I just finished reading “Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture” by Walt Mueller and have already recommended it to a few people in the past week. It’s a great read for those who are passionate about their faith in Christ and are also passionate about seeing teenagers meet and grow in Christ (whether they’re parents, youth workers, or whatever). Before writing more about actually doing what Walt writes about, I think it would be good to add some thoughts about what culture is and what impact it makes on all of us.
I’m not looking to be a sociologist here, so let me offer a very simple and stripped-down response: Culture simply is the context in which we live. I am an American, New Englander, Christian, Pastor, Middle-class, White, Educated, 30 year old, Male, Husband, Father, Son, Brother. These are all aspects of my life that have cultural aspects to them and shape who I am. If someone really wants to get to know me but disregards all these different aspects to who I am then they are either delusional or they aren’t really willing to put in the time and effort to get to know me.
Culture is not simply “Media, TV, Music, Movies, etc.” Culture would be much simpler to understand if that was the case! Rather, I believe that culture is better understood as the attitudes, values, and desires people share. This is why it’s possible to be a part of multiple cultures and subcultures at once (as listed above).
Our culture (attitudes, values, desires) fuel the media that surrounds us, and we should listen to and interpret our media accordingly. So when we listen to Lady Gaga, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to simply fire missiles without asking where Gaga is coming from and why so many people love her music. Listening to and understanding the music people listen to and the stories people tell helps us learn what their attitudes, values, and desires are.
It’s easy to give a quick critique of culture, but if we truly want to honor the Great Commission (Jesus’ command to his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all people), then we need to pay attention to culture. If we do not pay attention to culture then either we are disregarding Christ’s Great Commission because we’re living in our own Christian cocoon or we’re disregarding the need to love and understand the people we are trying to share the Hope of Christ with.
One of the best nuggets of wisdom I think we should all learn from Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture is when Walt encourages us to Affirm whatever we can while Correcting what needs to be corrected. I took that to heart. I’ve heard it a billion times before, but as I reflect on some of my blog posts over the last few months I was faced with the reality that I have been guilty of knee-jerk reactions and only “Correcting” without “Affirming.”
Culture influences all of us. None of us are immune… and that’s not really a bad thing. God created people, God created community, and people in community create culture. As Christians, what we need to do is be men and women of redemption. Just as God became a man in Christ Jesus in order to save us, so we should also live in our culture in order to redeem it by affirming what we can and correcting what we must.
More on what that looks like later…