In my first book, Hipster Christianity, I attempted to explore the relationship between Christianity and popular culture by examining the phenomenon of “cool Christianity” and how the realities of trendiness and the notion of “cultural relevance” have been interpreted and enacted by contemporary evangelicals. Among the several motivations for writing that book was a perception I had that many of my contemporaries (Millennial Christians) had mistook relevance for rebellion/edginess and had replaced a pursuit of holiness with a pursuit of “authenticity.” While it is true that in many cases the hyper-legalistic, Christ-against-culture approach of our parents was off the mark and needed to be moved away from, my concern was that the pendulum had swung (as it so often does) too far in the other extreme, replacing conservative legalism with a distorted form of “liberty” that essentially becomes legalism in the opposite direction.
Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty (coming out on August 1, 2013) is my attempt to address this “pendulum” problem head on and present an approach to cultural engagement that thoughtfully resides in the vast, glorious terrain between the extremes to which we are so prone to default. Christians have a hard time with nuance. Gray areas are not our strong suit. It’s way easier to just say “yes” or “no” to things, rather than “well, maybe, depending…” But there are many areas where it’s not that black and white. God gives us minds with the capacity for critical thinking so that we might navigate the complexity of these less- straightforward areas of existence.
Popular culture, and what we consume or abstain from within culture, is one such gray area. There aren’t easy answers in the Bible about whether this or that HBO show is OK to watch. Scripture contains no comprehensive list of acceptable films, books, or websites. Contrary to what some Christians maintain, the Bible neither endorses nor forbids all sorts of things it could have been clearer about.
But scriptural silence about the particularities of 21st century media habits is no reason to just throw up one’s hands and indulge in an “anything goes” free-for-all. Rather, it’s an invitation to think about the gray areas more deeply, to wrestle with them based on what Scripture does say and what we’ve come to know about the calling of Christians in this world. The gray areas matter.
I wrote Gray Matters to give Christians tools to better wrestle with a few of the gray areas that have sometimes proven divisive for evangelicals. More broadly, I hope it helps us to take more seriously our habits of cultural consumption–considering how they enrich, corrode or conflict with our Christian identity. Even if we aren’t tempted to be legalists or libertines, many of us are simply apathetic about the things we consume and the manner in which we consume them. Some of us are downright gnostic in the way that we divorce our media/entertainment habits from the faith we purportedly practice.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but I believe that following Christ and appreciating the goodness, truth and beauty of culture are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Reasonable integration, rather than convenient compartmentalization, should define our engagements with culture as Christians. We must go about it thoughtfully, with moderation, and in community. We must do it well because the world is watching; a reckless posture toward culture can impair our witness. More importantly, a healthy consumption of culture can bring glory to God.
I’ll be sharing more about Gray Matters in the coming months (pre-order if you’d like!), but for now I’ll leave you with the endorsements the book has received thus far.
“Brett McCracken is one of this generation’s leading thinkers on the intersection of faith and culture. In Gray Matters, he explores Christianity’s natural extremes with his feet firmly planted in Scripture. He charges headfirst into controversial questions and leaves no stone unturned. The result is a truly spectacular book that carves a path between an oppressive, rules-based religion and a powerless, free-for-all ‘faith.’ If you start reading it, beware—you won’t be able to put it down.”
—Jonathan Merritt, faith and culture writer; author, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars
“Idealism is all the rage among bright young evangelicals today, but Brett McCracken brings something all too rare to the table: he holds his earnest idealism in tension with lucid good sense and winsome moderation. May his tribe increase!”
—John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture
“Martin Luther said the world was like a drunken man, first falling off one side of the horse and then the other. With a fresh and thoughtful look at challenges such as food, music, film, and alcohol, Brett McCracken has offered a new generation a way to stay on the horse.”
—Roberta Green Ahmanson, writer and speaker
“In Gray Matters, Brett McCracken does something quite refreshing—he serves as a wise and discerning guide to the consuming of culture. Many books condemn ‘secular’ culture, just as many books advocate (consciously or unconsciously) accommodating ourselves to culture. Brett has written something much different: a biblically informed and culturally savvy approach to consuming culture in a God-honoring, community-building, and mission-advancing way.”
—Mike Erre, pastor; author, The Jesus of Suburbia: Have We Tamed the Son of God to Fit Our Lifestyle?
“Brett McCracken has long been my favorite reviewer of both music and movies, so it’s no surprise to me that he has written this needed book on consuming culture. A number of wonderful books have been written encouraging readers to create culture, but Brett takes the reader into the everyday world of consuming culture. Brett is an incredibly capable writer, thinker, and connoisseur, and all of this shines through in his work—bringing back into focus that how we engage the world around us matters deeply.”
—Tyler Braun, worship pastor; writer; author, Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way—But We Can Find It Again
“This book is not only clear and engaging, but also careful and wise. Gray Matters is a helpful, critical, reflective exploration of how we should consume culture as Christians that is neither reactionary nor defensive, triumphalistic or despairing. Few younger Christians have navigated these turbulent waters with as much even-handed clarity as this book does, which makes it an important read.”
—Matthew Lee Anderson, MereOrthodoxy.com; author of Earthen Vessels: Why our Bodies Matter for our Faith