Do What with the Culture?

Cover of Testament #7If you don’t read Christianity Today online, you may not have seen this article by Ted Olsen about the Bible in recent graphic novels. He takes a look at a handful of releases, including Steve Ross’s Marked and Doug Rushkoff’s Testament. (Olsen also links to several informational sites at the end of the article.)

You can get an idea of Testament’s content and decide for yourself. Rushkoff is nothing if not inventive; he’s recast biblical stories as a post-Neuromancer epic. The writing is pretty smart, which you’d expect from the writer of Preacher. But Olsen is right about something else: Rushkoff’s books are almost gleefully blasphemous. Notice in the pic to the right the demonic appearance of the angels guarding the gate of Eden.

Remember, though, that there is no one-to-one, allegorical correlation to the biblical narratives. Rushkoff is actually reinventing/retelling the stories. Rushkoff’s site describes the series this way: “What if the Bible were happening right now? In the world of Testament, the archetypal struggle for dominion over humanity is being fought by the revolutionaries of two eras against the would-be tyrants of their ages. With art by Liam McSharp, this new series promises to challenge some basic assumptions about what the Bible is actually about.”

Now, banish any preconceived ideas you might have about comics fanboys who become writers. Rushkoff is no Slackers/Clerks dork who found a way to write comics. He is a philosopher who has taken his ideas to the masses. The winner of the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity and a Marshall McLuhan Award for his book Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say, Rushkoff’s Wikipedia entry calls him a founding member of Technorealism. That makes him pretty interesting to me.

Stanley HauerwasAbraham KuyperI’ll have to study some more, and read a few of Rushkoff’s books, before I really come to some conclusions. Hopefully this will suffice for now: Rushkoff is an example of what a Christian could do, following what Tim Keller calls a third way to affect culture. On the one hand, you have Kuyperian (–>) social invention/reinvention, which says we should get into everything and be Christians: politics, art, whatever. On the other, you have (for lack of a better term) Hauerwasian (<–) counterculturalism, which says our best bet for influencing culture is to set up compelling Christian countercultures. Keller suggests a “third way” between–and including–the two. It balances full engagement and full withdrawal a la the Anabaptist tradition.

In other words, should we get our redeemed brains and fingers in everything? Or should we withdraw and invite others to withdraw with us? The answer, I think, might be yes.

For example, I think “Christian music,” music that explicitly glorifies God and celebrates Christian life, has a place in our world (Michael Card, Rich Mullins, Delirious?, etc). Likewise, I think “Christians’ music,” music that declares the glory of God in the less-explicit languages of the world, calls attention to the glory-bathed world, translates the gospel for those who have ears to hear (POD, early King’s X, Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox, Switchfoot, Mute Math). But we have created not a compelling counterculture but a ghetto of knockoffs and marketing gimmicks and called it a counterculture. And too few are making music that’s compelling enough to break the music industry’s stranglehold. (IMO, the film industry at the moment is about the same. Books are FAR worse.) We could do both far better, by encouraging excellence on both fronts and refusing to be pigeonholed.

In addition, we need some philosophers/theologians who are willing to translate or be translated, and not just in some knockoff junk. Why, for instance, has only Left Behind made it into big-time comic book form? The easy answer is dollars. But if Christians concentrated on writing excellent books that communicated the gospel, without even looking in the direction of the soapbox, I have no doubt that more would find a market. In addition, Christians have got to pull their heads out of the sand and celebrate and encourage the work of someone who breaks out. I can’t think of an example at the moment, which makes me sad.

Rushkoff’s hypothetical “What if the Bible were happening right now?” is actually a reality. The Bible, that grand story, is happening now. We are living that story. But are we telling it? Are we (esp. Pentecostals) taking Acts 2 to heart and preaching the gospel of Christ in every language (linguistic and socially constructed) by the power of the Holy Spirit? What would the world look like if we were?

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3 thoughts on “Do What with the Culture?”

  1. Interesting commentary. I would agree with you regarding most christian music. I’d go a step further and say that most of it is not only theologically shallow and void of true depth of thought, but most “christian” culture (books, movies, t-shirts, etc.) is probably pretty embarassing to God. I mean, seriously, does anyone thing that a t-shit that reads “This blood’s for you” modelled after the popular beer comercial is even remotely glorifying to God?

  2. andrew,

    Great observation. My wife saw some photos recently of Christian merchandise from the International Christian Retailing Show. It’s weird, weird, weird.

    And the frustrating thing to me is that there’s not much “policing” from within the ranks.

  3. A conversation we’ve had many times!

    It’s the capitalist nature of the country in which we live to make money off of every single thing we possibly can. If that includes religion, so be it. It’s reminiscent of the old relics that would be sold by priests back in the day. If you can hang a picture in your house or wear some flashy jewelry/clothing, that’s just as good as having a real relationship, right? It’s spending the money that counts. (Please note the sarcasm.)

    This is the reason Christian bookstores freak me out just a bit. They can be a great resource, but are too often just a shiny, glittering resting place for Faith Chips and Testamints. It’s frustrating, this battle between Americanism and Christianity.

    You should read the book “Shaking the World for Jesus” by Heather Hendershot for a non-Christian’s perspective on this topic.

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