“Print is dead” has been said so many times, it has almost become an accepted cultural truth. But yet, here you are reading this right now.
Sure, “print” has changed and will continue to change, but it will always be a force for cultural transformation. Just ask the rapper with the album sitting on top of the Billboard 200.
With Anomaly, Lecrae became the fifth artist to have a Christian album reach No. 1 on the overall charts and to thank his fans, he released “Non-Fiction,” a new song that can be downloaded for free.
In the autobiographical song that traces his journey in the rap industry, he references the reasons why he changed the way he views his craft.
Shortly after, I got a hold of Tim Keller’s books
Man I promised it’s like my whole life changed
Andy Crouch wrote a book about culture making
And after that I had to make a slight change
The change in Lecrae’s music has been a subtle, slow shift, but like I wrote in my review of Anomaly, this may be his most Christian album yet.
Because he is not just speaking about his faith, he’s trying to speak about how his faith influences his life and culture at large. From his own words, that came from reading books.
It might be a generality, but it is generally true: Not everyone who reads books changes culture, but everyone who changes culture reads books.
One might think the Billboard charts that deal specifically with music would be a place you could escape the influence of the written word. Yet here you have Lecrae taking the top spot, due in large part from a change he made after being impacted by books.
Statistic after statistic, research upon research, indicates the importance of reading. Yet, according Pew, nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) will not read a book this year – up from 8% in 1978.
Essentially in my lifetime, the percentage of Americans who do not read books has almost tripled. That’s not a good sign for our country or culture. But even if it is a trend in culture, it should never be so among Christians.
Consider this tremendous biblical basis for the study of literature Karen Swallow Prior gives to her students at Liberty University. Every point is worthy of attention, but two are especially appropriate to this discussion.
Christianity is a religion of the written word. Christianity gives a primary place to the word over the image: God’s highest form of communication with us is through the written word (from the Ten Commandments to Holy Scripture to Jesus as the Word); God cautions us about the power of visual images or “graven images” (see Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death), and the Protestant Reformation reinforced the primacy of words over images); Christianity is responsible for preserving and disseminating the written word and literacy throughout the world as the invention of the printing press was motivated by the desire of Christians to get the Bible into the hands of the people. The word both spoken and written is central to our faith in countless ways.
Literary Christians are better equipped to engage a postmodern culture. Postmodernism is characterized by an emphasis on language and “story”; for many today the aesthetic experience has replaced the religious experience. Christians who understand this can more effectively engage the current culture.
If we truly believe “in the beginning was the Word” and we want that Word to permeate culture at large, we must not only be in the Word, we must be in words, in books and stories.
Christians must be readers and writers. Even in a world supposedly driven by pictures and sounds, books continue to be one of the most important ways we shape culture. Just ask Lecrae.