or blaspheme the name of God, or degrade and demean a fellow human being?
    Someone needs to explain how this all works. The rhetoric sounds great, engaging culture for the sake of the kingdom, being culturally immersed, finding God in unexpected places, etc. Those are valid ideals for believers. But someone is going to have to explain the nuts and bolts of how those things are accomplished by watching movies, especially movies filled with immorality.
    How about instead of sitting in a movie theatre all by yourself and glorying in how much you are learning about God by watching people have sex, how about going down to an Aids shelter and dressing some wounds. How about, instead of sitting there isolated from the world in the dark listening to the name of God being blasphemed and saying how much better you understand God now, how about going down to a pregnancy crisis center and convince a mother-to-be not to abort her baby. Maybe instead of spending twenty bucks for that movie and popcorn and Hot Tamales where you are getting so enlightened, go buy some food for your neighbor’s children who haven’t had a decent meal in days because their parents are on meth. Then talk about cultural relevance.
    (wow, this is fun)

  5. Its a good thing the book of Genesis came out in written form and not movie form. Nudity in the garden, brother beats his brother to death, numerous people drown alive, Noah’s drunken nudity, propositions for homosexual intercourse, Lot’s daughters attempt at incest, the rape of Dinah and then her brothers massacring a number of men healing from circumcision, Tamar pretending (and acting) to be a prostitute and Judah falling for it, are just a few questionable things to be found in the book. Obviously the book of Genesis doesn’t include EVERY story in the lives of the “patriarchs”, but we have to ask why are THESE stories included, as graphic as they are. Are they there to just tell us a few racy stories for our entertainment or to teach us lessons about God.

  6. There is obviously a point somewhere where Christians should draw the line regarding how much they participate in culture, and I think it is likely different for different people. However, I am a big believer that Christians should be able to encounter culutre and think critically and theologically about it. I would argue, theologically, that culture exists in God, not that God is an element (or separate from) culture. Therefore, God not only displays a part of himself through all things that are beautiful, creative, or life-enriching, but also allows us to see the despair, pain, and ugliness of our fallen world through many of the same venues. Take the musical “Rent” for example: Does it promote a Christian worldview or values? No. But there is a whole generation who strongly identifies with this story. And so I watch it, and I leave feeling fairly depressed and sad that many young people are really that hopeless, and I walk away with a stronger sense that the church needs to do a better job of speaking into the lives and struggles of young people. I wonder how we can know the people we are seeking to help, if we aren’t aware of thier emptiness and where they are turning for answers. It doesn’t mean that we wallow in the filth of the world – I don’t think anyone is arguing for that – but I do think that the person who has been trained to think critically, and the person who feeds thier spirit daily with living water, is then equipped to go out and become aquainted with the culture around them for the purpose of redemption.
    On that note, I would just add that we need to be training our children to think critically about the things they see, hear, and experience. Teaching our children how to interact with culture, how to impact culture, while remaining strong in the Lord is one of the greatest, and most challenging, parenting tasks.

  7. Collin,
    Interesting points. But the question was about subjecting ourselves to movies and music with questionable content in order to engage culture and find God. Watching a movie where the star has graphic intercourse with a lover, or hearing the F-word dropped over and over again, or seeing a police officer stick his hand up a woman’s dress and fondle her, what has that got to do with engaging culture? Tell me one way in which exposing ourselves to that somehow honors God and engages us with the world for the sake of the kingdom. I can think of 20 ways in which I can engage culture and not watch filth.

  8. When I first saw the cover of that book months ago, I thought it could be a book about how Christian Music and marketing follow trends of the secular world. It reminded me of a part in a book i read (can’t remember right now if it was Blue Like Jazz, Irresistible, or something else) said he and his friend had a contest to find an “ugly” person on a Christian music CD in the store. They didn’t have much luch, only finding a less attractive person. The point was that the music wasn’t solely about people who loved God and made awesome music, but how they dressed, how they looked, and how marketable they were according to worldly standards (after all it IS a business). But, if Christ was strongly concerned about seeking out the poor and the marginalized, how does that fit with much of your merchandise in a Family Christian Bookstore?
    . . . But, I guess the book is not about that 🙂

  9. I have to disagree with the comments thus far. I can understand the dangers of culture, but what about the danger of not being in culture. For too long the church has seen itself as the consummation of the kingdom of God. But this misses the point. Christ shows up in the most surprising of places, even in the midst of the muck of this world. We have also divorced the sacred from the secular too much when they are much more connected.
    The church, especially Churches of Christ, has failed to engage the arts in ways that are God-honoring. Where are the song writers in our churches? Where is the art on our walls? We have guarded ourselves from these things, but at what cost. There is an entire generation that desires to engage God in more areas than we currently do.
    There are dangers, but what are the dangers of being so separated from culture that we cannot see God’s work in the world? The kingdom of God is bigger than the church. God has shown up in the most surprising of places since Christ’s incarnation in a manger. Perhaps we should keep our eyes open to more than we currently do.

  10. I totally agree with Brad. Today’s “culture”, if it can be so classified, does nothing but erode values…and Christians who partake of such will have their standards changed, whether they like to admit it or not.
    Why does Satan need to give us overt persecution when he can pull in more of us through worldly “culture”? I think a Christian who thinks he can look at an “R” rated film and walk out unscathed is another victim of the “father of lies”.
    One can be immersed in culture and still be pure, however. Read classic books, listen to old music, and revisit films from a prior era. No need to put one’s soul at risk in today’s cesspool of “culture”.

  11. If there is anything that “doesn’t” reflect the reality of our culture it’s the movies and music. 90% of what comes out of Hollywood is trumped up fantasy and doesn’t reflect real life at all. Looking to movie makers and music producers to find our cultural reality doesn’t fly.
    Plus, why would we subject ourselves to not only what is unreal but is full of pornography, unholy language, violence, etc. to try to find God? I don’t get it. How is God in illicit sex? The F-word repeated over and over again? People’s heads exploding from a gunshot? Why do we need to look there for God, as if He had anything to do with it or could be honored by it?
    You want to find reality, visit a homeless shelter. Go to a pregnancy crisis center. Spend a day or two at your local high school. Visit a nursing home. Ride around with a police officer or fire fighter on a shift. Then we can have a better understanding of what real life is like. And let’s keep the movies and music for what they really are at their best – entertainment.