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.
- This article is based on a work-in-progress nonfiction book by two coauthors and myself. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Rev. 22:5. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Read verse 10: what we didn’t see or hear before, God has revealed — which isn’t heaven but the Gospel. ↩