Answers to life’s biggest questions shouldn’t come from sketchy sources.
You may not have shadowed the doorway of a church building for years, and in fact, you might not have even been raised in a Christian home, but you have heard quite a bit of preaching, nonetheless.
How could this be?
Well, everything around you preaches. That’s right, it’s not just a guy in a religious building, but everything that you consume, that you hear, that you see. All of it preaches to you some kind of message. We’re talking about the music that you listen to, the movies you watch, the novels you read, the news sources you subscribe to. It’s the political forums you’re part of, the narratives you hear and pass on. All of them preach and teach to a certain extent.
Pop culture seeks to give insight on some fairly important things. For the sake of this new series, we’ve divided those things into four main categories, and called them elephants in the room. These are the things we know are issues, but we find too hard or threatening to talk about. We end up tip-toeing around them, even while they are deeply affecting our lives.
One is origin—Where did I come from? Another is meaning—Why am I here? A third is morality—Is there a right or wrong, and if there is, how can I know it? Fourth is destiny—Where am I going? When culture preaches on these things, it’s usually by nuance, and not by sitting people down and teaching them. Sometimes the message comes to you garbled, occasionally clear, but as the message reinforces itself to you day by day, sometimes hour by hour, it turns into one long, unified sermon. I find this ironic, because people who complain about how the Bible was written by men are acting as though the things they themselves believe did not come from men.
Everything we believe has been borrowed from others and modified, and sometimes not even that much. This postmodern generation is proud of independent thought, of having a certain intellectual autonomy. In terms of philosophy and ideas, we like to think of ourselves as a Monet or Van Gogh. But if truth be known, we’re a little more like a paint-by-numbers kit. Somebody else actually drew the drawing on the little canvas, and picked the colors. All we do is follow the directions, and when we’re done, put the thing up on the wall and say, “That’s my truth.”
Consider for example the things we’ve learned about love. Much of it has come from itunes. Okay, if you’re a little older, compact discs. More ancient still, cassette tapes. Or, if you’re like me, record albums. At any rate, we’ve absorbed attitudes on a lot of important topics from music. Sage Journal, an online resource, published an article called “What has America been singing About?” It tracked the most common topics of pop music from 1960 all the way up to the current time.
Number one in the lineup, was, as you probably guessed, romance. That means for sixty years, we have all been tutored day by day through car radios and headphones, about how to think of love relationships. What have we been learning? If you listen to pop music for any length of time, you’ll know the central item is intense, overwhelming emotions and the certainty that they will never, ever go away. As Diana Ross sang, “Ain’t no mountain high enough; ain’t no valley low enough to keep me from you.” We’ve learned a great deal about falling in love and falling out of love, and the technicalities involved in all of it from pop artists. The shaping power of the cultural pulpit is undeniable.
What’s so wrong with that?
For one thing, the preachers of popular culture, that is, those who are contributing to our cultural base, are no smarter than you, no clearer, and some of them are quite messed up. The very advice they give in their music they often don’t follow themselves. One case in point: The Beatles cut a single in 1967 called All You Need Is Love, a catchy tune full of preaching, but then they broke up a couple of years later. Apparently something more than love was needed, at least something more than the kind of love that they were talking about.
Think of the times you were watching a sitcom, and right in the middle of it, one of the characters launched into a soapbox moment, pontificating on some cultural hot topic, making their stand known to the world. Since the actress is beautiful and intelligent, and delivers her speech with such passion, it stuns the casual viewer. Wow, she’s really got a point. But few of us shake off the haze, and remind ourselves that she was reciting something she memorized from a script written by a second-rate script writer who lives in his parents’ basement in Los Angeles. The fellow’s name is Earl, or Wayne, or something like that, and he’s trying to sync your belief system with a poorly constructed, juvenile, and self-contradictory worldview he absorbed from folks even worse off than himself.
Jesus framed the problem well, when He said that if a blind man leads a blind man, both will end up in a ditch. This has been the unfortunate history of our society, as we follow one another around, making up important beliefs as we go along.
Does anybody really know anything?
Culture offers insights into the important questions of life—origin and meaning, morality and Destiny—but then the Bible offers an alternate, corrective preaching. As Proverbs 18 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (v. 17). The cultural programming we’ve been under for so many years, that has said so many things about the correct way to think, and the proper positions to take, all seem right…until the Bible comes along and examines that view, and you.
You might ask if it could go the other way. What if someone was raised exclusively in the Judeo-Christian worldview, and then ventured out into Academia. Couldn’t they run into another worldview that rattled them, and in effect, be “examined,” too? The answer is yes. Proverbs 18:17 presses the necessity of honest and deep reflection.
The average person though, does not have a grasp on Scripture, even when they were raised in Christian homes. We’ve been preached up thoroughly by Washington D.C., Hollywood, and Harvard. Maybe we’re not used to the thought that the Bible doesn’t simply offer advice; it preaches.
Gal. 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
The scripture preached. In particular, it preached the gospel, the good news that God would justify the Gentiles (the people of the world) by faith. We’re not talking about generic faith such as believing in any old thing, but according to the larger context of the book of Galatians, it is faith in Jesus Christ.
This faith speaks to us of our origination, and meaning. It talks to us about morality, and what can be done if we’ve run afoul of righteousness. It finally assures us of our eventual destiny, and does so in the language of ironclad guarantee. Somebody said once that if you were interested in hearing the audible voice of God, all you have to do is pick up your Bible and read it out loud. Okay, you’re not going to get the rich baritone effect, but you will definitely get the content of God’s voice. Guaranteed.
Unfortunately this singular voice is too often lost in the multitude of discordant preaching all around us. Our public forum has become like Starbucks. There are eighty thousand possible drink combinations there (a claim the company has made). It has gotten to the extent that if the chain announced it was going to get back to basics and offer only two choices, regular or decaf, the whole company would collapse. You wonder if anybody knows what coffee tastes like anymore. Also, if anybody knows what truth sounds like anymore.
I’m going to ask you over this next month to listen to some counter preaching, an alternate narrative to what you’re hearing from the cultural pulpit.
The Apostle Paul first brought the gospel to the ancient city of Athens, that repository of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Those ancient Greeks heard it for the very first time, and Acts chapter 17 said,
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
The Bible records the name of some of those who believed, including Dyonisius the Areopagite. It may be that this Dyonisius administered the Areopagus, an open area where there was regular preaching and teaching of pagan philosophies. Since he was the person managing it, he probably heard all kinds of things, hundreds, if not thousands of addresses given by traveling speakers and orators. But when the gospel came, he recognized the ring of truth, and a deep corrective of everything he had heard before. Once the word of Christ crucified and resurrected came to him, he believed.
I hope that you would believe in Jesus right away, and the blessing of God as promised in Galatians chapter 3 would come upon you. If this happens, please drop me a line and let me know. But if you’re not ready, I hope at least you would have the attitude of those other ancient Greeks, who told Paul, “we will hear you again about this.”
By all means, hear me again.