Christian Pop Culture: Be on the Lookout for Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

I don’t like Christian pop culture.

Christian t-shirts, Christian keychains, Christian bookstores, Christian pop music, Christian fiction novels… all of it. And I apologize to the millions of wonderful, dedicated and passionately God-fearing Christians who this statement probably offends quite deeply.

I’m glad your faith is strong. I’m glad it permeates into all aspects of your life: what you read, buy, listen to and see. That’s something I very much want for my life, too. But I don’t like Christian pop culture.

With the exception of Veggie Tales (which are flawless, and please don’t try to convince me otherwise), I prefer to keep my distance from anything commercialized or pop culture-related that comes with a Christian flavor, branding, or packaging of any sort.

Christian pop culture leaves a bad taste in my mouth. While it can be very well-meaning, a lot of it does a lot more harm than good.

I was raised as an evangelical Christian, and though my faith has changed since high school, it’s still a very significant part of my life (perhaps you’ve noticed – I may have blogged about faith a time or 20). But that’s faith. It’s not the same as Christian pop culture.

A decade ago, this distinction probably wouldn’t have occurred to me. I used to LOVE Christian bookstores. I grew up wearing W.W.J.D. bracelets, reading the Left Behind books, and listening to Christian pop music. While my friends were listening to the Spice Girls, I memorized songs by the Christian girl group Point of Grace.

My Goal: To Stand Up for Christ

In a world that didn’t care about Jesus, I wanted to be different. I wanted to support the singers, authors and companies who were standing for Jesus (in a world that made it decidedly uncool to do so).

While there’s so much good that can come from aiming to learn more about God — and grow closer to God — through the books we read and the music we listen to, the harsh, ugly truth is that any industry (including Christian industries) are businesses.

But What’s Their Motivation?

Or Like all businesses, they are governed by money and the rules of capitalism, not by people whose primary goal is to encourage and strengthen Christians’ faith.

Businesses need to make money. So they’ll promote books, movies, music and merchandise that they know will sell well. Their driving force isn’t what  is theologically sound or what will best help people grow closer to God — it’s what will appeal to the most people and make the most money.

Misleading Theology

That’s why we end up with so many Christian movies like War Room, which appear to be Christian on the surface but are actually not Biblically or theologically sound. What makes them so powerful (and dangerous) is that the moralistic therapeutic deism of these smash-hit Christian films seems theologically sound on the surface. And these films play to themes and emotions that marketers know Christians want to hear. But if you take a closer look … they’re centered in flawed theology.

That’s the danger. Lots of the Christian content out there is great. But some of it isn’t. It’s more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On the surface, it looks and feels and sounds like something good. But something very different is lurking underneath.

Colossians 2:8 says,  “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on elemental spiritual forces of this world and human tradition, rather than on Christ.”

Some of the Christian pop culture out there is just that: hollow and deceptive philosophy. If we’re going to consume Christian pop culture, we have to be discerning enough to identify this sort of deception.

Popular Christian movies are filled with examples of this. Like the upcoming movie, God’s Not Dead 2, which promotes an “us vs. them” mentality — Christians are being persecuted! The world hates us! You’ll be persecuted for even speaking about your faith! So stay strong! Don’t let them win!

The Persecution Complex

Are Christians persecuted today? Absolutely. But in America? Not as much. It’s not be popular to be a Christian today–I think everyone can see that. But God’s Not Dead 2 is primarily driven by its huge marketing potential, not with a goal of challenging or encouraging people in their faith.

It is capitalizing on a real feeling that many Christians experience often–having our beliefs mocked and belittled by friends, family and co-workers. And then it is exploiting those feelings by creating a targeted film that tells us: You’re not alone in feeling like this. The world hates you, and you need to be strong and stand up for Jesus.

Yes! We think. Gosh, it is so hard to be a Christian. The world does hate me. So we fork over $14 for a movie ticket, feel encouraged to stay strong in our faith, then take our entire youth group to watch God’s Not Dead 2.

… Movie Studios’ Favorite Cash Cow

The problem is, the mindset that movies like this push isn’t helpful. As we’re padding the studio’s pocketbooks, we’re also subconsciously absorbing a dangerous undercurrent that runs through these films — one that reinforces in our minds how difficult our lives as Christians are, how much people hate us, and how much we need to be at odds with ‘the world.’

In John 17:15, Jesus says to his Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” 

When Christian pop culture encourages an ‘us vs. the world’ mindset, it is leading us away from that. Think about the mindset Jesus had when he was on earth. He spent time hanging out with the “world”:  visiting peoples’s homes, sharing a meal with them. He stayed firm in his identity, mission and purpose — and never compromised on what he  believed.

What Did Jesus Focus On?

But Jesus spent his time with politicians, the poor, criminals, lowlifes, and outcasts. He called them to turn from choices that were hurting them and to follow him. But he didn’t spend his days hanging out with the religious folks in the synagogue and complaining about how persecuted he was. He was out in the world, showing people a different approach to life.

Yes, Jesus says there are times that Christians will be persecuted. But we, in the luxury of our first-world, Western lives, seem to inflate feelings of persecution to extents that they’re just not happening. The more we turn inward, to fear and exclusivity, the more we’re turning away from fulfilling the what Jesus wants for us–to try every day to be more like him and to share the new life and hope that he has for our hurting world.

Do I think all Christian pop culture is harmful? No, definitely not. But after years of supporting the businesses and marketers that I deemed as ‘better’ because they were ‘standing for Christ,’ I’m a bit worn out.

Don’t Reject It Completely — Just Be Careful

I love listening to worship songs on the radio, but I’m a little tired of Christian pop music. And I don’t buy t-shirts, fiction books, and bumper stickers anymore. But books an author, scholar or theologian who I respect? Absolutely. They can have my $14, I’m fine with that.

There’s no way to avoid Christian culture, and I don’t necessarily want to.  But there are parts of Christian culture  — especially pop culture — that do a lot more harm than good.

And I’d prefer to be aware of those things, and work to avoid them, instead of smiling at the Christian label, wrapper or packaging and instantly forking over my cash.

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