Friday 8 January 2016

Connecting with Culture, Connecting with People

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

What dominated your conversations with friends and colleagues in 2015? The terror attacks in Paris at the beginning and the end of the year, the General Election, the tragic plight of refugees from Syria, the Greek debt crisis, the Ashes, floods, climate change, Poldark, The Great British Bake Off, Star Wars, Ashley Madison, Princess Charlotte, Sepp Blatter, Jeremy Clarkson, Jeremy Corbyn?

And what does 2016 hold? It could be the year the UK decides to leave the EU. We’ll see the US election, missions to Mars and Jupiter, the Queen’s 90th birthday, and the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. For literature buffs, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl, and the 150th of Beatrix Potter. In cinema, we’ll have Batman vs. Superman, Captain America vs. Iron Man, and the latest installment of Star Trek, while international sporting events will include football’s European Championship in France and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

2016, like 2015, will offer plenty of opportunities to ‘connect’ with culture. And as we do so, we can feel confident about bringing a Christian perspective into everyday conversations.

Theologian Ted Turnau notes how popular culture provides ‘a touchstone for our deepest desires and aspirations’. It reflects ‘a messy mixture of both grace and idolatry’ that we would expect from created-but-fallen human beings. So, ‘fragments of grace’ are woven into songs, movies, TV programmes, books, social media, political campaigns and sporting events, but are often bent to the service of gods who will not deliver salvation.

In all such cases, for Christians, the good news of what God has done in Jesus offers a better alternative. Whether it’s the search for love, the need for heroes, the desire for community, the longing for redemption, the yearning for a better world – all these are echoed in the biblical story and find their deepest answer in the gospel.

We don’t make connections as a cheap evangelistic ploy, trying to shoehorn a reflection about the meaning of life into every episode of EastEnders. Still, for the sake of our witness to Christ, learning to read culture with eyes informed by the gospel provides a way of enabling open conversations – not just engaging with ideas in the abstract or even primarily with culture as such, but connecting with people in order to introduce them to Jesus.

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