I thought it would be helpful for our first blog post to come from me, the founder, director, and instigator of C3. In the end, our best work comes from a personal place, and C3 is no exception for me. The interactions between Christianity and culture (both real and perceived) have shaped my personal story in profound ways.
I grew up in the South, the son of a Baptist preacher, during the Jesus Movement. That place and time was marked by a lot of mixed messages. The importance of scriptural knowledge was paired with a healthy dose of anti-intellectualism. Rock music was the Devil, but praise bands were the future of worship. Tradition ran deep, like an imaginary friend we all had, but at the same time, it was a friend fighting for attention in the changing times of our church. Being Baptist meant something, but exactly what that “something” was, no one knew.
For a kid who wanted to be a classical musician, an academic, who hears the voice of God in the very movies and television that were supposed to drowned out his voice, and who had more than his share of scars from Wednesday night business meetings, a change of venue was in order. That change of venue has taken me across the country and into ministry in Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Non-Denominational, and even Orthodox churches. Now I find myself returning to the Bible Belt and Baptist culture as a UMHB faculty member. Turns out we’re still trying to figure out exactly what being Baptist means.
The conversations my studies and ministry have afforded me have helped me better understand the cultures that have shaped me. Niehbur, Waltersdorff, Mouw, Best, and others writings on the subject have given me better handles to use in those conversations. Primary among those handles is the realization that much of the evangelical culture I experienced valued piety by way of abstinence, especially when it came to the arts and humanities. For an artist, this was an issue. The arts were where I found God. For an artist trained to see through the often saccharine and vapid nature of the particular brand of subculture labeled “Christian Art,” my odds of finding transcendence at a bible bookstore were slim. Over time, I’ve come to embrace that meaningful engagement with the entirety of arts and culture has brought me closer to Christ than blind abstinence ever could. On the other hand, engagement is more work than abstinence. It requires that we dig as deep into scripture as we venture into culture. It means, “doing the hard work,” as David Bazan once told me.
My hope is that C3 would be a thoughtful place where we foster meaningful conversations. A place where we can disagree, but we won’t dismiss one another. A place where tension, like in any great piece of art, is necessary and healthy. A place where the wisdom and grace of Christ color our views of one another and of the world we inhabit together. That is my hope. Help me make that hope a reality.