Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Christians and Culture

Just been having a discussion with Simone about this little offering from a 'worship' leader in the US. It's a cringy take off of Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah. And it raises the question, is it a sin to lack cultural sophistication?

I'm not sure that it is. I don't think there is anything less Godly about the football compared to the opera or watching 'funniest home videos' compared to reading Tim Winton. And we need to make sure that we don't give the impression that converting to Christ is converting to high or low culture. It's converting to a new view of Christ's supremacy in whatever culture you're engaged.

A great example of a church trying to reach a 'high culture' group is the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. I believe they have members of the New York Philharmonic orchestra playing in their church services, and the sermons engage with all kinds of elite thinkers. By contrast the Mars Hill Crowd are reaching the tattoo artists and torn jeans demographic, and it's popular culture all the way. Both cultures need the Gospel and Christians can grow to maturity without changing to the other culture.

The one area I do want Christians to grow in sophistication is their theological reflection. It's important to challenge people to stretch themselves with reading and/or discussing more significant intellectual issues than they otherwise might. A by-product of this might also be a growing appreciation of more intellectually challenging culture. But it really isn't a problem if it doesn't.

So I think in the end the Hallelujah take off was unwise - it was always going to lead to a lot of annoyed Loenard Cohen fans! But it was only a real issue of Godliness in so far as the words misrepresented the Gospel by either straight out inacuracy or over-simplicity.

Go on then all you cultural snobs - shoot me down....


  1. It's not a sin to lack cultural sophistication, but I don't think that's what I'd accuse this guy of. I'd probably be accusing him of cultural insensitivity leading to a poor view of Christians by outsiders. A crime which many are quite willing to level at missionaries...

    *note: non thought-through comments*

  2. I agree with Kutz. Any non christian would just have a stack of ammo to cut this bloke down-- and I wouldn't blame them.

    Got something to say in a song? Well write your own one, don't hijak someone elses.

  3. that said I'll compromise with nicking the Dambusters tune.

  4. I think that's the problem, though. He actually didn't have anything to say. Just a long boring string of christian cliches.

  5. And, Andrew, 'discussion' might be one word to describe what we had... 'Argument' might be another.

  6. But my question is, are the majority of people really going to have such a huge problem with what the guy did with this song?

    If your cultural involvement extends to the footy, 'funniest-home-videos' and listening to commercial radio, are you really going to be that upset by some slightly cliched lyrics.

    I wonder if a lot of people might think what he did was pretty cool. And if they do, is that OK - from a Christian point of view?

    (Kutz and Ben, you now realise of course that you've landed in the middle of a domestic situation. We're looking forward to finding out who you agree with....)

  7. Oh... It's like that is it?

    *steps up onto tiptoes*

    I think we need to divide it into audience sections to see how this plays out, in my opinion.

    Firstly, snobby non-Christians. They're offended because the very thing which was taken out of the song is what made it amazing in the first place: the lyrics.

    Secondly, snobby Christians. They're offended because they're lumped in with the Christian guy who destroyed the song for their snobby non-Christian friends.

    Thirdly, bogan non-Christians. These guys couldn't care less about the song as it's some Christian worship song and the fact that it's a borrowed tune adds no extra impact to the Christian lyrics other than, "Hey, they stole that tune from Shrek! Get your own material!".

    Fourthly, bogan Christians. They'll probably really like the fact that someone put Christian stuff into a song from Shrek. :P Just kidding.

    So, it essentially comes down to the fact that those who consider the piece of music to be high-art will be offended, and they're the only ones with whom extra 'gospel miles' could have been made as they're the only ones who have a specific appreciation for the song as particularly meaningful.

    So. Who am I expecting to be kicked by on Sunday?

  8. Kutz. Here's a kick. *!*

    I think there's another level between bogan and snobby. Let's call it 'normal'.

    The normal non-Xn is amused because Xns have done something truly stupid and made a fool of themselves. They feel affirmed in their rejection of the gospel and want nothing to do with Xns.

    The normal Xns are offended because the very thing which was taken out of the song is what made it amazing in the first place: the lyrics. They are also embarrassed.

  9. lol. So the 'normal' Christians are essentially exactly the same as the 'snobby' Christians? I wonder about your putting the writing of this song into the 'truly stupid and making a fool of yourself' category, especially as regarding that as the normative response for the 'average' person. Do you think that judgment automatically puts you into a certain bracket of being more culturally attuned than average?

    hmm... I wonder which category I fit into...

    Why the kick? *rubs virtual shin* I thought I was pretty much in your corner with that entire post!

    I think I can understand Andrew's position here too though. Andrew, am I right in thinking that what you're trying to avoid is the importation of the individual 'good taste' of Christians into the arena of what is allowable for other Christians? If so, then I agree that it's a serious danger, particularly for sophisticated and opinionated Christians. (I fit one of those two categories. I leave you to decide which is which)

    However, in the case of this song, I think a different principle has been violated. It's the "the closer something is to the heart, the gentler you tread" principle. I think he's hit Simone's (and many others')heartstrings head on.

  10. Kutz, I think I am trying to make a division between what is a matter of godliness and what is a matter of personal taste.

    I'm also suggesting that this particular effort is not as offensive to the average taste as some are trying to make out. A little experiment was conducted at our place tonight with some of the guys from my Bible Study Group and neither of them were particularly outraged by it. Perhaps some of us are a bit too sensitive about this. Or perhaps I'm backing myself out on to a limb that's getting thinner and thinner...

    On a slightly different note it's been (kindly...) pointed out to me that the part of my post about theological sophistication makes me sound like I think I'm the Archbishop of Blogland. So apologies if anyone was offended.

  11. Hmmm....

    When does wisdom step into the arena of godliness? There is often overlap. However, in this case, I'm willing to concede that I don't think godliness has been overstepped. Archmistress, a response?

  12. This is hilarious. Thanks for bringing us in to your lounge room. I am imagining facial expressions as I have read this. :).

  13. http://laetitiabm.blogspot.com/2009/04/which-hallelujah.html

  14. I'm not going to pick a side here - and I'm coming late to the party - but I think the raw material of this song is enough for Christian cultural engagement - in fact, I'll always remember Joel Saunders' testimony at night church at Scotts on an NTE mission where he used the lyrics of this song to chart his conversion - and the position he finds himself in as an artistically minded Christian.

  15. Absolutely agree with you Nathan. Personally I'd be using the original 100% of the time rather to raise Gospel issues rather than trying to 'Christianise'. Still I think the question remains of what kind of culture is Godly.

  16. I think the answer to the "what kind of culture is Godly" question is covered by Romans 3:23. :-)

  17. Lame, not sinful.

    And who cares if it's a bunch of cliches strung together? If that's what he's feeling and wanted to say, then that's up to him. Lame, yes. Sinful, no.