Now of course I don't think everything that is secular is evil. I think a lot of it is neutral and can be used for good purposes. I am using technology right now and technology is not a Biblical thing. It's just something that exists. I'm wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Are those Biblical? Nope. I'm using the English language. Is it Biblical to speak English? Nope.
I think the error stems from a wrong interpretation of Acts 17:22-31
Let's walk through this passage and look at some ancillary passages that can illuminate a better understanding of what exactly Paul is doing when he references an altar and poets.
It's important to understand the type of literature Acts is. It's a documentation and description of events that took place in the early church. It is not, like Paul's letters, a prescription of things the church must or should do. Acts is a history book. We can learn much from it and it should be studied by all believers but we can't take certain events from Acts and make them normative for Christian life.
If you're familiar with Acts then you can quickly and easily see how out of control our lives would be if we took everything from Acts and made it something we all had to do. We'd have to raise people from the dead, heal crippled people, live in a giant commune, watch 2 of our friends get struck dead for lying and hypocrisy, get arrested and preach in front of courts and all sorts of other unsustainable things. There remain many things we can learn from Acts despite it not being a prescriptive book, though.
We've got the type of literature established. Now let's figure out the context. Paul has been traveling around proclaiming the Gospel to Gentiles since he is the appointed Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1, Galatians 2, 1Timothy 2). At this point he's just left Berea where he commended the Bereans for knowing the Bible and testing Paul's words against Scripture. Interestingly enough Paul reasoned with the Bereans from Scripture and not from secular entertainment or secular philosophy. He knew the Bereans were at least familiar with the Bible and argued based upon that.
He then arrives in Athens while waiting for Silas and Timothy and is moved to take the Gospel "in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present." While doing this he captures the attention of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who then bring him to the Areopagus to give Paul an opportunity to explain what he's saying. He had already been preaching Christ because these philosophers said he was preaching strange deities - specifically Jesus and the resurrection.
Paul then has his chance to preach and he takes the men of Athens from Genesis (the God who made the world) to the gospels (raising Him from the dead) while weaving in beliefs the Athenians held to. Take careful note what he says about the Athenian beliefs. Paul does not say he loves himself some Athenian poetry and jams to it between sermons.
He first points out their ignorance (v. 23) for giving worship to an unknown god. He immediately breaks down and destroys their false idols by equipping them with right knowledge about God. He doesn't sympathize with them and put their gods on equal footing with God. He makes a strong argument for monotheism. And not apathetic monotheism but active and interesting monotheism. That is to say Paul says God is active in this world of ours. This destroys another argument made by some Athenian philosophers - that there's a supernatural god who just isn't involved with us. Paul then explains how we are all from one man. This contradicts and would be upsetting to the teaching by many Greeks that they were a superior people. This would also do the same to modern day evolutionists, amen?
"Tim, Tim! He's just arguing against religious notions and ideas! Of course he'd disagree with their theology! Let's talk about Paul quoting Cretan poets and how his doing that means I should listen to everything, read everything and watch everything that's popular in the culture!"
Ok. Fair enough. There's a difference between tearing down false idols and using secular sources to make a point. I agree. I don't think it's always wrong to take a secular concept or song or movie and use it to point to Christ. I think that can be very effective in some instances.
Paul wasn't talking to people familiar with the Bible or the story of Christ. He briefly references some poetry from secular poets. He uses both to demonstrate that the Greeks already knew God existed and that we're made in His image.
He isn't quoting lyrics from a vulgar rap song. He isn't quoting lines from a vulgar movie. He's quoting theistic poetry. And he then ties these words into his message and points the people to Christ. He doesn't quote them to sound hip and cool. He uses them for regenerative purposes. He's not just being relevant for the sake of relevance.
"Hey you know such and such a singer says this, but God's word says this..."
"That movie says this about God, but here's what God says about God..."
And then take note of how the men and women responded to Paul:
Some sneered. Some were intrigued. And some were convinced. Who is going to be convinced of their need for a savior if you quote Taylor Swift? Especially if you don't point it back to Christ?
Paul is speaking to a specific demographic (erudite Athenians) and would know what to draw on to make a point. Maybe this works with a preacher who is preaching to a specific demographic. A preacher with only an older demographic can obviously use illustrations he couldn't with high schoolers. That's simple to understand. But when we're in mixed company what kind of impact will quoting One Direction have on anyone over 22? I know the band is popular but couldn't tell you one song they sing. So quoting them and drawing from them tunes out a huge portion of the audience.
It also can't be overstated that Paul uses these references to point to Christ because these people are clueless about Christ. Is there anyone in the United States who hasn't heard the name Jesus Christ or heard at least some portion of the Bible? Jesus is as ubiquitous as the Kardashians. If you have ever stood in a checkout line or gone to a news website, you have some knowledge of the Kardashians without ever having watched their show.
My point in all of this is to show that Acts 17 does not command us to immerse ourselves in pop culture. I don't think all pop culture is wrong. I love movies. I like music. That doesn't mean I have to be familiar with who won all the Oscars and Grammys in order to be a good follower of Christ.
Certainly I think we can use certain aspects of our society to be relevant. We dress like other people generally dress, right? We don't dress like 12th century Africans, do we? We dress like people in America generally dress. We don't speak in Olde English, right? We don't have churches without any technology of any kind, right? There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But where we'd be wrong is if our women dressed like women of the world and our men spoke like men of the world and if our emphasis became about stage production as opposed to strong proclamation.
In 2Corinthians 10 Paul says this:
We take every thought captive, destroy speculations to the obedience of Christ and we do so without being wordly or fleshly. If we quote secular entertainment we do so to destroy it. We don't quote it so sound hip. But maybe you're at someone's house and a movie comes up? I think that's a great opportunity to point out some similarities, highlight some differences and use that as a stepping stone. Just like Christ used all of His surroundings as teaching tools, we can use nature, relationships, money and entertainment as teaching tools. That doesn't mean we have to be current on the music industry. A lot of men watch pornography? Do we need to be current on that? Of course not. It's sinful. Much of popular music is sinful. We can use pornography as a teaching tool in the sense that we'd compare the way it sees sex in contrast with what the Bible says but we don't have to incorporate it into sermons or our daily lives. And we obviously don't rave about it and how cool it is under the guise of relating to people.
"I mean, most men look at porn so what kind of Christian man would I be if I didn't look at it? How can I relate to those men?"
Doesn't that sound INSANE????????
And that's not an unfair comparison because most music today is extremely sexual or explicit. I can know that just by existing. I don't need to listen to every song to know that or immerse myself in MTV. I just need to go to the store. I just need to be scanning through the radio for about 2 minutes or drive past a billboard.
But then in 1Corinthians 9 Paul says this:
"So we can do whatever we need to do reach the lost? So I can go see 50 Shades of Grey so I can know how to reach such women????"
Not quite! Because Paul ends 1Corinthians 9 by saying this and this is never ever quoted when people refer to the passage I just shared:
A couple words that stick out are self-control and not without aim. He becomes all things to all men without sinning and without forfeiting control of his self and he does so with specific purposes in mind (furthering the Good News).
If you want to watch movies or listen to music that is potentially objectionable, then make sure you do so under the pretenses of your own desires; without claiming you're doing it under the auspices of being relevant to the lost. Quoting secular entertainment is not necessary to reach the lost. Proclaiming the inerrant Word of God is necessary.