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Culture and Entertainment

August 17, 2015

written by Steph Ward

The term “cultural engagement” is being used more frequently in Christian circles, and that is a good thing. It’s pretty easy to get upset living in a culture that has different values and beliefs than we do. Even in the “everyday” aspects of life, we hear value claims of all kinds in terms of what we should or shouldn’t do, whether it’s how we spend our money (“Buy local!”), what we listen to (“You shouldn’t listen to that album, it has bad language”), or what we watch (“Don’t see that movie, it’s too violent”), to name just a few examples. But a healthy view of cultural engagement helps to decipher and weigh the value of these competing claims, and at the same time keeps us grounded in biblical principles. At Student Activities, we have had to deal with many of these questions for quite some time, especially as they relate to movies and music. What follows will hopefully help shed some light on what “cultural engagement” has meant for us and show how we have approached the subject. Basically, as we have articulated in our department values, we see it as ‘not retreating from culture, but finding ways to press on, learn from and influence the culture around us…to move from passive consumption to active engagement.’

For us, it starts every year with our student worker staff. All the unique backgrounds, experiences, and opinions come together, and you see how different everyone’s views and tastes are. (This is really true for me because of how much I love country music – it’s a borderline obsession. My co-workers want to poke their eyes out when I turn it on, but I don’t care!). In any case, what our staff members have in common is that they are involved in the culture around them, meaning that they have been born in, grew up in, and now live as young adults in the culture of the United States. Of course, this is true for almost all Americans, but this means that they, like the rest of us, know about and have been shaped by the cultural elements they have experienced. Our hope, as we said above, is that we can facilitate a “move from passive consumption to active engagement.”

Alissa Wilkinson’s Lazy Cultural Engagement makes a good point of clarification here:

“[Christians’] ‘re-engagement’ with culture has sometimes amounted to, well, talking about talking about culture. Things get much trickier when we actually pull out the actual cultural artifacts: it’s one thing to talk about watching movies, and a whole different, more complex thing to try to talk about specific movies.”

I definitely agree with her assessment. Saying that we should “actively engage” the culture around us is far easier than being able to evaluate the particular claims, ideas, or artistic merit of movies, music, or any other form of entertainment.  What does this mean for Student Activities? Initially, many questions arise (as they do for us when we discuss this as a team). For example:

  • Can any work of art be “Christian”?
  • How far is “too far” in what we engage in?
  • Can something be “good” art but “bad” entertainment?

Over the course of your time here at Liberty, we hope to answer questions like these more thoroughly than I will be able to in this post.

As for our events, we don’t want to provide something for you to do on a Friday or Saturday night just to “keep you out of trouble”; we want to provide something for you to enjoy in terms of its entertainment, but we also hope that you’ll take the time to engage and think critically about what you watch or hear. This is why we host such a diverse set of events, and we hope that you’ll give it all a chance – whether it’s a movie night or a concert or even an Art Expo. It will be worth it, whether you agree or disagree with the opinions being given.

I hope this helps to show that Student Activities is intentional in our decision making. If something doesn’t line up for you at our events or in what you read, feel free to ask us about it. We may not see eye-to-eye, but, to be honest, that is mostly why I’m frightened by this topic. Not just because I think my knowledge of this topic is small compared to others, but because at the core, my selfishness wants my opinion to be the right one. Thankfully, I have grace to remind me that there’s beauty in being redeemed by a Savior who gives us the choice to think differently, to live abundantly, and to engage fully in the things around us.

If you’re interested to dive into this more, here are a few, short articles to check out:



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