God’s Descent: The Pulpit Goes Pop
In response to Joe Gallagher's article on God's Descant, we are glad to feature this article and music video from Jason Chu, a hip-hop artist and current Fuller student pursuing a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies degree. Visit his website to learn more about him and his music.
A year ago, I released a song called ChristianMuslim, featuring Toronto-based Muslim rapper Ramzi Mokdad (see video below). We wanted to call others to bilateralism in the face of an ever-increasing hostility between our two faith cultures.
In early September, we uploaded the animated ChristianMuslim music video – just as another Youtube video approaching the same topic from a very different perspective brought simmering cultural tensions to a boil across the Middle East and North Africa.
No one would mistake the Innocence of Muslims trailer for a great piece of pop culture. It is, in fact, jingoism at its worst – a Twitter-era Birth of the Nation, poor in execution and crass in tone. But yet it lodged itself in the global consciousness in a way that any studio would envy; and it did so all by touching on an exposed cultural nerve.
For members of the Fuller community, this is an important reflection. The first imperative of our institution’s “mission beyond the mission” speaks of “hav[ing] an active part in the evangelization of the whole world,” echoing Matthew 28.
If we take this imperative seriously, we must have a robust understanding of that world. As Joe Gallagher commented in his article recently, “Fuller Seminary, the Brehm Center, and Reel Spirituality provide God’s descant in harmony with the finer melodies of the mainstream movie, television, and music industries.”
As the Body of Christ proclaims God’s descant – a tune “complementary to the main melody, enhancing its beauty and its effectiveness” – we must always be mindful to reflect God’s descent.
In the Kenosis Hymn of Philippians 2, Paul sings out that the Son “made himself nothing / by taking the very nature of a servant / being made in human likeness.” To be the Christ, by definition, is to enter into and engage with the lowliest, most common, elements of culture.
While eloquent in religious language, Jesus’ ministry spoke fluently of the day-to-day desires, struggles, and indulgences of his people. The church must be aware of the temptation toward a distinctly un-Christlike high-brow cultural isolationism.
In the contemporary world, pop culture is inescapable. Billion-dollar industries work round-the-clock to create broad recognition of their products and brands, and billions of people – including nearly all of those to whom we could possibly imagine ministering – respond to their ads, PR campaigns, and design cues.
Understanding and engaging with popular culture is not a seat-filling gimmick. It’s not only useful for new church plants filled with young singles in skinny jeans, or when we’re looking for a new source of sermon illustrations. To understand, joyfully engage, and lovingly critique the popular culture of our people (whomever that may be for you) is to be faithful to the example of Christ.
So, to many of us: listen to One Direction. Watch The Voice once in a while. Know who KevJumba is, or 2NE1, or Shepard Fairey. Play League of Legends. Learn the Gangnam Style dance. Take a look at some Louboutin red bottoms, or the Thom Browne Fall collection. It will make us more like Christ.