Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective

August 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

9781596383890

Every now and then (twice now in my case) someone else writes a book that as soon I start reading, I wish/feel like I should/could have written it. I had the experience last year with Lit! and had it again this summer with Popologetics. Even without the Chuck Klosterman reference in the introduction, I would have easily been able to tell that author Ted Turnau and I are kindred spirits. This was even further solidified after my post earlier this week on mind styles. Ted sent me a reply on Twitter with his mind style:

And wouldn’t you know it, that’s my mind style as well. It is also the kind myself that would look at pop culture and think, “What else is really going on here?” Not to delve too deeply into Ted’s psychology, but I’m just going to guess this book springs from a question like that.

Overview

The book itself is split into 3 parts. The first grounds in a Christian perspective or worldview. The second looks at several not so helpful approaches to pop cultural interaction from a Christian perspective. Then, the third and final part offers Ted’s constructive proposal that takes on strengths of the previously unhelpful approaches, while trying to avoid their weaknesses.

Ted takes four chapters to fill out the first part of the book. In chapter 1 he introduces the relationship between pop culture and worldview so that in chapter 2 he can explain how the two influence one another. Knowing that, the reader is prepared from Ted’s introduction of worldview apologetics in chapter 3. Part 1 then closes with the lengthiest chapter in the section which uses Reformed biblical theological categories to think about pop culture in general terms all while employing helpful infographics that I might be drawing in class in the near future.

In part 2, Ted turns to 5 different approaches that he finds to be not that helpful in approaching pop culture Christianly. Having thought through how to categorize these kinds of approaches in my own thesis, I wished that Ted’s book had been published last May and then I could have just used his typology. I split everything into two camps: people who love pop culture but have a deficient theological toolbox and people who have a strong theological toolbox but either aren’t interested in pop culture or only interested in being critical. Ted’s is much better and looks like this:

  • Those completely disinterested
  • Those who think it is all dirty and should be avoided
  • Those who treat pop culture as beneath them
  • Those who are obsessed with images
  • Those who think everything is of equal and great value in pop culture

Ted interacts with each of these well and in my opinion, is kind and fair in his critiques. Especially in terms of the latter, I think he did a good job showing that they are on the right track to an extent, but fall short because openly embrace almost everything without any kind of Christian criticism.

Finally, in part 3, Ted offers his own way forward. First he fleshes out his model, which is called “popologetics,” and then he applies his model to several different facets of current pop culture. His model can be broken down into 5 questions:

  • What’s the story?
  • Where am I (the world of the text)?
  • What’s good and true and beautiful about it?
  • What’s false and ugly and perverse about it (and how can I subvert that)?
  • How does the gospel apply here?

When Ted applies these to the different elements of pop culture he offers a short section answering each question so you can kind of get a feel for how it all works. I’ve been thinking through this as well and find that it works to sometimes spend more time on one question or the other depending on the movie/song/tv. show/etc. you’re studying.

Strengths/Weaknesses

After reading the book and thinking about it, it is tempting to present it as all strength. Some of that might be that it is exactly the kind of book I would want to write in fleshing out my thesis. The rest of it is probably because Ted writes well and is engaging and he and I share a mindstyle and for the most part, theological presuppositions when it comes to reading pop culture. Like I said earlier too, I think he handles criticism of other vantage points well and his own model is something that is able to bring out the good in pop culture while not glossing over the bad. In short, his model helps readers learn how to think theologically about pop culture and I am big fan of that.

If I had to highlight one weakness, just to be fair, it would have been great if Ted had included interaction with Craig Detweiler’s (one of the authors who loves just above everything pop culture) most recent book, Into The Dark. Ted notes that he is aware of it and its growth (204), but I would have like to have seen more interaction with it as well as perhaps interaction with Grant Horner’s Meaning at The Movies. That work figured prominently in my thesis, but still did not seem to have the right tools to be critical of pop culture in the way that Ted is able to be.

Conclusion

All that being said, this is a great book and should be widely read by people interested in thinking Christianly about pop culture. Ted presents a great model for engaging pop culture and does so in a way that most people should be able to pick up and apply without too much trouble. As I look at fleshing out my thesis for possible eBook publication, Ted’s work will find its way into my sources and probably strongly influence my re-writing. And, if I end up being able to make the trip to ETS this fall, it will definitely show up my paper presentation. So, if you’re into pop culture, and you’re a Christian, and you like to talk movies, music, tv, etc, you’re probably need this book in your life now.

Book Details

  • Author: Ted Turnau
  • Title: Popologetics: Popular Culture In Christian Perspective
  • Publisher: P&R Publishing (May 7, 2012)
  • Paperback: 368pgs
  • Reading Level: General Reader
  • Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in digging deeper into pop culture from a Christian perspective
  • Amazon
  • Westminster

[You're reading this review of Popologetics because I asked P&R Publishing for a review copy and they said yes!]

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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