Yes, You Can Drink Beer and Watch Game of Thrones
Though McCracken inclines toward the more refined end of the pop culture spectrum, he also recognizes the goodness of less fashionable goods and practices. I share his love of Chicago's Intelligentsia coffee (to say nothing of the otherworldly restaurant Hot Chocolate). But I'm reassured that he celebrates homespun dinners with family members who likely have a tough time spending a dollar on McDonald's coffee, let alone meticulously curated cups of $5.00 Peruvian java. Upmarket cultural consumer: Meet thy friend, self-awareness.
Gray Matters is a straightforward book. Its task is fairly narrow, though not unimportant. It left this reviewer thinking over a few matters in particular. First, McCracken's take on watching movies with explicit content seemed less driven by holiness than by freedom to engage. This is a big topic, to be sure; good Christian people disagree on what level of unrighteousness to tolerate in movies and television. If one savors an artful show or film—as McCracken and I both do—this is an especially tough question, given the amount of spellbinding (but envelope-pushing) television series on offer today.
This leaves conscientious Christians in a potentially hard place. Enjoy the political theatrics of the bawdy Game of Thrones? Savor the curse-driven humor of Veep? What should a Christian do? McCracken's exhortation to know one's areas of temptation and seek holiness is on target. One question nags at me, though. Sure, I can watch shows that depict the darkness and complexity and desperation of life—but should I? Do I need to?
The apostle Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 6:13 play on my mind in these discussions: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful." The first part of the verse seemed of greatest importance to me earlier in my Christian life—all things are lawful! As I mature, I find the second part coming most often to mind: Not all things are helpful. I would submit that this is a crucial text for cultural engagement.
I'm not against a deep-dive into heavy material that probes the depravity of the human condition. But remembering Paul's words has helped me, and frankly has steered me away from material that speaks truly about aspects of life but wraps that message in worldliness. Just because a work of art has a doctrine of brokenness and a type of Christ does not make it worthy of engagement. Some works of art will be; many will not be, particularly as the depravity-meter creeps upward.