From the glittering tinsel of Hollywood to the advertising slogan you can’t get out of your head, we are surrounded by popular culture. In contrast to some traditional Christian responses, which have been to shun aspects of popular culture, Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor offer an insightful treatise on its value in A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.
Rather than offering a theology for pop culture, as some recent commentators have, the authors create a constructive theology out of pop culture. Instead of passing judgment on popular culture the authors analyze its elements and ask “What are they doing? What do they represent?” and “What do they say about the world in which we live?” Rather than deciding whether Bono, Britney, and the cast of Friends deserve our admiration, Detweiler and Taylor ask what the phenomena of celebrity idolization means. They do not examine whether Nike’s “just do it” campaign is morally questionable; instead, they ask what its success says about our society.
A Matrix of Meanings can be read in at least three ways: as a study of the marketplace driven by consumerism and fueled by advertising, whose highest aspirations are attained in celebrity; as a study of isolated artistic forms—music, movies, television, fashion, sports, art—and what they may tell us about our world, ourselves, and our God; and as a broad survey of our culture that reveals trends that cross art forms. These cultural shifts, studied in the marketplace and manifested across pop cultural forms, create a lived theology that reveals the very nature of Christ and his kingdom.
Most of us look to pop culture to comment on how bad it is and how countercultural we need to be. A Matrix of Meanings takes us a few levels deeper to find a surprising and provocative search for spiritual meaning in places we would never expect. This book helps us get connected.
—Robert Webber (1933–2007), Emeritus Myers Professor of Ministry, Northern Seminary
Popular culture has become the environment in which we live, move, and have our being. The authors of this analysis and evaluation have the advantage of being professional practitioners—one in music, one in filmmaking—as well as acute observers of popular culture. One does not have to agree with all their judgments or responses to commend this book as the most insightful and stimulating recent Christian study of the subject.
—Robert Banks, professor, Macquarie Christian Studies Institute, Sydney, AU
If you need a book that’ll help you navigate the always changing and highly influential world of pop culture, this book is a must have. Tackling subjects like movies, television, fashion, advertising, sports, and art, the authors make sense of where culture has been, where it’s heading, and what the trends and changes mean for the ministry. The book is witty, factual, and easy to read. Definitely worth buying and digesting.
Craig Detweiler is an associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He previously served as codirector of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary. Detweiler has written scripts for numerous Hollywood films, and his social documentary, Purple State of Mind, debuted in 2008. He has been featured in the New York Times, on CNN, and on NPR.
Barry Taylor is an artist in residence and adjunct professor at the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts. He has coauthored two books, including A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity.