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Jesus Junk and Thoughtful Prose

September 10, 2010

Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture
Daniel Radosh
Scribner, 2008. Hardcover $25.00 310 pages

I picked this up at the book swap. I don’t really know much about Christian pop culture or evangelical Christian life, beyond a news article here and there or a commercial for mail order CDs of bands with people swaying. So I came to it with more of a sense of voyeurism than I really wanted to admit.

I’m impressed with the extent of Radosh’s study. He did thoughtful interviews with Christian bookstore owners, authors, media developers, skateboarders(!!!) musicians, pastors, TV personalities, and historians and academics who also studied Christian pop culture from different perspectives. Of course, everywhere he went, he encountered consumers of these various forms of Christian media, from teens at concerts to parents, to church staffers.
What impressed me most was how respectful these encounters were. Mutually respectful, even when discussing charged issues around faith. Some of the evangelical Christians Radosh interviewed came to their respect for him out of an odd misinterpretation. (Variations on “You’re Jewish! You’re God’s Chosen people! Jesus was Jewish!!” left a few nuances to be desired.) Radosh kept his discussion respectful, by acknowledging his own misapprehensions (chiding himself for looking for “miniature Pat Robertsons” and being surprised by thoughtful discussions.)
For the most part, Radosh let people within the Christian community provide their own analysis of trends and beliefs, whether as scholars or as people talking about their own community. That kind of clear description placed commentary properly in context, and made for a great read. Great reporting, too, I think. Including some surprising scenes- Christian stand up comedy, dance club culture, and wrestling! Yes, pro wrestling, as a Christian allegory. Not kidding. Fascinating. Radosh and his sources impressed me by not shying away from some of the tougher issues- like belief versus action, charity versus consumption, and even questions about choice or sexuality.

True to form, I was most interested in the discussions of Christian books and music, what they say, how they’re marketed, how they’re consumed. There are New Testaments marketed to teens to look like teen magazines with glossy covers about crushes and quizzes! Different people and institutions hold the rights to different translations and interpretations of the Bible, including specialty marketing niches like families, women, even skateboarders. Speaking of skateboarders- Stephen Baldwin, Alec’s brother, is heavily involved with an evangelical skateboarding group. Christian musical culture is a lot more complex than “sing love songs to Jesus in whatever genre.” Radosh’s discussion of the Christian music culture hinges on three main types: separational- characterized by a desire to be out of the mainstream, and sing more overtly about God, integrational- where lyrics aren’t exclusively tied to Jesus because the artists see themselves as entertainers and artists primarily, rather than embroiled in their ministry. The third category, transformational, is what Radosh’s source describes as more complex musically and lyrically, ‘getting people to ask all the right questions,” even if that means talking about failure and doubt. Much more nuanced and self aware than, I admit, I was entirely expecting.
But- the entire book works along those lines- challenging my expectations with thoughtfulness and information, and a glimpse into a different, wholly realized perspective.
Will definitely keep this on my shelf for rereading, and possibly handing off to friends who might be similarly intrigued.

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