What Does Hollywood Have To Do With Wheaton? The Place Of (Pop) Culture In Theological Reflection -- By: Stanley J. Grenz

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:2 (Jun 2000)
Article: What Does Hollywood Have To Do With Wheaton? The Place Of (Pop) Culture In Theological Reflection
Author: Stanley J. Grenz


What Does Hollywood Have To Do With Wheaton?
The Place Of (Pop) Culture In Theological Reflection

Stanley J. Grenza

In her intriguing book God-Talk in America, Phyllis A. Tickle, contributing editor in religion to Publishers Weekly, declares, “more theology is conveyed in, and probably retained from, one hour of popular television than from all of the sermons that are also delivered on any given weekend in America’s synagogues, churches, and mosques.” 1 Is this a purely brash remark? Is it sheer overstatement? Is it nothing more than well-crafted rhetoric designed for maximum shock value? Perhaps. But we ought not reject Tickle’s words too quickly. Her observation captures a trend Christian scholars and theological educators dare not ignore: Pop culture in general—and the entertainment industry in particular—has emerged as a potent shaper of the fundamental convictions of North American society rivalling, if not surpassing, the church itself.

The thesis of this essay is that the influence of pop culture, especially among younger North Americans, challenges us to think through the way we engage in theological reflection and, in turn, how we approach theological education in an age of entertainment and the media. Although “Hollywood” may choose simply to ignore “Wheaton,” we whom God has called to vocations in the “Wheatons” of the land do well to be aware of the machinations of the folks at “Hollywood.” I intend to set forth this thesis by moving through three major topics: the phenomenon of culture itself; the place of culture in theology and finally the role of pop culture in theological education.

I. Hollywood Among The Wheatonites:
The Importance Of Culture To Society

I begin by looking first at the word culture and the importance of culture to contemporary society.

1. The nature of culture. Culture is derived from the Latin cultivare (“to till the soil”). This etymological connection to the practice of “cultivation” led to the original meaning of culture, namely, “the care and tending of crops

or animals,” 2 especially as this activity is aimed at improving or perfecting its object. The idea of a specifically human culture, indicative of our use of the term, was likely a metaphorical extension of this “tending” process to the human person.

In Enlightenment Europe, culture was connected to the process of educating and refining the individual, as well as denoting t...

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