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Can You Live in An Antiseptic Christan Bubble?

We’ve had a lot of conversations at our Service Programming meetings (where we plan the weekend services) about what elements to include in our weekend services. I’ve also got a dialogue going with several friends who are not nearly as comfortable engaging culture.

Here’s the kind of discussions we’re having. For our heaven and hell series coming up in August (calling it Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell) we’ve already scratched doing Highway to Hell live, only because we weren’t sure it was appropriate.  This line put us over the edge: Hey satan, payed my dues/playing in a rocking band/Hey momma, look at me/I’m on my way to the promised land.  So even though we titled the sermon that way, we’re not going to use the song intact (we may mangle it or play with it a bit somehow). It pushes us out a bit far as Jesus-followers, we thought.  But we are firmly committed to engaging culture to reach the culture.

Some Christians are definitely in the camp of "all culture is bad".  But I just can’t live in an antiseptic bubble where everything is filtered out.  The line many of us quote most often in the Bible says God loves the world, but you’d never know it the way many Christ-followers live.

A lot of mainstream music is sugar sweet pop or a blatant celebration of sin, but a lot isn’t.  It all tells us something about the longings of the human heart and the issues people are really struggling with.  Take Coldplay’s new CD, for example.  The lyrics of a song like Yes or Cemeteries of London.  The fact that artists (musical and novelists and so many more) are asking theological questions should make leaders sit up and take notice.  God is on their agenda.  We’re not, but shouldn’t we be?

Similarly, with things like doing tattoos during a service and handing out chocolate as an illustration tied to sex before marriage, we’re trying to make ties between everyday life and culture. Because God is about making the link between life and culture.

I know most of the people who read this blog engage culture deeply.  I’m sure some are not quite as convinced.  What are your boundaries?  What works for you, doesn’t work for you?  What engages you?  What connects?


  1. Carey Nieuwhof on June 27, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Hey Joy…thanks for the comments. We got mixed reviews on the lunch voucher idea. Many loved it and used it. We were simply trying to promote relationship, and for many Canadian families, lunch out is a big expense. Live and learn.

    Laurie, thanks for the feedback. Different things speak to different people, and I'm sure over the first full year we'll use a variety of different images and approaches. I'm excited about this Sunday's – never really done it before. So we'll see how it goes.

  2. Joy on June 27, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Reach people and love them and engage with our culture but if we go too far in using culture we just end up looking like we are marketing Jesus and serving up the latest Sunday morning entertainment gimmick. It was embarrassing when I brought a friend to church and vouchers for lunch were promoted. My friend turned to me and said "What are they trying to do, bribe me to go to church?".

  3. laurie on June 27, 2008 at 10:56 am

    you asked what helps me at Connexus to connect and I was thinking back five years ago – the connection for me was hearing current music with a visual screen full of images of God's creation through great photography. I find the Bubbles and abstract sreens at connexus distracting and weakens the message. There is a larger space between entertainment and the message than maybe we want to admit.Something in every service needs to give us a glimpse of God's holiness – wiyhout apology to any film crew.

  4. Koombyeya on June 27, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Good stuff guys. I love it when God takes a secular song written completely from a worldly perspective and somehow uses it for His glory.
    I believe it's part of a creative process. If we prayerfully ask God to expose that line we cannot cross, I believe He'll do it.
    Enjoying the blog Carey. Thanks!

  5. Josh Roberts on June 26, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    I'm all for engaging culture to reach culture. We send missionaries overseas and expect them to contextualize and adapt to the culture. It would seem that we should be doing the same in our own backyards. Our struggle right now with our church plant in Rome, Ga, is we are meeting in a night club. When you walk in to the place there are beer signs, half naked women, and liquor bottles everywhere. We have former alcoholics on our launch team. Thus far, in the discussion I've had no one has had a problem with our venue. However, I definitely do not want us to, by using this venue, lead anyone back to a path that could lead them to destruction. So we've been trying to discern how much of the culture (i.e. the liquor signs, naked pinball machines, etc.) can we cover up before we are no longer embracing culture but performing a bait and switch marketing scheme to reach people. I've personally never been a big fan of changing the Reese's logo with the word Jesus or rewriting the words to Free Falling to make it a Worship Song. I don't think that's embracing culture that's just adding more to the christian subculture.

  6. Carey Nieuwhof on June 26, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Dan, we used Linkin Park's What I've Done back at Easter. I agree, powerful stuff. And you've hit the line bang on: what becomes "too much" as far as causing someone to stumble v. engaging what's real and there. I often think people who don't follow Jesus write more profound theology at times than those of us who do.

    AJ. Nice. Just nice. At the end of the day, we are people. People God loves. People Jesus died for. People in need of redemption. Amen.

    It always amazes me how at Christmas Christian artists sing "Jingle Bells" and it's called "christian music" while mainstream artists will sing "Silent Night" and Christians will boycott it. We are a weird bunch.

  7. dan scott on June 26, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    This is a great post. Using pop-culture in the context of ministry is always something that I've tried to do. With my situation dealing with kids, we always have to be so careful that we're not pointing them into a bad direction. One song maybe great, the album will have parents calling us the next week.

    For me and my team, we need to discern content on behalf of the kids. At the end of the day it's about bringing them into a deeper relationship with Jesus. We don't ever want to be accused of hindering that.

    Yet in our main service, Linkin Park's video for "What I've Done" was an amazing success for talking about human depravity. Even though I love Linkin Park and feel they have a lot to say about spirituality (or lack there of) in our society. This is something I could never show to 5th graders even.

    Great post and thoughts, Carey.

  8. Wonderdog on June 26, 2008 at 11:28 am

    I agree whole-heartedly, The biggest problem I have is when people draw the line between secular and sacred, simply based on who performs it. When Bon Jovi sings "Living On A Prayer" it's a terrible song that downplays the power of God. When Stellar Kart sings it, suddenly it's a great song about relying on God's provision and protection.

    I know it may seem ironic that I feel this way, but I think we need to stop labelling things as "Christian." Christian Music, Christian Books, Christian TV. I like what Rob Bell says, "Christian is a great noun, but a poor adjective." BANG! There it is.

    I think it cheapens what Christ did for us when we throw the "Christian" label on things without critically thinking about their value.

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