Monday, May 01, 2006

Pop Culture, Folk Culture

What do the advocates of "contextualization" mean exactly by that term?

Yeah, yeah, I know: We're supposed to communicate in terms that the culture can actually understand. But everyone agrees with that (at least in theory). Beyond the obvious, though, what should churches do in order to be contextual?

It is here that a crucial distinction comes into play: pop vs. folk culture.

Many seem to presuppose that pop culture sets the terms of the discussion, and then the Christian church must conform. So, since Boomers in our culture want a relaxed worship experience in which they can hear Beach Boys style music surrounded by people in leis and hula skirts, we should give them that. After all, as long as the message is good, the form it takes doesn't matter, right? Welcome to Margaritaville Community Church!

But pop culture is a pretty recent concept (until the invention of analog tape and the subsequent ability to mass-market and mass-produce it, pop culture didn't have a leg to stand on).

Christianity, however, has always been a folk culture. We are a "peculiar people" with a calendar, language, and history that are unique and distinct from the world's (with some overlap, of course). So rather than asking, "How many X-Boxes will our children's ministry need to have a large, successful church?" we should be asking, "What, according to the Bible's folk culture, should our children's ministry look like?"

When we ask the right question, we find (to our contemporary culture's horror) that it is biblical for kids to worship together with their parents from as early an age possible, and that dividing the body of Christ by age or musical tastes is an incredibly American thing to do.

But isn't insisting that families forget their own personal tastes and worship together "irrelevant" in today's society?

Maybe. But when a society's popular culture is out of accord with the Bible's folk culture, it is the former, and not the latter, that is the truly irrelevant one.