23 March 2008

Happy clappers

On the occasion of the Easter weekend, Jill Rowbotham reports on the growing harmony between Christianity and popular culture (The Australian, 22 Mar 2008).

Living in Sydney, it's hard to escape the pull of Hillsong's music and ethos. It's not for everyone, but there are good reasons to respect and borrow from it. I took my family to an early-evening Tenebrae service at a mainstream church in Sydney's CBD on Thursday. We sat in a huge wood-panelled auditorium with about 35 people (mostly "older Anglo-Australian" couples dressed as though for a wedding), listening to classical music on a towering pipe organ, and responding to a finely wrought liturgy that might have comforted the stalwarts but failed to connect with the two or three 20-something tourists in T-shirts who turned up. And, while there was a choir at the front-left and a TV crew in the shadows to the right, there were no children in the audience apart from my three.

What may have worked in 1950 in the centres of European Christianity does not work in Sydney in 2008, among people accustomed to plasma vision, hi-fi sound and seamless communication excellence. Outside the church walls, people inhabit a jarringly different culture.

But there is a measurable and growing infiltration of Christian artists and cultural products in this "other" culture. Indeed one could speak of cross-fertilisation (no pun intended!). It's natural for Christians to use the technology and forms of a host culture, and to thereby transform church traditions. As Rowbotham says, "The church is built for the long haul and with clear signs it is getting the hang of the digital age ... it may yet learn to mobilise popular support for its eternal message."

Let's hope so. And let's resist the temptation to harvest the church's tall poppies, and to bad-mouth innovations that strike a winning note and sincerely seek to promote the good news of Jesus Christ.

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