This article appeared in the April 4, 2008, edition.
Pop culture tie-ins make ministry relevant
By HOWARD DUKES
Tribune Staff Writer
The Rev. Tim Stevens believes the modern church has two choices.
The clergy and members can keep popular culture at arm’s length while continuing to issue a harsh critique of the violence, materialism and promiscuity that pervade much of pop culture.
Or, Christians can try to understand cultural trends in arts and music and use that knowledge to make the Gospel relevant to millions of people.
In his book “Pop Goes the Church: Should the Church Engage Pop Culture?” Stevens, executive pastor at Granger Community Church, writes that he is firmly in the second camp.
In fact, Stevens believes churches that remain hostile to pop culture risk being shunned by people who think Christianity is not relevant to their lives.
Led by the Rev. Mark Beeson, Granger Community Church routinely digs into popular culture to look for messages that affirm biblical principles.
That search often sends ministers such as Stevens to the cinema or to CD shelves at the local big box store to see what filmmakers and songwriters have to say about spiritual matters.
“When ‘Spider-Man 3’ came out, we knew that a lot of people would be talking about that movie,” Stevens says.
The film’s plot addresses several themes addressed in the Bible — most notably temptation, after an alien attaches itself to Spider-Man’s suit. The alien enhances Spider-Man’s powers but also unleashes the superhero’s “dark side.” Spider-Man must resist, for example, the urge to seek revenge against the man who killed his uncle.
Spider-man’s struggles with revenge and bitterness provide pastors with a tool to talk about temptation, Stevens says.
The music of The Beatles was the subject of a series of Christmas sermons last year. Choosing to discuss Beatles music in a church setting may seem an odd decision. After all, John Lennon was condemned for saying the band was more popular than Jesus. And his song “Imagine,” released after Lennon left the band, asks listeners to “imagine there is no heaven.”
However, many of the group’s songs touch on humanity’s need for love, community and other topics addressed in the Old Testament and the Gospels, Stevens says.
“We looked at a song like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and saw how the song addressed loneliness,” Stevens says.
“And we talked about the fact that there are so many lonely people, especially during the holidays, and what the church can do to help these people.”
Stevens says nobody should be surprised that spirituality is a constant theme in popular culture.
“The people say they want spirituality and God, but they aren’t going to church,” he says.
“A lot of people have given up on church.”
Part of the problem is that people who don’t attend church don’t understand how Christianity relates to their lives, Stevens says.
He believes Christians can use pop culture to bridge the gap if they are willing to embrace those things that can help them spread the Gospel’s message.
He realizes some songs and movies are inappropriate because their messages undermine the spiritual message the church is trying to promote.
“But there are a lot good things in many of these songs and movies,” Stevens says. “These artists are talking about the same issues that we are talking about.”