Last week I said that a college Shakespeare class and the movie Dumb & Dumber helped me change my mind about media. I thought I had this media thing all figured out when I was a teen. I was confident that there was no way it was affecting me. But as an adult I have personally experienced media shaping my life.
But this begs the question: What is media?
The News? In days gone by, it was the paper. Then the radio. Then television. But now we would say that the news is only one slice of the media. When we say the word “media” that does include the news media, but it is so much more.
Actually the word “media” is plural. It is “more than one medium.” Medium? A size for a t-shirt? A person to help you communicate with the dead? No, not those kinds of mediums. The medium I am referring to is a “means of cultivation, conveyance, or expression.” Another way to define medium is “any source of information that influences us.” That could be a lot of things.
It is not just the news media, but now also social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and more. Add to that all the entertainment media: TV, Music, Film, Print, Internet, Gaming. There is also the expansive world of advertising. These are all examples of media.
Media surrounds us doesn’t it? In fact, there is a verb that is often used to describe our interaction with media. It is the verb “consume”. We consume media. We eat it. We take it into our lives. That happens by listening with our ears and watching with our eyes. In our culture, we are media consumers.
Should we just eat it all up? It’s like a smorgasbord out there; the media food just keeps coming with option after option of enticing choices. How do we know what media food we should consume, and which ones we should avoid?
Are there biblical principles for consuming media? It’s a question we’ve been asking all through this series. Can an ancient 2000 year-old book relate to our world? Some people say it’s not possible. But we have found week after week that God’s Word is just what it says it is, living and active, and very applicable to our world. It is loaded with principles that we can apply to many situations. And it has some great principles for how we should interact with media.
First, God teaches us to be aware of the power of ideas. Thoughts and ideas have changed the world. Philosophers have said that the Vietnam War was started by two men discussing ideas in a coffee shop in Paris a hundred years before. Thoughts and ideas ripple their way through the months and years, making an impact in one person’s life, then another, and another, and sometimes the results are massive.
So Paul says in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” This could be translated “see to it that no one gains control over you by human wisdom.” Paul isn’t talking about physical captivity. He is talking about when we allow ideas and deceptive philosophy to so captivate our thinking that they gain control over us.
In other words, media communicates lots of ideas to us, and we would be wise to be cautious consumers of it. That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
See the reversal? Instead of allowing ideas and thoughts to have control over us, we turn the tables and allow God to control our thinking.
So how do we do this when it comes to media?
Run away? Maybe. I think about the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. When his master’s wife tempted Joseph to sin with her, he ran away. That is an option. But running away from a problem is not always a good choice, and in some cases, like living in a society surrounded by media, we don’t have a choice to run away.
Last year I toured the Ephrata Cloisters. It is a fascinating tour, and I urge you to go visit. It is one of the many wonderful historical places that we have here in Lancaster County. The Cloisters tried hard to get away from society. But as I listened to the tour guide tell us what went on there, an eerie feeling grew inside me. The Cloisters and their leader seemed like a cult, fleeing the harsh realities of the world, only to create more of their own. And though they talked about being Christian, they clearly missed the heart of God’s mission.
When people talk about feeling from the world, from media, it is usually because they don’t want to be affected negatively by it. They want to remain pure and holy, which is good.
But that doesn’t mean we have to get off the grid. In fact, the second principle we learn in the Bible is that we are to engage the world. Jesus said in his prayer in John 17:15, the night of the Last Supper: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Paul in Acts 17:16-34 shows that he, too, did not run away from the world. In fact he used the media of his world. He was knowledgeable about it, and used it to share the Gospel to the leading thinkers in the city of Athens. Athens in the day of Paul was not the intellectual and philosophical powerhouse it had once been when Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were there. But it was still an important intellectual center. Look at verse 28, and we see Paul quoting famous poets. He is using media of his day. He didn’t run from it. He knew it and used it. Look what happens in verse 32-34. Some sneered at him, but some believed!
So turn media off? There will certainly be times when we need to turn media off. But like I said before there are times when it comes to us, and we have to be able to respond. It is best that we follow the prayer of Jesus and the example of Paul, and not run away from the world, but engage it, interact with it and learn to take every thought captive.
Would you like to practice this second principle of engaging media?
The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is maybe the best Christian organization working in the area of helping Christians engage media. They have a resource called their 3-D guide, and I urge you to order and use them. Buy a 10-pack and hand them out to anyone you know who works with or is a parent of teens.
On the front of the guide it says “How to use your head to guard your heart, a guide for making responsible media choices.” The three Ds are: Discover, Discern, Decide.
Recently the president of CPYU, Walt Mueller, demonstrated how to use the 3-D Guide with the song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots? Take a look at how Walt uses the 3-D guide, watch the music video for the song, print out the lyrics, and work your way through Walt’s discussion guide linked earlier in this sentence. Here is a summary of the questions.
- Question 1 – Discover – What is the message/worldview of the song?
- Question 2 – Discern – How does this song hold up in light of the biblical worldview?
- Question 3 – Decide – What should I do with this song?
We had a great mini-discussion about the song during the sermon yesterday. And then the song was in my head all day. I even heard my daughter singing it in the afternoon! During the sermon I mentioned that the song was new to me. When I caught her singing the song in the afternoon, I asked “So you know that song?” She replied, “Dad, I can’t believe you said in the sermon that you never heard that song…it’s like a year old.” I guess I need to engage with media a bit better!
A third principle we find in Scripture is to guard our hearts, as the title of the 3-D guide suggests. In Proverbs 4:23 we read “above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Another way to describe this principle is to look at what Paul says Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
We are called to be holy. We should desire purity in our life, and the simple fact is that there is plenty of media that is less than holy. We should not allow it in our ears and eyes. Pornography is one clear example. There are other examples, too. But it can be hard to know what media we should eat, and what media we should avoid. As I think about this choice, one of the difficulties for Christians is to find balance between Legalism and Libertinism? There are extremes either way. How do we know what to do?
Legalism is when we make a rule out of something that God did not. For example, if we said “Christians must not watch any sporting event that has cheerleaders because of they dress and dance inappropriately,” that is legalism. The Bible doesn’t say that.
But there is also Libertinism. That is when we have too few rules. People say that we are free in Christ, and so we can do anything we want. Or people say that God forgives sin, so we’re fine. The Bible says we should not have that attitude either.
It can be very hard to find the right balance. And Christians disagree about where that balance is.
When our older boys were young, Michelle and I would be appalled when they came home from Kindergarten and First Grade telling us about PG-13 movies that their friends were allowed to watch. We had self-righteous anger thinking that these parents are libertine and going to damage their kids.
Well the years went by and we mellowed out. By the time our younger two were in Kindergarten and First Grade, other families were probably complaining about us and what we let our younger two watch.
Each family is going to need to decide before the Lord what is appropriate for them. That means your family may come to a different conclusion than mine. And that is OK. We need to be able to love one another and be in relationship with one another while still maintaining differences of opinion about how we handle media.
If you hear yourself thinking or saying absolute statements about media, statements in which you are proclaiming that you have the one right way to eat media and everyone should follow your way, please keep that to yourself.
But as we engage media, we should use the principle of holiness to guide us. We must take every thought captive.
There is at least one more important principle that the Bible teaches that relates to eating media. How many of you have heard the following phrases in your house: “Just one more level!” Or “Just let me finish this level”?
Know that media is a powerful force. Games are designed to keep you playing. TV shows want you to keep coming watching. Books are written so you’ll buy the next one in the series. There is a very strong pull to media.
What is the inner impulse or inclination that creators of media tap into? What is happening internally that makes it so easy for us to be attracted to the various forms of media? For the vast majority of media outlets their number one priority is to make money. If a piece of media is not making money, it will be discontinued. Media offerings must tap into the human soul, so that the media is consumed. If the media is consumed it will make money.
Think about your personal practice of media consumption. How much time are you spending on it? What kinds of media are you consuming?
This, then, is the Fourth Principle: remember when Jesus said “Where your treasure it there your heart will be also.” Your heart follows your treasure. It is kind of a confusing statement. What Jesus is saying is that what you give your time and energy and money and investment to, your heart grows very fond of that.
A lady in our church told the story about Gone With the Wind and how reading it impacted her. Scarlett had to be tough to get by. As the lady from our church read the story, more and more she started to think “I’m going to be tough like Scarlett.” The lady was not tough like that, and she admired Scarlett and desired to be like her. This media was shaping her heart.
Is your heart being transformed by the media you eat? Are you able to make an honest evaluation of your life? Would you be willing to enter into an accountability relationship with someone, maybe a spiritual director, who can be frank with you?
How are you doing in parenting the young media consumers in your house? How much media are you allowing them to eat? What kind of media is entering their minds? How are their hearts being changed?