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Popular Culture Is An Eternal Gift Of God

Christians who critique fantastical stories are often blind to popular culture’s eternal purposes.
| Sep 11, 2014 | 60 comments |
popular culture in new earth

Will the new heavens and new earth include renewed popular culture?

When some Christians critique popular culture — including fantastical stories — they demonstrate they are blind to popular culture’s purposes today and forever.12

This may also be the most crucial belief behind parents’ assumptions that popular culture is at best a nuisance and at worst a potential Satanic or sinful infection in their homes.

Is popular culture eternally worthless?

Some parents have long since accepted as settled truth that God has no plans for the physical world. They naturally conclude that anything in culture or popular culture is utterly worthless in the eternal story.

Other parents are slightly more positive when they act as if popular culture is a means to other primary ends — entertainment, moral instruction, and the other purposes we explored in chapter 2.

Either way, parents conclude that popular culture is less “spiritual” than practices such as Bible study or moral parenting. Their conclusion is logical: why shouldn’t we ban something that is ultimately corrupt or useless for eternity, or else restrict stories and songs because they are at best a nuisance? If I believed these things about popular culture, I would do the same.

Does ‘I am making all things new’3 include popular culture?

But such parents are blind to the truths we explored in chapter 2:

  • That God created the world, culture, and popular cultures originally good;
  • That Adam and Eve’s sin brought corruption to these three gifts but not hopelessness for their redemption;
  • That Jesus Christ is redeeming his people to form a counter-culture that changes other cultures from the inside-out;
  • And that Jesus will return to make all things new for a glorious physical Kingdom that will include a resurrected world, cultures, and popular cultures.

All these good gifts will last forever, purged of man’s abuse and sinful corruption. God did not create a world only to throw the world away,4 any more than he created humans only to throw them away!

I have found my own Christian life utterly transformed by this biblical doctrine. I can only say that the Holy Spirit constantly uses this truth to draw me away from my own temptations to abuse popular culture for sinful reasons. Instead he is constantly driving me to receive these good gifts of God with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4).

But when I try to broach this topic with many Christians, I’m met with pushback or at best blank stares.

They have been raised — as I was also raised — on a steady diet of evangelical popular culture with unbiblical definitions, images, and teachings about eternity. They may not accept the old pictures of heaven as a land of clouds and harp-playing angels. But they are certain that Scripture requires that they reflexively deny that eternity could be anything like earth.

Out come partially quoted verses such as “No eye has seen, no ear has heard (1 Cor. 2:9, NIV)5 and poetic phrases such as “time shall be no more” (which is from a hymn, not Scripture) or “only two things in this earthly life are eternal: God’s written word and human souls.”

We must open our eyes.

We must see that we — inspired by myths, slogans, evangelical pop culture and sometimes plain heresy — have blinded ourselves to the glorious truth that God will resurrect a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and that he will come down to a new earth to live forever with his people as their God (Rev. 21:1-3).

Culture on our renewed earth may even include popular culture created by non-Christians that includes some incorrect ideas or beliefs, because the artist still reflected God’s creative work in the story or song. If anything we could enjoy these flawed secular stories and songs for eternity because we will have no ability to abuse these things for sin and every ability to discern any of their flaws!

In the forever-world, saints will dwell in holiness and enjoy human culture — not only in books, dramas and poetry, but also popular culture that we may presume is “trivial” such as carnivals, comedy films, comics, jokes and video games.

We must repent of our blindness to such a vast vision of redemption and delve deeper into Scriptures like those we explored in chapter 2 — texts that promise God’s people will be freed from sin forever to worship their Creator in a perfect physical paradise and reflect his image in their acts of cultural creation. And we must teach this truth to our children to help them see creativity and culture not in the darkness of suspicion but in Scripture’s light.

  1. This article is based on a work-in-progress nonfiction book by two coauthors and myself.
  2. Edit, Sept. 29, 2014: The title and phrasing that “culture/popular culture is God’s gift” could connote the notion that God is the direct author of popular culture. Rather, God has gifted people with the ability to make culture/popular culture and thereby imitate His role as Creator. God also gave the gift of the “cultural mandate” in Gen. 1:26-28.
  3. Rev. 22:5.
  4. This may seem to contradict Scripture passages that stress the passing away of earth’s sinful ages. Many Christians recall the warning of 2 Peter 3:10 in the KJV that in the end “the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” But the key phrase “burned up” is a disputable translation based on newer and less-reliable manuscripts. Newer translations based on older manuscripts promise a slightly different fate for planet earth: “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Peter’s language is not that of annihilation but of purification or refinement: purging unwanted elements to refashion something new from the original material. Moreover, if creation will be annihilated, that would render creation’s Rom. 8 “groaning” for redemption futile. Randy Alcorn addresses the “burned up” objection in chapter 15 (PDF) of his book Heaven.
  5. Read verse 10: what we didn’t see or hear before, God has revealed — which isn’t heaven but the Gospel.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Tiribulus
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🙂

Pam Halter
Member

Interesting thoughts – I’ll be pondering this.  Thanks!

Shannon McDermott
Guest

In the forever-world, saints will dwell in holiness and enjoy human culture — not only in books, dramas and poetry, but also popular culture that we may presume is “trivial” such as carnivals, comedy films, comics, jokes and video games.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we play video games or go to carnivals in “the new heaven and the new earth”, but I don’t think anyone can say we will. The New Earth is not simply going to be the old earth with the sin taken out. We’re in for some major transformations. God is going to abolish marriage. Can video games be safe?

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Interesting, Shannon, that same passage from the post caught my eye, too. In combination with the one below, I have to think things in the new earth will be far different:

God’s people will be freed from sin forever to worship their Creator in a perfect physical paradise and reflect his image in their acts of cultural creation.

Why do we think, freed from sin, we will WANT to listen to some bit of music composed by an enemy of God (because that’s what people who do not repent actually are) rather than to the songs of angels? Why would we want to go to a sin-free Magic Mountain or Disneyland or spend our evenings listening to standup comedians? I don’t think we can possibly understand what a radical, perfected nature will do to our desires and intentions.

David said his prayer was, “That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, / To behold the beauty of the Lord / And to mediate in His temple” (Psalm 27:4b). Honestly, I can’t imagine that our everlasting life will be less preoccupied with God than what Spirit-filled David desired for his temporal life.

Becky

Tiribulus
Guest

THIS is what I’m talkin about Rebecca!  Moses, in a moment of intimate conversation with the Lord Moses cries out “I pray You, show me Your glory!” (Maybe he should’ve asked if God had heard any good jokes lately or for a video game)

Everybody knows God told him “no man can see my face and live”, and he gave him a glimpse from the cleft of the rock as he “passed by”.  (Exodus 33)

Give me the words of Paul “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13)
OHHH halleluJAAAAH! 🙂 THAT’S what I want. I can’t wait to shed this whole pitiful world and gaze once and for all into that glorious beautiful face as he tells me “well done my good and faithful servant”. Today wouldn’t be soon enough. I can say from the core of my heart. I would submit to being slowly boiled in oil and all that is of this earth gone to me forever, for one second to stand in the blinding purity of His holiness and survive.

carnivals, comedy films, comics, jokes and video games?” Seriously 🙂
Stephen, there ain’t nuthin wrong with you that a good old fashioned dose of  godly affliction and hardship won’t fix.
2 Cor.:11
far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
Which TV series, or movie, or comedian, or sporting event or video game did Paul longed for as his reward?

I volunteer to take up an offering to send you overseas to our dying brethren so you can tell them about all the “carnivals, comedy films, comics, jokes and video games” and other hip n groovy pop culture they’re missing out on over there and how, thank God they’ll have them soon enough.

I just refuse to believe that you’ll always believe this. This is tantamount to the prosperity gospel for eternity.

cherylu
Guest
cherylu

Stephen, I wonder what you think Mt 24:35 means when it says that heaven and earth will pass away?  Or Rev 21:1 that states, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”   That sounds to me like much more of a profound change then simply a purging of the sinful.

And as Shannon mentioned above, it would seem from what Jesus said that even marriage will not be a part of the new heaven and the new earth.  Mt 22:29-30.  If the most basic of building blocks of culture–husband and wife–that were instituted by God Himself at the beginning of human history are not to be a part of the “culture” of the new earth, why should we expect that carnivals, video games, and etc will be?

R. L. Copple
Member

On the Matthew 22:30 verse about marriage in heaven, many people overlook a simple fact. It reads:

 

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

 

Note, Jesus does not say people will not be married, or marriage bonds dissolved that have been established in this life. He only says that people will not marry in heaven. Keep in mind this was in answer to the Sadducees’ question of whose wife of the seven husbands she’d had in this life would she be, as if someone would pick one and finalize things once in heaven.

 

Granted, the marital relationship will be different there, maybe radically so. Fulfilled is a good concept, though we don’t understand all that will mean. So I’m not saying we’ll be having sex up there, but I don’t know we won’t either. Rather, I think we’ll be preoccupied with greater joys and concerns there. What it will look like remains to be seen.

 

But if my wife is no longer my wife in heaven, then my sons will no longer be my sons, my brothers will no longer be my brothers. They are so by union between two people. Dissolve that union, and you dissolve the whole family bond it created.

 

Marriage creates a real bond. A bond that can be corrupted and broken, but you can’t unring that bell. That union is a permanent part of your history and who you are as a person. God may radically alter the value and outworking of that bond, but He isn’t going to delete it from our lives. He told them there would be no new marital arrangements made in heaven. It is then speculation to say what will happen to existing bonds based on His words in that verse.

Paul Lee
Member

In the forever-world, saints will dwell in holiness and enjoy human culture — not only in books, dramas and poetry, but also popular culture that we may presume is “trivial” such as carnivals, comedy films, comics, jokes and video games.

Hence, my conviction that Christian artists, thinkers, and cultural critics are in the unique position to combine the lofty romanticism of the secular intellectualist with the inclusive humanity of the secular low-culture hedonist. Christian thinkers lifted the fairy tale from its belittled cultural position and gave it the dignity and the romantic idealism of high poetry. Now we should do the same for things like comics, anime, videogames, and new forms of digital storytelling.

Tiribulus
Guest

I sure am glad to find out that I won’t have to give up my beloved tiddly winks in order to experience eternal sinless glorification in the presence of the holy exalted Christ.comment image

Jill
Guest

Not speaking at all from a Christian perspective, I’ve tended to find pop culture dull, shallow, and rather stupid. It has do with brands and in-groups and out-groups and getting people to part with precious cash. I certainly don’t dislike all of it, but the vast majority of it completely loses my interest in about five minutes. So this vision of eternity that includes pop culture–well, it sounds tedious. I mean, come on–are the cool kids in heaven going to have the best toys and flashiest Air Jordans? Or maybe I’ll be forced to enjoy endless video games because I thought they were so mind-numbingly boring on earth. If so, great. I’m going to be a reject in heaven just like on earth. *Misanthrope walks away grumbling.*

Paul Lee
Member

I relate to the feeling, because I’ve never felt like a legitimate geek (or gamer for that matter). I don’t often get pop culture  references, and often I’m too apathetic to care. I fear being awkward almost more than anything else, and pop culture makes me feel awkward more often than not.

But I think the chintzy awkwardness of pop culture is only one aspect of it. The other aspect is the myriad forms that it takes, and those forms are serious and real. Videogames, for instances, might genuinely be boring for some (or many) people, but the cultural association of immaturity and shallowness attributed to videogames are artificial.

I think in heaven we’ll be able to look at a videogame and a high literary poem equally without any cultural expectations. You won’t need to be a high critic to be allowed to appreciate the poem. You won’t need to know the secret handshake and the gamer jargon in order to appreciate the videogame.

Tiribulus
Guest

This bainespal fella sparks a serious question for me. What, pray tell, do you pop culturists actually mean by “culture”?

Paul Lee
Member

What, pray tell, do you pop culturists actually mean by “culture”?

Human society, and the context that gives meaning to elements to elements in society. That context is in constant flux and we each modify it by our work.

Alex Mellen
Member

The (human) reason I’m most inclined to use to support this post is the matter of individual callings. The Church has long had to combat the notion that some jobs and callings are more “spiritual” than others, when this is not the case. Similarly, most have probably heard the saying that “a Christian carpenter builds more than churches.” Everything we do is to bring glory to God by the quality and attitude we bring to our work, but it isn’t all related directly to God or the Bible. I’m sure hoping that people like computer programmers, farmers, plumbers, editors (like me!), and more can still use their God-given gifts in heaven. (Hate to mention an argument against my own theory, but I have no idea what that means for doctors and nurses–God must have some plan.)

Becky
Guest

Sometimes I think Christians look at how fallen our world is and forget that, beneath all the corruption, there is beauty waiting to be restored when Christ returns. When it comes to pop culture I have no idea what the “restoration” will look like. One thing’s for sure though, it will be amazing. I can’t wait to see what God has in store!

Julie D
Guest

To quote Fellowship of the Ring:

Alas for Lothlórien that I love! It would be a poor life in a land where no mallorn grew. But if there are mallorn-trees beyond the Great Sea, none have reported it.”

Granted, it’s a reference to Valinor, the realm of the Blessed Ones who were before the creation of the world, but the sentiment is very similar.  And the conversation in Morgoth’s Ring about the love of Arda and the contrasting nature of men and elves….

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I don’t think you can make this leap. The problem with it is that the nature of life will be so radically changed that we have no idea what the resulting culture would look like.

There will be no death. The concept of striking a person to cause injury will be a distant memory. There will be no land grabs, no villains, no antagonists of any kind. You will not feel pain, or sorrow. We may not even need to kill things to eat, or eat at all. There will be no disease, nothing as simple as a common cold. It’s not a disembodied existence, but its not the life we live now either.

What culture that would exist in this world would be as alien to us as something from outer space. You have a weird paradox; you can believe in the idea that our life with God will be physical, but it will wind up still being as alien to us over the long haul as being in heaven playing harps.

Not to say culture is bad; I’d be stupid if I did. It’s just that it’s going to be so radically different that we have no idea what the culture would be like if at all. You’re making a bit of a leap here  in the pursuit of a noble cause.

Tiribulus
Guest

What dmdutcher has said here is close enough to what I had been contemplating saying myself, as far as it goes, for me to give it an AMEN and thank him for saving me some typing.  Very good sir.

Especially when our friend Stephen rather arrogantly demands that: “We must repent of our blindness to such a vast vision of redemption”. As if it were sin to deny it.

I am as narrow and dogmatic and unbending and close minded as anybody one is likely to encounter when there is sound witness from the scriptures and the historical church to justify it. This is absolutely NOT one of those areas. On MOST eschatological topics actually.

All snark and needling aside, lighthearted though it’s been. If I had no history with Stephen at all and had simply stumbled upon this article as my first exposure to him. I would see this as the musings of a young man projecting his personal wish list into eternity because he has indulged himself in worldly amusements to the level of not being able to imagine God’s paradise without them. Not a specific item per se, but a cleverly devised intellectual umbrella under which he can safely see his pet pleasures being included.

That is my sincere assessment.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

It’s not a bad message, and now it’s important for people to realize that culture does have a strong, redemptive power. He’s not bad for doing this-it’s a noble aim to do what he does rather than treat culture as something akin to a virus or tool of satan. If anything, Christians need to get over the inordinate fear of culture they have. It’s just heaven is going to be so different that it beggars the mind and destroys any preconception of how it may be that we will have.

I think we will have some form of culture like he says, but it’s going to be unlike anything we can know. C.S. Lewis in the Great Divorce talked a bit about the culture that might exist, with the first step being relearning how to see. Maybe it will take a thousand years of seeing the world through redeemed eyes before we can even pick up a pencil. Heaven’s the one concept about the Christian faith that really unnerves me at times; the gap between what I am and what God wills me to be there is so great as to be unfathomable.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

 [culture is] going to be unlike anything we can know.

I don’t see how it could be otherwise. The alternative would be to declare some form of culture and/or pop ulture as the heavenly version. Would that be 21st century American? Fourteenth century European? First century Middle Eastern? Twenty-second century (if Christ patiently tarries for another hundred years) Asian? Or what about African culture or Hispanic? Will heaven be filled with Mariachi music instead of symphonies? Or will each ethnicity and each generation  huddle in their own corner of the new earth and practice cultural and generational diversity?

Becky

Tiribulus
Guest

And see here again? This is brilliant Rebecca. What’s it gonna take for you to understand that it’s just stuff like this that has motivated me the last couple months?

Yes Maam. What if Jesus tarries another thousand years all this “pop culture” we think is no nifty and neato today is known only in some future tech museum somewhere by then?

Personally? I don’t care. Eschatology is my weakest area of study. (that’s a confession. Not a virtue) I just want outta this sinful flesh and into the direct unmediated presence of our God and His glorious exalted Christ. If He wants to hook me up with some sooper dooper Nintendo outfit so I can play Consecrated Contra and Sanctified Street Fighter, where the commies and capitalists (Zangief and Guile 🙂 ) fall into one another’s arms in tearful mutual Holy Ghost forgiveness for the cold war, then I’ll take it. He knows best.

Julie D
Guest

I must again ask which Scriptures support the concept of eternity as “alien.”
I do expect to arrive in the New Earth and be completely blown away by everything, every moment of every day (though surely with emotional ups/downs, states of excitement and good fatigue, etc., as we experience even sinlessly) — especially by the constantly glorious presence of God Himself. But I do not expect it to be “alien.”

And why should it be alien? If God created us for eternity, then why would it be unsettling? It very well might be different from the world and our imagination, but to quote Jewel the Unicorn

I have come home at last. This is my real country. I belong here. This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.

Tiribulus
Guest

Stephen quips: “R.L.‘s biblical exposition is simply that overpowering. “

Very cute Stephen 😉

I’m trying to work on it now. One thing after another is demanding my attention.

Tiribulus
Guest

@ RL Copple:

I finally read your entire <a href=”http://orthodoxbridge.com/concerning-eternal-marriage/”>LINK</a>

Let me ask before I go any further.  Are you saying you substantially agree with that article. I ask because, aside from a bit of an over trust of Chrysostom, I don’t have a VERY huge problem (I don’t think at first blush) with that article. I would probably state some things little differently though.

Tiribulus
Guest

Ya know, my tagging is correct and this site refuses to render it. Nevermind. I think I know why. Of course I don’t think it has anything to do with me personally.