Sand in the Gears

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U2 and the pharisees

November 3rd, 2009 Posted in The Artful Life

I saw U2 in Norman, Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago, so my ears are attuned to all things Bono of late. With that in mind, I figure this is a good opportunity to introduce you to something you should know about if you don’t — John Wilson’s Books and Culture site at Christianity Today (you can also subscribe to a print version). I’ve long appreciated Wilson’s generous approach to art, culture, and literature, and his ability to spark conversations informed by intelligent faith. My appreciation has only been heightened by seeing the likes of John Piper deride him. (We want to make our choices based on positive attributes, I know, but sometimes a pharisee’s disapproval can be a sturdy commendation.)

Oh yes, U2. I mention Books and Culture because you might be interested in Scott Calhoun’s recent treatment of “U2 Studies,” in which he discusses the growing attention paid by academics to U2’s lyrics, evangelical style, and mission. Granted, an orthodox Christian must reject some of Bono’s flightier claims (e.g., the notion that Islam should be put on par with the other Abrahamic faiths), but Calhoun is on to something when he asks: “What does U2 do in their concerts which makes many say they have their religious experiences there, but not in churches?”

A close-minded answer would throw all the weight back on the participant. Who hasn’t heard from church leaders that disconnected parishioners are themselves the problem, a claim which — in Protestant churches at least — is supremely arrogant, given that the “service” is almost entirely a man-made lecture? Disconnected parishioners are in many cases a product of uninspired and uninspiring church leaders — and so the question is well worth asking, how four aging Irishmen bring people to repentant tears more easily than masters and doctors of divinity.

And what I like about Books and Culture is that this question can be asked, and creative answers given, and thereby a discussion born. Which is nice to see, in an age where we have so many mouthpieces, and so few fulfilling conversations.