Cultural Apologetics in Action: DaVinci Code and “Hurt”

Cultural apologetics is a response to the questions that our culture is posing. It seizes upon cultural statements (art, architecture, film, novels, etc.) and evaluates them in light of Scripture. It “gives an answer” to cultural expressions that pose an alternate explanation for who we are, why we are here, what’s wrong with this world, and where we are going. It points to the work of unbelievers that suppresses the truth in order to show the myriad ways in which suppression of the truth happens. It also identifies the expressions of unbelievers in which the truth breaks through, even in the midst of their depravity. Cultural apologetics seeks to illustrate that the unbeliever knows God even as he seeks to suppress that knowledge.

A number of gifted theologians and apologists in the 20th century have demonstrated various approaches to the task of cultural apologetics (Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, William Edgar, and Tim Keller among others). In a later post I will take the time to highlight the work of several of these.

But first some examples.

When The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown appeared in print, conversations about the novel were ubiquitous. About that time I sat next to a liberal feminist from San Francisco on a five-hour flight, and she challenged the reliability of the Bible and the development of theology, primarily drawing her objection from The DaVinci Code. I wasn’t prepared for her objections, as many of Brown’s quasi-historical accounts in the book were new to me. I determined to read the book so I could converse about it and give an answer to the challenges it presented. This was a departure for me. Previously I had avoided cultural expressions that challenged the Christian faith, as I had been taught growing up.

As I read the book I began to think, “Every Christian should be reading this book!” Why did I think this? Because here was a cultural expression that addressed a topic directly related to the gospel. In the ensuing months I had numerous gospel conversations with unbelievers whom I saw reading the book. Having read the book and worked on a rebuttal to the fictitious accounts of church history alleged by Brown, I felt confident to engage total strangers in conversation about the claims of the book concerning Jesus.

As I said in a previous post, the point of cultural apologetics is not permission for Christians to immerse themselves in worldly culture. Rather, it is an encouragement for believers to be aware of which cultural expressions are influencing their world, which are exhibiting truth or the suppression of truth, and consequently to learn to use those expressions to direct attention to the truth of the gospel.

Some cultural expressions clearly exhibit strong Christian themes, even when such is the farthest thing from the mind of those who create them. When preaching to teens I often use the lyrics from the song “Hurt” by the band Nine Inch Nails, an “industrial” rock band. This song was later adapted by Johnny Cash shortly before he died. The lyrics of “Hurt” clearly communicate the hopelessness and despair of one who has achieved fame and success apart from God:

I hurt myself today, To see if I still feel,

I focus on the pain, The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole, The old familiar sting

Try to kill it all away, But I remember everything

 

What have I become,  My sweetest friend

Everyone I know goes away In the end

And you could have it all, My empire of dirt

I will let you down,  I will make you hurt

 

I wear this crown of thorns Upon my liar’s chair

Full of broken thoughts I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time, The feelings disappear

You are someone else, I am still right here

 

What have I become, My sweetest friend

Everyone I know goes away In the end

And you could have it all, My empire of dirt

I will let you down, I will make you hurt

 

If I could start again, A million miles away

I would keep myself, I would find a way

This song was originally written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails during a time of loneliness and emptiness after he had achieved critical acclaim for his music. It reflects the biblical themes found in Ecclesiastes 2, after Solomon had pursued every desire and had still came up empty:

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 ESV)

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 ESV)

When Johnny Cash filmed the video of his version of the song in 2002, he juxtaposed scenes from the crucifixion of Christ, indicating that hopelessness is replaced with hope only in the cross of Christ. Both “Hurt” and Ecclesiastes 2 communicate the inevitable end of idolatry. They can both be used to illustrate the biblical truth of Isaiah 57:20-21:

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
(Isaiah 57:20-21 ESV)

So, here is one example of cultural apologetics. I use the lyrics to “Hurt” to illustrate the emptiness of life apart from God. It often has a powerful effect on the audience.

In Part 5 we will look at other examples of cultural apologetics.

About Mark Farnham
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Pastoral and Pre-Seminary Majors at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

2 Responses to Cultural Apologetics in Action: DaVinci Code and “Hurt”

  1. Pingback: What I Read Online – 08/03/2012 (a.m.) | Emeth Aletheia

  2. Herb Hunter says:

    Mark, I was once asked to do the funeral of a man who had committed suicide due to drug involvement. There were no hymns sung at the funeral, only three songs. The third song was from a band called “Black Label Society” called In This River (you can view the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HUr9UKAxiY). Apparently the song is about the lead singer’s son who was murdered or something to that effect. Anyhow, after listening to the song – which is obviously not in my favorite genre – I had the funeral director play it just before I spoke. I preached through the entire book of Ecclesiastes, showing the emptiness of life without God and then bringing them to the final conclusion of the writer which is to Fear God and keep his commandments. Your blog post reminded me of that funeral. at the time I was thankful for the Spirit’s direction cause I had no idea what i was going to do! Looking forward to seeing you in September by the way!

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