Cultural literacy is nothing more than being aware of popular cultural references. It is not, contrary to popular opinion, the same thing as being intimately aware of all the current trends of culture. Why is it important to be at least minimally aware of current trends in culture? Well, as any good marketer knows, the timeliness of a message is just as important as the message itself. And as Christians, our goal is to tell others about the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To do that we can and should use as many cultural references that we can.
Here’s a helpful story by way of illustration:
Whenever I go to back to my parent’s house to visit I generally try to go to their church if I’m going to be there on Sunday morning. One Sunday I went with them and decided to visit their young married Sunday School group. During the lesson the wife of the leader mentioned how they watched Twilight recently and how she regretted it somewhat because it was “a complete waste of time”. To that I responded that an underlying theme of Twilight is the refusal of one of the main characters, Edward Cullen, to marry or have sex with Bella, the love-sick (and stupid) teenager. Part of the culture’s fascination with this story is due to the illogical purity and deep and abiding love that is portrayed in the Twilight series. From that simple plot overview, it would be relatively easy to strike up a conversation with a Twilight fan and lead them rather quickly into a conversation about ethics, morality, and ultimately, Jesus Christ and His passion for His bride, the Church.
Cultural literacy is all about maximizing the communication surface for our message. And any attempt to artificially limit that surface is detrimental to the spread of the gospel.