Jesus in pop culture

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Jesus in Pop Culture

… Dozens of films [in popular culture] have featured Jesus, ranging from The Da Vinci Code (novel by Dan Brown), to Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. In 2013, more than 100 million people watched Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s traditional portrayal of Jesus in The Bible presented as a T.V. miniseries, while millions more laughed at the ridiculous portrayal of Jesus in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. In this latter production—which has engendered a following of almost cultic proportions—Jesus is presented as a baby adorned in golden, fleece diapers and becomes the object of prayer for Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell).

Jesus also makes frequent television appearances on The Simpsons and other comedy shows such as Neil Saavedra’s syndicated radio program, The Jesus Christ Show. This popular Sunday morning radio show airs on dozens of radio stations across America. It began airing in 2008 and was still going strong in 2015. The radio drama elevates Jesus to talk-show status and helps listeners imagine what it might be like if Jesus were a resident of southern California taking on-air questions from callers.

There is virtually no area of pop culture that remains untouched by the Jesus factor.

There is virtually no area of pop culture that remains untouched by the Jesus factor, from the music scene and the sports world to tattoo art and the fashion industry with its popular line of T-shirts (one website—cafepress.com—offers 129,000 designs) and bling. Singer-actress Madonna has long dangled a crucifix around her neck as part of her personal fashion statement.

In 2014, Relevant magazine blogger Billy Kangas discusses a church’s ad portrayal of Jesus pleading, via text messages, to have a conversation with his followers, but continually getting the cold shoulder. The ad campaign went viral because they mistakenly switched the texts, making Jesus seem indifferent to the pleas of others. Kangas critiques the church’s use of popular culture saying, “The problem is that in [an] American [context], where religious images are often absent, pop-culture representations of the faith can become the formative symbols and images that a faith community encounters. People begin to actually see Jesus primarily through the lens of materialism and pop-culture, both of which by their very nature are constantly in flux. As a result…faith becomes faddish, salvation is a style and praise is a phase…A slogan-branded faith can’t communicate the depth of the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”

To think about:

What references to Jesus have you seen in popular culture?
Do you find yourself agreeing with the images projected or being greatly disturbed by what you see?

Post your responses…
to these questions or any other thoughts on the Third Way Facebook page. We can contact the writers of Jesus Matters, James Krabill and David W. Shenk for their responses. Or write to info@thirdway.com .

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This excerpt has been adapted and updated from the introduction to the book Jesus Matters.

Editor James Krabill lived in West Africa for 14 years, where he taught Bible and church history. He is an author, editor, and senior executive for Global Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network.

Editor David Shenk has been a pastor and has taught religions in several universities and seminaries. He has authored or edited more than a dozen books about the gospel in a pluralist world.