Dear Church Family,
This week, the Men’s Discipleship Group has begun reading the book All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture by Ken Myers. This week we’re just reading the introduction to the book, so it’s not too late to join us on Tuesdays at 6:30-7:30 am for breakfast and our book-discussion.
All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes was first published in 1989, but has since been republished in 2012 with a new introduction by the author. In the original 1989 introduction, Myers gives his main premise of the book:
In this study, I have tried to make the case that popular culture’s greatest influence is in the way it shapes how we think and feel (more than what we think and feel) and how we think and feel about thinking and feeling.
In this statement – and in much of the book – Myers is emphasizing the truth of Marshall McLuhan’s insight that “the medium is the message.” That is to say, the offensive content of popular culture (e.g., language, violence, illicit sexuality) have blinded many people – including Christians – to the often more subtle, but equally dangerous, forms of popular culture.
We are often unaware of how the medium of television, movies, and the internet (including all sorts of social media) changes what we believe about truth, reality, and the inherent “givenness of human nature.” As Marshall McLuhan noted:
One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in. (Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village (1968))
Myers’ book is not a discussion about all those things that Christians might find morally offensive in popular culture. Rather, his book is an attempt to inform and instruct believers about the subtle forces of popular culture with regard to the forms that it takes. And, he tries to help us realize how those forms shape and mold us, often in ways that are contrary to the Christian faith.
For instance, in the 2012 introduction to the book, Myers cites the 2009 study by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell, Souls in Transition: The Religious Lives of Emerging Adults. According to that study, as quoted by Myers, “what emerging adults take to be reality ultimately seems to consist of a multitude of subjective but ultimately autonomous experiences.” And so, Myers observes, “According to the playbook of popular culture, all value judgments are expressions of preference.” Popular culture often subtly (and sometimes, explicitly) trains us to believe that truth is relative, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, God is just an idea, and the individual’s only authority is himself.
Myers’ book is not simply an examination and critique of popular culture; he also seeks to pave a way forward. Christians believe in the objective nature of truth, reality, and the divine givenness of human nature (that God is the one who made us and gives human beings inherent value). Thus, individual believers and the church as a body, must do all that they can to be shaped and formed by God’s Word, not by the sensibilities of popular culture. We must find a way to oppose this way of thinking by offering to the world an alternative, truthful, and better way.
In an online article, “Is Popular Culture Either?” Myers summarizes some of the key points of his book. I commend both the article and Myers’ book to you. Here is his concluding exhortation from that article, which might also serve as a summary of his exhortation in the book:
Instead of adopting the ways of popular culture, the Church should show the world a more excellent way. Instead of retooling Sunday to render it in synch with Monday through Saturday, the Church, in its proclamation and in its making of disciples, should offer a counter-cultural model of living obedience, seeking to transform what believers and unbelievers experience during the week by what happens to them and around them on Sunday.
Postscript: By the way, since 1993, Ken Myers has been the host of an “audio magazine” called Mars Hill Audio Journal, in which he seeks to develop a Christian way of thinking about the world through interviews of various authors, theologians, philosophers, thinkers, composers, and artists. One of his mottos in this endeavor is: “cultural engagement without cultural wisdom leads to cultural captivity.” I’ve been a subscriber and listener of the Mars Hill Audio Journal for about twenty years now, which is probably how I learned about this book. In addition to the book, I highly recommend the audio journal, as well.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch