catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 3 :: 2007.02.09 — 2007.02.23


Can Christianity be the new "punk"?

Early in a new year is as good a time as any to reflect on what one is doing with the time one has been given.  Since I spend a certain percentage of time writing film, music and book reviews for *cino, this would be a likely place to start.

I must admit my thinking often wavers on how and why I should review films, music or books.  At times, I have used the review as a platform for my own ideas about what popular art should do.  I have been eager to dispute various critics encountered in popular journals or newspapers.  Other times, I’ve tried to model a particular way of reviewing.  In response to those who merely suggest how you should spend your money, I would attempt to show what the film, in fact, is doing once you spend the money.  In opposition to those who reduce Christian criticism to issues of morality or who try to persuade Christians to get involved in popular culture because, “Surprise, surprise! God’s handiwork can be found even among the work of non-believers!”, I take for granted the fact that Christians are already involved in culture and instead focus on whether or not the film, music or book follows the order God has set for creation.  Still one more motivation for writing a review on *cino is to let readers know about a good or interesting piece of work they might not be aware of.   

Of course, all these methods for reviewing are legitimate and have their place.  But lately I’ve been wondering if it might be possible to go further.  Might it be possible to develop a method of criticism that unifies the Christian community, a method that is distinctly Christian, that will be obvious in its separateness. 

While reading about the history of the punk movement, I ran across a brief account of the origins of Punk Magazine.  The founders stumbled into the venture in the same spirit as the music itself.  Legs McNeil, John Holmstrom and Ged Dunn just wanted a magazine to share all the stuff they really liked—the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Dictators, McDonalds, beer and TV reruns.  The team hated hippie music and culture and used the magazine to showcase what was really exciting to them.   And when they stumbled upon the seemingly meaningless title for their magazine, they accidentally invented the name for this strange amalgamation of anti-establishment, leather-wearing, pink-haired hippie-haters who came together in places like New York, London and Los Angeles.  “Punk” became the name for a cultural attitude that ultimately became an influential movement around the world.

The first issue of Punk Magazine featured an irritated Lou Reed and broached such questions as “What kind of hamburgers do you like?” and other juvenile topics.  The style of the magazine reflected a new way of seeing the world, a new interpretation of what is interesting, amusing, good and bad.  This irreverent style and method was what became “punk”.  It did not give worshipful respect to the honored traditions of journalism.  It presented a new take on the world, a religious perspective that could be adapted and applied to all areas of life: sex, music, glue, paper bags, food, clothing, politics etc.

The rise of the punk community can be a lesson in how a common interpretation is formed.  If the Christian community is going to develop a unified perspective, it must not be limited to content (theology, philosophy, political statements).  A community is formed around an attitude, a spirit, a way of life that includes music, movies, shoes and socks, comedy and criticism.  If we are only a community because of our content, we will not be a strong influence on our culture. 

An important realization, then, for those who believe the content of a Reformational worldview is that we must also embody the spirit of Reformation in our style.  This is what the discussions on *cino should be, and often are, about.  Knowing the content of the message, how should we live?  We must embody in our own time and place the content of a biblical perspective developed over centuries by Christ-followers guided by the Word of God.  In other words, we must continue to be faithful not just to the written words, but to the attitude of Christianity in every time and place.

So, having said this, how can Christ’s freedom, lordship, intolerance for sin, love for sinners, apocalyptic zeal, unabashed joy, and burning desire for near-ness be reflected in a film, music or book review?  Bill Romanowski opens up a way when he models Christian criticism in his book Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture.  It’s a user-friendly handbook for Christians of many ages to interpret pop culture.  The book is also a helpful reminder that all people are responsible for interpreting popular art.  If Christians don’t take that responsibility seriously, someone else will do the interpreting for us.

Every human being, Romanowski affirms, is caught up in a religious perspective.  It is our responsibility as Christians to be an “interpretive community” that acts out our religious perspective properly.  Christian criticism is one way of expressing our Christian perspective and participating in the interpreting of God’s creation, which includes film, music and books.  As Christian critics, we should point out where a film’s vision of what’s right or wrong about our world strays from the biblical perspective that God created the world good and, despite the distortion of human sin, God is returning the world to its intended order through Christ Jesus.  We should debunk any false myths that stroke the egos of sinful human beings in our self-idolizing society.  And we should celebrate that which is of God and give rightful praise to the Creator for all the bountiful blessings of popular culture.         

Because Christian interpretation is a communal task, we should be aware of our dependence on others, on those who have gone before and those who are yet to come.  We should also expect there will be some disagreements.  If our unity depended on something other than the Spirit of God, this would be a serious problem.  But it is not the unity of our theological statements that hold us together so much as the way we live together with these tensions in the attitude of love and reconciliation that Christ has passed on to his followers. 

Despite the diversity of theological, political and/or philosophical viewpoints within the body of Christ, amazingly enough, a unified attitude still does emerge among believers.  God’s Spirit continues to hold us together as witnesses to God’s revelation.  

Those who write *cino reviews this year ought to be aware of the responsibility they have as members of Christ’s interpretive community.  The Christian way of life is a movement much bigger than the cultural revolutions we’ve witnessed in the popular arts of the last few decades and it has shown itself to be far more sustainable over a longer period of time.  Indeed, it promises to be the beginning and end of all movements in time.  So if that claim is true, then we are involved in something momentous here at *culture is not optional each and every day.   

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