Worshipping at the altar of popular culture: Hollywood Jesus

Hollywood Jesus no doubt started out as a genuine attempt to engage with popular culture but is now dangerously close to blasphemy, certainly in regard to its Santa Paws at Your Church “sweepstake”.

A promotional email sent out by Hollywood Jesus, a US Christian movie website, invites readers to enter a ‘Santa’s BFF (best friends forever?) contest in which first prize is a visit by Santa Paws, a free screening of the movie and DVD give-aways. Check it out:

The church does need to engage with culture and to communicate in a language that touches the heart and souls of real people.

But there is a place for purposeful discernment – what are we trying to achieve and what do we risk losing by gaining some temporary popularity? And probably we should ask, who is making money out of it?

When I first saw this email I felt sure it was a hoax, with a virus hiding behind every link. Or perhaps the Chaser boys had sent it out to see how many tacky Christians they could snare.

But it’s real and sincere and obviously no one involved saw a problem with it. And unless you pull back and ask, who is meant to be influencing who at Christmas time, or anytime, it might just slip by as another great way to get lots of unchurched families dropping into the church building to have a great old time.

Except what kind of Jesus could really be communicated in the sickly-sweet company of Santa Claus (or Paws), Walt Disney, Hollywood and good old American (and Australian) consumerist tripe!

At the risk of making a mountain out of snowball, we Christians can too easily confuse the worthy idea of authentic, thoughtful and spiritually impacting engagement with society with all out worship at the altar of popular culture.

We see all those people going to the movies, watching television, flocking to the shopping centres, cheering in their thousands at sporting or music events and we want a piece of the action. We say ‘Jesus should be right there in the marketplace’ or, in this case, right there with Santa and DVDs, but fail to discern that we are commonly motivated by our own need to be recognised, famous and meaningful, if only in a very Andy-Warhol-15-minutes-of-fame way.

By all means, find keys to influence the culture in which we live, but the kind of popularist, consumerist culture mostly seen on TV and at the movies is the TAIL not the HEAD.

The ideas, the knowledge, the agenda, the stories that fuel this idolistic (new word) fire are first found hidden away in the universities, creative colleges, film schools, art houses, back rooms of business and more than anywhere else, in the minds and souls of godless but powerfully creative thinkers and doers, many of them in our major cities.

So when Christians finally wake up, and start promoting Hollywood or whatever in the hope we gain some fame by association, we are already playing their game, and losing.

I’m not saying all popular, western culture is bad, but a great deal of it is closing in on depravity and perhaps worse still, is bland and repetitive. The real point is, most of the culture-shifting ideas that gurgle their way seemingly benignly through our sit-coms, movies and magazines, started out in far more radical, alternate and deeply intellectual circles.

That’s where Christians should be (and are on occasions) if they are serious about influencing our world. Not mimicking the cinema down the road.

In the interests of balance, not that my blog needs to be balanced – it’s my opinion afterall –  but there seems to be some reasonable stuff on Hollywood Jesus. I just hate the name, probably am not acclimatised to that very LA style of communicating and possibly just in a bad mood. Regardless, I am not happy with being invited to be Santa Paw’s BFF in the guise of some kind of Christian outreach. Enough said.

4 thoughts on “Worshipping at the altar of popular culture: Hollywood Jesus

  1. Hey, Peter. Nice, thoughtful (if slightly grumpy) piece.

    A few things worth pointing out.

    First, Hollywood Jesus is a dot-com, so it is (and always has been) a commercial site. That’s no secret. So in addition to some very modest ministry goals, it is also out to do that in a profitable fashion. And Disney pays for promotions like this, so they help keep the site alive (for better or worse, eh?).

    Second, this isn’t really being pushed as another futile outreach-focused event. It’s simply a fun thing for some lucky church’s kids.

    Third, HJ isn’t all at interested in “fame by association” or syncretistic co-option of the culture. Our aim is paying attention to what the culture is already paying attention to, and then, very gently and non-confrontationally, introducing Jesus into the conversation. We also don’t see this is the only (or even best) way of bringing people into a relationship with Christ. We see what we do as just a very small part of the whole process of sowing seed, bringing to maturity, nurturing, and harvesting.

    Thanks for the forum!

    Greg Wright, Managing Editor, Hollywood Jesus

  2. Is the issue regarding the location of the event, who’s planning to be there, or that it has the appearance of bowing down to Hollywood?

  3. I guess my only thing is to insinuate that HJ or it’s writers have sold out is inappropriate, at least as I see it. I have written for HJ for a number of years, out of the love of ministry, and the need to plant seeds of discussion regarding my faith, (Unapologetic Christian and follower of Jesus) That said, some may say that my reviews are among the least spiritual of the reviews put up, but there is a definite attempt to plant seeds, and living in Kansas now for a number of years where there are a lot of farmers, this city boy has learned a few things over the years. If there is issue with the advertising that HJ does than address that, but then at some point someone has to step up. I know from my own ministry of working with the poor in the inner city and with the abused, that very few people actually ever step up to the plate to support that ministry. If advertising allows us to do certain things that allows this ministry to take place, great. I do know we are very careful about, or should say Greg and the powers that be are very careful about the adds that are on HJ. If Disney, or Santa Paws has provided an event type activity for a prize, if there is inappropriate Biblical justification as to why we shouldn’t do that, again from a Biblical perspective, simply inform us. It it is a simple matter of opinion, then also simply provide ideas that will allow a ministry, (I still see this as a ministry) then provide solutions that will allow us to be effective, meet the needs, and go from there.

    On a side note, I started writing with HJ when I lived in Greenville South Carolina some years ago now. I continued when I lived in Tulsa Oklahoma, I now live in Wichita Kansas. The concept of representing Hollywood has always dumbfounded me as to my knowledge very few, if any of the writers actually live in Hollywood.

    I do look forward to an idea and clarification as I as well, am somewhat confused.


    Mike Furches

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