When I first became a Christian I was shown a video called Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock’n’Roll. The main aim of the film was to look at various lyrics and imagery in secular music as evidence that it is satanic or anti Christian. I remember at the time being blown away by how many anti-biblical messages were in secular music.
Almost nine years on I’m more amazed at how much biblical truth is in secular music. You just have to listen a little more carefully.
We’ll get back to the music in 269 words, but first a little history (just stay with me, it’ll be worth it, I promise).
If you were in Athens in the 1st century AD the place to go was Mars Hill. Not only did it have a cool name (after the Roman god of war) it was the where all the hipsters of their day would hang out. The Epicureans, the Stoics and the traditional Greek polytheists would gather together to drink the ancient Greek equivalent of a latte and espouse their views of the world. In fact the gospel author Luke writes that ‘…all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing some new thing.’ (Acts 18:21) Sounds a bit like hanging out at an uber-cool café in Carlton now that I think about it.
When the Apostle Paul spoke at the marketplace in Athens he told the people there about ‘Jesus and the Resurrection’ (a great band name waiting to happen by the way). Unfamiliar with his words, the people thought he was an idle babbler and a proclaimer of foreign gods but a few guys said ‘Come up to the Hill’ (my words).
When Paul preached to the eclectic mix that hung out on the Hill he quoted two Greek poets, Epimenides the Cretan (600 BC) and Aratus (310 BC). He didn’t do this because they were prophets or because their words came from God. He did it to illustrate a particular biblical truth that these two had hit upon and to connect with a world that knew very little of the Hebrew God.
Here are some thoughts from some modern day poets.
‘I’ve hardly been outside my room in days, ’cause I don’t feel that I deserve the sunshine’s rays. The darkness helped until the whiskey wore away, and it was then I realized the conscience never fades. When you’re young you have this image of your life: That you’ll be scrupulous and one day even make a wife. And you make boundaries you’d never dream to cross, and if you happen to, you wake completely lost.’
Sound familiar? A thousand bonus points if you can identify this poetess in the comments section. Two thousand if you can do it without the use of google 🙂 Same goes for the next one (this time it’s a band).
‘So let mercy come and wash away what I’ve done. I’ll face myself to cross out what I’ve become, erase myself and let go of what I’ve done. Put to rest what you thought of me while I clean this slate with the hands of uncertainty. For what I’ve done I start again and whatever pain may come, today this ends, I’m forgiving what I’ve done!’
I love biblical language and I absolutely believe it should be the cornerstone of a Christian’s doctrinal and theological foundations. Words like atonement, justification, and propitiation are all incredibly important. But when we’re talking to a culture that is post-church and has no real idea of what the gospel is maybe we could start in a language they understand. What if I explained the gospel like this?
‘As the singer says, when your young you have this image of your life that you’ll be a good person but over time you cross those boundaries and wake up completely lost. You want to erase yourself and what you’ve done but unlike what the band says, its no good forgiving yourself, because in the end you haven’t sinned against yourself, you’ve sinned against a holy and righteous God. The bible says that the penalty for sin is death but he loves you enough that he opened up the door to let mercy come by sending Christ to pay the price for us. He was the only one who could because he never crossed those boundaries and never needed a clean slate. He’s the one you have to confess to, and ask forgiveness from to erase yourself and be born again.’
It’s true that there is a lot that is unredeemable in our culture and that its values are by definition worldly for the most part. But there are redeemable aspects to it. I’d love to hear from you if you have any examples of how something in our postmodern, post-church culture can be used to tell biblical truth.
When you start to listen you might be amazed at what you hear. But don’t expect to get much from Justin Bieber. Its just not happening 😛