Richard Clark is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He lives with his wife in Louisville, KY and has a MA in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. On this episode Richard explores how Church Leaders should interact with the broader pop culture. This episode provides some thoughtful conversation about how Christians should interact with the culture around us.
00:40 // Rich introduces Richard to the show.
01:21 // Richard talks about the history of christandpopculture.com
03:10 // Richard talks about the church’s attitude to pop culture.
04:26 // Richard gives an example of a healthy engagement with pop culture.
06:01 // Richard talks about his website and what it aims to achieve.
08:22 // Richard talks about a recent article published on the website and the controversy that occurred.
10:30 // Richard gives examples of the actions churches should and shouldn’t take if they are considering using pop culture in their ministries.
11:08 // Richard talks about churches actively encouraging and allowing engagement with the things people are passionate about.
13:10 // Richard suggests people should keep an open mind when engaging with pop culture.
14:20 // Richard talks about a movie he’s looking forward to watching and how it connects to his website.
Helpful Tech Tools // Facebook Trending Topics, Metacritic
Ministries Following // Mockingbird – mbird.com
Influential Book // “Joy for the World” by Greg Forster
Inspiring Leader // Andy Crouch
What does he do for fun? // Going to interesting restaurants with his wife, Good food, playing video games.
Rich – Alright, well welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich Birch. Super excited that you’ve decided to spend some time with us today. Hopefully your week’s going well as you get ready for the weekend. It’s that time of year when the walking dead comes back out and so today we’ve got an interesting interview, I’m super excited, people are thinking what are we talking about? I’m super excited to have Richard Clark on the phone today, Richard welcome to the show, so glad you’re here today.
Richard – Thank you, glad to be on.
Rich – Richard is the editor and chief of a website you need to check out; christandpopculture.com. It’s a great site, I’ve been poking around in there a lot, it’s a really, I think, well thought out, well produced thinking, really around how does the church and ministries intersect with pop culture and Richard is the grand poobah over there, so we’re privileged and honored to have you on the phone today or on the show today. Richard why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and kind of how did you get so excited and energized about talking about pop culture?
Richard – Yeah basically this all sort of started back in… I’d say eight years ago. A friend of mine and I were both taking some arts classes at seminary and this was sort of out of the ordinary, I think arts classes were like elective basically and you could take them if you want and a lot of people within the arts classes would debate about how much this stuff even mattered, that sort of thing.
But we started to think about, we were taking like a film class and we were taking some other things; some modern art, sort of visual arts classes and we just started talking about how no one was really being thoughtful about the art that people actually consume, if that makes sense.
So we could talk forever about seeing God in a painting or even seeing God in like an art film, but the fact is we look all around and we see that people are watching Indiana Jones and they’re watching James Bond and they’re watching Jurassic Park and they’re not being thoughtful about those things, or they weren’t at the time I would say. So we started a podcast to sort of have that conversation and model that conversation which turned into a website. So that’s what got us interested. I’ve always been someone who’s interested in writing and also interested in artistic things I guess, I’ve got kind of a creative mind, so yeah that’s kind of where it started.
Rich – Very cool. Now I would imagine churches are either just straight out kind of rejecting this kind of pop culture or they’re just kind of letting it wash over them. What’s the problem with either of those extreme positions, what’s the problem with that, why is that a problem?
Richard – That’s a really good way of articulating the problem because there really are just two huge extremes and what we’re trying to do is say, “Actually there is something that’s in the
middle that’s right.”
So the two extremes are something that was a lot more common back in the day, even eight years ago, which is churches would say, “We don’t associate with this. We don’t do it, we don’t encourage you to do it and we in fact would actively discourage you to watch television or go and see movies and we certainly wouldn’t want to engage with it in any active way.”
The other extreme is this perspective that these things are all from God and culture is from God and as such it’s all sort of a great influence and we should take what the world is saying and listen and hear it out and then just apply it to our Christianity, which I think is also another really dangerous bad approach.
Rich – So now what does a good engagement look like for a church or for Christ followers, how would a healthy engagement with pop culture look like?
Richard – The simplest thing to do is talk about on the individual level, I think the best way to do these things is just to be thoughtful, that’s the first thing I’d tell people, is just actively think about the things that you’re engaging with. That’s sort of for me, summarizes the whole of how Christians should be interacting with culture, but what comes out of that is a lot.
So if you are watching a movie with nudity, sometimes it might mean being thoughtful and realizing how that affects you as a believer. Sometimes you might be watching something that you’re being thoughtful about, you realize it’s bad, but the act of realizing that it’s bad is actually improving you as a human being. So that’s why I would never say like any movie is bad for a person to watch necessarily.
So I think it is important to handle this on an individual level and to allow for that to happen, to kind of trust the Holy Spirit in that and then to go from there and just kind of equip one another to be thoughtful and actively engage these things as we’re consuming them and as we’re interacting with them.
Rich – So then, your blog or really your website christandpopculture.com, what are you trying to do there, you’re trying to kind of host a place to have a conversation about these, how are you hoping to kind of steer the conversation through your website?
Richard – What we’re doing is trying to provide an antidote to those two extremes we were talking about and what has resulted from those two extremes. I think a lot of that first extreme, what that has resulted in is a Christian culture that does not know what it’s talking about when it comes to these things.
Rich – Okay.
Richard – So there are a lot of people out there who want to write about culture, try to write about culture. We’ve got pastors, we’ve got celebrity pastors now that are great guys, they’re writing about cultural things and movies and stuff sometimes and when they do it’s kind of
cringing do you think, because they’re not totally sure what they are talking about and that’s fine, but what we need is we need people who are out there, kind of lending their expertise about the form, about the motivations of the people behind these things and just about sort of what art can and can’t do and what popular culture in general can and can’t do. We’re trying to provide that in particular.
So when a person comes to our website, they’re not going to find just a random personal screed against nudity and movies, they’re going to find something a little more challenging than that. It’s going to be sort of a deeper analysis that’s written for a popular audience and that’s a key for me. This is definitely something that we hope helps the church in that way, that people aren’t scared of it because it’s too heavy or intellectual.
On the other hand I think we also want to challenge our audience. So what we’re doing is, we’re very actively writing pieces that we think the Evangelical Church needs to hear. So we come off sometimes overly liberal, because a lot of people might not agree with the stance that we take, but really we very deeply believe in the inerrancy of scripture. We take it all, kind of as literally as it means to be taken and we apply those truths to our lives and sort of put it out there and apply it to these things in ways that we think, are hopefully a little more thoughtful and helpful.
Rich – Nice, has there been a particular article on the site that seems to have resonated or maybe stirred up a bit of conversation, they’re like, “Okay that’s interesting,” is there one that sticks out?
Richard – Yeah that’s interesting, I’m trying to remember now, let me see, I’m just thinking, I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I’m sorry, we have these regularly, there’s waxes and wanes and we certainly have… One of the more recent ones we published was called, ‘When I realized that the Bible can’t cure everything’, it was written by Brad Williams and it was basically a piece about depression. We waited a while after the Robin Williams thing happened to publish it, but it was kind of a response to the way that the Evangelical Church, in some corners, reacted to that. There was a feeling that they didn’t understand depression, it was seen as a kind of choice that you can make or not make.
So this was an attempt to kind of just say a really simple message, which is that sometimes depression can be harder than just like willing it away and sometimes you need a medical solution for that and just allowing for that possibility. A lot of the articles that dredge up controversy come from that allowing, like they’re just allowing for the possibility of something being okay, do you know what I mean?
Rich – Sure. Now a lot of people are listening in, they’re church leaders, they’re executive pastors, senior pastors, maybe people involved in programming that sort of thing, what would you say to those leaders about engaging with pop culture? How should they do it, are there examples of churches out there that you think are doing a particularly good job in kind of using pop culture, leveraging it for their ministries? How should they think about it and are there any
particular actions they could take?
Richard – I don’t know if I’m going to give you the answer you’re looking for but my first answer is going to be what not to do maybe. What I often think is kind of overdone is this programmatic response; so we’ve got to have a thing where everyone comes and watches a movie together and then we talk about it afterwards. That can be helpful but I find that that’s much more helpful if it’s done on a personal level, either with groups that sort of opt in and a little more personal and smallish, because otherwise, if you have like a big event, you are implicitly sort of telling people you approve of watching this thing and I think that can be a really dangerous thing.
I think the key for church leaders and churches is allowance and I mean that in the most positive active way. I don’t mean just like, “Okay do your little pop culture stuff everybody,” what I mean is I think that pastors, just like they would with plumbers and lawyers and everyone else, should actively encourage and allow for people to engage these things. The things that we enjoy, the things that we are, on an individual level, passionate about are given to us almost all the time, almost always from God. Those things usually flow out of our personality and out of the ways that we are gifted. So if a person is passionate about punk music or about video games or about movies or TV, that’s something that I think pastors and leaders at church, have to be sort of actively encouraging toward.
My church, I certainly wouldn’t say like, “Hey here’s a model,” because there’s no model but I would say that at my church they’re really good at sort of just talking with me about this stuff that I’m interested in. It’s not that that’s the only stuff I can talk about but that does send a signal that, “Hey I don’t condemn you for this.”
Rich – I think that’s a healthy perspective, I think a lot of times we have to realize that our people live within a context and that they don’t just think about what we’re talking about all day long, that they are watching movies and watching TV shows and listening to music, that is a part of their lives. So how do we at least acknowledge that at the very base level, that that is a part of where they’re at? So that’s cool, I think it makes a lot of sense for sure.
Anything else you want to share, any kind of insights for people who may be listening in before we jump into the lightning round?
Richard – I would just say to keep an open mind when you’re engaged with popular culture. I think a lot of things that people think of as trash or guilty pleasures have a lot of value in them. The thing that we operate on is whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is noble think on these things and we interpret that in the way it’s meant, as opposed to, I think a lot of people. A lot of people read that as a negative statement, it’s actually a positive statement.
Rich – Right.
Richard – It means anytime you see anything that is true, noble or good, in any context, in any
medium, in any work of art, you have to acknowledge that thing, not blow it off because it’s anti-Christian somehow, somewhere else, you know what I mean? So I think that’s the first thing, but at the same time it’s really important to be discerning, to know when things are affecting you and harming you spiritually and to act on that as well.
Rich – Nice, any particular television shows, movies that sort of stuff that you’re looking forward to in the coming weeks and months?
Richard – This is not like a logical answer but I’m really excited to see the Left Behind movie, it’s got really bad reviews as we’re speaking right now, but I am excited to go and see it. I think it’s going to be pretty funny, which is awful but yeah, I’m excited about that. It’s a big deal for a website for obvious reasons, I mean you’ve got this tie-in between Nicolas Cage and this blatantly Christian thing, it’s just like a perfect for us.
So we’re doing a lot on that and then I’m also getting a PlayStation 4 pretty soon and I’m excited about that. I’m going to play Destiny with my friends on the internet.