Monday, 10 December 2007

God, Jesus, Billy Connolly, Bruce Almighty and Homer Simpson: Using pop culture as a tool for spreading the gospel.

I was struck the other night when studying the gospel of John with some unchurched youth in Belfast.We were talking about the Spirit coming down from Heaven upon Jesus when one of them asked me: ‘Did you see the film ‘the man who sued God', there was a scene in it when the sky opened up and God spoke, it was amazing.’ I told him that though I hadn’t seen it I had seen ‘Bruce Almighty’ . This lead to us talking about different scenes in it, such as the massive filing cabinet which contained the details of all the words, thoughts and actions of disbelieving Bruce.

One of the guys is just off cocaine so during the study I encouraged him to reject the devil’s temptation which might come to him in a seductive manner such as : ‘take it this once, it’ll be okay this time, go ahead and take it’ while the Spirit would be encouraging him to be strong and resist the devil’s lies. He replied : ‘Yea, its just like in the Simpsons when Homer is in the bar and the devil is on one shoulder saying ‘go on take it’ and an angel is on the other telling him to resist.’
I had always believed that we could and should use aspects within the culture which can make the gospel accessible to those with no biblical background, but never had I seen it so clearly illustrated as this.

When Paul preached on Mars Hill in Athens Paul he did not quote Moses or other Old Testament prophets as he did when he preached to the Jews. He did however quote Epimenides who wrote of Zeus ‘In him we live and move and have our being’. He also quoted the Greek pagan poet Aratus who said ‘we are his offspring.’

He was not afraid to go outside scripture to make his point and use even pagan writers to speak the truth about God. He certainly did not pull any punches when he called on the Athenians to turn from their false notions and turn to the true God: ‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands people everywhere to repent, for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.’

Such 'mission practice' by Paul should encourage us to use aspects of culture because it is not all bad though much of it needs redeemed be it the internet, television and cinema.


Anonymous said...

Pop Culture
Recently I received a request to talk about how I connected pop culture in communicating the gospel. Here is my response:

I am always leveraging pop culture, using the language of the day to illustrate timeless truth. I haven’t recently taken a series off of a movie title or a TV series, and here are the reasons why. It’s one thing to be creative. It’s another thing to imitate and to copy what’s being done. Oftentimes I see message series and titles taken off of names of TV programs and movies with some type of clever twist, using the same music and modifying graphics. While this may work for some, I’ve just never felt compelled to do it. I always felt like I’d sent the message that I wasn’t creative enough to come up with some other way to communicate the relevant topics of the day.

For me, more than looking at TV programs or movies to help me craft series and sermon titles, I’ve often looked at the headlines of popular women’s magazines. If you look at the headlines of women’s magazines, you’ll find felt needs identified along with the promise to give practical ways to meet each one of these needs: 10 Ways to a Better Marriage, Thirteen Ways to a Better Sex Life, Seven Things You Can Say to Get His Attention. What you’ll find is, most all of these are about relationships and finding meaningful relationships that will last over time. They also have to do with self-esteem and self-worth, or self-confidence.

I’ve found that using these titles, and even these subjects really help me connect to what’s going on in pop culture. Magazine titles are usually further ahead of the curve than movies and TV programs which can take months and sometimes years in development. Magazine articles and titles are current and take into account the mood and temperament of pop culture, particularly young female pop culture which really drives the marketing expenditures in the big media venues.

But even at that, let me caution that oftentimes the content or message of the gospel can be compromised in order to force-fit into some preconceived title or sermon series which really has nothing to do with the truth that is being communicated in the Scriptures, particularly within its own context.

The other problem with following pop culture either with movies, magazines, or other kinds of input is that usually the subjects are fairly surface, dealing only with emotion and seldom go deep into the heart where the real work needs to be done.

The third danger is that oftentimes God is speaking to His people about subjects that have nothing to do with what’s going on in current pop culture. So during those times you have to simply learn how to be creative on your own.

We speak to people who live in the stream of current events but our message needs to be timeless. That’s where the real connection can be made.

David Foster

Anonymous said...


I think you make excellent points. Yes Paul was well versed in his culture and he could present his Faith accordingly with the Greeks. Right away I see Three major differences with what Paul was doing on Mars Hill and what the churches are doing today though.

1) Many Pastors and Churches aren’t merely well versed in our culture… they are emersed in our culture!

2) Paul was speaking in public places… not creating worship services that combined the secular with the sacred, with the weight of his message there in swinging to the secular end as is so common in America today.

3) Paul could go into the Greek culture with an authenticity that almost no Church leader today could go into our culture with. Paul was a tent maker. Paul’s words and actions were above reproach because he did not personally gain from his presentation of the Gospel. It would be accurate for most Americans these days to assume that the title of Pastor is a career/ occupation as opposed to being a calling.

To back up the third point. I know it sounds harsh but I thin the assumption today is that seeker churches reach unchurched people. In a lot of cases they do. From my own experience in my home town the seeker churches seem to be mostly unchurched people who already identify as believers but seek a less “churchy” church.

The point I’m trying to make is that true “seekers” Unbelievers who are being dealt with by the Holy Spirit would/should probably be repulsed
by us using our rotten culture (the one their Spirits have almost been snuffed out by) to win them to Christ.

I hope I made sense at 5:30 in the morning.

Anonymous said...

The Gospel According to Pop Culture

Buffy, Neo, and Dr. Seuss bring Christian morals to the mainstream

Recently the book What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide turned up at the offices of WIE asking politely to be reviewed. For those who missed the fun, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a tremendously popular TV series that aired from 1997 to 2003 and starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as a teenager whose life revolved around homework, hanging out, and combating the gruesome undead. But running beneath all the comedy and action was a strong moral and spiritual undercurrent, as Buffy confronted questions of love and hate, and life and death, and also took frequent metaphysical sojourns into matters of life after death. So perhaps it was inevitable that a theologian (author Jana Riess) would write a book highlighting its spiritual significance. After all, illuminating the religious themes hidden in popular entertainment has been a favorite activity among many of the theologically inclined for at least four decades.

It began in 1964 with the publication of Robert L. Short's classic treatise The Gospel According to Peanuts, which introduced millions to the Christian parables hidden within a popular, and seemingly secular, comic strip. Forty years later, this genre is more prevalent than ever, with "The Gospel According to . . ." titles spanning the worlds of Tolkien, Harry Potter, the Simpsons, and Dr. Seuss. There's even The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in the Matrix, which contains such passages as: "Our own introduction to a life of faith, like that of Neo, revolves around seeing ourselves in a new way: redeemed, transformed. Once we grasp our new identity, we become ready to walk the path of faith."

As I read through these books, it became clear that religious messages might potentially be found pervading all of pop culture, if one simply had the eyes to glean the spiritual truths from the secular dross. But then I began to wonder: Is this spiritualization of popular movies and literature actually revealing a spiritual depth inherent within them? Or is it simply using pop culture's voice to help elevate traditional religious principles in the eyes of millions of disaffected Gen-Y and -Xers, for whom pop culture is indeed the new religion of choice? Somehow, as with many mysteries of the postmodern age, it seems to be a strange blend of both-with actual moral themes shining through as they would with any good story, but the story's parallels to a particular religious tradition often being drawn through bizarre leaps of imagination.

"The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel reminds me of Sam-I-am," writes former Methodist pastor James W. Kemp in The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss. "He is handed a plate of green eggs and ham in the form of a scroll 'with words of lamentation and mourning and woe' (Ezekiel 2:10). The scroll symbolizes the entr�e-the message-that Ezekiel is to offer to the children of Israel. . . . Yet it is not surprising that the children of Israel might not agree with his tastes in cuisine."

The moral of this story? Sunday school ain't what it used to be.

Tom Huston

John Fitz said...

Yea I believe it's important to know the culture and make conections were we can. However the problem is so many Christian workers don't seem to know their bible's as well as their favourite TV series etc. I like what the guy on your second comment said! Paul knew the culture, but he was not emersed in it.

It is also important to note that 'becomming all things to all people' in 1 Cor 9 is sandwiched between 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel' and 'do not become idolators'

The context of chapter 8 and the first part of chapter 9 also seems to imply that Paul is calling us to surrender our rights and preferences, so that we might serve all with sensitivity and relevance!

Take care


PS: i posted a sermon 'To win as many as possible' from 1 Cor 9 on my blog a month or so ago. If you go to 1 Corithians link on my posts on

you can read it - be interested to know what you think!

Scott Starr said...

I agree with John Fitz on what he has said.

In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul wrote,

"I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

In Athens people were lovers of poetry, art, culture, history and what you would call today "New Age" concepts. When Paul went there to preach he embraced their culture of new age idea's and poetry, and used it to glorify and direct people to Christ. Instead of condemning people's cultures we as Christians today should also be interfacing with different expressions of human culture, and revealing Jesus Christ to those cultures to edify them instead of just judging and condemning them. We as Christians need to become all things to all men, so we can win them to Christ . We are authorized to do this so long as we remain true to the Biblical message in doing so.

Its wise to use pop culture to witness... as long as it is witnessing how revolutionary and radically different Christian values are from worldly ones.

Andrew Kenny said...

Scott, I notice that you also often use music etc from the culture to make your points.Many think they are being biblical only if they quote texts of scripture. Certainly what we say and write should have a strong biblical basis, but this, as you agree, doesn't rule out using aspects from the culture to spread the message of Christ.This is especially true of a biblically illiterate generation we find ourselves in.

Odetta said...

You write very well.

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