Culture At Large

What is Think Christian?

Josh Larsen

What is Think Christian?

If you read our name as though there was an exclamation point at the end—Think Christian!—you might assume we are a source of didactic, Christian teaching. But that would be far from our mission and posture. Instead, we like to think of our digital magazine, podcast, and videos as invitations, opportunities to think Christianly about the music, movies, television shows, games, and more that surround us every day.

What, then, does it mean to think Christianly while engaging with popular culture? Here at TC, there are a few key questions we ask of every piece of pop culture we consider:

How does this show, movie, music, game, or piece of online culture interact with God’s story?

God’s story, as told in the Bible, is one of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. All human activity—including creativity—takes place against that backdrop. And so we see the songs, movies, games, and apps we encounter as subplots within God’s story, creative attempts by image-bearing people to describe the human experience within this larger, salvation narrative. Sometimes this is the intention of the artist, sometimes it’s not.

In this light, Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical delivery captures the beauty and intricacy of God’s created order. Jaws reveals how nature itself was distorted by the Fall. A reality show like This Old House serves as a parable of redemption. And Black Panther offers a vision of Zion, celebrating the colorful possibility of God’s good creation fully restored. God’s story encompasses all stories if we’re willing to look for it (even in a mobile game like Harry Potter: Wizards Unite).

Does this piece of pop culture provide evidence of our need for the good news?

Evidence of our separation from God is all around us. When works of pop culture reflect this—even though they can be dark and full of challenging material—they are reflecting a biblical truth. Such shows are, quite literally, Breaking Bad, revealing the sin within and without. Pop culture can serve as both a call to repentance and an opportunity to share the good news of God’s response to our spiritual state—that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Does it echo the gospel in some fashion?

Even in this fallen world, stories of grace and mercy abound, reminding us of the scriptural assurance that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Consider the abundant grace in the way that the failed cakes in a reality series like Nailed It!are nonetheless accepted. Or how The Mandalorian followed its main character, a bounty hunter, as he came to embrace the way of mercy. Then there is the entire musical repertoire of the late Aretha Franklin. On the occasion of her passing, we reflected that the gospel never sounded better than when she sang it.

Does it contradict our understanding of the world in a way that deserves a loving response?

A crucial component of our work is discernment—noting when pop culture not only reflects our sinful state but actually celebrates a way of living that goes against God’s wishes for us. In such cases—say, the music of Miley Cyrus—we hope to follow the model of Jesus, who brought both compassion and conviction to his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

In asking these questions of popular culture, then, we hope to bring grace, appreciation, and discernment to the conversation. Theologically, we’re rooted in the Reformed tradition, which recognizes that all of culture falls beneath God's sovereignty and that by his common grace believers and unbelievers alike are capable of creating beautiful things. We do not attempt to “baptize” popular culture, but rather recognize that we sometimes see glimpses of God’s truth in unlikely places. There is no such thing as secular, after all.

Topics: Culture At Large