The Cultural Discerner (CD) program has been a part of the work of the SAO since 1995, created because of a perceived need to demonstrate how Christians might take popular culture seriously in an academic setting. A group of sophomore students participate in a CD curriculum focused on developing skills for discernment in aspects of popular culture—music, film, television, advertising—with an aim toward a skill set that could be applied to all parts of life. As part of the residence hall leadership team, CDs facilitate discernment activities with other students.

One of the strengths of Evangelical Christianity is its strong concern for worship and evangelism. One of the weaknesses of Evangelical Christianity is its strong tendency to only care about worship and evangelism, leaving all other parts of human experience to be secularized by neglect. In contrast, Calvin University tries to live out a holistic view of Christ’s lordship that extends to every aspect of human life. Paul writes in Colossians, “For by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Phrased differently, everything matters. Everything includes popular culture.

Though pop culture is often criticized and falsely isolated as the worst of culture, we instead recognize that ruination permeates all things. We recognize that Christ’s redemption encircles all things as well. Popular culture cannot be dismissed. Rather, when made well, it is often the most candid and accurate illustration of our present times. We want to be on the lookout for evidence of Christ’s renewal of all things in popular culture.

One of the greatest strengths of the CD program is that it claims another frequently neglected “square inch” of our world to explore through Calvin’s Reformed identity. CDs learn how to analyze everything from classic, groundbreaking films to the latest reality TV show for nuance and evidence of both the Kingdom of life and the kingdom of death. Discernment, a gift only of the Holy Spirit, allows us to distinguish between the always entangled ruination and redemption in all things.

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