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A Feature Review of
Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet
Paperback: Abingdon Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Danny Wright
In Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet, Paul Asay, from the often-visited website www.unplugged.com, takes the reader on a journey through pop culture’s music, movies, television shows and video games in order to experience God’s message that extends to each of us through those various forms of communication. Asay knows that we search for God in all of our stories and that we need to make sure we do not miss his revelations as we live in this storied existence. He wants to help us hone our ability to be sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance as we live, move and have our being in God and shuffle through this God-created, God-soaked and God-sustained world in which He is not very far from any one of us. Each chapter begins with a quote that focuses the reader and prepares them for the journey of the following pages as he begins to bounce back and forth through a variety of references to well-known media.
In the first chapter, Asay points out that God often communicates with stories because they have a way of sneaking up on us with the truth. He also encourages the reader to be responsible in what they watch and reminds us that God speaks into the darkness and brings light, but that we have to always remain vigilant with the choices that we make. Our minds, hearts and spirits must remain engaged.
The author moves on to discuss superheroes and the need to live up to our responsibility and destiny while referencing the likes of Superman, Hellboy, Professor X and Captain America among others. Asay then ruminates on dystopian movies and how monumental struggles tend to bring out the best in human character and remind us to fight for each other and what really matters. He even points out that when hope ceases to be reasonable, it becomes most useful, as he weaves his way through movies like The Hunger Games, 2012, Children of Men and Noah. Every end offers a new beginning.
In the chapter on monsters, we learn from G. K. Chesterton that fairy tales don’t teach children about the bad and ugly, but that they provide the child a hero that can slay the dragon that they have already known all too intimately. Asay also talks about the twisted justice for horror movie characters who choose immoral acts and often end up reaping a certain demise, all the while urging us to learn to run toward the light.
There is also a lengthy discussion about zombies and the genre that has built up around them. He spends a good portion of that chapter writing about the difference between the plot lines of Warm Bodies and I Am Legend, and then turns his focus on questioning the way Christians practice their faith in this world. He urges that we need to learn to attract people via love and that we have to make sure that we do not sequester ourselves away in holy fortresses.
The chapter on pain and animated features ushers in some of Asay’s most moving exegesis. He talks about how children often understand unfairness and pain better than adults. As he centers in on the movie Up, he forces me to tear up all over again as he explains that we cannot afford to be sidetracked from life and must listen to God as He shouts through pain’s megaphone.
Asay then discourses about television antiheroes by walking us through shows like 24, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Americans and The Sopranos. He believes we like these characters because they dance the line, struggling to find the black and white in a gray world. We see ourselves in these characters and realize that we are in need of a saving help that cannot come from our own mix of merits and demerits.
As Asay discusses reality television, he talks about the positive and negative Christian examples that have surfaced over the years with shows like American Idol, Duck Dynasty, The Real World and American Bible Challenge. He emphasizes that we need to learn to sit down at the table and pray together, and hopes that viewers will be able to sift through the vast array of Christian characters and find some good examples.
Asay believes “music is perhaps the entertainment world’s most powerful conduit to the soul, the most personal expression of emotion and spirituality there is.” In the section on music, he journeys through the works of bands like U2, Mumford & Sons, Owl City and Switchfoot while talking about how real faith and an understanding of the good news shows up in a real world. He then turns his focus to video games and their ability to help us learn to make the everyday, real life ethical choices because of the practice they offer us in the fantastical world. He posits that video games offer gamers an opportunity to learn about moral law, and the fact that our choices not only affect us, but that they have implications for the world around us whether it’s in Epic Mickey, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto or Bioshock.
In the end, Asay advocates that we should look for God’s fingerprint in all of the stories that we love, watch, listen to and experience. He reminds us that we need to know our limits and stick to them, and stresses that if we want to know what God might be saying to us now that we need to know what He has told us before. We need to know the Word, spend time in prayer and actively watch and listen–probing, researching, questioning and conversing about all that we are being fed from the screen, print and airwaves. The book concludes with some practical discussion starters and encourages us to realize that the best stories never end.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com