Idol Chatter

evanalmighty_idol.jpgDespite its mediocre reviews, many Christian media types are ecstatic about “Evan Almighty,” the big-release Hollywood movie that updates the Noah and the Ark story to modern-day Washington. But not Dick Staub. “If it is just a fun, uplifting night out with the family,” broods the Christian cultural critic and radio DJ, in his most recent syndicated column, “viewers will be left with an MTV view of God: feelings, but no particular knowledge.”
Honey, let’s remember to send Dick the Christmas card with the Bible verse, not the reindeer who get into the egg nog.
Staub often writes about how pop culture debases biblical understanding and theological rigor. (His latest book, for instance, is called “The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite.”) He’s usually thought-provoking and acerbically funny, and now that Hollywood is actually paying attention to Christians, his diatribes (see this interview with Relevant magazine) are all the more pertinent.

But faulting “Evan Almighty” for having an MTV sensibility is more than overwrought–it’s confused. “Since the 1960s, we’ve embarked on a bold new experiment that favors the senses (particularly sight and sound) over words and reason,” Staub rails, and blames MTV for encouraging this “non-narrative” form of entertainment.
Sight and sound, one might point out, are the soul of art and entertainment. More than that, they used to be a huge part of church. Just as the culture was succumbing to the thrall of the senses, American Christianity was ridding itself of “smells and bells.” The more they tried to lure the children of the ’60s back to the altar, the more churches adopted casual, non-ritual formats, took clergy out of habits and collars, and stripped sanctuaries of “churchy” elements so they looked more like auditoriums than sacred spaces. The data tell us that the rational approach didn’t work.
Only recently have churches found that “non-narrative” services like Taze chanting and mystical symbolism have the power to draw MTV’s audience. Some new “Emergent” church literature even recommends that churches give incense a try. What any of this really has to do with “Evan Almighty,” I’m not sure. But Staub might try worrying less about how to inject more Christianity into the culture and more about injecting culture–sight and sound included–into Christianity.

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