Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Taking the "Sub" out of "Subculture"

Let’s face it. The Christian “subculture” is in a state of disarray. Our Christian record labels are training grounds for bands that can’t get signed to the big-name ones, and when they finally move up to a “secular” label, we accuse them of selling out. Our “Christian” bands produce such gems of moral virtue as Faking My Own Suicide or works of art such as Live Life Loud (WARNING: contains high levels of tacky fangirliness). Our worship music consists of four chords (if we’re lucky), a repetitive three word hook, and scores of mindless “woahoahOAHoahOAHs.” Our literature actually kind of looks a lot like this, and, let’s be honest, the success of all those low-budget Christian films were because of grassroots evangelical support, not excellent cinematography.

It’s a shame, really, especially since Christians have been known to churn out the musical intricacy of Handel’s Messiah, the lyrical depth of Be Thou My Vision, the literary brilliance of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the dramatic flair of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, and even the quality pop art of U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name.

Taking the “Sub” out of “Subculture”

The point here isn't to criticize the concept of pop songs about Jesus, Christian novels, simplicity in worship, or any of the great things that the Christian subculture tries to do. The point is to take on the notion that being “seeker-friendly” means simply mimicking secular culture, because mimicry is always a step below the thing being mimicked.

We’re in a wishy-washy culture that ebbs and flows, oscillates, wobbles, spins erratically, and generally flits about from fad to fad. It lacks a moral center. It is not connected to eternal moral truths, it has no concept of a permanent structure that endures across time and space, it isn't even connected to some concept of “respect for the past.” It is, essentially, a group of crazed 20-somethings riding a sketchy party bus off a cliff somewhere in the Mojave Desert.

Enter Christianity. We have something unique, namely, the Word made flesh, His death and resurrection, His message of salvation, and His call to virtue and excellence in every aspect of life. The problem is that we've decided instead to get a slightly less interesting tour bus, with “Jesus Saves” painted on it in large friendly letters, and chase our dying culture off that cliff.

But Christianity isn't about that. It’s a call to stand for what’s right and be hated by the world. It’s a call to be excellent, both in virtue and in whatever career we’re called to. It’s a call to rediscover our moral center and make sure that we’re firmly grounded upon Him.

We need to take the “sub” out of “subculture” in favor of an excellent Christian culture. We need to become reconnected with the transcendent moral truths upon which Christianity is based and rediscover some of the richness of our cultural heritage. That’s not to say that we toss out any form of music that has an electric guitar. But everything we do ought to be based on solid doctrinal content and crafted with skill.

We also need to lose the idea that the true, the good, and the beautiful can only be found at a Christian publishing house or a Christian record label. Part of what keeps subpar “Christian” artistry afloat is the tendency of Christians to refuse to engage media that doesn't bear an explicitly Christian label. C.S. Lewis once said, “what we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.” Following Paul’s teaching to become “all things to all men” means actually meeting the man where he’s at, not mimicking what the man is doing and hoping he finds it attractive. And hey, even if you are a band signed to a secular label, you can still be overt about your Christianity.

Finally, we need to do what's right regardless of what the culture says. If culture is obsessing over bad relationships, existential angst, and shameless hedonism, then Christians need to provide a picture of true romance (the Divine romance), transcendent purpose, and ultimate satisfaction. At the end of the day, if culture is disreputable, then Christians need to be reputable.

If secular culture jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?

Posted by Nick Barden

Comments, anyone? What do you think of the state of modern Christianity?


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot recently. This was an excellent post with so much truth!

  2. woahoahOAHoahOAH!

    No, seriously, this was a good blog post. I think you are right that Christians, whenever they do engage the culture (which they don't do, perhaps, as much as they should), are in danger of complacently pumping out products that we call either "cool" or "touching," but rarely "a picture of true romance (the Divine romance), transcendent purpose, and ultimate satisfaction."

    If the prevailing version of the Christian faith in the Middle Ages was something remote, cloistered (literally!), and sacramental, today it seems to be cheap, quick, and easy. But we have to walk the straight road and not go off to the right or the left. I wish we could get it into our hearts that the things recorded in the Bible are staggering and simple at the same time.

    But, for all my complaining, there seem to be a lot of people that already realize that....

  3. Thanks guys! Ben, I think you would like Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. He discusses precisely that topic.