21 February 2014

Dale Coulter, American Pentecostals, and Popular Culture: Part 2

Not exactly Part 2 because Part 1 was titled Dale Coulter, American Pentecostals, and Their High-Cultured Despisers but close enough. This post contains my final thoughts on Dale's post and focuses on his argument that leading figures in the conservative Reformed churches of America mistake American Pentecostal's exuberant, participatory style of worship for mass culture when it's actually an example of popular or folk culture. It was the fusion of folk culture with Christianity that characterized Medieval and early-modern Christendom, according to Coulter, and it is that fusion that characterized the First and Second Great Awakenings in America as well as the growth of Christianity in the Global South.

Coulter's very brief historical survey contains more than a grain of truth but even given its brevity I think it overstates the case for the equation of Christendom with the intersection of popular culture and Christianity. Yet, even if Coulter is correct, Charles Taylor suggests that we can't count for long on the current serendipity of the two even in the Global South.

It's the continuing enchantment of the world that keeps those preserved in popular culture from succumbing to the desiccating flattening of life characteristic of modernity and, Coulter suggests, the vapid intellectualism of conservative Reformed orthodoxy. Sadly, I believe that this secular age will eventually prevail even in the Global South. The forces of the market and technology seem inexorable and based on my limited experiences with the revivalist wing of evangelical Christianity in India, this is already the case there, at least among those who have moved up to the middle class.

Mass culture has already swallowed the revivalist wing of American evangelicalism along with most of evangelicalism's middle. Oddly, at least oddly from Coulter's perspective, it is conservative Reformed (and Lutheran) orthodoxy that manages to put up at least some fight against the forces of mass culture.

Certain historians may have misjudged the cultural category of the original Pentecostal-holiness movement in America. But we're (almost) all participants in mass culture today.

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