Note from Reformed Faith Administrator: This is part 3 of an article by Eric Holmberg. I will be presenting it in four parts.
Allow me to begin with story. In 1936, Spain was ravaged by a great civil war. Emilio Mola, one of the leaders of the Nationalist Army under the command of Francisco Franco, surrounded the capital city of Madrid with columns to the north, south, east and west. When asked from which direction he expected the city to be taken, Mola replied “le quinta columna.” This “fifth column” was made up of the spies and propaganda he had managed to plant within the city of Madrid itself.
Can I tell you that there is a civil war going on for the destiny of this nation and the planet ─ one that this generation will lose if the “fifth column” of worldliness continues to flourish in our hearts? Like it or not, God himself has set enmity between the “seed of the woman” (the Church) and “the seed of the serpent.” (Genesis 3:15) And when left unchecked, the spiritual “entropy” that characterizes the fallen world of man will always move towards great disorder and chaos – towards a place where the “imaginations of men’s hearts will be on evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) And out of these imaginations, the “culture” will inevitably arise.
Now culture is a difficult thing to describe because it involves so many things. Taken from the Latin root “cultus,” it originally meant a system of religious belief and rituals. And while today it is commonly used to describe a lot more than this ─ things like aesthetics, ethics, language, etiquette, etc. ─ at bottom the Latin definition still serves us well. Why? Because each of these other aspects of culture flow from the religious presuppositions that form the majority report of a particular society. To use the phrase made famous by Henry van Til: “culture is religion externalized.”
Another thing we need to understand about culture today is just how powerful and almost omnipresent it has become. By faith and through the revealed Word we understand that it is in God that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But from a strictly temporal perspective, modern technology has been able to create a culture of entertainment that could easily cop this verse and use it as a sales slogan for potential advertisers. (I’m reminded here of the famous quote by Bob Pittman, co-founder of MTV: “We don’t shoot for the fourteen-year-olds. We own them!”) As ubiquitous as the air we breathe, digitized information is constantly bombarding us from every side ─ clamoring, cajoling, mesmerizing, titillating, propagandizing ─ threatening and very often succeeding in molding us into its image. (see Romans 12:2: “And don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed…”)
And it is not just the obvious things like violence, blasphemy and pornography that have seduced us. Perhaps even more destructive is something a great Russian writer predicted would happen. Fyodor Dostoyevsky observed that when untethered from the Christian worldview, art would begin by imitating life. But then life would start to imitate art and then would finally draw the very reason for its existence from the arts. Historian Daniel Boorstin sounded a similar alarm when he warned that Americans increasingly live in a world where fantasy is more real than reality. “We risk,” he said, “being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them.”
I call this parallel universe in which our culture has come to live the “Great Substitution.” And the fallout from this substitution is among the most profound challenges facing the Church today.
“I” has taken the place of “We”. One need only consider the Army’s new recruiting motto: An Army of One. What an insane concession to the spirit of the age!
Art ─ which in the Christian tradition was to provide ekstasis; the opportunity to “stand outside ourselves” and gain insight into the wonder of life ─ has been replaced by entertainment (from inter (among); tenere (to hold) ─ something that draws us into ourselves; denying us new perspectives and the opportunity to grow.
The Image has been substituted for the Logos (Word). In the beginning was the Word, which was God and then became flesh and dwelt among us through the Incarnation. (John 1:1&14) It is no accident that we do not know what Jesus looked like or that the Ten Commandments forbid creating images of the invisible God. When it comes to the real business of knowing and worshipping the Trinity, the keys are the Word read and meditated upon, the Word sung (worship), and the Word signified in the sacraments. As images have more and more pushed the written word aside, the logos/logic centers of our minds have grown dull from disuse. The results of this substitution have been disastrous. Even the capacity for Truth (an enterprise that requires logic) has fallen in the post-modern public square. (Isaiah 59:15) And within the Church, the hard work of diligently training our senses to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:15) has been replaced by mushy sentimentality.
Character has been trumped by celebrity. Why are so many people more likely to spend time meditating on the dating habits of some Hollywood profligate than on the scriptural principles that will help them make sure that their own marriages will succeed?
Fun (a word with a very recent origin) has taken the place of happiness. It is no longer just teens who are willing to jettison the hard work and delayed gratification necessary to enjoy the truly “good life.” More and more adults are willing to sell their divine birthright for a mess of “ready-in-a-minute” porridge.
Sound-bytes have replaced discourse. MTV-style “bumpers” and jump-cuts can now be seen in everything from sports coverage to news broadcasts and children’s programming. We are fast becoming a nation of “watchers” with the attention span of a circus of fleas. What ill-wind blows through the body politic when the average network sound-byte from presidential campaigns dropped from 40 seconds in 1968 to under 7 seconds today?
Covetousness has been substituted for profitable stewardship with contentment. Think about it: millions actually pay extra money to buy name-brand clothing for no other reason than to advertise that they wear name-brand clothing!
Agape love (love reflecting the character of God and rooted in covenant commitment) has been pushed aside by eros ─ an obsession with our own erotic or emotional satisfaction. The late, great prophet to the 20th century, Malcolm Muggeridge perhaps said it best: “The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment.”
These substitutions did not “just happen.” They were manufactured with the same satanic genius that gave us Babel’s Tower and Aaron’s calf. The serpent took what were good, God-given desires (we are, after all, called to help build a Holy City whose capstone (Christ) reaches into the throne room of heaven; we are supposed to have a “feast to the Lord”) and ─ like in the Garden of Eden ─ tilted those desires ever so slightly on their axis. Once the center of God’s will is compromised, the trajectory of the culture will move slowly but progressively away from the Sun of Righteousness. As with the proverbial frog in the kettle, the fires of spiritual deception will be turned up gradually so as not to catch our attention. And that’s how we find ourselves today, facing desires that have all but undergone the complete transformation into their satanic substitutes.
I’m here to tell you that the water is boiling! It’s time to crawl out of the acid bath of popular culture and once again be about our Father’s business; discipling nations rather than being discipled by them!
How can we fulfill this call?
(To be continued…)
“The Enemy in Our Midst: Popular Culture and the Battle For Men’s Hearts” will be presented in several parts. Look for the last part coming soon…
Eric Holmberg is the founder and director of The Apologetics Group, based in Tennessee. He has been a champion for the cause of Christ for thirty years now, and is showing no sign of slowing down. Check out his website at