Culture in an Age of Consumption
This approach is freeing to me. But it should not become a license to embrace any movie or book just because it is "so realistic." A related mistake might be trying too hard to "find God" or a Christian narrative in anything and everything. The result, writes philosopher Jamie Smith online for Comment, "is too often a fixation on God-language in cultural artifacts or—worse—belabored allegorical readings which see 'Christ figures' everywhere." He continues:
We should expect art to be more oblique. And instead of asking artists to show us God, we should want them to reveal the world—to expand the world, to make worlds that expand creation with their gifts of co- and sub-creative power. The calling of painters and poets, sculptors and songwriters is not always and only to hymn the Creator but to also and often be at play in the fields of the Lord, mired and mucking about in the gifted immanence that is creation. With that rich creational mandate, a Christian affirmation of the arts refuses the instrumentalist justification that we "find God" in our plays and poetry.
Hipster Christians are heeding Smith's advice, says McCracken. But McCracken also urges evangelicals to be wary of embracing "cool" and using personal style as a way to stand out from the crowd. Embracing "cool" can easily become a way to assert social power over someone else, and can easily lead to individualism, competition, vanity, and rebellion for its own sake.
In every context—from what we buy to how we vote—Christians need to be mindful of their approach to power. In fact, Hunter controversially argues that we should jettison terms like "redeeming the culture" and "advancing the kingdom." He is concerned that evangelicals' public witness has been reactionary and framed in terms of what they are against. This is one reason why the young evangelicals McCracken describes have embraced cultural artifacts firmly outside the Christian subculture. They are looking for "authenticity," not a cultural product designed to copy and capture the market. Even though they face the same temptation to use consumption as an identity-marker, they value quality over quantity.
Our ability to consume is a form of power. Will Christians use that power to portray the image of Christ to a broken world? Or will we strive to be cool individuals attending cool churches?
Anna Littauer Carrington is assistant editor of The Review of Faith & International Affairs. She and her husband live just outside Washington, D.C.
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Matthew Lee Anderson also discussed similar ideas in "Culturally Focusing on the Family."