Culture…Create or Imitate

This morning, I watched some video of an Easter service from a rather progressive church. The service started with a presentational cover song. It was rather theatrical…with the presentation almost matching the actual video for the song.

As I watched, I found myself thinking, “Wow! This is kind of cool.”

Then, as I continued to watch and think about it, I found myself thinking, “Hmm. Can’t the Church do better than imitating popular culture?” And, then I thought, “Is the point of the Church to get someone to think a performance was cool?”

I don’t know…there’s a lot to be said about entertaining people…if they think “wow, that was cool” they may be more inclined to return and continue to encounter the message of the Church. But, is the message getting through? Is the attempt to be culturally relevant adding to the message or is it distracting? (That question being posed, I will say that the pastors message was on-point…and powerful).

You see, the message of the song wasn’t that strong. It felt more like an attempt to do something in order to be culturally relevant for the sake of relevance, rather than an attempt to do something in order to creatively communicate a powerful message in a relevant manner. There’s a huge difference in that.

And, the performance of the song, while interesting, was simply mediocre. I found myself cringing at moments. In the end, I thought to myself, “Well, nice try.”

While watching, I was reminded of attending a conference at a mega-church about 8 years ago. The band performed a Dave Matthews Band song in order to demonstrate how to be culturally relevant. The senior pastor of the church stood up after the song, praised the band, talked about how they performed the song better than DMB. The problem was, it simply wasn’t that good. It was a bunch of 55 year old people doing 3 & 4 part harmonies to a DMB song (nothing against 55 year old people). I thought it would have been more powerful to simply use the DMB recording.

Then, I was reminded of the Apologetix. This is a band that has made a career in the Christian niche market of parody songs. They take Top 40 songs, and Christianize them. And, the result is corny lyrics and poorly performed instrumental parts. Seriously, I remember listening to a recording chalked full of wrong notes. And, the lyrics…cheese-a-riffic! It might be a bit different if they intended to be funny…but that’s not the intent. I end up wondering, “why?” Is listening to a lame attempt to Christianize a popular song somehow better than listening to the actual song? I find the lame attempt more offensive than the songs they are attempting to somehow “redeem”.  

And, this is where the problems arise for me. As Christians, are we simply called to imitate culture? Are we called to Christianize pop culture?

Or are we called to create culture? Are we called to create art (music, literature, film, visual arts, etc) that can stand on its own…that doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian”…that doesn’t have to copy non-Christian art???

Don’t get me wrong…I do see the value in using pieces of our modern culture to communicate powerful truths. But, what’s so wrong with simply using the piece of art? I believe that simply using culture to use culture is borderline inappropriate. And, if you are going to imitate the culture…make sure you do it well…and make sure the message is clear.

So, my hope and prayer is that the Church will rise up and create culture, rather than imitate culture.

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