Steve Turner’s “Popcultured”: A Review

popcultured thinking christianly about style media and entertainment

Steve Turner, in Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media and Entertainment, takes on the daunting task of exploring the relationship Christianity ought to have with popular culture. Turner is addressing the stream of thought within Christendom that separates Christianity and popular culture. This book is not a theological treatise or a doctrinal handbook, “but it’s essentially about how we can be faithfully Christian while participating in and perhaps even creating popular culture” (13).

Pop Culture is defined to be that which are “generally mass produced, predominantly consumed during leisure hours, overwhelmingly created for financial gain, don’t require a specialist education in order to be appreciated and are usually capable of being enjoyed by a broad, non-elite audience” (40). Turner’s book is not intended to be an exhaustive literature review on the interplay between Christianity and pop culture, but a hermeneutical model and a conversation starter, supplemented with discussion questions, bibliography, and practical steps at the end of each chapter. The relationship between pop culture and Christianity goes two ways, from creator to Christian consumer and from Christian creator to consumer. As most people will consume more than create, most of the book is spent on evaluating popular culture from a Biblical worldview. Turner tackles the topics of cinema, journalism, celebrity culture, fashion, thrill-seeking, comedy, advertising, technology, photography, and television, prying beneath the surface in order to assess both content and effects based upon Biblical principles.

Turner’s project is ambitious, and he takes it on with fervor, thoughtful analysis, and conviction. The first chapters are spent establishing the framework for the rest of the book: the reasons why Christians should engage with culture, a working definition of pop culture, and Biblical parameters. The bulk of the book is spent on examining individual elements of pop culture, deconstructing from a Christian perspective. Turner’s work gives an excellent model to evangelical Christians for a way to engage popular culture in both deconstructive and constructive ways. The model for approaching any single element in popular culture is to evaluate the content, the framework, and the effects of popular culture from within a Biblical worldview. Popcultured shies away from categorical condemnation of any aspect of culture, instead calling for discernment in sorting through the tares and wheat that make up all things human.

While an excellent introduction to the topic of pop culture, this book is precisely that: an introduction and a starting point. Each of the chapter topics could be evaluated and explored in a monograph of its own. This book invites the reader to pursue further exploration of the complexities of culture in relation to Christianity. The discussion questions and bibliographies at the end of each chapter were helpful, for I often felt hungry for more information after reading each chapter.

Turner acknowledges that much of his book is anecdotal and based upon “personal experience rather than academic study” (223). Popcultured does not aim to describe the academic research surrounding pop culture, but to show Christians how to think about and approach the surrounding culture from a Biblical perspective. While Turner’s approach is invaluable in this kind of hermeneutical model, the next step would be to explore the research on each category within pop culture in order to more fully understand the intricacies and complexities of art, culture, and a Biblical worldview.

The subtitle of this book is “Thinking Christianly About Style, Media and Entertainment.” The relationship between pop culture and Christianity is a two-way relationship that should not be limited to consuming or creating. Thinking Christianly about a subject should not be limited to examining popular culture from our own framework, but should also include a healthy self-criticism in light of the truth that pop culture contains.

While the book quite substantially addresses the issue of how Christians ought to let culture influence their lives, Turner only briefly addresses the question, “What can pop culture inform us about Christianity?” Chapter thirteen explores how pop culture can provide a critical mirror to Christianity, but I would go further and say that the way that humans create culture can positively inform and augment our own conception of Christianity. In art and culture there is beauty and truth, and in this beauty I wonder what lessons we can learn and import into Christianity. If we agree with Justin Martyr’s declaration that “all truth is God’s truth,” then we should seek out the truth in popular culture. I would like to see a hermeneutic towards culture that allows for a discernment that sifts through not only for what is contrary to Christianity, but also seeks out Truth that is latent or undervalued in our expressions of Christianity. As Christians, our approach to culture should not be only how we can remain unstained from the world’s vices, but also what we can learn from the richness and beauty of human creation. This kind of expedition is dangerous, for it challenges our own understanding of a Biblical worldview. Self-criticism of our own perspective requires spiritual discernment as well as knowledge of the Biblical data. This venture requires an amount of vulnerability, but in our vulnerability I trust that God will protect the church and guide us to the truth. Turner gives an excellent theological way of approaching pop culture, but we also need to listen to the outside voice of pop culture and engage in healthy self-criticism.

Popcultured is an excellent resource for the Church. Christians, both laity and clergy, interact daily with the surrounding culture, and it is irresponsible not to engage in thoughtful discernment. In this introductory work, Turner provides an excellent model for how to approach these issues of pop culture from within a Christian worldview.

Get the book:

Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media and Entertainment
Steve Turner
Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2013.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8308-3768-7


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About the Contributor

Michael Toy

Michael Toy
Michael Toy is an amateur theologian, studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. Having studied media studies at Wheaton College under Dr. Read Schuchardt, Michael hopes to more fully dissect and analyze the intersection between theology and media ecology within the academic and the ecclesial settings. 

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