Book Review: Entertainment Theology – New Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy (Nov-Dec 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

by Anna Somers
November – December, 2008

Entertainment Theology: New Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy
by Barry Taylor

Fuller Seminary adjunct professor Barry Taylor is not the first to discuss the revival of deep spirituality in pop culture, but he does put a new spin on it. The phrase “entertainment theology” refers to the widespread inclusion of things spiritual in popular entertainment, thus creating a new medium for theological dissemination.

Taylor compares today’s celebrities to yesterday’s priests and missionaries, infusing the nation with their own individual versions of pop spirituality.

The fact that “Jedi knight” is now included in some surveys as a legitimate religious practice proves that pop culture has an alarmingly wide impact on people’s spiritual realization. This new spirituality is eclectic, pluralistic, and in many cases adamantly opposed to organized religion. Buddhism and eastern philosophy are becoming an increasingly popular form of mainstream spirituality. Pop music, movies and entertainment in general are increasingly relying on spiritual themes, a la The Secret Life of Bees, The Matrix and The DaVinci Code. Madonna’s fascination with Kabbalah led thousands of would-be followers to sign up for online classes about this mystical branch of Judaism. However it is not just Hollywood that is creating this fluid version of popular theology.

Taylor often uses the term “spiritual democratization” to describe how technology has created a space in which anyone, celebrity or not, can disseminate spiritual ideas. He’s not just talking about religious blogs and posts on MySpace. Internet is just one means by which our culture is infused with the theological musings that collectively make up this so-called “spiritual democracy.” The speed and ease at which information travels has impacted every conceivable area of our lives, the least not being our society’s spiritual core.

At the same time that modernism’s end has freed the masses to explore any and every form of spirituality they so desire – a discipline which was until recently reserved for religious fundamentalists and little old ladies who didn’t know any better – more traditional forms of faith seem to be losing ground. The conceived confines of doctrine and outdated traditions no longer appeal to a society that favors individualism, pluralism and relativity. Deeply committed to things spiritual, today’s public finds organized religion as too stuffy, too formulaic, and, ironically, too unspiritual.

Though pedantic and often disorganized, Taylor gives us a thoughtful look at the means by which our society’s religious identity is shaped by mass culture. Unfortunately, in Taylor’s eyes, religion in general and Christianity specifically are no different than any other cultural construct, shaped and even created by men. If religion is simply a coping mechanism, as Taylor states, by which men and women find an “aesthetic diversion” from the harshness of reality, then it is no wonder (and no great shame) that the practice of traditional religion is declining.

Many scholars and cultural observers, Christian and non, speculate that the Western church will continue to decline unless it learns to survive in this consumer-oriented, post-secular society. In Taylor’s opinion, Christianity will simply morph and evolve to fit the changing times, even if the end result looks something much more like Jesus-focused mysticism and less like the church as we have known it in previous history.

Obviously, religious expression will vary vastly from culture to culture, and missionaries will always do well to help Christians create culturally relevant churches.

What if Christians engaged our post-secular society, with its emphasis on spiritual experiences and individual expression, and helped create churches that confront postmodern perceptions of stuffy, self-righteous hypocrites, offering instead genuine places to worship the living, life-breathing, Almighty God.New Wineskins

Anna Somers grew up in California and attended Brandeis University, where she was the arts editor of her school newspaper. After graduating, she worked as a counselor at a home for troubled teen girls in Vermont until she moved back to the west coast and married her husband. Anna and Scott have two boys, Nehemiah and Silas, and now live in Anchorage, Alaska, where Scott works as a youth pastor and Anna is involved in children’s ministry at their wonderful church. Reach her at [alaskansomers@gmail.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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