catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 1 :: 2002.09.13 — 2002.09.26


Gentle radicalism

Bob Briner's Roaring Lambs sounds the call

In the special tribute in the front of Roaring Lambs, Michael W. Smith assures me that Bob Briner is a special guy with a passionate devotion to Christ.

Then, in the preface, Briner himself seems to proclaim his specialness, by dropping names of people like Mike Wallace, Akio Morita (the founder of Sony), tennis great Jack Kramer, and other famous people all of whom Briner has a close personal relationship with. I confess at that point it seemed to me that Briner was nothing but a sports-obsessed television producer trying to impress all his Christian friends with the names of people whose hands he had shaken, and I was very close to dropping the book in an envelope and mailing it back to the friend who had loaned it to me. At the time, though, I was on the beach and there were no envelopes nearby, so I read on and I am glad I did.

If you can get past the opening of the book, past the part where Briner is talking about himself, and get on to the call he is issuing, you will find it well worth the initial excessive cringing. Briner is passionate about confronting Christians with what he considers a new form of activism. He believes that Christians' endless boycotts of things apparently immoral, their whining and complaining about the state of television and movies and art and the media, and their endless condemnation of politicians are all getting in the way of their actually making a difference in the world. Instead of complaining about NEA funding of immoral art, he says, we should provide the NEA with real, thoughtful, honest art that has a moral and aesthetic base. Instead of boycotting movies that revel in sex and violence, we should produce excellent movies with a strong, meaningful, real, compelling story to them. Instead of lambasting the vapid and hedonistic pop music offerings on the radio, we should get into the industry and produce technically excellent, thoughtful, meaningful music. Briner wants Christians to stop complaining about all that is wrong with the entertainment industry (and the rest of the world) and provide an alternative. He suggests that alternative should not be a separate set of CDs and movies and books just for Christians, as we see in the Christian bookstore; rather, we should compete in the secular arena by producing excellent music, television, movies, and books, that appeal to the world at large by being excellent and true (and not overtly evangelical). The call he sounds is compassionate, consistent, and what's more, he makes it without benefit of having read (so far as I can tell) Abraham Kuyper, John Calvin, or others who call for a transformationalist approach to our culture.

Although his call for change may be less sophisticated than Kuyper's, it has a compelling earnestness and excitement that may serve to ignite the fires of some modern everyday reformers who are trudging through their commitment to the cultural mandate.

Briner bases much of his argument on Matthew 5:13's exhortation for Christians to be the salt of the earth. Our modern usage of the phrase "salt of the earth" to refer to someone who is dependable, service-minded, but also plain, ordinary, and perhaps not to bright, misses the point, say Briner. We need to understand that we are being asked to spice up every arena of culture with truth and creativity. "The best way to stop the spread of evil," says Briner, "is to replace it with something good." He then applies that thinking to how Christians ought to approach movies, television, literature, the visual arts, and the academic world. Throughout the book, Briner consistently calls the reader to stop whining about the world and get out there and provide alternatives.

The book is not without its logical inconsistencies. At one point, shortly after bemoaning Christian tendencies to create alternatives for the flock only, and after talking about how, although James Dobson may be saying good things about the family, no one outside the Christian wold has heard of him, he goes on to applaud the efforts of Amy Grant, Sandi Patti, and similar "crossover stars" whose work, he says, has slipped over into the more secular arena. I might question how many non-Christians have heard of Sandi Patti. Perhaps U2 would have been a better example. At another point, Briner argues that television as a medium is morally neutral, without considering some of the inherent difficulties of an industry based completely on selling people stuff. One other example would be his blind acceptance of the alleged immorality of the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ" or the visual art piece "Piss Christ" by Andres Serrano, both of which have been lauded in some Christian circles for thoughtfully conveying important messages (that Christ's greatest temptation was that he could have, at any point, gotten down from the cross and become a loving human husband and parent in the case of the film, and that we have reviled and despised Jesus' message in the case of the visual art). At no point in his book does he encourage Christians to engage the good aspects of the culture we already have; rather, he pushes consistently for an immediate transformation.

The packaging of the book also runs ironically counter to Briner's message. My copy contains an advertisement for a Roaring Lambs CD featuring Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman and others. Despite Briner's arguments that Christians have got to get their books and CDs out of the Christian subculture and into the world, his book is clearly marketed to a target audience of Christian consumers.

Flaws aside, though, the earnestness and urgency of Briner's call for Christians to become involved in artistic and political modes of discourse is a compelling one. He quotes a certain Trueblood (he doesn't give the first name) as saying, "The test of the validity of a religion is to be seen in its effect upon culture." Bob Briner believes that we are not currently passing that test, but if we get off our butts and get going, we can.

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