“Whenever we meet heathen writers, let us learn from the light of truth which is admirably displayed in their works, that the human mind, fallen as it is, and corrupted from its integrity, is yet invested and adorned by God with excellent talents. If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth itself, we shall not reject or despise the truth itself, wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God.” –John Calvin

Is pop culture a worthwhile read? I get this question fairly often, the thinking behind it being that we (I’m dragging my fellow reviewers at Hollywood Jesus into this) are glorifying movies that shouldn’t be glorified or have no redeeming spiritual value.

I don’t consider myself a Christian reviewer. One, because when the word “Christian” is used as an adjective, usually it’s the first red flag that we’re already off mission (yes, this goes back to my rantings about our Christian ghetto mentality). Two, because when I think of a “Christian Movie Review”, a certain kind of review comes to mind. We get the synopsis of the movie, followed by its rating, then descriptions of its violent content, sexual content (Boobies!), foul language, with a concluding judgment about its worthiness for family viewing. Counting cuss words and shots of exposed body parts (Boobies!) is no way to enjoy a movie nor do I think it should be our focus. So how do I approach writing “Christian” reviews?

I stand by the conceit that God is active in every culture. If that is true, we ought to be able to find redemptive elements almost everywhere in that culture. Slip into the mindset of thinking of yourself as a missionary to your culture. One of the first things a missionary ought to do is learn the stories of the culture. Granted, I consume a lot of pop culture (movies, television, comic books, books—but not music. Music has been dead to me since 1992. Nothing personal, it’s just that 1992 was the year music became noise and I realized I was on my countdown to yelling at kids to get off my lawn). But if we’re going to speak into a culture subversively, it has to be done contextually. We have to learn the language of the culture.

This sounds like a complete rationalization justifying how much time I spend in front of my television and it’s at this point that two Bible passages get thrown at me. Always in the spirit of Christian love and edification:

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

I understand the fear that comes with the freedom we have in Christ and the importance of “guarding ourselves” when it comes to being “of the world.” When I come at this verse, the words “but rather expose them” jump out at me. Exposing is the work of an artist. True artists pursue truth, truth about themselves, truth about life, truth about things after this life. I think it is important to engage the artist and what they are trying to do.

Again, this goes back to one of the cornerstones of being a missionary: respect the natives, respect the culture, respect the natives’ stories and seek to understand them, and look for redemptive analogies .

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:8

That verse bolsters sermon after sermon of justifying a retreat from anything that may taint us. There is even value in withdrawing from such things, for a time, until they got their spiritual feet under them and are better able to discern what’s good for them. How do we learn to discern them to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22)? If I’m counting shots (Boobies!), that’s what becomes my focus. How is that spiritual?

I say this with all due caution and humility, as we mature, we, like the apostle Paul, can expose ourselves to culture, draw the good out from it, interact with it in such a way as to use it for redemptive purposes. Yes, we are called to be priests, to be set apart; but set apart, not for our own comfort and edification, but for a purpose: to join in Christ’s redemptive mission.

I am often saddened by the typical Evangelical reaction to films likening it to that of loud hypocrites. I think this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts: how often has a director seemed open to exploring spiritual themes until s/he crosses the Christian Moral Police and suddenly gets a bad taste in his/her mouth about religion?

Nor do I look at people and think “they may taint me with their worldly ways. Look at how violent he is or how much she cusses” and then retreat from them. Though too often, we as a church do that, too.

Stories resonate with us for a reason and there are redemptive elements in each of our stories. In all things, think redemptively, and let the renewing your mind be in finding God at work in the culture around us. I am reminded of how the Apostle Paul could walk around Athens, a city full of idols, and still find Jesus (Acts 17). Engage the artist, engage the audience of that artist, and let your words and deeds be salted with grace. Look for common ground, that’s how you start conversations. And with conversations, all things are possible.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else, we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say, like artists.” –Frederich Buechner