Today, I’m kicking off a series of posts working my way through Christian Scharen’s new book Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God. Thanks to Christian and Brazos Press for the review copy.
I can remember exactly where I was and precisely the feeling that came over me when I heard it. It was a Sunday morning “auditorium” Bible class of mostly white senior adults taught by a 60ish white man. He began the class by reading the text of 2 Samuel 11, the story of David and Bathsheba. Before long, however, he was talking about the evils of rap music and R-rated movies. As I listened I grew a bit sick to my stomach at the way he was pandering to the crowd, slamming all forms of entertainment they disliked, and implicitly patting them on the back for not indulging in such godless entertainment. I couldn’t help wondering how many of those offering hearty amens tuned in regularly to one of three or four local country stations, which at the time were featuring songs like “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).” The double standard was striking. And yet it wasn’t the double standard that bothered me so much as the ease with which they could judge such offerings of popular entertainment to be godless on the basis of a simplistic checklist. But the truth is, it wasn’t just that group of seniors that frequently settled for evaluating entertainment on the basis of a simplistic checklist, I default to such an evaluative, critical posture far too frequently.
It’s just such a posture that Christian Scharen is pushing back against in his new book Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God. Identifying what he calls a “constricted imagination” that is at work in much of Christianity and which seriously inhibits many Christians from faithfully engaging culture, especially entertainment, Scharen sets out to expand the imagination so that we might be able to “[look] the brokenness of humanity and the groaning of creation straight in the face” while recognizing that “mercy and reconciliation have been offered by God in Christ, who through the Holy Spirit is working in the midst of all our sorrows even now” (17). Important to his endeavor are two key claims. First, that “there is no truly or completely ‘secular’ culture or arena of human life if you believe that God is Creator of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them” (21). Second, that we must recognize that “there is much to object to in popular culture, but if we have our theology straight, we know there is much to object to in the church, and in our own hearts as well” (23). With those claims as a foundation, Scharen sets out to build “a sound biblical theology for engaging popular culture” and constructing “a sound method for engaging the voices of popular culture where God is already at work reconciling the lost, healing the broken, and speaking the truth of life” (22-23).
If Scharen’s aim intrigues you, I invite you to grab a copy of Broken Hallelujahs and join me in interacting with it chapter by chapter. In the meantime, a question: What artist or album or movie, that might be considered “secular” according to a checklist, has given you a glimpse of God?