For Christians who consider themselves knowledgeable about the arts and culture, one of the most challenging conversation one can have begins when a friend praises – with that kind of sincerity that suggests the object of praise is tied up with the identity of the one praising it – some “work” of popular culture that is clearly bad. Your first reaction is to control your facial features to hide your shock and disapproval until you can decide a tactful way to correct your misguided friend. For a moment, you think about calling them a philistine, but anticipating the unavoidable confusion with the ancient Middle East nation known for their giants, you abandon this tactic for something else.
Of course, their offending taste can’t be ignored. Allowing them to continue in their undiscerning taste when you have the knowledge to set them straight would be like a lifeguard who smiles and waves to a swimmer as they dive into an empty pool. Something must be said, but what and how?
While taste in art and pop culture is not exactly the same as food offered to idols, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, I think we can find some useful guidelines to help us respond biblically when our taste is offended:
“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” I Corinthians 8:1-3
What is important to see in these verses is the way Paul tells us what we should be communicating when we are dealing with issues of conscience with people who might disagree with us. Paul, speaking very frankly here, tells us that our ultimate goal should be to communicate love for the person we are talking to, not necessarily knowledge.
Although the Bible has many things to say about knowledge and its importance, it is critical for us to understand its limits. The main limit Paul points us to in these verses is that we are finite: we don’t know everything. In fact, for Paul, if you think you know something, you don’t know as you ought to know! If our goal in a conversation with a friend about the merits of a film is to convey our confident, absolute knowledge on the matter, then we are not focused on what is truly important: loving our neighbor.
Practically, what this means is we should be testing ourselves to make sure that our conversations do not involve any puffing up. Here are some questions to ask yourself in these situations:
- When you are first confronted with an example of bad taste, what is the spirit of your desired response?
- Do you want to correct them out of love or knowledge?
- Are you at all excited to display your knowledge, or are you excited to share your view on the subject?
- What do you hope to gain by talking to this person about their taste?
- How do your words, tone, and demeanor convey that purpose?
- Who are you seeking to glorify in your conversation, God or yourself?
- Who are you seeking to build up in your conversation, your friend or yourself?
If we think and act intentionally about these questions, we may find that often the best response to someone is to tell them that we are happy they enjoyed the movie (or whatever media it might be). Other times, depending on the situation and our relationship to the person, we might be able to aggressively help them appreciate a different perception of the artifact. Whatever the situation requires, we need to keep in mind that our purpose is not to be clever, witty, knowledgeable, hip, or even right, but to lovingly and humbly communicate your views in such a way as to build up the body and honor God.
How do you handle disagreements over taste with your friends?