Navigating Moral Gray Areas: An Interview with Brett McCracken
Culture. It's quite the buzzword among Christians these days. From Andy Crouch's Culture Making to a revival in interest in Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture to, well, blogs like this one. Everyone seems to be exploring how Christians should interact with, embrace, create, and redeem culture. But the problem is that many efforts to address the intersection of Christianity and culture are theoretical, rather than practical. Enter Brett McCracken, a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist who has just written a book entitled, Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty. In it, he practically addresses how Christians can wade through moral gray issues--from alcohol consumption to secular music and films. As I said in the endorsement, the result is "a truly spectacular book that carves a path between an oppressive, rules-based religion and a powerless, free-for-all 'faith.'" Here we discuss the pitfall of legalism, the potential pitfalls of this generation, and how Christians should navigate the issues that aren't as black-and-white as they wish.
JM: You say in your book that things like alcohol, edgier films, plays, concerts, and art have "moved from being forbidden to being celebrated by believers." Isn't this the role Christians played historically, as culture creators? What role do you think believers have when it comes to setting trends and creating culture?
BM: I absolutely believe that Christians are called to be culture creators, at the center of cultural creativity rather than on the edges. And we have been in that place before. For centuries, Christianity was at the center of culture-making. The church was the center of education, the patron of the greatest art, the literal center of the city. Regrettably, Christianity is no longer in that position, and by the end of the 20th century, Christians in the West were not only on the periphery of culture but were (in some places) aggressively anti-culture--retreating from it, protesting it, censoring it, and creating "Christian" alternatives to it.
Today, Christians seem to be moving away from that anti-culture stance, which is a good thing. Christians are once again championing culture-making, emerging from cocoons of "Christian culture" and engaging the larger world of culture. This is healthy and necessary if we are to return to a central place in the cultural conversation. However, I fear that in some ways our movement from the "anti-culture" extreme to the "champion of culture" extreme can be dangerously fast and reckless. Returning to a vital place of cultural impact will require Christians to go beyond a superficial corrective of moving from legalistic "hands off culture" to the liberty of "all is acceptable" embrace of everything. It will require us think more deeply about what it means to create--and consume--culture Christianly.
JM: It sounds good when you say it, but it is much more difficult to put into practice. How do you suggest Christians navigate the space between legalism and liberty?