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August 1, 2002

Calvin Prof's Book Wins Major Award

Calvin College professor William Romanowski believes Christians should look critically at how they intersect with popular art and culture.

Few Christians, he says, are not consumers of pop culture. They own TVs and CD players and satellite dishes. They spend more time online than in prayer.

Yet he worries that his call to be critical consumers, recognizing both the bad and the good in culture, often falls on deaf ears among Christians, particularly conservative Christians who often believe that no good can come out of Hollywood.

That's why he was heartened to hear recently that his 2001 book, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, was named a Gold Medallion winner by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Romanowski's book was one of five finalists in the category of "Christianity and Society" and then earned the Gold Medallion award as the top book, beating out books by such distinguished authors as Os Guinness. The finalists were selected in each of 20 categories by a panel of primarily Christian retailers. The finalists underwent a second round of judging by Christian industry leaders, including editors, book reviewers, theologians and Christian retailers.

"The award means people are listening and taking this topic seriously," Romanowski says. "My hope is that more Christians will think critically about popular art and culture. If this award helps the book get noticed and helps that message get out a little more broadly that would be great."

The book, published by Brazos Press (a new Baker imprint) in Grand Rapids, serves as a guide for interpreting and evaluating popular culture as a Christian, a pursuit Romanowski thinks is critical.

"Christians display such a wide variety of attitudes towards popular culture," he says, "everything from unthinking condemnation to blind consumption. Others appropriate and create Christianized versions popular art forms-contemporary Christian music or movies like the one based on the Left Behind novels."

Romanowski thinks none of these approaches makes sense from a Christian point-of-view. "Each of the approaches (condemnation, appropriation and consumption) has some merit," he says, "but they tend to turn Christian criticism of the popular arts into an overly simplistic appraisal based on good or bad, right or wrong. They don't allow Christians to evaluate popular art beyond the most superficial level."

In the book Romanowski suggests a cultural landscape via which Christians can engage popular art. He also contrasts the Christian cultural landscape with a Hollywood worldview, which often recognizes forgiveness and redemption but does so in human terms, apart from God's grace. Hollywood, he says, is very melodramatic and sees the world in black and white. Its faith is in the goodness and triumph of human nature.

"It's what I call the Wizard of Oz syndrome," he says. "Dorothy and her friends have within themselves everything they need to secure their own destiny and salvation, and their journey helps them realize that. As Christians we realize we don't do it on our own. We need God. It's a very different way of looking at the world."

The book also has been turned into a three-part video series, produced by Calvin. It is selling well to its target market of colleges and universities and also has been purchased by churches and high schools.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
616-957-7069 (f)