Katalyst: Everyday Theology and the Checkout Lane

Tomorrow the Karis ladies will meet at 908 Walnut downtown at 8 p.m. for their Katalyst discussion.  Katalyst is a monthly Karis event designed to develop leaders by challenging men and women to become theologians who can exegete Scripture and culture and respond accordingly from a God-centered, biblical-theological worldview.   Last week the men gathered, and I discussed the following.  The women will cover similar material.  This is a summary of chapter one of Everyday Theology edited by Kevin Vanhoozer with discussion questions interspersed throughout.


Katalyst Session One, February 2008: “The Gospel According to Safeway”


  1. What is culture?

a)       a shared environment, practices, and resources of everyday life.”

b)       Culture: communicates (a vision of the meaning of life), orients (gives framework for interpreting everday life—“mind maps,” worldviews), reproduces (“spreads beliefs, values, ideas, fashions, and practices from one social group to another”), and cultivates (the human spirit, doing spiritual formation)


  1. How do most Christians “engage” popular culture?


  1. What are dangers of interacting with culture?

a)       Above we see two extremes: “The first is an uncritical acceptance of and fascination with the newfound religiosity and spirituality of popular culture.  The second is to write off popular culture as one more symptom of sinful rebellion” (p. 33).

b)       We can do neither of these things.  Thus the next question:


  1. What are the reasons, however, for engaging the culture around us? 

a)       First, “popular culture—more so than the academy or the church—has become the arena where most people work out their understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful.  In sum: Christians must learn to read popular culture not least because it has become an important locus of everyday theology” (p. 34).

b)       Second, “another reason to be able to read culture, then, is to ensure that the church at any particular place and time is serving the gospel rather than taking it hostage through acculturation” (p. 34).

c)        Third, “the most compelling reason I can give for learning to read culture is that the mission of the church demands it” (p. 34).  “Cultural illiteracy is harmful to our spiritual health.  Christians need to know how to read culture because, first, it helps to know what is forming one’s spirit.  It helps to be able to name the powers and principalities that vie for the control of one’s mind, soul, heart, and strength…  second, so that they can be sure that the scripts they perform in everyday life are in accord with the Scriptures—the story of what God is doing in Jesus Christ through the Spirit to give meaning and life to the world—rather than some other story.  Finally, Christians need to become culturally literate because we need to know where we are in the drama of redemption.  The world is our stage, but culture is the setting for our net scene” (p. 34). 

d)       Fourth, if it isn’t clear from above, we need to know what people are talking about so that we can reach people with the gospel!


  1. How, then, should we go about it?

a)       First, some presuppositions:

                                        i.      When we interpret cultural texts and trends, we are dealing with matters of ultimate concern.  In other words, those texts and trends may have a surface meaning, but beneath it all is something deeper that tries to answer: Who am I?  Why am I here?  What’s wrong?  How can things be fixed?

                                       ii.      We should seek to hear and understand culture “on its own terms.”  We shouldn’t make judgments on something until we understand it somewhat.  We should work hard to make sure we understand it.

b)       Second, some doctrines:

                                        i.      Incarnation: The gospel is translatable into every culture.  But it transcends culture.

                                       ii.      General Revelation: All of us know there is a God.  Cultural texts and trends are ways people try to grasp with that sense of the divine.

                                      iii.      Common Grace: Unbelievers can grasp the true, the beautiful, and the good, in some sense, outside of their understanding of, and experience with, salvation.

                                     iv.      The Imago Dei: Made in the image of God, we are culture-makers. 

c)        A two-part method defined:

                                        i.      First, we understand the text or trend by looking at the worlds behind, of, and in front of it.

                                       ii.      Second, we look at it in terms of the creation, fall, and redemption (and consummation) understanding from the biblical story.

d)       The two-part method described (part one):

                                        i.      The world of the text: here we try to understand it by “reading” it, thoroughly and thoughtfully, while trying to suspend judgment until later.

                                       ii.      The world behind the text: here we try to understand “more fully how the work came to take its present shape” (p. 234).  We look for factors that have influenced this.  We read what others have said, see who else is involved in spreading this text or trend, consider what other trends influence it, even asking, more with trends, who stands to gain from it.  Our goal is, after this stage, to understand the text or trend and have a basic understanding of how it came to be what it is.

                                      iii.      The world in front of the text: here is where we get to talking about what it all means.  How do people respond to it?  What is its influence?  What are “root metaphors” that help us understand? 

e)       The two-part method described (part two):

                                        i.      Seek a biblical-theological understanding of the issues raised: see how we see the things we’ve found in the biblical story in order to get a biblical view of the topic.  We’re not just looking for proof texts but rather the Bible’s total take on the issue.

                                       ii.      See the issue through Redemptive History-Colored Glasses: situate the text or trend within the world of the biblical text. 

1.        Look for signs of creation: we can find positive aspects of it.

2.        Look for signs of fall: we can see how sin is present in it.  Above, we practiced a “hermeneutic of charity.”  Here, we should practice a hermeneutic of suspicion.  We look for a “theological root error.”  “In what key way does it fall short of the gospel?” 

3.        Consider the truth of redemption: “here we take the text or trend and imagine how to redeem it.”  “How can the cultural work be re-created in line with the gospel?” (p. 242).


  1. What about the checkout lane?  What do the authors argue is the message of the checkout lane (world of the text)?  Do you agree?  How have you seen this?

a)       Buying the good life

                                        i.      Sex

                                       ii.      Beauty

                                      iii.      Health

                                     iv.      Information/Knowledge

                                      v.      Convenience

                                     vi.      Wealth

                                    vii.      Celebrity

b)       The good life: “a vision of happiness that comes from having the best physically, intellectually, and financially.  We want it quickly and effortlessly, and we find the epitome of this good life in the celebrity star.” 


  1. What is the world behind the text?  What do you think contributed to this situation in the checkout lane?

a)       Purpose of check-out lane: sell during “down time”

b)       Sell things that “sell”

c)        These things are desired by our culture and this reinforces that desire

d)       These are desired thanks to a powerful, ubiquitous popular culture opposed to biblical values


  1. What is the world in front of the text?  What influence do these values have in our culture? 


  1. Turning to response, what does the biblical story teach about each of these areas?  How does the gospel redeem them?

a)       Sex

b)       Beauty

c)        Health

d)       Information/Knowledge

e)       Convenience

f)         Wealth

g)       Celebrity


  1. How should each of these values be communicated to each other in the church?  How could they be communicated to those around us in the world?


  1. How do these relate specifically to us as men/women?

  1. What, again, is the importance of reflecting on the checkout lane and then formulating a response?