‘Gray Matters’ points to middle road in navigating culture

Brett McCracken’s latest book “Gray Matters”earns 4.5 out of five stars.



Brett McCracken, author of “Hipster Christianity” and professor at Biola, released a new book in which he helps Christians examine their beliefs about hot-button gray areas such as alcohol, art and Hollywood’s edgier content. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES

Rachel Thompson, Writer

Brett McCracken, author of "Hipster Christianity" and professor at Biola, released a new book in which he helps Christians examine their beliefs about hot-button gray areas such as alcohol, art and Hollywood's edgier content. Reviewing the text is copy editor for The Chimes, Rachel Thompson.  | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES

As an English major and a Torrey student, it’s rare that I read extracurricular books during the semester, usually because I don’t have time to invest in another 300 page novel or treatise. That said, the hours I spent reading Brett McCracken’s “Gray Matters” were well-used.

McCracken’s book is split into four sections: eating, listening, watching and drinking. Each section first gives a brief history of the topic itself, then summarizes what Christians past and present have said about the topic, and finishes with McCracken adding his own views to the conversation. McCracken’s methodology for discussing food, music, movies and alcohol is both comprehensive and logical. As a reader, it makes you feel that you can trust the opinions he puts forth.

McCracken understands that the mediums that constitute culture are neutral. For example, alcohol in and of itself isn’t bad, but how we use alcohol can transform it into a destructive force. He acknowledges, though, that our society has a propensity to use these mediums badly, whether in creating music that celebrates status culture or in eating fast food that harms our bodies more than nourishes them. Because we live in a world that is largely unconcerned with the truth or implications of what we make or use, Christians must be careful about which movies or music we choose to engage with.

So how should Christians approach movies with profanity and nudity? McCracken writes, “A healthy Christian approach to consuming film, I think, includes both moral and aesthetic considerations.” This method of contemplating both what and how a message is being communicated applies to food, music and alcohol as well. For instance, when we buy chocolate from a company like Nestle that relies on child labor, what political or moral agendas are we advocating? When I say that “V for Vendetta” is my favorite movie and encourage a friend to watch it, am I asserting that violence is good, or am I reaffirming the evils of dictatorship? McCracken contends that sometimes the goodness of an idea in a movie or song outweighs the harmful elements in it; we shouldn’t dismiss a film because it contains strong language.

Throughout the book, McCracken advocates a middle-ground for navigating culture. We should neither shun all secular culture nor deeply attach ourselves to every part of it. It’s OK to eat fast food or like Quentin Tarantino films, but we should exercise moderation in using or enjoying these mediums. Furthermore, we ought to be aware of the weaknesses of both ourselves and others. McCracken says that if your friend struggles with alcohol, don’t drink in front of him. If you struggle with lust, don’t watch a movie that contains a lot of nudity and sex.

“Gray Matters” encourages us to engage in culture in a way that is healthy for both ourselves and others. Savor a gourmet meal; it can help you appreciate the goodness of God’s creation, but don’t use that experience to shame someone for having “inferior” taste. We shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy the things of the world, but we ought to be aware that, as Christians, we are supposed to communicate Christ’s identity to the world, and how we interact with culture either helps or hinders this message.

So if you’re confused about how to engage with culture well, go read “Gray Matters.” McCracken will help you learn how to be thoughtful about what you eat, listen to, watch, and drink.

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