On Pastoral Life and Pop Culture

My wife recently directed my attention to this series of posts at the Circe Institute, and they have subsequently occupied much of my thought for the past two weeks. The whole series is worth reading, but this quote from the first post captures its sense,

I have become deeply acquainted with “your own poets” and little acquainted with the poets of my own tradition. I have more to say about Thomas Yorke than Thomas Aquinas. I have committed more time to Bowie than Boethius, given more heart to the Daily Mail than the daily readings. I have used the fact I am a clever enough interpreter of popular culture as warrant to steep my soul in popular culture, all the while avoiding art which is perplexing, difficult, godlike. “This is art which reflects the brokenness of the world,” I have said, often enough listening to and viewing things which do not reflect the brokenness of the world so much as add to it.

Reading this series has reminded me of a commencement address I heard from Carl Trueman. At the final Westminster Theological Seminary Dallas graduating class in 2012, and incidentally the first class of the Redeemer Seminary M.Div graduates, he delivered a fine talk on the importance of prioritizing the study of scripture over pop culture familiarity in pastoral life. The whole talk can be found here. These excerpts in particular have stuck with me since,

Much emphasis is put today on adopting the idioms of the world around in order to build bridges to the wider, increasingly secular culture. If one looks at some of the more prominent conservative evangelical organizations and websites, one might be forgiven for concluding that cultural savvy and an interest in the arts are among the key priorities for the Christian ministry. Now, the motivation for such is often a praiseworthy one: a desire to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that is perishing. Yet, however virtuous the intention may be, this project has, I believe, eclipsed the painfully obvious and vitally important priorities of the biblical vision of the Christian life in general and the ministry in particular. Have you noticed how the term ‘godliness’ appears so rarely in discussions of what is important for ministry today? How the words ‘piety’ and ‘pious’ have come to be used almost always in a pejorative sense? How ‘heavenly mindedness’ has come to be seen by some as the real problem in the church, rather than worldliness and the aping of the secular culture? It is a strange church culture indeed where such things are now commonplace…

Furthermore, make sure your reading reflects biblical priorities. Strange to tell, you can preach the gospel without ever having watched a movie, let alone offered a Christian response to one. And, believe it or not, your people can get to heaven in blissful ignorance of the latest Great American Novel or the op-ed columns of The Village Voice. That is not to say that knowledge of these things is necessarily wrong; but these are not to be priorities for the time which the minister of the gospel has for study, nor are they priorities for the time that he spends in the pulpit.  Watching our lives and doctrine is a vital part of our ministerial calling; watching movies and TV shows should be no more than a part of our leisure time, a bit of diversionary fun after a hard day in the study.

The people of the church will not perish for the pastor’s lack of pop culture savvy; they will perish without being fed the word of God. Some of Joshua Gibbs’ concerns at the Circe Institute can be addressed within the church by how the pastor conducts his life and preaching. Priority on the deep value of scripture over vapid pop culture in preaching will impact the congregation.