Jesus on the radio : theological reflection and prophetic witness of American popular music.
The image of God in humanity is the image of the creator, the creative spirit, the imagination, manifest in our ability to understand, appreciate, and reflect on the beauty of God in creation. Therefore, the spirit of imagination, beauty, and creativity is intrinsic to the fullness of a life of faith. Art is a boon to a life of faith; additionally art and creativity allow for and create a space for genuine theological reflection. Arguments made about art in general can be applied to forms of popular culture. The foundation for this project explores the nuances between definitions of “popular culture”, and asserts that popular culture can be and often is meaning-making and identity-forming. The theological significance of popular culture is couched in terms of theological reflection and prophetic witness. The implicit assumption that anything dubbed “Christian” maintains theological depth, and creations lacking that distinction are ‘secular,’ or ‘profane,’ and therefore devoid of any moral good or theological import, is false, and a distinction this project serves in dissolving. The third chapter asserts a strong link between theological and prophetic tasks, one flowing from the other. Genuine theological reflection must result in an outward and public response. Theological reflection connects to the truth of one’s lived experience, and speaks honestly about the human story; out of that experience, voices of prophetic witness speak truth to power, out of and in solidarity with lived experiences. By way of example, the fourth and fifth chapters highlight Over the Rhine, and the sixth and seventh chapters focus on the Indigo Girls. These chapters offer examples of how both theological reflection and prophetic witness are linked and manifest in forms of popular culture; they serve as ‘ideal cases,’ offering breadth and depth of long careers and prolific material to explore these themes. The dissertation makes the case that popular culture, as it is consonant with artistic, creative expression, serves as a location for both theological reflection and prophetic witness on its own terms. Moreover, the participatory nature of popular culture as forms of consumption, relies on an audience to buy, watch, attend, interact with music, film, television, etc., and thus is able to create a space for others to participate in these tasks. By identifying the theological as lived, narrative, and contextual, I seek to democratize the potential for theological reflection and the resulting prophetic witness.