Analyzing media is difficult. It seems that you can find as many decided, contrary opinions as you can thinking Christians, and we struggle to find biblical direction because media and the Bible seem to have minimal overlap. Our discussion today will aim to address this issue intellectually and biblically. I present three litmus tests for your media evaluation: style, content, and intent. But first…
Dictionary.com defines a medium as “something intermediate (situated between two points, stages, things, persons) in nature or degree.”1 More specifically, media is “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet, that reach or influence people widely.”2 We could say that a medium is any means used to communicate from one individual to another. This is still rather broad, so for the purpose of this post we will deal with 3 specific media – music, visual media (TV, movies, etc.), and the internet.
A Brief History
Part of the reason media is such a prodigious issue is its rapid development in recent years; most of the music genres we (the younger generation) enjoy have only sprouted in the last 50 years, creating a sharp divide between our perspective on music and that of just one generation older. Visual media, though firmly entrenched in our culture for nearly a century, has also morphed significantly in recent years. It’s more available, more diverse, and more secular than ever before. Lastly, the internet has blossomed within my lifetime. Though it has been a conceptual reality since the 1960s, it has only been practical in the last 20 years.3 Media as we know it is a modern phenomenon.
This accelerated maturation of media has lead to a plethora of struggles within our subculture. Typically it incites one of two responses: over-legislation or permissiveness. We either strictly regulate it because we fear the unknown or we, out of ignorance, allow unbridled media use. Somewhere between those extremes is an equilibrium, which we will attempt to discover.
The style of any given medium can alter our perception of its message. For instance, rock, classical, and jazz music each create distinct atmospheres and stimulate various emotions. The music itself can calm, excite, or anger us. Movies are staged and shot so our eyes are drawn to certain things. They are more graphic and sensual than ever, due to a more permissive and lustful culture. The internet conveniently sorts and feeds us certain content to streamline our experience. Though the style in and of itself is often not morally right or wrong, a thinking Christian must be aware.
What do the words portray? We will often absorb whatever is thrown at us because we enjoy the experience. I would challenge you to pay attention the next time you listen to music, whether pop, country, or even contemporary Christian. Does the message counter or make light of biblical principles? Are the lyrics encouraging you and fueling your pursuit of Christ? Don’t hear me say that anything other than a tried and true hymn is evil. Do hear me say that we often starve ourselves by filling our minds with shallow, mindless ideas rather than supplementing ourselves with biblically sound lyrics. We must intentionally filter out the bad and pump in the good.
The same goes for movies. Like music, movies are not innately evil, but we must not be passive in our entertainment. We must find the balance between eliminating anything but the Jesus film and permitting everything the culture throws our way. Mature media use isn’t thinking you can handle the negative elements, it’s knowing you can’t. Sexual promiscuity, mindless violence, and coarse language will bleed into your mind any time you expose yourself to them. They will never aid your Christian growth.
The internet gets a little more slippery. It can be a very effective tool, but it can also be spiritually deadly. The most obvious threats are: easy access to pornography, proliferation of extra-biblical and contra-biblical theology, etc. We also have the more subtle risks: the time vacuum of social media, the unending access to entertainment, and the depreciation of authentic human relationships. It is important for us to thoughtfully consider how the internet is affecting our lives.
Finally, we should examine the intent of the writer, artist, or producer responsible for creating the medium. Media is never devoid of a worldview. The person engaging us through the medium is always trying to relate specific thoughts, information, or ideals. These may be either profitable or ruinous, but are never irrelevant. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a parcel of information (i.e. the weather); other times it’s an intentional attempt to direct our thoughts in a certain direction.
I hesitate to use this category because it is so subjective, but it’s personal, and thus useful. We have both negotiable and non-negotiable categories of personal media convictions, which I will illustrate briefly with music.
These are determined mostly by individual taste. For instance, I grew up in a church where a cappella hymns were the norm, occasionally accompanied by instruments. Consequently, I developed a taste for hymns in worship, primarily unaccompanied, but I still respect those who prefer at least a guitar, if not a larger band, for their morning worship. To me, that’s a cultural discrepancy, not a biblical mandate.
The non-negotiables are grounded in Scripture. Anything that belittles or ignores any of the far reaching fingers of the gospel of Christ should be regarded with caution. If it glorifies sin (i.e. sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, violence, corrupt language, etc.), it must be discarded. We cannot claim to love the Creator and indulge in the very things he hates. A love of that sort is no love at all.
Loving Our Brothers and Sisters
I’m sure all of us have encountered opposing views on media use. How should we interact with differing opinions? Two principles come to light: exhortation and sacrifice. First, we humbly explain why we believe what we do about a given medium and its use. We can even make a case for why they should consider adopting our perspective. But second, and more important, we should give up any media “freedoms” we have to benefit our Christian siblings. We, following Christ’s example, do not exist to serve ourselves, but to serve others. While we are not captive to their whims, we must be willing to sacrifice if there is indeed an issue.
I am not the first to write on this topic, nor will I be the last, but I hope this discussion has been profitable for both of us. I encourage you to continue musing on and conversing about the Christian’s approach to media, and invite you to enter into our conversation here.
Have you found certain principles helpful in your use of media?
Has a certain event, conversation, or truth shaped your perspective of music, movies, and/or the internet?
How has this post strengthened, challenged, or enlightened your media mindset?
Do you disagree with anything I said? Please comment freely below.
|Julian Stoltzfus currently resides in Elnora, IN and is taking part in a pastoral apprenticeship program under Truth and Grace Mennonite Church. He had the privilege of attending several semesters at Elnora Bible Institute since 2014. When not working at K&K Industries, he enjoys diving into a good read, exploring the diverse beauties of music, or fortifying relationships with family and friends. The 5th of 6, he has greatly benefited from the wisdom and influence of his parents and siblings. He longs to see authentic Christianity thrive as God transforms hearts through the Gospel.|
- “Media.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/media?s=t>.
- “Medium.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/medium?s>.
- “Internet Society.” Brief History of the Internet – Internet Timeline | Internet Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.