How to Evaluate Pop Culture in a Sex-Saturated World

Christian wisdom for interacting with arts and culture

Brett McCracken

For as long as I can remember, a certain tension has defined my life and vocation. It’s the tension of being a faithful, biblically committed Christian and also being a fan, critic, and curator of arts and culture. How can I maintain my Christian witness and keep my soul nourished with truth, even as I engage with a pop culture landscape that’s often full of untruths and spiritually toxic material? Is it possible to be enriched by what’s beneficial in pop culture (the good, true, and beautiful) without being tainted by what’s morally and spiritually corrosive? 

One of the biggest flashpoints of this tension concerns the divergent views on sex and gender taken by biblical Christianity and worldly entertainment. In contemporary Western culture, no other issue more potently displays the wide gulf between biblical faith and worldly values. For Christian consumers of pop culture, it is vital we think wisely about how to interact with and evaluate media that advances perspectives on sex and gender at odds with biblical truth. 

Here are four helpful tips.

1. Be Aware That It’s Everywhere

The first way Christians can be wise on this topic is by simply being aware that unbiblical and damaging views on sex and gender are the norm in contemporary pop culture. And it’s not just the “worst offenders” we should worry about. 

HBO shows like “Euphoria” and Disney kids’ movies like “Lightyear” seem worlds apart on the “threat level” scale, but their visions of sex and gender both follow from the same distorted logic. The HBO shows may have extreme explicit content that make them obviously off limits for discerning Christian viewers, but explicit depiction of sex is only one aspect of the problem. The underlying philosophical assumptions are less visible but no less damaging. 

These assumptions inform pop culture narratives everywhere—from G-rated cartoons to cereal commercials, NFL broadcasts to video games, celebrity social media posts to Pride month lattes at coffee shops. Regrettably, sometimes these worldly assumptions about sex and gender even infiltrate Christian music and “faith-based” entertainment. 

So, as Christians navigate the vast terrain of pop culture, we should do so with sober awareness of the ubiquity and depth of confusion.

2. Be Wise in When You Abstain vs. Engage 

One understandable response to the pervasive perversion of sex and gender in contemporary pop culture would be to simply retreat from it all. This might be wise for some Christians. However, it might be impractical or missionally harmful for others. My personal approach is to exercise discernment and wisdom more than wholesale rejection. 

There is plenty in pop culture that is so sexually depraved and insidious in its advocacy of gender confusion that avoidance is definitely the best approach. Wise Christians should not hesitate to abstain from pop culture of this sort—even when it’s “critically acclaimed” or popular with masses of our friends, colleagues, or critics we respect. Sometimes our best witness is our willingness to say “no.” 

But in other cases, it’s fitting to engage with pop culture. Contemporary media has huge formative power. Whether we like it or not, the way Hollywood portrays sex and gender is shaping an entire generation’s views. We need wise Christians to be able to critically engage with these narratives and songs in a way that models biblical discernment and truth-telling.

3. Be Able to Reject What’s Bad and Praise What’s Good 

Younger Christians need to see older generations exemplify the ability to enjoy and appreciate what’s beautiful, good, and true in pop culture, while clearly identifying and rejecting what’s not. This is a lost art among Christians and in our culture at large. 

We live in an all-or-nothing, black-and-white, us-or-them age. We tend to look at any given thing—a book, a movie, a politician, a social media post—through an “either-or” lens, wholly condemning or wholly condoning it. But much in pop culture is more complicated than that, requiring us to separate the good from the bad and the true from the false. 

Take it from a film critic: Almost every work of pop culture has both commendable elements and unhelpful (and often downright egregious) elements. Very little that we watch or listen to should receive our unqualified praise or total condemnation. This means we must do the hard work of critical evaluation and discernment—looking at each thing in pop culture through the lens of biblical truth, praising what we can and rejecting what we must.

4. Be Steadfast in Embracing Scripture’s Vision 

Ultimately, the best preparation for Christians seeking to wisely navigate the fraught terrain of contemporary pop culture is to be biblically literate. Immerse yourself in biblical theology on all things, including sex and gender. We need to know what God’s vision is so that we have the eyes to spot the distortions of sex and gender in pop culture. 

And not only do we need to know it, but we need to love it, because the arts work on the affective level and have a knack for shaping our loves. When our loves are powerfully shaped in a certain direction, sometimes logic and truth take a backseat. We’ve seen this happen over the last 30 or so years, especially in popular TV shows which have made LGBT characters approachable and lovable for mainstream audiences (e.g., “Ellen,” “Will & Grace,” “Glee,” “Modern Family”). 

If Christian audiences know but don’t love God’s vision for sex and gender, then we’ll be vulnerable to having our affections shaped in a “love is love” direction. The sympathetic LGBTQ+ stories we see on screen or the “authentic” lyrics we hear from queer musical artists have great power to make a worldly sex ethic compelling. If we’re not more compelled by God’s sex ethic—which gets scant little screen time in contemporary pop culture—then we’ll be easily swayed by the world’s vision. 

This last point has been the most crucial for me. As a pop culture critic who not only watches more films and TV shows than the average Christian, but who has lived and worked in the geographical orbit of Hollywood for almost two decades, my ability to resist the secular onslaught regarding sex and gender has depended on the fact that I know and love God’s Word. 

I am utterly compelled by God’s vision for sex and gender and thoroughly convinced that it is truer, more beautiful, and better for the world than what Hollywood pitches. Therefore, when I watch a film or show that advances a skewed vision of sex or depicts some aspect of gender confusion, I am not captivated by it; I grieve it. I pray for the lost souls these pop culture narratives reflect and are shaping. And I leave with more passion than ever to spread the gospel that is better than the false sexual gospels of our age.

Brett McCracken is a senior editor and director of communications for The Gospel Coalition.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24