Why should the church be involved/interested in culture and the arts and the "new media"?
It's a roundabout path to my answer - try to follow my logic!
When was the last time you saw young people (youth groups and college-age) excited about the things of God? I don't mean excited about their youth group activities (competitions, games, and pizza) but truly passionate about Christ, His work on the cross, what His church is doing around the world, and worship - REAL worship, not just an emotional experience?
In recent elections, young people have participated in campaigns and at the polls in record numbers. Politicians and entertainers are learning how to excite young people about public affairs by speaking to them in their language and through their media."Politicians and entertainers are learning how to excite young people" - they're evangelizing young people about their particular political views (and in many cases, their particular religious beliefs and/or sexual behaviors). What is the church doing - RIGHT NOW, TODAY - to evangelize young people, to get their attention -and just as importantly, to keep it?
Are the methods that drew me to Christ still working today? Probably so, but the ministry that introduced me to Jesus in 1974 was a bit out of the mainstream back then, and they have worked hard to keep their methods current. Even way back then, they weren't doing what the organized church was doing.
Just thinking (typing) out loud here. . . it seems to me that parachurch ministries tend to be more aware of current pop culture trends, more willing to keep up-to-date with the latest methods, technologies, styles, and more willing to change. . . while the "organized church" is more in the camp that says "we'll wait and see if it's just a fad." Then, when "it" (blogging, Facebook, podcasting, text messaging, etc.) turns out to be more than a passing fad, the church might bring up the topic in a leadership meeting; they might form a committee to study it, and then, 11 months later, might write a formal recommendation that may or may not require a full congregational vote.
(Don't get me wrong—I'm not against the organized church. After all, I'm a part of that organized church leadership. I'm one of the committee members. Heck - I'd probably be the one recruited to write the formal recommendation!)
We know that today's young people are more tech-savvy, more media-savvy, and more visually aware than the baby boomer generation (my generation). Being visually aware means that graphics (art, page layout, color, etc.) are more important than ever before.
Educators are aware that these differences mean students learn differently than students a generation ago. Some research indicates that they even think differently! Teachers are adapting their methods in the classroom; curriculum providers are adapting their products for this new generation of students.
So what is the church today doing differently in order to reach them? Too often the church has said (and I must admit that I've said it more than once) that Christianity is all about the Word, that image is less important, less significant. But how that plays out in the real world is that we take sola Scriptura a bit too literally—the Word becomes all there is, and the church doesn't simply downplay image - instead we ignore image altogether!
This results in a church that downplays art and media. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that the church has, to a large degree, completely rejected art as a means of expressing and explaining the gospel. Too afraid that we would fall prey to the iconographic errors of the Middle Ages (where artwork itself became an idol), we have opted instead for church walls painted in a bland eggshell color and devoid of anything that could be called art. (I'll avoid starting a rant about the religious decorative kitsch found in many Christian bookstores. . . suffice it to say that it's generally not great art - or good art - or even acceptable art. This article claims that "Christian kitsch trivializes the God of the Bible and makes him subservient to the popular culture of the age.")
The people of God have largely lost any interest in the arts. Some of this could be blamed on the lack of arts education in the schools, but that's a different topic!
Back to the original question: Why should the church be involved/interested in culture and the arts and the "new media"? Well, it all depends. Do we want to "excite young people" with the gospel? If we hope to get their attention and keep it, we need to "speak to them in their language and through their media."
PS - I just came across this on a friend's delicious.com page. It seems appropriate:
Thinking Biblically About Facebook