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Book Review: “All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes” by Kenneth A. Myers

January 25, 2011

All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes is one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a long time. If you’ve ever stepped back from modern evangelical culture and stared at it with a confused expression, a strange feeling gnawing at the pit of your stomach, while scratching your head, this just might be the book for you.

Kenneth Myers has some serious concerns with popular culture and what it is doing to our society. More specifically, he has problems with evangelical pop culture and what it is doing to the hearts, minds and spirits of evangelical Christians. Myers issue is not so much with the content of pop culture, but with the form itself. He insists that even the “Christianized” forms of pop culture emphasize the immediate and shallow over the transcendent and deep. It promotes numb mindlessness over deep reflection.

This book is a call for Christians and the Church to stop imitating pop culture with our own versions of celebrity, television, music and magazines (just visit any Christian bookstore to get a sense of the magnitude of Christian pop culture knock off), but to provide a true alternative, as a living example of alternative methods and content.

Myers distinguishes between Folk culture, High culture and Pop culture. He traces the history of Pop culture, a relatively new phenomenon. Basically it is a result of the lowest common denominator. It is a leveling out and smoothing over of high and folk culture to appeal to a mass audience in a global and industrial society. It is designed and marketed not to encourage reflection, but to maintain the status quo.

High culture is designed to elevate the thoughts and emotions and to encourage reflection on the transcendent. It takes an engaged mind and work to understand and appreciate. It doesn’t leave a person the same. Folk culture is a product of a place and a community, the product of a worldview. It is a shared tradition and contains shared values. Folk culture holds one accountable to shared community values while pop culture is all about the individual. I think anyone who has listened to much modern worship music will recognize this effect working it’s way into Christian culture.

Myers points to Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” For Myers these are definitely exhibited easier and better in folk and high culture and rarely if ever in pop culture.

One of the key issues that Meyer is seeking to address is the wholesale embrace of the methodology of pop culture by the church under the banner of contextualization. He points out that the church has long been the bastion of High culture, elevating minds and hearts and focusing people’s attention to the transcendent, and folk culture, instilling communal values and cultural heritage. Now, however, the church is often simply imitating the worst of pop culture and mixing in a little Jesus. A major result of this is that the church has adopted the marketing stance of pop culture, luring people with cool music and advertising rather than the Gospel. Myers believes that this is a direct result of evangelical Christianity’s wholesale embrace of popular culture’s methodology.

I don’t always agree with Myers. I’m not sure that rock music, movies, etc. cannot become high or at least folk culture. I’m thinking here of some great and transcendent films or music with excellent lyrics. Basically I’m saying things aren’t always as cut and dried as Myers makes them and he obviously never cared much for rock or television or film to begin with.

I do agree with most of what he says because his point is basically this: Christians need to stop selling out to trite and cheap imitations of a trite and cheap world. We need to think about the means as well as the end. We need to think about what our methodology conveys. Instead of asking what people want and giving it to them (pop culture) we need to ask what they need and help them come to understand their need for it and we need to remind them of their great cultural heritage (high and folk culture).

While you may not agree with everything here, I would strongly recommend this book.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. john book permalink
    January 25, 2011 6:32 pm

    since you’ve done well with other book referrals…. I will take your word again.

    Just ordered it. (Was I supposed to use your shop?)

  2. cland13 permalink*
    January 25, 2011 6:36 pm

    If I had a shop, I would have you use it, but as you are likely one of three people who would actually buy from my suggestions, I think I’d make about 13 cents a year….

    no my friend, I just recommend for the love of the book.

    Plus, now that you’ve ordered this book, you’ll have even more ammo to attack my rock music suggestions with 🙂

    Seriously, do let me know what you think of it, I’d be interested to hear.

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