While I was writing The Culturally Savvy Christian, people would ask what it was about. I would say something like this:
“We live in a superficial, popular culture, soulless, spiritually delusional, and driven by celebrity. Today’s Christianity has taken on those same qualities. Because we are created in God’s image, with spiritual, intellectual, creative, moral, and relational capacities, we never will be satisfied with a superficial, mindless culture or religion; the result is that religious and irreligious people alike are experiencing deep spiritual hunger.”
Virtually everyone seemed to agree with my assessment of our situation. Many went on energetically to cite specific examples of superficiality in popular culture and religion.
Then I typically would repeat what a wise man once said: “If we desire fresh, cool water, we must dig a deeper well. We will not find pure, refreshing water by digging many shallow wells.”
Twenty-first-century humans are masters of digging shallow wells, spiritually, intellectually, and creatively; and it is killing us. We know we must dig a deeper well, but most of us don’t do it.
Cocooning? Combatting? Or Culturally Compromised?
I once heard a seminary professor summarize historian T.R. Glover’s explanation about the influence of early Christians on culture this way: The early Christians out-thought, outlived, and out-died their pagan counterparts.
This certainly cannot be said of pop Christians. I’ve never heard culture observers describe contemporary Christianity as a profoundly spiritual movement offering deep union with a transcendent God or as the basis for a spiritually-inspired, intelligent, and aesthetically rich cultural renewal.
Ken Myers of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (http://www.marshillaudio.org/) warned: “Living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries.”
Since the 1960s, many theologically conservative Christians have sought comfort in a protective cocoon, circling the wagons to keep the “good people” inside and the “bad people” out, only occasionally venturing out of the cocoon to do combat with the wider culture. They view popular culture as a threat because it conveys beliefs, values, and behaviors antithetical to faith; and they wish not to enrich culture by actively participating in it but, rather, to isolate themselves from culture or to prevail in culture through the political process.
Meanwhile, much of the evangelical movement, which from its earliest days chose not to withdraw from culture but to influence it, has instead been more influenced by the culture than influential in it.
The Unbearable Liteness of Christianity
A large segment of evangelicalism evolved into what might be called “Christianity-lite,” characterized by the broader culture’s breezy superficiality and anti-intellectualism.
In fact, much of contemporary Christianity was becoming a celebrity culture sustained by marketing and technology.
Gone were warnings about the narrow way, denying yourself, repenting of sin, and taking up a cross. The gospel was marketed like a product by presenting features, advantages, and benefits; people were offered personal contentment, a happier family and more success in their careers and finances. Call the toll-free number on your screen and it can all be yours! This brand of faith tastes great but is less filling; and wherever it prevails, it is a source of impoverishment of faith and culture.
Immersion in today’s highly influential, mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional popular culture has resulted in our high literacy in popular culture and low literacy in our faith. The number one reason the younger generation leaves the church is sobering: They never experienced God there.
Culture’s Casualties
Thoughtful humans, religious and irreligious, recognize the symptoms of cultural and spiritual banality described by culture’s thoughtful, creative people. In the movie Fight Club, writer Chuck Palahniuk gives voice to a lost generation.
“We are the middle children of history—no purpose or place. There is no great war for us to fight, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’ll be millionaires, and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
The late writer Walker Percy observed, “You live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”
We are caught between a popular culture attempting to build art without God and a religious culture that believes in a God disinterested in art.
In this intellectually and aesthetically impoverished age of Christianity-lite, it is hearting to remember that for centuries Christians were known for their intellectual, artistic, and spiritual contributions to society. Bach, Mendelssohn, Dante, Dostoevsky, Newton, Pascal, and Rembrandt are but a few who personified the rich tradition of faith, producing the highest and best work, motivated by a desire to glorify God and offered in service of others for the enrichment of our common environment: culture. These were culturally savvy Christians—serious about the centrality of faith in their lives, savvy about faith and culture and skilled in relating the two.
Rediscovering our Roots
I have concluded the hope of the human race lies in the rediscovery of our common lineage as humans created in the image of God and made to glow with God’s presence. I believe, as Hans Rookmaaker said, “Jesus did not come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.”
To become fully human means we are spiritually, intellectually, creatively, morally, and relationally alive. Jesus is our example of this fully human life; He attracted attention because He so exquisitely reflected God’s image in His daily activities.
Ultimately, God offers a new, richer, deeper life that can transform us and, through us, transform civilization. We are called to be culturally savvy Christians who are serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled at fulfilling our calling to be a loving, transforming presence in the world.

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