True Confessions: I do not regularly consume “pop” or “top 40” music, such as Miley Cyrus. However, I am occasionally a sucker for a catchy melody. In the late 90s I fell hard for the Backstreet Boys’ song “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” Now, in great shame and humiliation, I admit that that have fallen for a version of a Miley Cyrus tune. Maybe I am just seeking to justify my shameful indulgence, but I think in this particular song Cyrus is tapping into and revealing a deep theological, specifically eschatological (end hope), desire and drive in our culture. And if we take the time to exegete this cultural artifact it may help us in our gospeling to this culture.
Before we get into it we need to take a look at the song. Here is a link to a compelling accapela version she did with Roots on The Jimmy Fallon’s show. If you don’t listen to the song this post won’t make sense.
In this song she is painting a picture of youthful partying and indulgence. In case you missed it, her reference to “Dancing with Molly” refers to a popular club drug. She is using the imagery of partying as a way of show a “new humanity” that has finally arrived. This “new humanity” is finally celebrating its own arrival. This is a picture of a great eschatological moment. The end, the climax of human history has now arrived! But, what end? What climax?
To answer that question you have to enter the narrative world of Western civilization. Modernity (1800-1970), a Western cultural movement that assumes knowledge of the world begins and ends with the singular individual, preaches that no authority or tradition should constrain the open endedness of individual choice to discover truth. The experience of the individual is the best and most reliable guide to discovering reality, so in other words, the highest end of an individual human is to be true to one’s self. Because of this premise we end up with a world where multiple truths are not only possible but a desired outcome.
The individual desire is then the ultimate determinant for what one is. So, complete freedom and total autonomy to be what one is – what one desires – brings about a victorious struggle against tyrannical and oppressive forces of authority and tradition. When individuals are free, autonomous and being true to their experience/emotions then the end or climax of human history has arrived. In as much as Christians look forward to the return of Jesus as the climactic end, so Western culture looks forward to the emergence of the self, free and autonomous, as the climactic end.
This is most evident in the refrain . . .
It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can sing what we want
She is declaring that the collection of individuals partying (celebrating this climactic moment in human history) is in itself a realization of the hope of Western culture. This song celebrates the West’s answer to the problem of evil. This song answers the big questions any worldview MUST answer.
Who are we? We are the liberated, autonomous, individuals that are free from the tyranny of tradition, authority and metanarratives (big cultural stories that answer these big questions – yeah I know the West eschews metanarratives while still holding to one).
What is the problem in our world? There is a lack of education (free thinking), judgements, and traditions that constrain the individual from being their true selfs.
What is the solution? Well, as Cyrus puts it . . . Remember only God can judge ya
Forget the haters ’cause somebody loves ya. There is no longer any constraint; you can be and choice whatever it is you desire. (Of course, the ungrounded, undefended assumption is that your choice is limited in that it cannot limit the choice of another).
Her song is a eschatological celebration of Western Modernity. She sees this time when all constraints are gone as the eschatological moment of hope the Western world has been longing for. This is the heart beat of our culture. She is tapping into and exemplifying the controlling narrative of our time. If our gospeling does not fully appreciate, acknowledge, realize where our culture is at, we are wasting our time. Missionaries emerse themselves in the culture to understand it and reach it. Modern, Conservative, American Christians are still too interested in fighting the culture, trying recapture the control it once exercised when Christendom ruled. This move is counterproductive for the gospel.
We need to stop being shocked, mad, perturbed, or disturbed when you see people that live under the cultural narrative act according to the cultural narrative. It does little to lament Cyrus’ drug references in a song, so, instead, we should seek to understand what she is actually saying. If we could listen to the culture it is possible we could learn something that would help in participating with God’s mission to reach a lost world. Maybe if we listened they might for a second care about an alternative narrative, the biblical narrative.
Maybe putting Penal Substiution on hold for just a moment and picking up another metaphor from scripture about meaning of the cross and resurrection could help reach a post-Christian culture for Jesus because our culture lacks a category for a juridical concept of sin. We need to become expert cultural exegetes, and we need to stop being cultural warriors.