Releasing a Sense of Wonder

How deliberate are we in helping children think carefully about popular culture? How do we help them be creative. Here is a provocative thought.

We will intentionally seek out and promote to our children, (via home and church) music, reading and other cultural expressions of a Biblical faith. We will by this means impart a sense of wonder; a God centred way of seeing and a joy in believing. We do this as a response to the theft of their innocence by some aspects of mass media culture. We will also seek to help our children discern popular culture, recognising and responding to that which seeks for truth, and rejecting that which celebrates evil or deception.

Culture that Uplifts
If there is one area of contemporary life that has been a constant irritant in the church’s spiritual wounds, it is popular culture. Churches routinely disapprove of it. Parents are often in inner turmoil as they wrestle with how to cope with the conflict it can cause in the home. If we are to help parents we must first establish our stance on culture from a biblical perspective. We must then help our children learn to be discerning about culture. Our final task will be to promote and encourage positive culture.

A biblical view of culture
Discussing this could take many pages. Let me briefly state a perspective. God has created us in his image. As he created humanity and all that surrounds us, he constantly reflected that it was good (Genesis 1). He revealed his word through majestic poetry, highly pictorial prophecy and dramatic historical dealings with the people of Israel. The temple he allowed Solomon to build was visually magnificent – as is the vision of heaven which unfolds in the book of Revelation. Many Christians are however wary of the arts. This is often rooted in the incursion of Greek thought into Christian thinking. This elevates the mind and the spirit and denigrates physical reality.

It strongly encourages the idea that some activity is sacred and some secular. This leads many to believe that the church must not use ‘the methods of the world’ or ‘the devil’s music’. This does not do justice to either history or Scripture. History suggests that the pioneers of radio in America were Christian broadcasters. The first widely distributed popular book was Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. (Huge publishing houses such as HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton and Bertlesmann all have their roots in Christian publishing companies of the last century.)

In reality what often happens is that the church expresses and communicates about God and Jesus creatively, giving their creative gifts back to God as an act of worship. The rest of society will, however, use those same art forms for idolatrous purposes.The church is not using the world’s methods ~ the world is abusing God’s good gifts. The ‘people of the Book’ should not hesitate, therefore, to use books, music, art, dance and a variety of forms to express their worship to God and the view of life that flows from it.

Learning to discern
There will nevertheless be much about popular culture that deeply disturbs. Owners of a satellite dish will know that the selection of music channels available gives a 24-hour platform to the innocent and the idealistic alongside the inane and profane. Helping a child think carefully about the latest pop video is a way of blessing them. If you help them think by asking them a question , they will begin to ‘own’ their decisions about what they listen or watch. 
 If you explain the wisdom behind your thinking you begin to help them understand the world, not merely follow your commands . A child who knows ‘why’ is much more likely to make the same decision when they are away from your influence. We also understand that real dialogue flows when the young person knows that the adult is not merely highlighting the negative and has taken the trouble to do the research about what a item of art may be saying.

Positive Culture
It’s tempting for Christians to cynically dismiss the material produced by Christian companies. Some would say that it doesn’t have the production values or artistic breadth of mainstream culture. The reality, however is that Christian media companies around the world are now producing material to a high standard. They are winning respect in the mainstream arena. Veggie Tales, a long time staple of the Christian video market (25 million sales), crossed over to mainstream cinema release in the United States. Bob Walisewski (Focus on the Family), comments: ‘Not only will families leave theatres giggling, they’ll also be primed for some God-centred conversation about compassion, forgiveness, mercy and second chances.’ He also speaks highly of the film’s artistic values: ‘It’s not just the exploration of biblical truth, though, that makes me a big fan of Jonah. It’s also because of its snappy animation, quirky – and familiar – veggie characters, entertaining story lines and snazzy musical numbers unpredictable enough to be cool to even a few teenagers. Jonah’s writing and production value stand head-and- shoulders above the crowd. For example, each and every song in this first Veggie movie easily competes with A-list Disney fare. Such professionalism deserves a lot of praise.’ The film made it to the USA Top 10.

Nor is ‘crossing over’ the only way that material produced by Christians will make an impact. Two mainstays of mainstream culture, Lord of the Rings and Wallace and Gromit, both reflect their creator’s worldview and provide an alternative to the negative and occult worldview of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter or Phillip Pullman’s overtly anti-christian His Dark Materials series. Tolkein, writing from his Christian perspective, details a vast battle between good and evil. Wallace and Gromit is both whimsical and nostalgic, but it has won its committed Anglican creator Nick Park three Oscars. Its strength is not that it has a strong message, but simply that it is very funny without being offensive.

There are many others we could mention. such as the inspiring animation of Miracle Maker, or the massive sales of the StoryKeepers videos. StoryKeepers offers animated version of 47 key biblical incidents. The brainchild of an English vicar, they have outsold Disney video releases on occasion. The McGee and Me series, which examined moral themes from a Christian perspective, also crossed over into the mainstream and was screened by the BBC in a prime- time children’s slot. The Friends and Heroes series also bought high production values to biblical storytelling and was shown on the BBC in the UK.

Churches can become ambassadors for wholesome culture by stocking books, music and videos on church bookstalls, or by promoting them from the pulpit and encouraging people to purchase them from their local Christian store.

Dave Roberts 
 Dave is a member of the GCF facilitation team and a writer himself.