Get Back in the Game! Interview With Dick Staub (Part 2)

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Dick Staub is not afraid of the hard questions. In his recent book The Culturally Savvy Christian, he's also not afraid to offer some hard solutions. The book is a manifesto for cultural and spiritual change, and Dick Staub calls us to task. The Christian's role in culture, he argues, is not merely to critique or imitate. God can work through his people to change the culture itself.

Dick Staub is no stranger to interviews, though he has more experience on the other side of the table. From 1987 to 1999 on "The Dick Staub Show," he interviewed the shapers of American culture—authors, business leaders, educators, politicians, futurists, theologians, filmmakers, musicians and trend-watchers. Staub has also served on the board of North Park University, Martin Marty's Public Religion Project, Image (A Journal of Art, Faith & Mystery) and advises the C.S. Lewis Foundation.

Recently, Staub spoke with about his recent book, his ideas, and his challenge for Christians everywhere. Whether we work in media, business, education, medicine, or law, his advice is the same: Get off the pew and go change the world through your daily work.

I hear you saying something pretty radical in your criticism of Christian media. We set out to be our own counterculture and we became simply an imitative culture.


So do you see any positive things coming out of Christian media?

Well, instead of approaching it that way, I'd like to suggest that we need a better understanding of two things.

First, to recover our deep, deep spiritual roots—our legacy—and experience a deep transforming faith experience in our own lives.

Second, to see the connections between a deeper spiritual life, a deeper, more substantial walk with God, and the kind of rich culture that ought to create.

I want to remind Christians of our intellectual creative spiritual legacy. Ours is the legacy of Bach and Mendelson and Dante and Dostoyevsky and Newton and Pascal and Rembrandt, who produced the culture of their day.

Do you think that Christian art is always going to be marginalized as long as it comes out under the heading of "Christian media"?

I don't think that there is such a thing as Christian media. In a sense, I agree with C. S. Lewis who said, "We don't need more Christian writers. We need more great writers who are Christian."

By the way, I don't blame Christians for what has happened with the development of a parallel universe. Christians set out to be in general mainstream media, and they were locked out. ABC, CBS, NBC radio all used to allocate a certain amount of time of religious programming. And they simply got to the place where they realized they could make more money off of other stuff.

Christians were forced into buying their own radio stations so they could have a voice. Buying their own television stations. They couldn't get their books published, so they began to publish books.

But there is a shift happening today. Most of those Christian publishers are owned by larger publishers that are "secular." A lot of Christian radio stations are owned by people who aren't Christian.

Our broader calling to the culture requires that people with the talent and the calling get back in the game.


There's always going to be this niche of Christian media that exists to serve Christians. But we shouldn't view our art as something we are only making for ourselves, which is what happens if it becomes described as Christian art. We should be creating the art that is being held up as great work, that has something to say in the broader culture.

We shouldn't be making Christian films. We should be telling stories in the mainstream that are told well, in well-crafted films that earn the right to be heard in the broader culture.

Tolkien was a Catholic believer. His Lord of the Rings was named the most influential piece of literature in the twentieth century in four separate polls. He would never have been satisfied with the Christian Booksellers Association bestseller list if he didn't also make the American Booksellers Association list or the New York Times bestseller list. He understood his role was to create culture, be part of culture—not to exist in a parallel universe to culture.

I love Tolkien. You talk about him in terms of the success he had in numbers of sales. But a minute ago, you were talking about good art versus good profit motives. How does a Christian be culturally savvy in the marketplace?

In his case, he published it not to make money, but to get his message out, to get his stories out. And it happened to become a commercial success.

Tolkien was not motivated by money. He was not driven by profit motives. There is no way a company could have said to him, "Gee, Tolkien, soften this up a little bit. No one is going to get this middle earth stuff."

He was himself a master of the craft. He was at the top of his game. The Inklings, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, and the people who met at the pub every week, were reading literature to each other that was the best stuff of the day.

Both Tolkien and Lewis were committed first of all to doing everything to the glory of God. Their primary motivation was to glorify God through doing good work.

They recognized that their daily work was a high calling.

Right, this is not a new issue.

On the other hand, we do have to recognize that people buying our work can be a confirmation that we are connecting with an audience and a market. Our work has to be substantial so it can find its audience. Which is vastly different from the way most art and creativity is marketed and packaged today. Today it's very bottom shelf.

Can you explain what you mean by "bottom shelf"?

I'm in the midst of this myself, trying to create broadcasting programs that are for thoughtful people. Because broadcasting today is very dumbed-down. You look at radio today. It's either hostile talk, politically polarizing talk. Or frivolous talk. Or sports talk.

We all recognize that Paris Hilton lives an unsustainable life. Not to be imitated. And yet if you look at shows like American Idol and the Christian knock-offs of the same thing, we're trying to satisfy our deep intellectual spiritual creative capacities which come by way of our being created in God's image; we're trying to satisfy it with this insipid, stupid, dumbed-down stuff.

And I think there is a hunger for something more substantial. That's the hope for a better future.

What would that more substantial popular culture look like? Or would it never be popular?

Let's use Shakespeare as an example. Shakespeare's an interesting character because on the one hand, he definitely wanted to write plays that people would attend. He was commercially motivated. On the other hand, he used entertainment, a diversionary play, to attract attention to important issues.

So he had lots of stuff that the people of his day found entertaining and amusing. And he loaded it up with important issues and ideas that they needed to wrestle with. And he also was dealing with commentary on the British elite of his day and on the government of his day and the Catholicism and religion of his day in a humorous way.

He found a way to smuggle intelligence into the broader marketplace to make it creative and entertaining.

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