In the fall of 1988,
we took up residence together at the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship
at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Considering the normal demands
of full-time teaching, the situation at the Calvin Center was close to
idyllic: we worked in a suite of offices overlooking pine trees on a beautiful
campus, we were assisted by superb secretaries, we were provided with
excellent computer facilities, we had access to a marvelous library and
an excellent library staff and (most incredibly) each of us had to teach
only one course each semester. Such are surely the things of academic
For eleven months we struggled excitedly but often frustratingly with
the topic "Youth, Popular Culture, and the Electronic Media." Our mandate
as a team was to write a book that would make sense out of what was happening
in North American society and culture. If it were not for our Calvinist
bent, which provided ample intellectual space for God's grace amid human
depravity, we probably would have given up the project. For one thing,
it was not easy to separate the topic from the reality of our own lives.
Most of us could easily recall how it felt to be a high school or college
student (five of the six of us were under forty years of age). For another
thing, each of us was dealing with the reality of either raising our own
children or working closely with college students, advising them on personal
as well as academic matters. Finally, we tried in various ways to immerse
ourselves in the youth culture, attending youth-oriented events (including
ear-splitting hard rock concerts) and even conducting in-depth interviews
with students from private and public high schools in the area. The interviews
were not meant to be scientifically precise studies of a random sample
of North American Youth. Rather, under the direction of John Worst, they
provided specific data for the Center team's sometimes obtuse discussions
of adolescent development and cultural theory.
From the beginning, our goal was first to understand and then to evaluate.
We had no axes to grind or agendas to advance. If such axes or agendas
emerged during our many discussions, we quickly found that they were readily
and incisively challenged. The final manuscript was truly a collective
product, one that survived many group meetings and revisions.
We wish to admit up front that the book probably suffers from two biases,
one basically good and the other basically bad. The good bias, from our
perspective, is the Reformed Christian commitment of all the authors.
Although we have written this book for a general audience, we are hardly
representative of the religious pluralism of North America: all of us
embrace that portion of the historic Protestant faith represented in the
Reformed tradition. For us this means, among other things, that the world
belongs to God, that God created humankind, that human-kind's purpose
in life is to magnify the Creator, and that Christians should not only
save souls but also transform society and culture for the good of all
people. The Reformed tradition especially demonstrates a passionate interest
in caring for the whole of creation and culture as an expressive arena
for the loving, redemptive action of God. Today that arena includes popular
culture, especially the popular entertainment distributed through the
Practically speaking, we tried to write a book that was informed by this
common faith but that also would be of interest to anyone concerned about
the fate of contemporary America. We hope that theists and skeptics alike
will listen to the voices speaking on the following pages. In the rhetorical
style of Robert Bellah & Company's Habits of the Heart, this book
seeks to engage the North American public in conver-sation on crucial
cultural questions that affect residents of North Amer-ica and, increasingly,
the world. Youth everywhere increasingly share the same cultural boat,
buoyed by the electronic media and steered more and more by large corporations
run by adults. For us, this situation necessitates dialogue not just among
Christians but across the social landscape. Therefore, we invite all travelers
to consider the implications of our arguments for their own journeys.
The bad bias grows out of the fact that we are a homogeneous group of
white, middle-aged, North American males. Although several of us come
from working-class families, we all share the sensibilities, values, and
tastes that accompany a rather homogeneous background. In order to eliminate
some of the blind spots resulting from our homo-geneity, we sought advice
and criticism from outside of the team. Three students-two white females
and one black male-participated in our research and contributed to the
formulation of our ideas. We thank Keri Bruggink, Joy DeVries, and David
Whettstone for their willingness to enter the den of academic pretention
with fresh ideas and humble convictions. At times we felt that they should
be writing the book for us.
We also solicited the advice of many people who we thought could contribute
significantly to our project. Among them were Jack Balswick of Fuller
Seminary, Tony Cox, John Dodge of Calvin, Martin Medhurst of Texas A&M,
Margaret Koch of Bethel College, and Tom Willett of Word/Epic Records.
We benefited considerably from academic and professional meetings where
we presented tentative findings and audiences responded insightfully if
not always supportively. At Fuller Seminary we met one day with scholars
from the Los Angeles area, and on another day with youth workers and clergy.
We offer our deepest gratitude to Richard Mouw, Fuller's provost, and
Steve Murray, a youth minister from the area, for organizing those successful
meetings. At the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, we met with
a lively group of Canadian scholars. Brian Walsh and Bob VanderVennen
deserve our deep appreciation for making the meeting possible and for
creating a cordial environment for discussion and fellowship.
The most difficult facet of our research lay in locating pro-fessionals
within the entertainment industry who would talk candidly about their
work and their perceptions of the role played by the media in the lives
of young people. Thanks again to Richard Mouw at Fuller, we were able
to meet in Los Angeles with numerous producers, writers, directors, and
the like. We also toured Hollywood, sat in on program tapings, and met
privately with interested professionals. This trip was made possible in
part by a grant provided by Mr. C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, a man who has repeatedly
demonstrated heartfelt concern for American youth.
We received substantial on-campus support, both from Dean Rodger Rice,
who personally oversaw the Calvin Center during our research year, and
from the Calvin Center Board, chaired by Dr. Susan Gallagher of the English
Department. The board gave us a great deal of freedom to pursue our ideas
and showed its enthusiastic support on many occasions.
In our ongoing work at the Center, we were blessed by two gifted individuals
who were far more than secretaries. Kate Miller and Donna Romanowski not
only did most of the word processing for the manuscript. They also did
much of the bibliographic work compiled the index, helped organize meetings,
and generally kept the Center running while the team walked around with
its heads in academic fog. To them we offer our deep gratitude for a job
done carefully and joyfully.
A project such as this invariably squeezes more work out of some individuals
than others. Quentin Schultze ably and gracefully coordinated and directed
the labors of the team. In addition, he undertook extensive liaison work
both on campus and off. His service was invaluable. During the post-residency
period, someone had to revise and edit the manuscript. That burden fell
upon Roy Anker, who did much to clean up abundant obfuscation and awkward
or poorly organized writing. Mary Hietbrink of Eerdmans shored up the
team with her able copyediting, while Eerdmans' editor in chief, Jon Pott,
encouraged the team from the beginning. We're grateful for Eerdmans' willingness
not only to publish the manuscript but also to give it special care and
The Calvin Center is a special place of academic hope and grace, even
when it deals with a sometimes depressing or unwieldy topic. So we thank
the Creator for fashioning the Center amid a fallen (academic) world.
And we pray that this book will help restore the Creator's world.