The use of popular culture in the instruction of God’s Word is disdained by some who fear its use will somehow dilute the purity of the message. I will be the first to admit that I, too, have found offense when I have listened to supposed sermons preached by men who filled their “lessons” with more illustrations than actual Scripture. I nearly walked out of a church service on one occasion when the speaker based his entire sermon on the viral YouTube video about “Johnny the Bagger.” I think he may have referenced one Scripture. (The only reason I didn’t walk out that evening was because I was the guest and passenger of another.)
Even so, popular culture does have its place in the proclamation of the Gospel. Please note the following:
- The parables of Jesus referenced popular culture. He spoke in terms of the everyday things to which people could relate.
- Paul referenced secular writers and used illustrations like the Isthmian games to make various points. He also went were the people were, even joining the philosophers on Mars’ Hill.
- Most of the New Testament writers used expressions that stemmed from every day life and reflected divine truths to which the reader could relate. (For example, Peter’s comparison of the backslider to a washed pig returning to wallow in the mire or Jude’s comparison of false teachers to meteorological phenomena.)
From a modern standpoint, popular culture binds generations together. These bonds are so strong that they create gaps between the understanding and preferences of the differing age groups. In fact, current research has even demonstrated a “mini generation gap” in persons from different ends of the same generation as seen in such things as how they utilize technology to communicate. If the church cannot speak the “language” of the current culture, many people will be turned off as they will perceive the church as being irrelevant to their lives.
The key is learning how to use popular culture in such way that supports the Biblical message and does not, itself, become the basis of the message preached. In other words, it should be illustrative in its use only. The day that find ourselves learning more from “Johnny the Bagger” than Jesus will be a tragic day indeed.