A Reflection on Reflect

Summit Ministries’ worldview and pop culture blog, Reflect, has been helping students, teachers, and parents to identify and understand worldview ideas in pop culture and entertainment media for over three years. The purpose of Reflect is not to make you feel bad about what you watch or listen to or to recommend whether or not you should watch or listen to something. Instead, the purpose is to help you recognize the ideas operating behind movies, shows, and music. Recognizing the ideas operating in our world is not always easy. Sometimes the ideas at play are evident and easily identifiable, sometimes they are buried deep and are difficult to discern. What may seem like innocent entertainment may hide dangerous ideas. Reflect exists to help you think deeply about the ideas that influence us and those around us, to thoughtfully engage the ideas prevalent in our culture, and to prepare you for discussions with the rising generations about these ideas.

From the beginning, Reflect has intended to help its readers understand a whole spectrum of worldviews through various categories. Summit’s Understanding the Times identifies ten worldview categories and six distinct worldviews. Over the years of writing Reflect, it has become apparent that some worldview ideas undergird pop culture and entertainment more often than others. In fact, some hardly ever come up, while others come up frequently. Whichever ideas are most commonly represented through art and entertainment are undoubtedly the most popular and powerful ideas in culture. While researching for Reflect, we’ve noticed the same powerful worldview ideas that were identified by John Stonestreet earlier this year as crucial to the thought trends in our culture: truth, technology, and identity.

Truth is what corresponds to reality. Truth is objective, real, and knowable. Reflect’s recent article on Kanye explores the limit of our ability to know truth perfectly, but truth is not something unknowable, nor something we get to make up. The recently released movie about the conversion of C.S. Lewis makes a case for the importance of reason in determining what is true, but our culture often attempts to relativize truth claims, or claim that “truth” is defined by whoever has the most power. Some artists, like Megan Thee Stallion and Billie Eilish, embrace the view of truth that says conversations about truth are really just conversations about power, and it shows up in their music and interviews. Taking to the extreme the culture’s tendency to downplay or deny truth, Twenty-One Pilots and Bastille explore what it would mean to ignore truth, choosing instead to live in a false reality.

Technology is a useful yet dangerous tool. Tristan Harris in The Social Dilemma argues that many types of technology shouldn’t even be considered tools because tools don’t change us, but technology does. One of the most evident consequences of living lives driven by technology is the rising mental health crisis. AJR shares their struggles with mental health through 2020 (a year distinctly marked by technological interactions when in-person interactions were made extremely difficult), and Logic doesn’t shy away from talking about how online comparison and the lack of real relationships can contribute to mental health struggles.

Technology changes the way we think, act, and interact with one another. Recent trends, like the surging popularity of TikTok, can seem like innocent diversions, but they may have deeper implications for our culture. Reflect’s article on the ever-popular 90’s sitcom Friends suggests that we may all be longing for technologically simpler times, possibly in response to how technology is becoming more of a driving (and perhaps controlling) force in many people’s lives. Bastille takes it a step further, imagining what it would be like to lose ourselves in a virtual reality.

Who we are is defined by our identity as creatures made in the image of God. The imago Dei should be central to any discussion about human identity. Yet, in step with its tendency to relativize truth, our culture also relativizes identity, making it a matter of personal preference. Rather than the image of God, what is usually at the center of conversations about identity today is sexuality and gender identity. Lil Nas X, Sam Smith, and the movie Boy Erased all make identity a matter of sexual identity. Boy Erased puts the conversation in a religious environment and implies that sexual desires can’t change, so religion must. Many musical artists point to sex, love, and power as the key markers of identity, while others look to social status and public approval to define their identity. Some voices are more sober in their attempt to understand identity: rather than uncritically accepting the culturally approved ideas about identity, Halsey genuinely struggles with her identity as a woman and a mother. In movies like Raya and the Last Dragon and Judas and the Black Messiah we see how people find their identities in particular groups or causes, seeing the world with an us-against-them mentality.

In Disney’s Cruella, the titular character decides that her identity is someone “born bad.” But Logic gets closer to the truth when he encourages his listeners to recognize that they are inherently valuable. In every Reflect article about identity it seems that the answer comes back to the corrective given by the truth that we are God’s image-bearers. Our culture’s deep confusion about identity is at its root a problem of failing to understand human nature, which is a reflection of the character of God. Our culture attempts to place the burden of identity on various things—sexuality, love, power, public approval, political causes, and relationships (to name a few). As important as these things are, none of them are the most important thing about us. These things and how they relate to our identity can only be understood when we understand that we are made in the image of God.

As these three themes show up in the media, art, and entertainment of our culture, a pattern emerges: the erosion of truth, the dangers of technology, and the confusion about identity. We expect that, in all likelihood, we will continue to see this pattern, which can make the future seem bleak. However, in addition to these three themes, we’ve noticed another theme recurring within the culture: hope.

Sometimes messages of hope come from expected places, like the Chrisitan-produced show that explores the life of Jesus, The Chosen. Sometimes, hopelessness is the prevailing theme, such as in the grief-stricken song “Wrecked” by Imagine Dragons, or in the brutally honest lyrics of Juice WRLD, or in a movie about the end of the world, or a show about how drug abuse ruins lives. Such apparent hopelessness can resonate with Christians, and even resonates with passages of Scripture (2 Corinthians 1:8, Psalm 13:1).

Yes, somehow, it seems that apparent hopelessness is always pointing us back to hope. Enigmatically, our honest expression of our feelings of hopelessness can sometimes be what allows us to turn back to the hope found in the promises of God. At times we may resonate with the world’s fatalistic outlook on existence, but the world’s hopelessness can also be our reminder that our One True Hope is Jesus Christ. As we live in an in-between time—between Christ’s first coming and his second—the world is still broken and it can be difficult to hold on to hope. Hope, because its fulfillment is in the future, is not an easy answer that makes our difficulties disappear. Yet hope can help us work through the struggles and suffering of today.

Songwriter and author Andrew Peterson has said, “Despair is where we end up when we think we know the end of our story.” If we experience suffering and tragedy in our lives and conclude that our story will end in suffering and tragedy—or worse, that our story is meaningless—despair follows. However, Christianity teaches that we do know how our story ends and that we have reason to hope.1

Judah and the Lion reminds us that there’s hope of healing for those who feel spiritually broken and at the end of themselves. Hope gives us the chance to begin again, to know that this is not the end, and to not give up on ourselves or on God. More than just a hope for personal healing, or personal reconciliation to God, Christianity offers the hope that all things will be made new, no matter what happens in our culture (Revelations 21:5). Holding on to hope can be challenging, even painful. Yet hope—hope in Christ—can help us navigate the pain and confusion of living in a broken world.

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Jesse Childress

Jesse Childress has a deep appreciation for good food, philosophy, theology, and literature. He is the former Lead Content Editor and Writer for Summit Ministries' worldview blog Reflect, and spent a term studying at Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Jesse has an MA in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University (now Houston Christian University), and began attending Denver Seminary in the fall of 2022 to study counseling, focusing particularly on the relationship between trauma and faith.