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Ask a Pastor

Being regularly exposed to popular culture through student ministry, what affirmations and critiques do you have of today’s popular music/arts?

Let me start with my affirmations (always the best place to begin). First, many of the artists of the generation are learning to use music, movies, etc. to address important topics head-on. Whereas it has been the tendency of artists of the recent past, especially musicians, to avoid or allude to sensitive topics, most popular musicians are willing to talk about “unpopular” ideas. Today’s artists have become good at shedding light on dark situations—situations where healing and restoration are needed—such as broken homes, divorce, drug/alcohol abuse, superficiality in relationships, lying, cheating, etc.1 Also, in my opinion, the current landscape of popular culture contains as much or more talent musically, literarily, artisticly and creatively than any other period of the past 50+ years. This means that, naturally, today’s Jr. High, Sr. High and College students are being exposed to very good art and culture. This is not to say that every thing that is called “art” is actually such, but the vast majority of things being created for the airwaves, bookstores and museums today are of good quality.

My critiques of today’s music and art are two-fold. Generally speaking, today’s artists, along with any other generations for that matter, when not impacted by the gospel, are going to miss the ultimate solution and answer to life’s most significant problems and questions. Today’s artists often make striking and valiant efforts to settle the effects of the fall by responding to the hurts in their life. However, they ultimately fail in their attempts to find peace apart from the cross. Speaking specifically, in music and art today’s generation struggles mightily to see through their cynicism. As mentioned above, most popular artists connect with their audiences through the shared pain of broken homes, abuse, etc. Their honest spirit can often come across with very cynical and bitter tones—ones which lack the hope and tenderness offered through the gospel.

What can parents and students do to equip themselves as they engage and discern today’s culture/media?
There are a number of helpful step-by-step grids to think through as you work to engage and discern the culture. Here is one that I find helpful and easy to remember: The ABC’s of culture/media.

Affirm: It is vitally important always to begin by stating what is good, right and appropriate in a piece of media. We need to be asking what is beautiful about it and what ways it champions and supports the same things that God champions and supports.

Build Bridges: This step leads us to make connections between what we affirm and how that is connected to God’s truth. Building these bridges makes the connection that all truth is God’s truth. This step esteems the value of the item and the person who created it, which is important as one moves to stages of criticism/discernment.

Challenge: Here one needs to point out where the ideas communicated by the media item miss the truths and ideas of God’s Word. Challenges include discerning what parts of the media item God might denounce, particularly pointing out the ideas that God hates or that go against his character but are espoused by the item/artist.

Clarify: This step is what makes all media discernment worthwhile. After affirming, building bridges and challenging, we need to understand how the gospel is found and clarified in popular culture. This final step points out how the gospel responds to the “fallen state” of the artist and his art. This step makes distinctions/contrasts between divine truth and worldly truth as well elevating the glory and supreme artistry of God, the chief creator.