Thursday, November 29, 2007

where is God today? reading everyday culture

I have on my desk 3 post-graduate assessments. One is titled “Theology of Desperate Housewives.” Another is exploring the extent of Incarnation and community in Second Life. A third is exploring re-enchantment in contemporary film. All are from Universities and are demanding my marking attention. All are part of a new discipline, that of the relationship between theology and popular culture.

All this is important given the discussion going on in the comments in relation to my post on the theology of U2/Bono, questioning both the validity and how one might go about reading popular culture. I have found three resources useful in my thinking.

Understanding theology and popular culture, by Gordon Lynch, suggests three potential approaches to reading Bono or TV or a film. One is to focus on the author, much as I have done with Bono, using his explanation of the song Waves of Sorrow. Another is text-based and this would involve exploring the lyrics and words. Another is an ethnographic approach, to ask people what they are hearing as they listen and engage.

Everyday theology, by Kevin Vanhoozer, has chapters with titles like The Gospel according to Safeway, A theological account of Eminem, The Business of Busyness, Welcome to the Blogosphere, Weddings for Everyday theologians. It has an excellent introduction and then 10 examples. Quite practical and accessible.

Thirdly, there is an excellent article by Gordon H. Matties titled “On Movies as a Spiritual Discipline,” which offers five sets of questions, which can help structure the way we engage with popular culture. These are:

1) Where are we? What kind of world does the movie depict and do I identify with it?

2) Who are we? What does it mean to be human and in relationship?

3) What is wrong? How does the movie portray the human condition?

4) Is there a remedy? Is there hope, a better future? Can problems be solved? By whom?

5) What time is it? How are we to read the times? Is it like our past, present, future? Are we running out of time, or gaining on it?

I am constantly using these three resources, whether in Gospel and film classes, or when exploring how emerging church is engaging gospel and culture issues, or when helping leaders become listeners (good exegetes of culture). They give me frameworks to think by.

Posted by steve at 10:00 PM


  1. In the UK this is becoming known as “Cultural exegesis” as you suggest… another book… “Eyes Wide Open” William D. Romanowski

    Comment by MarkB — November 30, 2007 @ 12:36 am

  2. More books for the pile to read – thanks 🙂 Are any of your students like to publish their work. I’d be particually intersted in the Desparate House Wifes one. Given I am currently in a group doing group watching of Greys Anatomy!!!

    Comment by jo wall — December 3, 2007 @ 5:24 am

  3. Steve, I think these are great resources for understanding culture and humanity but is Desperate Housewives, West Wing,or Bono a place we should be looking to for theological reflection?

    I noticed last night that T.F. Torrance passed away on Sunday. I was very saddened by this because he is one of the great 20th century theologians (he studied under Barth and was one of two people who translated his Dogmatics into english). His passing has lead me to ponder, “where will the next Torrance come from?” It seems to me that our western pragmatic nature has lead us to focus so much on mission (rightly so in many cases) that we have lost the art of theological reflection that begins with the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. More and more I hear people thinking/talking about culture and TV shows, music etc and less and less we seem to reflect on God.

    I have been doing nothing for few weeks now so I have a lot of time to think through some of this stuff. I am not having a go at any one or their research topics I am just musing!!!

    Comment by mark — December 4, 2007 @ 10:40 am

  4. Well the books do address the issue, so feel free to read them.

    I am uneasy about simple binary that say that God is in the Bible but not in the world. Theologies of creation, Incarnation, pneumatology all encourage us to search for God made manifest, albiet dimly, in culture.

    For me, Luke 10 is a constant challenge, God is at work already in the towns and villages and we need to listen and accept the hospitality offered to us. That does not mean a simple “either” gospel “or” culture, because we listen in hope of the coming King recognising our Kingdom proclamation. It suggests a relationship of both affirmation and critique in relation to human culture.


    Comment by steve — December 4, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  5. I agree Steve, whole heartedly!!! I would read the books if I had the time.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    Comment by mark — December 4, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

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