Engaging Culture

Last night at FSM, we talked about ways that as believers, we can engage culture.  We don’t want to have a lifestyle of “Cultural Monasticism,” where we retreat completely from, or completely into culture.

One of the ideas we discussed was how we engage culture, when it’s permissable.  Any time we see a movie, hear a song, watch a show, read a book, discuss an idea, or any other form of cultural engagement, there are two questions we should ask ourselves.

1. What does this say about our culture and its values?
2. How can I use this to launch into the Gospel?

Think about Paul in Acts 17:22-28.  Paul quotes two Greek poets, and uses their writings about Zeus to point the men of Athens to the Gospel.

A friend of mine and I a few weeks ago were discussing a movie he’d thought about, and we continued to flesh it out.  The movie?  “ELF”.  How do we engage our culture in a way that sees what it says about cultural values?  Is there a way we can use “ELF” as a launchpad to talk about the Gospel?  Well, it’s Christmas time, so game on.  Elf is a movie that a lot of families and people now watch as a Christmas tradition.  I think we could all say that looking at the cast, cough cough, Will Ferrel, cough cough, they’re not known for doing things that particularly exalt Christ.  But, he’s on the money as far as culture goes.  So lets use this as a seasonal, timely example of what we’re talking about and what it looks like.  Elf, if you haven’t seen it, is basically a coming of age story for Buddy the Elf.  He is a human who was raised by Santa and eventually comes to NYC to meet his birth family.  In it, we see relationships that are broken.  Throughout the whole movie, we see people in all walks of life, none of which are happy…unless they’re drunk.  Not even the angry elf!  Remember him?  Buddy’s sent into this broken world.  He’s sent into this dark world but does he allow the world to influence him?  No.  He stays true to his identity.  He influences those around him.  Sound familiar (a la our call in this world)?

Moving on.  Through the general plotline, a son who has grown up with the nicest, best, coolest dad ever, Santa, comes down to the real world.  Buddy meets a girl and helps her overcome the fear of man, he says sing out loud for all to hear!  He redeems her and encourages her to function in the way that she was designed.  Buddy encourages the giftings she has, and pushes her out of her comfort zone to the calling she was destined for.  But it doesn’t stop there, Buddy also redeems his dad, who’s a bad husband, a bad father, a bad employee, a man who worships money and fortune.  He’s selfish, pursuing his own fleshly desires, and craving wordly success at the expense of his family  He gives him hope.  He helps his dad reconcile his life.  At the end of the movie, the father repents of his wicked ways in front of the people he’s worked with and walks away from what’s destroying him and his family.

Get this, Buddy the elf restores relationships with those around him.  But, he also restores another relationship.  He restores everyone’s hope in Santa, their hope in a higher power, remember?  Through Buddy, the entire city is given this hope in Santa.  As we look at how to use “ELF” as a way to talk about the Gospel, it almost writes itself.  I wonder if there isn’t a reason this movie resonates with us?  I wonder if there isn’t a reason people are drawn to stories like this, stories with redemption, reconciliation, a saving hope in a power beyond ourselves.  Maybe it’s because it’s a deep longing in our hearts that we were created with?  Maybe the answer to that hope we crave isn’t singing loud at the urging of Buddy the Elf, but maybe the answer is allowing the Creator, the Perfect Father, to bring restoration to relationships destroyed in Gen 3 and reconciliation into our lives.

What are some other songs, movies, TV shows, or any other piece of culture that you think “preach a message” about cultural beliefs and values?  What are some ones that you see you can use to tie to the gospel?

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