A is for Alarm

By Dick Staub | Dick Staub has been a teacher, author, radio host and media critic ( This article is adapted from his acclaimed 2007 book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint. | February 29 2008

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 ( 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

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