Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rapture Ready! on Christian pop culture and music

Having just returned from ICRS, it’s been fun to browse through Daniel Radosh’s Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. His explorations include ICRS in Denver, 2006, where he encountered Christian pirates, Virtuous Woman perfume, Good News Tattooz and the “Jesus erases sin” pencil eraser. He takes note of the Smiling Cross, which has “its horizontal beam bent up into a cheery smile. Apparently the traditional symbol of Christ’s agonizing death by torture was just too depressing.”

Radosh mentions a conversation he has with Andy Butcher, editor at trade journal Christian Retailing. They note that all pop culture tends to be imitative, not just Christian pop culture – Christian singers try to be Ashlee Simpson, but the general market is also filled with girls trying to be Ashlee Simpson. And the imitative impulse tends to squelch true creativity. Radosh commented of the Christian market that “from what I’ve seen, it kind of looks like tacky is winning.”

Butcher replied, “When you are born again, God gives you a new heart and a new opportunity. He doesn’t necessarily give you new taste.”

Later in the book, Radosh visits Trinity Lutheran Seminary professor Mark Allen Powell’s course on Contemporary Christian Music. Powell, a New Testament scholar, former rock critic for the Houston Post and author of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, said that people need to understand Christian music for two reasons. The first is cultural. “Christian rock stars and music celebrities have replaced television evangelists as a primary media connection between pop culture and pop religion. Not knowing about Rebecca St. James or Steven Curtis Chapman may be this decade’s equivalent of not knowing about Robert Schuller or Jimmy Swaggert in the 1980s.”

The second reason is theological. Powell says that CCM offers “a window on American piety” and has become “a way of understanding American Christianity.” He gave Radosh this example: “Probably the biggest Christian rock band of the eighties was named Petra. Petra means rock. It’s a pun, of course, because they play rock music. Rock solid.” In contrast, “the biggest Christian band of the nineties was called Jars of Clay, which is something fragile and breakable.”

So Petra and 80s CCM emphasized triumphalistic, powerful music. On the other hand, Jars of Clay signified that “what was popular in the nineties was vulnerability, brokenness, fragility. That reveals something about our culture and about the culture’s connection to religion.”

(Check out Christianity Today's interview with Radosh, which also has links to Radosh's site, list of top Christian songs, and excerpts on Christian sex advice and the Bible business.)

1 comment:

Steve B. said...

Thanks for the post. I'm reminded of the Woody Allen movie, "Hannah and her Sisters" where the Max von Sydow character says that if Jesus came back now and saw all that was done in his name, he wouldn't stop throwing up...