In his attempt to read the movie Gladiator as a cultural text (chapter 6 in Everyday Theology), Michael Sleasman makes the point that,
“Film has become the new text by which many around the globe now pose the crucial questions about life.”
Considering that nearly every youth pastor in the country obsessively quoted The Matrix when it reached blockbuster status (and only seemed to use the movie for illustrations rather than critical interaction of ideas), I think that this chapter is worth taking note of. Movies have, no doubt, reached new levels of influence with emerging generations, and in many ways, are landmarks for cultural self-awareness.
Sleasman lays out three key directions from which to analyze a movie text:
- The World-Behind-the-Text: “The world behind the text is most simply viewed as the background for a film, which may include genre, social context, cinematic influences, and most importantly the director.” P. 135
- Continue reading
The Gospel According to Safeway: The Checkout Line and the Good Life
This is the first chapter that takes Vanhoozer’s method and applies it to a cultural “text,” that text being the checkout line at a grocery store. The authors of this chapter, while reflecting on the realities of the checkout line pose rhetorically:
“Have we entered the seventh heaven of hedonism.” (p.63)
They proceed to take us through the reality we all inevitably face, the gauntlet of impulse buys, candy, gift cards, novels, magazines with scantily clad women promising a better sex life, etc. In other words, the checkout line is both a reflection of our social virtues, as well as an alluring siren offering you everything you need to fulfil your desires. “The checkout line conveys a message, a message of what it means to live the ‘good life.'” (p. 64)
For our purposes here, there are two key elements I want to draw out. First, and underlying the chapter as a whole, is that we must not see these texts as random, but instead, as deliberate ways to address our desires. Second, the key foci of these attacks on our desires make up a “mini-summa of culture.” Continue reading
Kevin Vanhoozer was kind enough to respond to my query regarding the implementation of his vision in actual faith communities (see the previous post for his proposal). Here is my query followed by his response:
What would it look like for a faith community who grasped the importance of cultural exegesis to cultivate these abilities in its people? You assert, “The church should be not only a ’school of faith’ but a ’school of understanding’ that trains the imaginations of its student-saints to see, judge, and act in the world as it really is ‘in Christ’” (p. 58). Could you imagine with us what it might look for a church to take on that calling of training cultural interpreters and live it out? Or for an educational institution like a Christian seminary to do the same?
This is an important discussion. I’m not sure, however, that my special gift lies in implementation so much as conception of ideas. However, if I were a pastor I would be sure to have film viewings, book discussions, and youth as well as Adult education classes that would engage past and present culture. As in church, so in seminary: Christian disciples need to learn to read not only the word of God but the world of God through the word of God. It’s all part of Christian world view formation, and of Christian world construction (by which I mean “cultivating Jerusalem in the midst of Babylon”).
If I were a pastor, I would try to exposit biblical passages in such a way that my sermons would illumine not only the text, but the world in which we live. I think such a “transposition” (what I have also called world-for-world translation) is every bit as important as the traditional “individual application.”
Many thanks to Kevin Vanhoozer for his thoughtful reply!
Is there anything else we would want to add or other ways to think about implementation?
What might “faith seeking understanding” mean when applied not only to the biblical text but to everyday life?
So begins Kevin Vanhoozer’s introductory chapter to Everyday Theology. In other words, what would it look like to interpret and make sense of everyday life theologically, understanding the “patterns and products” of culture then “embodying gospel truth in compelling ways in contemporary contexts”? Let’s begin with a definition of culture and its effects.
What Culture is and does
Vanhoozer defines culture as that which is “made up of ‘works’ and ‘worlds’ of meaning” (p. 26). Concerning works of culture, they are the products created with the raw material of nature he calls “cultural texts.” Desperate housewives, Newsweek, billboards, and the Broadway musical Rent are all cultural texts. Additionally, culture is a world in that these cultural texts aren’t inert. They create worlds of meaning and programs for making sense of life; they “invite us in and encourage us to make our home there.” Continue reading
There are few theological tasks so necessary and underdeveloped as helping to train the church to think theologically about the world around them.
Because of this, we have decided to blog through the book Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Baker Academic, 2007), one of the books in Baker Academic’s thoughtful “Cultural Exegesis” line. It is not only the task of cultural exegesis that we find particularly relevant, but the method and layout of the book that caught our attention.
Vanhoozer and the other collaborators seek to address the question:
“What might ‘faith seeking understanding’ mean when applied not only the biblical text (the Word) but to everyday life (the world)” (p. 16)?
In this sense, this book is an attempt to bridge the gap between the theologically acute (and often culturally dim-witted) and the culturally acute (and often theologically dim-witted).
Vanhoozer calls for a heightened “cultural literacy,” an ability to read culture for the purpose of “critical engagement” rather than merely “passive consumption” (p. 18). It is an attempt, in many ways, to help define and discern what this world is that we are called to be “in” but not “of.” For the purpose of the blog, we will choose chapters selectively, starting with the methodology Vanhoozer lays out in the introductory chapter, and then looking at specific examples we found particularly helpful.
We will be blogging through Everyday Theology starting Feb. 25th.