catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 19 :: 2010.10.22 — 2010.11.04


Truth without borders

Your recent book is titled The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything. What led you to understand that God could be found in something like Metallica’s music?

The idea of hearing God’s voice in all things first surfaced a few years before preaching Metallica. I was researching a sermon series on The Lord of the Rings with a group of local pastors.  At one of our meetings someone said, “Tolkien’s story is so epic, it would be a shame to break it down in order to ‘hang’ it onto the biblical narrative.  What if we did it the other way around and kept Tolkien’s tale intact, let it lead and hung the Bible story onto it instead?”  And that’s what we did.  We let God’s truth in a fictional myth lead God’s truth in the Bible. A mere halfling pointed us to God’s humble, servant-like, upside-down plan for salvation. Gollum’s split personality led us to Paul’s Romans 7, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” soliloquy.  And Gandalf’s, “There are other forces at work in this world Frodo besides the will of evil” led us to the huge theological concept of God’s providence.  After preaching the series in this way, the questions started to come, “Is this allowed? Biblically…theologically can we do this?” 

So I started on a long journey of theological exploration; reading everyone from John Calvin to Abraham Kuyper to Herman Bavinck to Wolfhart Pannenberg.  The more I looked back into my Reformed traditions, the more I found room to engage God’s world in this way.  Calvin said, “All truth is inspired by the Holy Spirit.”  One of our church’s confessions talked about the means by which we can know God; first via creation, and second through the Bible (Belgic Confession, 1563, Art. 2). God spoke through the birth of Jesus, before Jesus ever said a word. Concepts like common grace and the imago Dei took on new life for me. But still I was unsure. Was I going too far?

It didn’t really come together for me until after a daylong meeting with two seminary presidents, Fuller’s Richard Mouw and Calvin’s Neal Plantinga.  These guys had lived and breathed these ideas for a long time. Their unofficial imprimatur set me free to throw my whole life into this pursuit. 


In what ways do you see Christians limiting the means in which God communicates?  What kinds of problems do these limitations create for the Church?

Where do I start? I think we do it everywhere; all of the time. It’s what “sin” does, isn’t it? Think of all the prophets who challenged people to “see” and “hear” again.  Jesus quoted one of them saying, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand… For this people’s hearts have become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes”  (Matthew 13).  I think we human beings are spiritually predisposed to turning our backs toward God instead of our faces. 

More specifically, I think many Christians limit God to the Bible (as though God could fit between the two covers of a book) or to revelation through nature. They forget that the pinnacle of God’s creation was human beings. They’ve never imagined that God might speak through human nature, through the cultures and cultural products we create. 

I think many Christians live with a limited view of the Holy Spirit.  Ironically, charismatic believers seem most at odds with the idea of God speaking though a band like Metallica, a movie like Crash or a scientific field like molecular biology.  How can you have such a huge view of the Holy Spirit and not believe that that Spirit is blowing throughout all of creation, in believer and non-believer, church and state?

The problem with these limitations?  We limit God.  We make Him into our own image.  We become idolaters.  And we miss out on the life He meant for us: knowing, experiencing and loving Him through all things.


What are some of the most unexpected places you’ve seen glimpses of truth? 

At the poker table, playing Seven Card Texas Hold’em, realizing that human beings were meant for an “all in” bet made in faith, made to rake in a hugely disproportionate and undeserved jackpot via grace. 

In God’s gift of alcohol: a foretaste of the communal ecstasy (and buzz) we will one day know when seated at that heavenly feast with Him. 

Watching the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and seeing Psalm 73’s truth there.  Even when it looks like evil is winning out, it’s not. There’s still hope.  Reality is not what it seems to be.

I could go on. Recently I’ve seen His truth in the animated film UP, Regina Spektor’s song “Laughing with God,” the huge Large Hadron Collider physics experiment in Europe and in a California redwood (sequoia sempervirens). 


You mention in the preface to your book that your interest in popular culture “isn’t what you think (some kind of spiritual gimmick, bait and switch, or shameless church marketing strategy).”  How do you see popular art being abused in the Church?  What distinguishes an appropriate use of popular art that respects, rather than diminishes it?

I think the problem begins the moment you attempt to “use” popular art.  In most churches pop culture is perceived as a relevant communication bridge to society. Preachers use contemporary stories, images, and other cultural products as illustrations of something else that they want to say (hopefully a biblical truth they want to reinforce).  I think that the moment you do that you risk abuse.  My daughter, who is an artist, noticed the difference a few years back.  A visiting pastor, knowing they were preaching at our culturally engaged church, included all kinds “relevant” culture in his sermon.  But he used it all in an “old school” way, as illustration.  She couldn’t stand it. It seems there’s something about illustration that’s inauthentic. When you take a cultural product and treat it as a source of revelation (always viewed through the lens of the Bible, which is what we do) you give it more respect, more time.  You never try to pigeonhole it or make it into something it’s not. You let it speak for itself.  I think this is the difference between treating pop culture as revelatory versus just relevant.  

I’m not sure that we get this right every Sunday at our church, but we try.  I think the fact that we almost always start with the creational text, keeps us honest.  We let God speak there first, then listen for how it intermingles, converses and co-illuminates with the Bible.


I’m sure that in your expansive exploration of popular culture, including heavy metal music and difficult films, you come across folks who want to know where you’d draw the line (“Well, would you go looking for God in a strip club?”).  How do you respond to this question?

No, I wouldn’t.  But even there, God’s truth resides in the beauty of the human body (in this case being abused) and in the gift of sex (in this case being perverted).  Augustine said that there “cannot be a nature in which there is no good.”  Evil always pollutes, twists, warps something good.  But there needs to be wisdom and discernment in terms of how far to go.  In the book I address that question by looking at Jesus’ example.  Often he was accused of going too far; hanging with unclean people in unclean places, seeing, I presume, creational goodness even there.   How far should we go?  How far did he go?  (Think incarnation!)


Do Christians have a responsibility to seek out ugly truth as well as beautiful truth?  Why or why not?

If you’re referring to speaking the truth to issues like racism and environmental degradation, of course we do.  My book deals primarily with the fact that the everywhere God is speaking to us through everything. So it’s important we learn how to listen.  But the conversation should never stop there. In my experience you can’t really hear God’s word in creation without responding in some way.  To know God’s truth is to act on it.  So when the Spirit rails against hypocrisy or injustice through Metallica, Neil Young or Arcade Fire, my responsibility is to act on that word, just like I would after hearing a good sermon on the prophet Micah. 

I grew up in a church that had a very high view of speaking truth into all spheres of the created order.  What I never heard much of though, was that God was already there, leading the way.  Imagine how our truth telling would change if we followed where Jesus is already speaking truth in the world.  

John Van Sloten is the author of The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything. Van Sloten is founding pastor of New Hope Church in Calgary, Alberta, a community committed to listening for the echo of God’s voice in the most unexpected places.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus