Christ in culture

Whose Jesus is this exactly?

It is funny where you can find Christ these days.

Spending this Thanksgiving break in my apartment, with a new laptop in tow, has given me ample opportunity to consume my fair share of media.

From movies such as TED (shameful, I know) to an entire season of Marvel’s Iron Man, I found an ample amount of references to Jesus—whether explicit or subtle. In a lot of ways, I was surprised to find these references, considering the content of such media is not aligned with Christian ideals or subject matter.

As I continued my pattern of eating and watching (then watching and eating) this Jesus trend also continued, leading me to briefly reflect on media and culture as a whole. A common occurrence today is to find Christ mentioned by someone with no real association. Even Christian themes and sayings, as articulated in Scripture, find their way into public thought and, subsequently, the media.

Well, to what can we attribute this?

As always, I like to turn to my primary source for answers: God’s word.

When writing to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul takes us back to basics as to the truth of this matter. He writes:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23)

Essentially, Paul writes to establish the basis for God’s righteous judgment. God’s wrath is being revealed because there are those who know the truth, but refuse to adhere to it. Through God’s plain testimony of creation, men are being held accountable for their ability, yet steady refusal, to glorify him, as objects created for that sole purpose (Romans 11:36). The glory that God is owed is, in turn, directed towards “created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

GOD-CONSCIOUSNESS

What we can extract from this is the fact that we all possess a God-consciousness. Whether or not one is a Christian, creation attests to the fact that we are all the product of a Creator. Some call this Creator the “Big Bang,” while others attribute creation, ironically, to man-made statues. Paul experiences this on a missionary visit to Athens.

Seeing that the city was full of idols, Paul begins to present the gospel to those who lived there. When given a public forum to preach Jesus, he gives the following address in Acts 17:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

What Paul finds embedded in the Athenian culture are traces of the truth. With the Greeks being fearful of not recognizing any additional gods and, therefore, building an altar to an unknown god, Paul tells them that the god they have omitted is in fact the only God who created all things. Additionally, Paul quotes Greek poetry, pointing to the testimony of the conscience in acknowledging the truth.

Even today, you will find cases where the truth of God is subtly espoused in the culture, because of the nature of the human conscience. Paul bears further witness to this truth, stating, “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” (Romans 2:14-15/NLT).

Our notions of good/evil, right/wrong and hero/heel all stem from what has been written on every human heart. For this reason, you will see these reoccurring themes within media. James Harleman, pastor at Seattle, WA based Mars Hill Church, takes an in-depth look at this aspect of our reality by looking at film through a theological lens. (Visit http://cinemagogue.com for more info.)

POPULARITY

Then, there is another element to Christ’s presence in culture. In Acts 19, Paul arrives at Ephesus, where he argues daily on behalf of God’s kingdom for two years. As the gospel message became more pronounced in the province of Asia, so also did God’s miracle-working power. Acts 19:11-15, then, records this account:

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 [One day] the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you? 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

The use of the name Jesus by the seven sons of Sceva is a picture of using Christ for the sake of popularity. Because Paul’s gospel message was associated with casting out spirits, it was seen as the new trend in exorcism—where exorcists invoked whatever name seemed to be effective at the time.

Acknowledging the name of Jesus without a formal relationship with the aforementioned is, tragically, where we find ourselves today. Christianity has had a massive impact on world history, and its ideals are embedded into the Western English culture that we embrace.

From this you will see illusions to Scripture and a superficial acknowledgment of the crucified Christ. This superficiality has led to even professing atheists becoming common with the name, “Jesus.” The Jesus of popular culture is, effectually, the one whose name is invoked and not reverenced.

This is the Jesus that is in a lot of our movies, TV shows and even songs. Being perceived as having a connection with Christ (typically validated by mere church attendance) is trendy in our culture, especially in the case of American politics. In many cases, the Jesus of popular culture is more than just embracing a societal ideal, but about monetary gain.

Paul warned of those who “peddle the word of God for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17) and “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). The gospel, however, is not about using Christ for gain, but losing all things for the sake of gaining Christ (Philippians 3:8). Biblical Jesus and popular culture’s Jesus, then, are distinguished in this sense.

Following the account of the sons of Sceva, we find an illustration of what it means to genuinely embrace the name of Christ:

When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts 19:17-20)

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~ by christianballenger on November 24, 2012.

One Response to “Christ in culture”

  1. That was awesome! Great topic and great view points brought up. Thanks for that keep ir coming!

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