“Stare at the Cross ‘cos without it I’m Lost……”. These are the opening words of Josh Bates’ song ‘King of Glory’. However, is this the focus of today’s generation of Christians? You may wonder what I mean when I say ‘today’s generation’; in essence I am referring to those who profess to be Christians in the age range of 15-30. I refer to this age range as it is, generally speaking, those in this group who are seemingly ‘disillusioned’ with church life. We want rock’n’roll worship, crave an experience, want informal services and view doctrine as irrelevant. “Out with the Old and in with the New!”, we scream! It’s all about entertainment and enjoyment. In this mini-series I will be considering several factors that influence the new generation of Christian’s worldview, as it is my grave concern that we are allowing secular media to shape our view of what it means to be a Christian and how we should ‘do church’, all be it consciously or sub-consciously. The areas I will be looking at include T.V (and movies), Music (and radio), Video Games, Magazines and the Internet. I am not seeking to be overly academic in my approach and thus this is not an exhaustive, in-depth critique. Nevertheless the question must be posed; Are we staring at the cross or the box?
From the offset I feel it necessary to make it clear that I do not believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with modern day technology and media. Modern advancements in technology have greatly improved life and made it easier in many ways. Indeed it would not be wrong to say that all these advancements are blessings from the providential hand of God Himself. I, myself have been blessed through the medium of technology and I enjoy watching TV on occasion (not as much as I had done previously). This technological (and overall) prosperity ‘per se’ does not always lead to success. In fact, one only needs to have a familiar acquaintance with the Old Testament to see what happens when a nation or people prospers. What happens I hear you say? They forget about God. The Israelites often forgot about the Lord during times of prosperity. In doing so they abandoned the ways of the one true God and exchanged Him for false-gods. The Apostle Paul says “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie”. The Israeli men married woman of pagan religions who led them astray and as a result this invoked the wrath of God in judgement. If you are familiar with the book of Judges you will be aware of its cyclical narrative. God’s people followed Him, they prospered, they abandoned Him, God sent a judge to judge them in His wrath, yet He did so to correct them back to following Him and around and round we go. I am not a prophet and thus I cannot claim to know that God will act in a similar fashion today. Indeed, I do not think there would be many who disagree with me in my belief that I am 99% certain that God will not act in such a way. Biblical narrative is not normative.
However, with the impact TV and the media has had on the developed world, one cannot deny that it has changed who we are and how we think. For example, we are no longer a generation of readers. Seldom do you find a teenager or young adult reading a book, be it educational or fictional. Instead, you are more likely to find them sitting in front of a television set watching Hollyoaks, Big Brother, One Tree Hill or Friends. This is no different for the professing Christian and it does not bode well for the future. Jesus Christ himself said “You are in error for you know not the Scriptures” and if we have a generation of Christians who aren’t reading, we thus have a generation of Christians who aren’t studying their bible, and if we have a generation of Christians not studying their bible then we have a generation of Christians who cannot distinguish truth from lies; good from evil; Christian from unchristian. A classic example of this is the now all-too common belief in the Greco-Roman love myth. My generation of Christians think that true love is something that we see in films or soap shows. You know the kind I mean…. The “this thing is bigger than the both of us”. However the antithesis of this is the “I don’t feel like I love you anymore so I’m moving on…if I don’t feel it then it mustn’t be true” attitude. We take our view on what love is through TV relationships instead of adhering to what the Bible says the characteristics of true love are.
Nevertheless, love is not the only thing affected by TV viewing. Christian morality and worldview as a whole is affected. Films like American Pie etc put intense pressure on Christians to have sex outside of marriage. The flame of lust that burns incessantly amongst unmarried Christians is fuelled all the more by the erotic images on screen. Sub-consciously this weakens the Christian’s ability to resist temptation when faced with it. Drunkeness amongst youths is promoted and perceived to be the norm, materialism is deemed a requirement for acceptance and lack of confidence in ones physical appearance is increased as the Christian views the “beautiful” people on TV and desires to look as good as the celebrity (who just so happens to have spent thousands of pounds on their looks and figure). “I want my girlfriend to look like her or my boyfriend to look like such and such”, is common speak amongst our generation of Christians. I myself have been guilty of this. There is propagandizing and brainwashing of God’s people on such a grand scale that the prophesied apostasy of the last days, could well be upon us.
As a result of this our generation of Christians, when one surveys the grand scale of things, are now conforming to the world rather than changing it. Today it is not uncommon to hear a sermon on “How to spice up your sex life” in Churches. Christianity is becoming carnal and worldly and, to some extent we are to blame for wanting this change. We want a Christianity that makes us happy, in exactly the same way watching our favourite TV show does. Humanism is becoming the core message and belief of many a Church and Christian, be they aware of it or not.
One of my favourite shows on TV used to be Friends. I found it hilariously funny and it often cheered me up when I was down. However, the immorality that is promoted on it is not healthy for the Christian. Let’s look at Joey for example. He is the Italian Stallion who has slept with more girls than Casanova. One might laugh at his inability to commit but if one digs a little deeper, it becomes apparent that a secular worldview on promiscuous sex is being promoted through this medium. Comedy is being conjoined to sex. God didn’t create sex for comedy value; he created it for our pleasure within the bounds of heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. Yes, the husband and wife can, and should, enjoy this sex with as much laughter and joy as they wish. This in itself is not sinful behaviour for they are married and free to enjoy and love one another. Sex outside marriage though is deadly serious. Yet Generation Xer Christians don’t get this. In essence, one might say this is due to a desensitisation of the seriousness of sin that takes place in the Christians life through continual TV viewing. For professing Christians this desensitisation leads to confusion on how one is to live and conduct himself/herself in day to day life. There is confusion regarding what is biblical and what is not. There is a defilement of the mind and Christian morals taking place. Isaiah reads “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil….” (Isa. 5:20). It is a worrying thing for a Christian to become forever confused or erred in their ability to discern between what is holy and unholy for this lack of discernment will likely lead to unholy practices. Only as we come to make God the object of our love will we find our moral senses become increasingly sensitive to what is right and wrong.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body,” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This was Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians regarding their sexual behaviour. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He dwells within every true born again believer and we are to honour Him with our body. Are not the eyes part of the body? Are they not the windows to the soul? Thus we grieve the Spirit when we view immoral and licentious behaviour on TV. I do not seek to be legalistic in my view on this as the Christian’s God-given conscience should dictate his/her conduct. One does not forfeit their salvation through immoral viewing, however if one is truly born-again the knowledge that immoral viewing grieves the Holy Spirit should at least make one reconsider their habitual viewing patterns. Research carried out in America in 1998 showed that the average American adult, at the time, spent about seven-and-a-half hours a day sleeping, three-and-a-half hours a day working, two hours a day watching TV, one-and-a-half hours doing housework, one hour eating, half-an-hour on recreation, half-an-hour washing and grooming, and about nine minutes thinking. That study was done about ten years ago, before the Internet and video games had become so popular, so who knows what it would reveal now (Christianity Today). Americans and British people are not too dissimilar and it is shocking to think that only nine minutes a day is spent on self-reflection. I would hope that the Christian would spend more time reflecting, however, the reality is that my generation of Christians has become preoccupied with the world rather than Christ, and TV is a part of that. This is the ‘Friends’ generation.
Peter exhorts us to “prepare [our] minds for action; be self-controlled; set [our] hope fully on the grace to be given [us] when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires [we] had when [we] lived in ignorance. But just as he who called [us] is holy, so be holy in all [we] do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16). We are to be holy in ALL that we do. That includes our TV viewing. My generation of Christians tend to cringe at the thought of living a Holy and righteous life. We brand those who desire to be holy as “Holy Joe’s”. We want to be cool and accepted above being holy and wholly dedicated to Jesus Christ, even if that should mean total rejection from our peers. We are to prepare our minds for godly action. This is done through Bible-study, prayer and reflection. Habitual TV does little, or nothing, to prepare our minds for a life of godliness. Instead Philippians (4:8) tells us that we are to “[think about] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”. Does TV fix our thoughts on such things? Surely the answer is a resounding NO? Instead of gossiping about the latest TV show or the latest celebrity scandal, should not Christians be talking about Jesus? The answer? Yes, of course! 2 Timothy (2:16) tells us to “…Avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness”.
I recently listened to John Piper’s impassioned plea to Christians to make war on their sin. He commented on how he hears so many Christians murmuring about their sin, yet are unwilling to do anything about it. ‘Plucking out their eye’ (metaphorically speaking) is the last thing they want to do. Proverbs 4 tells us
“… the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level [b] paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”
This whole passage is referring to our lifestyle. Many Christians wonder why they struggle with certain sins. I am included in this category. It is because we fill our minds with unholy thoughts through the TV programs we choose to follow. If TV causes us to sin then we should get shot of it. We are to put away perversity from our lips and fix our eyes straight ahead. But straight ahead to what? Well, to Christ of course. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col 3:1-2). And how do we do that? Well for starters we start watching less TV and being more cautious in what we watch. Alongside this we must study our bibles more, read more sound Christian books and apply the teaching to our lives. If we just read and fail to apply what we read it is dead knowledge that will only prove useless. Have another look at that verse in Proverbs. “…pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your SIGHT, keep them within your heart for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s body.” Our Lord Jesus Christ himself emphasised the importance of a daily diet of Scripture stating “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4)
Carl Trueman remarks “Television: Here, in an endless diet of thirlls, spills and drama, we can live out our lives through the rapid-fire series of images we see played out before our eyes. Your life may be boring and dull, but you can watch television and get some specious, voyeuristic thrill or satisfaction out of watching the lives of others. What else could explain the success of the various Big Brother franchises, where the boring lives of a bunch of freaky inadequates becomes compulsive viewing for millions? Is it simply the pharisaic buzz of “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men” that we get when watching these weirdos strut their stuff; or does the act of watching them have a strangely comforting and sporific effect on our own senses? Probably a bit of both. And TV’s ability to juxtapose the serious with the stupid, and to reduce even the most complex discussions to a few simplistic sound-bites shows just how difficult it is to convey anything either subtle or truly challenging. When TV becomes more than an occasional distraction, it becomes a soporific medium designed to dull the senses of its willing victims.” (Modern Reformation, p 9, 2008)
TV has become an idol to so many Christians, yet many are not even aware of it. Let us stop being influenced in a NEGATIVE fashion by our TV viewing and let us turn to the word of God for our guidance and worldview alone. Let us listen to Paul more tentatively when he says “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” My generation of Christians need to realise the error of our ways and refocus our gaze on Christ and the Word of God. Let us “Stare at the Cross ‘cos without it we’re Lost……”. Let’s turn off the box and return to the Word of God. What’s your view??