Cultural Borderlines by David Mills

Cultural Borderlines

One night in the music section of Borders Bookstore, wanting to know what people enjoyed these days, I put on the earphones and listened to a CD advertised as the best of what was once called “heavy metal” and is now, I think, called “grunge” music. I listened to several tracks and suddenly thought, “My dad was right. It does all sound alike.”

I have had many conversations with friends who insisted that Christians must “engage the culture” but who almost always confused this pastoral and prophetic enterprise with liking its productions, and who were offended by any statement of the superiority of high to popular culture. They were dreadfully afraid of “elitism” and insisted that the people who thought Mozart’s music better than grunge, and better for you than grunge, do not care about the people who like such things.

There is a reason for preferring Mozart and Tallis and Chopin to Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, or even to interesting folk singers like Bruce Cockburn. There is a reason we do not “engage the culture” by writing often and respectfully of movies and rock music and television shows. There is a reason we believe “the culture” is to be engaged but not, except on occasion, praised or encouraged or promoted.

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David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.

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