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A Matrix of Meanings: finding God in pop culture (Engaging Culture) Paperback – November 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Until a few years ago, many faithful Christians saw popular culture the way the Dutch presumably see the oceanas a vast force to be kept at bay by any means necessary. That began to change with Tom Beaudoin's Virtual Faith, a heady mix of cultural analysis and theology. Fuller Theological Seminary alumni Detweiler and Taylor are the latest authors to call fellow Christians to take their thumbs out of the dike. Detweiler, producer of the City of the Angels Film Festival, and Taylor, a sound engineer with a roster of top clients, follow (ir)reverently in Beaudoin's wake, exploring the signs of a God-haunted generation in everything from Chris Ofili's dung-smattered Madonna to Jesus' appearance in South Park. Their book is ambitious in scope and smartly structured. Detweiler and Taylor begin with chapters on advertising and the role of celebrities, topics that other Christian commentators have generally ignored, and they are consistently alert to the commercial forces that drive pop culture's production and consumption. They are also witty, readable and passionate about both pop culture and their evangelical faith. But their cultural analysis borrows heavily from previous writers, and their claim to be discovering a "theology" of pop culture may surprise readers who expect a book from the Baker Academic imprint to engage its sources, whether Tom Beaudoin or Ned Flanders, with more critical rigor.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Back Cover

Craig Detweiler (M.F.A., University of Southern California, School of Cinema/TV) is an accomplished screenwriter whose movies include Extreme Days. He is the codirector of Reel Spirituality, an annual international film roundtable conference, and adjunct professor at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center.

Barry Taylor (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary), adjunct professor of popular culture and theology at Fuller, is a professional musician, painter, and the leader of New Ground, an alternative worship gathering in Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080102417X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801024177
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Craig Detweiler directs the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. He's a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Davidson College and earned an M.F.A. from the University of Southern California's acclaimed film school. His newest book is iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives. Detweiler also edited the first book on theology and video games, Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Game with God. His previous book, Into the Dark, searches for the sacred amidst the top-ranked films on the Internet Movie Database.

Craig's cultural commentary has appeared on ABC's Nightline, CNN, Fox News, Al Jazeera, NPR, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. As a filmmaker, his documentaries build bridges across cultures from the comedic Purple State of Mind to (un)Common Sounds: Peace Through Music. He blogs as 'Doc Hollywood' for Patheos.com and is @craigdetweiler on Twitter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Sterling Koch on March 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
(Note: This review not only attempts to review the book, but also engage some previous reviews.)
What Detweiler and Taylor have done here is what Detweiler calls "reversing the hermeneutical flow" (a.k.a. "flip the script", to quote "8 Mile"). In other words, rather than taking the Bible and looking at (a.k.a. criticizing) Pop Culture through what we think the Bible says, they take a thorough look at pop culture and use than as a method of viewing - or at least presenting - the God of the Bible. For any who have a hard time with that, read on.
As one reviewer has already stated, from the outset this book states that it's primarily for people that already like Pop Culture and have wondered how to reconcile that with their Christian worldview. Furthermore, the authors ask tough questions of the Church. If the majority of the world connects with Pop Culture way better than they do with the Church, then why is that and what are we to do about it? Sorry, but the "they're fallen beings" excuse isn't gonna cut it anymore. Detweiler and Taylor take us beyond the "seeker-sensitive" approach and genuinely challenge the Church to engage Pop Culture in a respectful, dynamic way. Even in the profane, God is talking and it's time we recognized holy ground when we saw it. It's a different and (I think) more accurate version of things than we typically hear from the evangelical pulpit. God is talking through culture with or without the Church's approval!
For those who have "reservations" about whether Christians should be as comfortable with culture as the book suggests, I offer this thought. The Bible was not written in a cultural vacuum, nor was Jesus born into one. Inspired? Sure. Absolutely devoid of any cultural influence?
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. David on November 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
In a time when individualism can slide into solipsism and alienation, and community can slip into the masses, we need books like this to keep us mindful of the real value of "mass" media for each one of us as God's children.

Overall, I'm impressed with the penetrating and embracing analysis of pop culture as the expression of the deepest yearnings of the human heart. I'm used to and sick of Christian's rejection of pop culture and read each chapter with huge sighs of relief. The encyclopedic overview, the scores of references and quotes from books, magazines, websites, and the great minds of the past are an embarrassment of riches. I am also impressed with the balance and fair-mindedness given to the full spectrum of faith expressions, from the conservative to the radical. And also that the authors take on areas that are rarely dealt with in these kinds of books, like fashion or sports or celebs.

Coincidentally, I just read Kreitzer's books, referenced in the intro, on reversing the hermeneutical flow with film, fiction and the two testaments, and I'm also a big fan of Johnston and his work on Reel Spirituality. I also have been reading up on Bresson and was led by it to Tarkovsky's brilliant work, Sculpting in Time. Glad to see that work and director getting his due in this book.

And I would never have thought the chapter on sports would touch me the way it did. I had a dismally bad experience with sports as a kid -- and then moved to Dallas of all places, where I felt like I was in a sports prison and every other sermon had a team sports analogy to God.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Christoph B on February 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Some in haste to dismiss this book might fail to recognize the starting point the authors readily admit they are coming from.
"We acknowledge that the entertainment industry generates plenty of products worth criticizing...we believe that the "sins" of pop culture have received ample coverage in previous books. Our book will concentrate on what's right with pop culture." (pg. 9)
"We congratulate those who have sought to frame cultural engagements as a test of personal purity...For those hoping to find clear prescriptions for what Christians should or shouldn't watch and listen to, this is not your book. Instead, we write for students who have decided to live out their faith with feet planted firmly in the world." (pg. 9)
With a proper understanding of the context the authors are coming from, this is a quietly engaging book with deep insight into the many mundane and profane works of God.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Heather Goodman on August 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite books. Fuller Seminary Professors Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor (who both also happen to be involved in the Hollywood world) approach popular cultural with anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and theology to discover the questions of culture, what God is doing in the world today and how Christians can join Him in this work. They inspect advertising, celebrities, music, movies, television, fashion, sports, and art from the perspective of being both artist and pastor. Detweiler and Taylor see a Jesus who walked the streets, of whose ministry we read more of his interaction with marketplace people than synagogue teachings, who was accused of spending his time with "sinners," with the rejects of the church, a Jesus that lived in a specific culture at a specific time, a characteristic sometimes forgotten in our almost docetic approach to Christianity. In the introduction, the authors write, "We embrace pop culture because we believe it offers a refreshing, alternative route to a Jesus who for many has been domesticated, declawed, and kept under wraps" (p. 9). The book introduces a new aspect to hermeneutic and suggest ways to open the church doors to "that bright, passionate audience of young people whom advertisers covet and the church is in danger of losing" (p. 8). Some of their ideas may feel dangerous to the shepherds of the flock and the guardians of truth that want to protect their people from the threatening ideas and philosophies of the world, but they dive in to play with the dolphins and the whales and the coral. More than deconstructing the modern method, they seek to reconfigure and recontextualize.Read more ›
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