and The Rise Of The Media Missionary
I’m sure you don’t see yourself as a revolutionary, but if you are a committed follower of Christ, that is exactly what you are. You are a dangerous person. Revolution is about change. I’m sure you would agree that our world is in need of a significant change from our current system. I’m not talking about political revolution or even cultural or social revolution. This isn’t about electing the right candidate or banning books or movies or even unplugging the cable box. We need change that will impact people’s hearts and minds and will cause us to reevaluate everything in our lives. If you are like me and are not happy about the current direction of our culture and society, then you are looking for answers.
People today are resistant to Christianity or, at the very least, indifferent. It’s safe to say that Christianity is no longer making a difference. God has lead me to write a book, The Red Pill, The Cure For Today's Mass Media Culture, in order to provide answers and resources on how we can change our world. Yes, I said it. I believe we can change our world with God’s help and direction. If you are looking for answers, this is your book.
But real change won’t start with changing the world first but with changing the way we approach the media and our response to it. God wants to do a work in all of us. And I believe the keys to unlock the answers we need will be found in this new book. We need a new, revolutionary way of how we view God at work in the world. This book will provide insights in how he is at work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
A Media Culture is not a negative book attacking the media but a positive book. The issues we face are more complicated than sexuality, violence, nudity or bad language. This book will be an eye opener and will challenge everything you think you know about today’s media culture. In fact, your response to the media culture crisis will have a direct impact on your effectiveness on your ministry and your personal journey as a Christian.
Who is this book for? It’s for anyone who cares about the current state of Christianity or your personal relationship with Christ. It’s for those who are fed up and frustrated with our inability to bring real change to our society. It’s for anyone who may consider themselves a media missionary. Before you go to Hollywood or work in the media, you need to read this book. It’s also for anybody who wants to make a difference. A Media Culture provides real answers and solutions and not just rhetoric or a rehashing of what’s wrong about today’s media.
This book takes a look at today’s new emerging media church and why so many people are having a deeper and more significant encounter with God at the movies than they do in church. A Media Culture takes a hard look at the status of the Body of Christ and why it must change its current course. We are talking about a different kind of revolution, a blueprint for real change. It is a book of hope for our times.
For the past several years, we have been looking for answers. Many have talked about how bad the media is. Still others say we must embrace Hollywood as a mission field. While still others have called for the Body of Christ to pray for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Until now, no one has put all the pieces together and created a complete mosaic. A Media Culture is the first book that offers a complete and comprehensive look at the forces behind today’s media culture. It is a blueprint for every Christian and a call to action to show where God is at work and how we can join him in his efforts.
Join the revolution by reading this book. It will change the way you see things forever. I’m convinced you will not be the same. The Red Pill will be available in the next few months. You can help by praying for the resources that will be necessary to bring this book to publication.
Chapters from the new book
The Red Pill, The Cure For Today's Mass Media
The last thing I planned to do in life was write a book. In July 2009, I was let go from a Christian media ministry that I started back in 1988. You hear stories about people loosing their ministries, but you never think of it happening to you. Now what do you do? Start over? I have been working in the media for over 25 years. I have done just about everything including writing , editing, directing, and producing. God called me to start a media ministry and produce television programs that would point young people to Christ or that would encourage young Christians in their walk with God. I believed I could use television to reach people for Christ. I still do.
At the end of my time with the ministry that I founded, one of my shows was on over 200 stations and 15 networks worldwide. It was making an impact. God had also moved me to start teaching young people about media making and filmmaking. We started a film program for high school students. God had planted the seeds in my heart some years ago after reading Bob Reiner’s book, Roaring Lambs, where he said that we needed to send young people into mainstream Hollywood and the entertainment industry to be media missionaries. I believed in the idea of reseeding our culture with a Biblical message by using movies, television programs and every other form of media. It was my dream to start a school dedicated to raising up, equipping and training future filmmakers as media missionaries.
But it all came to an end. In life, things change. Ministries, just like people, move on. They can evolve into something completely different than what you had in mind when you started out. I decided to start a new ministry and continue my work. My plan was to continue on, revamp my show and build a school dedicated to the development of media missionaries. But a lack of resources made this increasingly difficult. People I thought were going to help and be part of this plan failed to materialize. Was I following God’s plan?
I decided that the easiest path was to create an online school and a website to discuss the role and purpose of media missionaries. So with some help I launched mediamissionaryschool.com. But, again, resources didn’t come in to develop the website that we intended to build. Nor did we have the funds to properly promote the site. The plan just wasn’t working. But God is always at work even when we don’t quite understand His plan.
Writing has never been a passion of mine. I only do it because it is necessary. Some of my collogues convinced me that it was time to start writing a blog. This would give me an opportunity to speak on media issues as it relates to faith. I’ve spent the better part of 20 years trying to understand the media culture and how it is impacting our faith. So I started writing and writing and writing. And after a few weeks, it became clear that God was at work. He gave me a passion to write. The words were not mine but God’s. Each day I went out on my usual run, and God revealed himself and gave me ideas. Each day as I ran, ideas just kept coming. As I said, I never started out to write a book, but it’s become clear that this is what God wanted me to do. God was at work, and he was inviting me to join Him.
He always has a plan. And, most often, it’s not our plan or the way we would do things. I’m convinced that God wants a school for media missionaries, but his first objective is to get this book out. I have been asking God for years what is a media culture? How is it influencing us? How are these things connected? When is somebody going to write a book to put all of the pieces together? It became clear that God wanted me to do it. What you are about to read is not from me. I believe it’s from God. He has given me a plan and has helped me to put the pieces together.
If you are concerned about the direction of our culture and how it is impacting you, your children and your grandchildren, you need to read this book. This is a book of hope and a book of promise. Yes, the media culture is a crisis, but it is also an opportunity. But only if we seize the moment. We have the power through God to change our world. I will share with you five core principles that I am convinced will change everything.
Anything is possible as long as we have not lost faith. When we stop believing that change is possible and believe that the problems are too complex, then there really is no hope. There are solutions to the media culture crisis, if we explore the opportunities that God is giving us. He, as I have stated, is already at work. He is working in the media culture, and he is working in the lives of those who live and function in the church of media and entertainment. I believe you will find this book thought-provoking and that it will challenge our conventional wisdom of how we see Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
Is there a plan and a strategy that God has given us to reach people living in this age? How is He at work in the entertainment industry? What kind of stories does God want us to tell? What is a media missionary? I’m convinced that what God has given me in this book will shed light on these questions and provide answers. But God will challenge us to recognize that any change that must happen will start with the Body of Christ. All of us will have a role in solving the media culture crisis.
I believe that God gave me this book for everybody in the Body of Christ. I’m sure most of us are not planning to go to Hollywood to make films or television programs. But the media culture must be your concern and your issue. It’s vital to our future. No matter what your ministry is or your personal relationship with God, you will be impacted by the increasing power of today’s media culture.
This book is especially for you if God has put a burden on your heart to use media for his glory. Perhaps, you have been making short films for years, or you may be a student in film school. How do you combine your passion for Christ and your passion for media making? Have you been called by God to be a media missionary? This is a book you must read. I’m convinced it will give you insight into your calling as well as how you can be used by God in the film and media industry.
If your are ready to start a new journey, to discover how God is working in the media, and to grab hold of those new opportunities to reach a generation that is defined by today’s media culture, read on.
The Real News—The Rise of the Media Church
Do you want to know what the most important story was in the newspaper on January 20, 2010? Hopefully, you still read the newspaper. It wasn’t found on the front page. No, it’s not the story of the Republican, Scott Brown, Senatorial victory in Massachusetts over the once-favored Democrat, Martha Coakley. The most important story was found somewhere near the back section of the newspaper. It’s an inconspicuous three columns titled, Kid’s Spend Nearly Eight Hours a Day on Electronic Media.
You might be asking yourself, “Is that really news”? Absolutely. The problem is that nobody is paying attention. The story is based on a new study from the folks over at Kaiser Family Foundation. They have been tracking this type of data for years. What they have found is that today’s kids are now spending 53 hours a week in front of some type of electronic media. That includes cell phones, iPods, video games, and computers, which averages out to 7 hours, 38 minutes per day.
Just ten years ago, the average time was 6 hours, 19 minutes. I’ll do the math. That’s 79 more minutes of free time each day listening to music, watching TV and movies, and playing video games. The study also found that 20% of kid’s media now comes from mobile media devices. And that’s likely to increase in the years ahead. Vicky Rideout, who is the director of the study program, states “Electronic media is part of the air that kids breathe.” I’d say that’s the understatement of the decade.
The findings are based on research from over 2,000 participants ages 8 – 18. There’s plenty of other findings, but the real question is “What does it all mean?” Or perhaps maybe we should ask “Does anybody really care?” We all know that our kids are spending a tremendous amount of their time consuming some form of media every day.
I’ve spent 25 years researching the topic of how media influences our culture and youth. What I have found is that most people are somewhat indifferent. Deep down they understand there’s a problem. Sure, they find some things in the media troubling, but they are just not sure what to do. So, in many cases, they do nothing.
More importantly, how are Christian leaders and parents responding? The response so far has been disappointing. Why? Because for the most part the Church has its head stuck in the sand. We don’t want to admit that the media has this type of power, control and influence. We all are consumed with electronic media. And if we address the issue with our kids, then we must admit that we are in the same boat. And that makes us uncomfortable.
The reality of our situation is that media has become a new church, more powerful than anything we could imagine. It goes well beyond bad language, sex, violence and nudity. Think about it. Media now extends itself from the electronic screen. It has infiltrated our lives and culture. It is part of everything we absorb on some level. It has influenced how we think, where we go, what we do and what’s important.
Let’s say that the average, committed Christian teenager goes to church twice weekly, including being an active participant in the youth ministry. That’s perhaps four hours a week, tops. Let’s say for the sake of argument that he or she may even go on a mission trip or two. Now compare that to the amount and level of media that they are exposed to each week. Think about it. Really think about it. Who do you think is going to win?
We have a false sense of security. It’s everybody else except “our” kids. Some studies have found that over 70% of kids in youth ministry will say goodbye to their faith after age 18. Again, who’s winning the battle? Most Christian leaders don’t want to talk about this. That’s the real story.
I’m a media guy. And I know that media, including films and TV, can have a profound, positive impact. That’s why I am encouraging Christians to get serious about this issue. We need to teach our kids to be media savvy, to make good choices, and to understand the message and the influence of today’s media culture. That can be done through a solid media literacy program. We need to teach our youth to think for themselves and not allow the media to do it for them. I know this all seems overwhelming, but this is a place to start.
Getting back to the article, Vicky Rideout’s final thoughts, I think, are very appropriate. She says, “Anything that takes up this much time, we really do need to think about it and talk about it.” Are you ready to start a dialogue?
The Media Church
Initially we must recognize that the media has moved from a position of popular entertainment, which includes movies, television programs, music, internet, and social media, to a place where it has now become a media culture. A media culture occurs when our shared consciousness as a people or a society reflects the views, ideas, and beliefs of our media and entertainment, which has now combined to create a force that has never existed in the history of our society. It’s impossible to distinguish where culture ends and where media begins. No space exists between the two.
In fact, the media culture has lead to the creation of a new church and a new place of worship that is without a physical address. Its members are unaware that this new church exists or that they are a part of it. It is America’s fastest growing church—the media church or the church of media and entertainment.
The members of this church are searching for the truth, but they must experience truth in order for it to be authentic. They are highly influenced by postmodern philosophy. They seek connectivity and two-way communication. They desire to express their views and opinions about life and interact with those who have different views. Social media and U-Tube are an intricate part of their lives because they want to be involved in the process. That’s why many in this church make and distribute their own media. They are searching for the truth but do not want to be told what the truth is. They seek a safe place where it’s easy for them to fit in and where they are not required to do anything.
Whether you realize it or not, this media culture does exist. For the majority of the population, it is a nuisance and nothing more than trivial entertainment or harmless popular culture. But I believe this media culture is a crisis for our society. And for committed Christians who are concerned about their faith, it is undoubtedly so because Christianity has lost its impact on the culture. Media and culture have merged to create a “media culture”. By doing so, it is capable of controlling the hearts and minds of this generation. More importantly, the media culture is moving into a position where it will control the direction of Christianity. But perhaps the greatest crisis we face is when we fail to respond to the opportunity the media culture crisis presents to the Church.
What opportunity does the media culture present? First it’s important to note that today’s media consumption per week is somewhere between 50 to 60 hours. Teenagers will typically spend up to 8 hours a day consuming some form of electronic media. It’s clear to see what has their attention. The majority of the population is interested in movies, television, mobile media and every other form of electronic communication. This segment of the population lives and breathes within the church of media and entertainment.
Since we now have a media culture that is capable of shaping attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that lead people away from God, then it is just as capable of being used in a manner that will lead them toward God. We need to realize that God is already at work in the media culture and the church of media and entertainment. All he requires is for us to join him in his work.
How do we build a bridge to engage them? Is it possible that they are finding a more profound spiritual and satisfying experience in the media? If we are going to engage this church, we must understand what makes it a church. First, it’s impossible to deny the power, size and scope of today’s media institutions. They are the pillars of today’s media and entertainment church. Five multimedia conglomerates dominate and control the cross-promotion and selling of today’s media culture to our society. CBS Corporation, formerly Viacom, Time Warner, NBC Universal, Walt Disney and News Corp produce over 80% of media and entertainment produced in North America. Each company has its own film, broadcasting, news cable outlet, publishing, internet, and music interests. Combine that with over 700 motion pictures being produced in Hollywood yearly and 300 broadcast and cable networks. You can understand the magnitude and power of today’s media. In fact, the real center of power no longer resides in Washington D.C. It can be found in the boardrooms of these five multimedia conglomerates. They can dictate what is important as well as what is not important. Their decisions not only influence culture but also make culture.
Second, our society and culture have created a symbiotic relationship with media and entertainment. They are dependant on each other. In some ways, we find our value and purpose in the media we consume. It helps to define who we are as a person. Our identity is therefore a part of the relationship that we have with our entertainment and media choices. We are what we consume. The real nature of this relationship can be found in the roots of consumerism. Media and entertainment are tied to the marketplace of ideas. However, in reality, there is only one idea that fuels this relationship. That is the buying and selling of media and entertainment produced by the five major multimedia conglomerates. This idea becomes a religion because it promotes a lifestyle and a belief system that enables us to see the need and the desire to embrace whatever entertainment and media they market and promote.
Finally, the church of media and entertainment is a legitimate church because it shares many of the characteristics of our own Christian tradition. That includes having a god, an experience, structure, a belief system, an ultimate truth, worship, community/fellowship, customs and rituals, a sense of purpose, a vision, a bible, a place of origin in history and a hierarchy.
The church of media and entertainment has many gods which could include technology, movies, a director, an actor or could more likely be yourself. You determine who your god will be. But whatever choice you make, he will be on your side and interested in meeting your needs. Your god is accessible and available at all times.
Members in this church seek a profound experience. It can be found in technology, consuming media or making media. They seek a relationship with the experience; therefore, they want it to be interactive so that they are a part of it. The experience should be capable of meeting and fulfilling whatever the emotional need.
Structure, Belief System and Ultimate Truth
Members in this church are looking for answers. In one way or another they are asking questions about the nature and purpose of life. Media provides the structure in which they can ask questions. Although there are many belief systems expressed in media and entertainment, it is possible to find one that fits into your philosophical approach to life. Beliefs can be expressed in movies and on television or any other new form of new media. By consuming media, they are looking for an experience which will lead to some form of truth.
Worship can take place any time, anywhere. They are engaged in the act of worship when they interact with any form of media. This can happen at a movie theater, at home or in front of the internet. Worship is continuous and ongoing.
Members of the church of media and entertainment have a profound need to be connected—to be a part of something which leads to social interaction. Fellowship can occur not only while watching media but talking about media. What was your experience? What do you think the movie was saying? What did you think about the character? Social media provides the perfect framework for the need to engage in community and fellowship.
Customs and Rituals
Going to a movie theater can be a ritual in itself. The experience can provide a rich texture of sights and sounds. Buttery popcorn and the comforting feel of a reclining chair are part of the rituals and just as important as the movie. Rituals are also performed in other forms of consumption, including watching your favorite television show by engaging in activity that makes you comfortable, such as certain drinks, food, or other preparations. Customs can also be found in the Academy Awards and other iconic images of the entertainment industry.
A Sense of Purpose
We wrongly assume that media is just entertainment. Members of this church can find purpose in the media through the process of interacting with media, technology, friends, and the experiences it creates. The media in and of itself becomes a purpose.
Members of this church are searching for a lifestyle and a worldview that make their lives meaningful. Because media is so diverse, it is possible to find a vision that makes you comfortable. Your vision may not necessarily be about changing the world but may be about creating a life that makes you feel good about yourself. It offers a sense of completeness.
The church of media has a bible. It is their stories—the stories shared in movies, television and every other form of electronic media. Most find a form of truth that helps to define their beliefs, attitudes, and worldview.
A Place of Origin in History
The Mecca for the church of entertainment and media is Hollywood. All things holy exist and dwell in this strange faraway land. The entire history of the entertainment industry, for the most part, has taken place in a small geographical area in and around the hills of Hollywood.
The church of media has its own leaders and people of influence. It starts with producers, directors, actors, writers, cinematographers, and so on. These people have an enormous influence on the members of the church of media. They are looked upon with great respect, and their opinions can be taken as the authority and power of a god.
It’s hard not to see that the church of media and entertainment functions in a similar fashion as the Church. So how do we maximize our opportunities that the media culture crisis presents? First, we must acknowledge that the media church is legitimate and does not have to pose a threat to Christianity. Not everything expressed in the media church is necessarily bad or evil. Second, we need to start a dialogue. We accomplish nothing by condemning this new church. By talking to them, we can better understand what they are seeking. Honest, two-way communication is how we can turn a crisis into the best opportunity that Christians have in our current age. Third, we need to find common ground. I’m sure if we are willing to come to an understanding of the media culture and this new church, we will be able to discover our commonalities that can provide the basis for establishing a relationship. Finally, this relationship will enable us to foster trust that will give us access to the broader media culture. If we remain apart from the church of media and entertainment, how will we reach them? How will they discover and understand God’s truth or his plan for their lives? We have an opportunity to interact with a new generation that has embraced a lifestyle based in media, entertainment and technology.
Paul gave us a model that follows this strategy in Acts 17. Paul traveled to Athens and recognized the legitimacy of the counsel of philosophers. He started a dialogue by saying, “Men of Athens, I noticed that you are very religious for as I was walking along, I saw your many altars, and one of them had this subscription on it – ‘to an unknown god’. You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him.” Paul started a discussion which resulted in interaction with the counsel. He did not condemn but sought common ground. The scripture goes on to say, “for in him we live and move and exist, as one of your own poets says ‘we are his offspring’. And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.” Paul was brilliant because he found common ground by acknowledging this legitimate truth. He was then able to use that to point out where the counsel of philosophers was mistaken and was then able to share with them about the one true God.
Christians today can use the same strategy that Paul has given us to engage the media culture and the media church. Romans 1:14 says, “For I have a great sense of obligation for people in our culture and to people in other cultures—to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach God’s good news.” Paul went to the centers of power during his time, which included Rome and Athens. He felt an obligation to bring the Gospel to other cultures, other points of view, people with different philosophies and with a different understanding of what they consider the truth to be.
Today’s center of power is in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. We have the same opportunity in our age to engage a different culture and a different people. Our goal is to reach the church of media and entertainment. By doing so, we can affect and change the course of today’s media culture. By proclaiming the Truth, we set the stage for reestablishing the moral authority of God in our society. Christianity doesn’t have to lose its influence in the culture. We can have a positive impact on the attitudes, behaviors and beliefs for generations to come. By establishing a relationship with our culture, we will lead many to find Christ. Our opportunities are many. God is already at work. All he requires is for us to join him. In the next few chapters, I will share five core principles that will turn our media culture crisis into an opportunity that can change our world. Yes, I said it. As bold as it sounds, we have the capability with God’s help and grace to change our world. But first we must understand the forces behind today’s media culture and how the perfect storm formed to create a church of media and entertainment.
First Core Principle
The Media Culture Crisis and Opportunity
I’m convinced we all want to make a difference, especially if our faith matters. As committed Christians, we get up each morning with a purpose and a mission. Acts 1:8 says, “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria and throughout the ends of the earth.” NEW LIVING TRANSLATION.
The Body of Christ has been doing this for over 2,000 years. But it would seem that today our society has become resistant to Christianity. Are we happy with what we see in the world? Do you believe, as Christians, that we are making a difference? Is it possible that something is blocking our efforts? If you are like me, you are frustrated. Why are we not changing the world? Why does it seem to be changing us?
I offer for your consideration five core principles that I believe will change our world. They involve the combination of media, faith, and culture. They are interconnected and dependent upon one another in order to achieve results. Without accepting the first principle, you cannot move on to the second principle.
Some Christians argue that if we simply live out our lives and be Christ-like we can change the world. But why is this not working? Sure, we can see pockets of our faith in action. But, for the most part, our society and the world in general goes about its business as if we, the Body of Christ, do not exist. We have become irrelevant.
Let’s be honest. Only two things can happen. We are advancing the cause of Christ and changing our society or Christianity is in retreat. There is no middle ground. We cannot remain static.
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Christianity is not complicated. If we do the above as Jesus commanded, we will change the world. So what’s stopping us? The change must first come from inside the Body of Christ. We must examine what is blocking our efforts. These five core principles will lead us to a better understanding of how we can change the world.
Principle One—Christianity is rapidly loosing its impact on culture. Today the media controls the culture and, by doing so, controls the hearts and minds of the people. That includes both young and old, Christians and nonbelievers. In fact, it is no longer possible to determine where culture starts and where media ends. They have united to create a media culture. We now have a “media culture crisis”. This presents an opportunity for Christians to utilize the media culture crisis for positive change by promoting and embracing media and entertainment that reflects Biblical truth. Every Christian must play a part in solving this crisis.
Most Christians reject the above concept. We see only 10% of the issue. The media culture is like an iceberg. Only a small portion lies above the surface of the water. For the most part, we see sex, violence, bad language and nudity as the main problem. To be fair, the majority of Christians accept this part of the concept to be true. Why we reject the other parts of the principle is because of fear. We don’t want to admit that we are just as likely to be influenced and controlled by media as the general public. Others see the issue as too big or too complicated. So it’s easier not to think about it. Why? Because we believe we can’t change it even if we wanted to. Still other Christians have a false sense of security by not having cable TV, or watching R-rated movies, or limiting their exposure to media in general. It’s much easier to justify that it’s somebody else’s problem. But we are only lying to ourselves. Isn’t it time that we face the truth?
What is culture? It is a shared consciousness, which influences our behaviors, attitudes, actions, and thought patterns. It helps to create a collective worldview. It is direct and indirect as well as tangible and intangible.
Why do we have a media culture crisis? Because it is part of the air we breathe. It goes beyond one movie, one television program or one cable network. Media impacts every aspect of culture and society. Remember, I am referring to a media culture crisis not a media crisis. There is a substantial difference. When movies, television programs and media begin to impact our shared consciousness, it then has the ability to change our behaviors, attitudes, and actions. That includes altering our institutions, such as schools, government and the Church. It is a crisis for Christians because the influence the media is creating in culture is promoting a negative impact on our society, which is leading people further away from God and His truth.
How does this work? Sexuality is one of the major themes in today’s media culture. In fact, 68% of all television programs offer some form of sexual content. The average American television viewer will see 14,000 instances of sexual acts per year. Today Hollywood offers sexually-charged movies, such as the movie American Pie, including its following six sequels and its many spinoffs, which are primarily aimed at an adolescent audience.
Not only are television and movies sexually charged, but advertisers embrace sexuality as a means to sell products. For example, GoDaddy.com ., whose primary business is selling domain names, uses provocative models in the process of disrobing in their commercials. They then direct the viewer to go online to see more of the action, which they brand as restricted viewing. Their form of advertising doesn’t suggest their products offer better value than their competition or tell us why their service is superior. They seem to suggest that using GoDaddy.com is sexy. So how does all of this impact the average American teenager and lead us to our original question, why is there a media culture crisis?
I am sure that if media did not exist, which would include movies and television, young people would still be engaging in sexual activity. As the Bible says, there is nothing new under the sun. But when media and culture merge, that’s a game changer. It can offer either a positive or a negative impact. In the case of sexuality, media or at least those who create the media have decided that it is important. They understand that sex sells. In fact it’s not really about sexuality. Media makers use sexuality as a device to hold our attention. Their primary motivation is to build audience share and increase ad revenues.
Media makers identify and direct the culture to consider what is important. It’s not that they tell us what to think or how to think, but the messages they choose to communicate become important by virtue of just being present in the media. When sexuality is incorporated into media, it is elevated to an important status. In other words, because it is present in the media, it becomes important. By deciding to omit or ignore topics such as a committed relationship and marriage, teen pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases and the emotional fallout and guilt associated with sexual activity, the media conveys the idea that this is not important and not worthy of our consideration or discussion. This theory about how the media culture functions would therefore suggest that by talking about sexuality and casting it in a positive light, they are actually promoting promiscuity.
I believe media functions as an amplifier of the culture. As media searches out the new cultural shifts, concepts and trends, they discover that some young people are engaging in sexual activity. So they incorporate and reflect that within their media. In turn, the media acts as an amplifier to increase the strength and influence of sexual activity. The media picks up on this increase within the culture and communicates it back through its media. It is accepted in greater numbers and is, once again, picked up by the media. The process continues to repeat itself over and over. It becomes a 10-fold, 100-fold, 1,000-fold affect on increasing sexual activity or promiscuity.
To be fair, not all media supports promiscuity. Consider the film Juno. Our lead character, Juno, is a teenager who engages in a sexual relationship that leads to an unwanted pregnancy. She makes the courageous decision of not taking the easy way out. Although pressured to have an abortion, she decides to give up the child for adoption. Although Juno contains sexual contact between two teenagers, it does not endorse the activity. In fact, it serves as a cautionary tale. Both Juno and her partner were emotionally unprepared to enter into a sexual relationship. They certainly were not prepared to face the likelihood of becoming parents before they graduated from high school.
Juno makes the case that sexual activity has consequences which can impact our lives forever. Juno goes against the grain by promoting a different message than the one that is accepted throughout mainstream media.
Having a better understanding of the relationship between media and culture helps to explain why we are in a “media culture crisis”. But it doesn’t have to remain a crisis. The media culture in and of itself is neither negative nor positive. It is neither good nor evil. It does not suggest that all forms of media, including movies and television are necessarily to be avoided or branded as taboo. As the creators of media, we decide which message to communicate, and we decide how we are going to use media. The media culture crisis presents an opportunity for Christians to use the crisis as a catalyst for positive change. How do we do this? By promoting and embracing media and entertainment that reflect Biblical truth. This is already taking place.
There are Christians that work in Hollywood today, who are creating art that can transform the culture. And, as difficult as it sounds, God is also using secular filmmakers to create art that reflects His glory and truth. How is this possible? God will do what He wants to do regardless of whether or not it fits into our theology. In Isaiah 10, verse 7, the Bible says, “But the King of Assyria will not know that it is I who send him. He will merely think he is attacking my people as part of his plan to conquer the world.” God will fulfill His plan according to His will, not ours. I think part of His plan is for Christians to use the media culture crisis to our advantage.
God will use anything to get our attention including speaking through a donkey. Numbers 22:28-35 says “When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. This made him so angry that he hit her with his stick. Then the Lord made the donkey talk, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to make you hit me three times?
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made me look foolish! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now! But the donkey said to Balaam, I am your very own donkey, which you have ridden for years. Have I ever done this to you before? No, Balaam said. Then the LORD let Balaam see the angel of the LORD, who was standing in the road with his sword drawn. Then Balaam bowed facedown on the ground.
Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; I did not know you were standing in the road to stop me. If I am wrong, I will go back. The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, Go with these men, but say only what I tell you. So Balaam went with Balak’s leaders.
If the media culture has been capable of creating a negative impact, then it is just as capable of creating a positive impact that can lead people back to God. I am convinced that the media culture will play a significant part in the next great revival. God wants us to use the media, the most powerful force of our day, for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
But if we are to do this, we first must recognize how the media culture crisis has impacted Christians. I will not bore you with all of the statistics, analyses, and studies. But I do trust their results. We have more than enough information from Christian and secular outlets, such as the Rand Corporation, George Barma, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Media and the Family, the Bridger Generation and the list goes on.
What are their findings? Faith seems to have little or no impact on our lifestyle choices. Our behavior and attitudes are linked to our exposure to violence, sexuality, and media in general. The research suggests that the media culture extends beyond the reach of the electronic screens of our media devices. Consider this analogy. We are being exposed to a low form of radiation. We cannot taste it. We cannot hear it. We cannot see it. Nor do we feel its affects immediately. But over time it will kill us. And just like exposure to low radiation, exposure to media over a period of time is killing us spiritually and making us ineffective.
Do you know the real message the media culture is communicating? Is there a singular story, a general theme? Whether it’s on a conscious or subconscious level, we are being told, YOU as an individual, are the center of the universe. YOU are more important than anything else. Your needs, wants and desires must be met at any cost. The message comes in the form of instant gratification and the glorification of wealth, power and sex. This helps to explain our obsession with consumerism, which is at the root of most of our problems.
Businesses and corporations want to sell you products or services. Media outlets need cash to produce programming. In turn, they are able to create content that can influence the culture. Their influence turns into desire. As desire increases in the culture, it creates demand. Demand fuels the cycle, which takes us back to square one.
The entire media culture crisis as well as its central theme (materialism, wealth and power) can be summed up from one of the most famous quotes in movie history. In the film Wall Street, Michael Douglas’s character, Gordon Gekko, says, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper but that other manufacturing corporation called the USA.” Gordon Gekko has revealed everything that is wrong with today’s media culture.
Have we agreed with him that greed is good, and greed is right? Does it clarify our thirst to put our needs and wants above everything else in life? Not only has this impacted the general culture but also its greatest impact can be felt within the Body of Christ. We have bought into the same reasoning that Gordon Gekko believes will save his company as well as America. Some argue that today’s market-driven church is a reflection of this philosophy. Bigger is better. And gigantic is even better. Are we just interested in marketing and branding? Are we building a church that reflects Christ, or are we building a church that looks prestigious and powerful. Are churches just interested in making people feel comfortable? If we follow the same model that today’s media culture is built upon, which is to determine what people want and then give it to them, we are guilty of participating in that same media culture crisis.
Today’s church seems to be embracing this concept of creating products and services that meet peoples demands. How can we make you feel happy about yourself? Or how can we soothe your pain? The media culture crisis is creating churches that are embracing a marketing plan for growth based not on the power of Christ but on the type of experience that they can create for you. The goal is growth; therefore, you do nothing that will cost you your people.
Craig Detweiler, a professor at Fuller Seminary in California, puts it this way. “The media is a process lived in the marketplace, driven by consumerism, fueled by advertising, and obtained by celebrity.”
This situation that we find ourselves in is similar to when satan tempted Eve with the DESIRE to taste the fruit. She was convinced she had to have it. Today, the media culture uses desire in the same fashion, except now because of the power of the media it’s like being on steroids.
Nowhere is this affect more intensified than on our youth. Today’s media culture has become the ”new church “ for a new generation. It is a place of worship. It takes place in our local multiplexes, our mobile media devices, on our computer screens, and flat screen televisions.
Under the age of 18, the average daily consumption of media is nearly 8 hours a day. It’s raising our kids. Some studies suggest that 70% of kids that are now in church youth groups will abandon their faith. I realize that this is disturbing. And many people I talk to refuse to accept the findings.
I have been involved in media ministries for over 25 years. In that time, I have worked with high school and college students. I have also worked with many youth ministries. I’m convinced that the numbers are right on target. I’ve got eyes to see and ears to hear.
Often, I am able to ask questions when kids are more relaxed and open. My findings are first, most young people don’t know what they believe. Second, what they do believe; they can’t tell you why. Third, they have a somewhat fragmented Christian worldview. For parents, “it’s everybody but my kids” approach. They believe by setting standards, such as no cable TV and other guidelines that they are safe. Are they? Parents and youth workers see what they want to see. Sure, everything might look good on the surface, but nobody is willing to look under the surface. We really don’t want to see the truth.
The media crisis is everybody’s issue. Every Christian must play a part in finding a workable solution. Our ability to function as a Christian and be effective in our ministry is directly proportionate to our response as the Body of Christ to the media culture crisis. Currently, we have no plan. We have no strategy. No unified effort. I think we need one. I want you to know that there is a plan. It starts by accepting the first principle. There is hope in this crisis.
Consider this analogy. Have you ever tried to work outside in the sun on a hot summer day? Let’s say a really hot summer day at 105 degrees. How productive are you? Everything is a challenge. It takes every effort just to stay cool and survive. What would happen if you turned the temperature down to say 90 to 95 degrees? It would still be hot. But it would be a little bit more bearable. Perhaps we would be more effective and productive in our work. What if we could get the temperature down to 80 to 85 degrees? Now the environment would no longer be in the way. We could be fully productive and no longer concerned with just trying to survive. The media culture is like a hot summer day at 105 degrees. It makes us ineffective. Somehow, we have to find a way to turn down the temperature. By doing so, no matter what our ministry, we will be in a better position to further the cause of Christ. The reason that ministries are not successful is because of the environment the media culture has created.
This is every Christian’s issue—yours and mine. No matter what your cause or ministry is, from the pro-life movement, outreach ministry, youth ministry, teaching ministry, local church, family counseling, etc., we all can play a part that will make a difference. Our part is to turn down the temperature. Everyone playing their small part equals the whole.
We don’t have a choice because in five years, the temperature is going to be 110 degrees. We must do something NOW, not tomorrow. We have to care about this issue because it’s in our self interest. It amounts to self-preservation. We’ll act when we accept Principle One.
We will not accept our first principle unless we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves. I am speaking about the Body of Christ. If our goal or mission is to change the world and proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior, then our first principle is more about changing us than changing today’s media culture. Over the past few years, we have been at war with Hollywood. We hold them responsible for subverting and polluting the minds of our youth through the use of sex, violence, bad language and sexuality in media.
The first principle presents an inconvenient truth that we must face. As I wrote earlier, today’s media culture offers a singular theme that we are the center of the universe. Our wants and desires must be satisfied. I am convinced that on some level all of us, including the Body of Christ, have bought into this concept. We are as likely to be compromised as nonbelievers. Yes. We reject media that contains sex, violence, bad language and sexuality, but haven’t we accepted media that embraces immediate gratification of our perceived wants and needs—we must have it now and what we do have isn’t good enough. All of us are on this treadmill called consumerism.
Materialism is the root cause for our media culture crisis. The Bible says to make Jesus our Lord and Savior. We’ve done a good job of making Him our Savior, but it’s the Lord part that we are failing at. It’s an irony that the media and entertainment which we consider to be evil may actually be speaking about God the most and revealing His truth. But without really understanding the process, we seek out media that we consider to be nonoffensive or harmless which, in fact, could be leading us further away from God because it places all truth in the individual and affirms the individual’s right for self- determination. Unless we acknowledge this struggle, we cannot fully embrace our first principle. Our concern should not be to change the media but to change our attitudes and views on how we perceive media and entertainment. We need to have new insights and perspectives.
Is it possible that God is speaking to us through media and entertainment? Can you have an encounter with God at the movies? Part of me hates to have this discussion. But we have no other choice but to take a look at how we view our theology. I believe in keeping things simple. Theology doesn’t have to be a big mystery. Your theology is really about who God is. What is God’s nature? What is God saying? What is God about? What does God want me to do? Does God have a plan or vision for my life? Your theology is based on your answers to these questions. And based on your answers, this is how you are going to view the media. How are you going to interpret films? Will you see God at work or not at work in the media? You will base this on your theology. Also your philosophical approach to life will have an impact on your theology, as well as your generational and cultural viewpoint.
Much of the church has embraced a conservative approach to theology. It is one that is very popular throughout the Body of Christ. It recognizes sin is everywhere. The Bible is reduced to a singular story. We live in a world full of sin in need of salvation. Many Christians see the world as bad or evil; therefore, all entertainment and media must also be evil. If we adopt this viewpoint, we are missing a golden opportunity to engage our culture through media and entertainment. It makes it impossible to move on to our next principle.
I John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If someone loves the world, then love for the Father is not in him because all things of the world—the desires of the old nature, the desires of the eyes and the pretensions of life—are not from the Father but from the world.” THE JEWISH BIBLE
Most people read this scripture and conclude that the world is evil. But is it? Are you telling me when you love a beautiful sunrise that’s evil? Is that not the reflection of the glory of God in His creation? It’s impossible for me to believe that God would not want us to love His creation. This is where I think we get it wrong, It’s not about the love of the physical world or what it offers, but it’s about our attitude. It concerns a proper order of what God has created for us. When we love the things of the world more than we love God, we are putting them above Him. The scripture is really about the old nature. When we embrace God, we will have a proper order of how we view everything in life. This allows us to enjoy His creation and see His glory reflected. If you embrace this concept, it will allow you to see that God’s truth can be reflected in entertainment and media.
Unfortunately, most Christians have concluded that the world is evil; therefore, Hollywood is evil. So we have fought back with our protests and our boycotts. But nothing is simple in this relationship between the Church and entertainment and media. We have a love/hate relationship. While we are condemning Hollywood, we are embracing some of the things they offer. We want their positive value and family-friendly programming. But I think we fail to see where God is at work in entertainment and media.
I know I have experienced God at the movies. He can use films to speak to us. Film is unique in all forms of media. There is something about the process that can transform truth into reality. Wendy and Lucy is a film that recently spoke to me. It is a story about a 20-something girl on a cross-country trip to Alaska. She is seeking a better life with her dog, Lucy. They have little resources or money. She hopes to find employment in the fishing industry. We don’t know much about her life other than that she seems to have few choices. The trip represents an all-or-nothing attempt for Wendy to have some sort of life. Unfortunately, her car breaks down. She becomes stranded and has to leave her dog, whom she dearly loves. Her only option is to hop a freight train bound for an unknown destination. We really don’t know in the film what becomes of Wendy. Will she be reunited with her dog? Will life’s circumstances become more grueling? Could she end up dead?
It seems like a simple story, so why did it speak to me? What God was saying to me is that Wendy is one of His children. And we live in a world where nobody cares about them. They are invisible. We only care about the things that we are interested in and are unwilling to look at how life can be very ugly. In this movie, nobody really cared enough to reach out to her or to offer help. God was asking me, “What are you going to do about it?”
If God is speaking to me in the movies, I am sure He is speaking to others as well. Spend any time online, and you will find people talking about movies. Are they being impacted? One movie from several years ago, Magnolia, had a profound impact on it’s viewers. Magnolia has nine separate but interlocking stories. It takes place in one day in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. It’s a journey into the human condition. The central theme of the movie is that there is no past wrongdoing that cannot be undone and forgiven.
What did people say about it?
The movie heals.
The writer of the script had God on his mind and offered the healing of the human soul through forgiveness.
It touched me in ways that I have never been touched before.
It showed me sides of people that we need to see. What are we doing? Silently judging you? It was the director’s slap of the audiences face through Tom Cruz’s character that made me rethink how I view others. What do I really know about that person?
This is a very thought-provoking film. It takes a while to process. It shows how faith in Christ can heal the effects of sin.
It makes us question ourselves. Are we all that sick? Is society really that messed up?
The last scene of the film touched me greatly, and I found myself almost in tears. The message of forgiveness comes through loud and clear. The director exposed the ways we hurt each other and shows that no past wrongdoing cannot be undone or at least washed away.
People do have an experience at the movies. Sometimes bad, sometimes good. And it is possible to have a spiritual encounter with God that you would not have otherwise. Many people who viewed Magnolia had such an encounter. Truth spoke to them. They wanted a dialogue, an opportunity to share their experiences and ask questions. What did it mean? How can I find meaning and purpose? For Christians, this is an opportunity to engage in that discussion and offer a dialogue that can lead people to the ultimate truth.
The problem is that Magnolia is rated R and offered a fair amount of bad language. Most Christians rejected the movie as another example of the foul content offered by Hollywood. Some Christians who found their way to the theater never got past the first fifteen minutes and left. Do you think we missed an opportunity for discussion? Do you want to change the world? For most Christians, in the case of Magnolia or Wendy and Lucy, we fail to see God at work. He is speaking to us. Is it possible that Magnolia offers more profound truth than can be found in many Sunday morning sermons.
How is this possible? Because movies are primarily stories. They offer experiences, objects, people, and the world we live in. All of these are capable of reflecting God’s glory and truth. Our experiences are nothing more than ordinary life which reveals our hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations. People are made in the image of God and can reflect God’s love and grace. The world we actually live in through creation can reflect God’s truth and majesty. So what is the Bible or the Word of God? It is primarily a story about man without God and man’s effort to find some meaning and purpose in life. What Hollywood offers, in fact, is a reflection of the Bible. Although filmmakers may not fully understand this process, they offer a world without God, but many of their characters are on a journey to discover truth and to find their purpose and meaning in life. Both Hollywood and the Bible offer us an unedited version of life, which includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Both present the world as it is and not a world as we want to see it. But in order to see the truth, both Hollywood and the Bible, require us to confront the ugly aspects of our lives and the world we live in.
How do films and the Bible do this? They do this through the use of language, image and ideas. The Bible uses the written word as its source of power and authority. Hollywood uses dialogue to convey emotions, thoughts and meaning. The Bible uses image through visual storytelling. Jesus’ parables are a prime example. He used complex theological concepts and turned them into visual images inside the minds of his listeners—He created word pictures. Hollywood communicates primarily through visual images. Through the use of metaphors and symbolism, Hollywood is able to communicate ideas that cannot be expressed in language alone. The Bible is a book of ideas, the primary one that man is lost without God. Not all movies created by Hollywood contain ideas, but the good ones do. All good movies are about something. Those are the ones, as Christians, we should be searching for—the ones that are asking questions—looking for truth. That’s where you are going to find God at work.
There’s no point in going on unless we talk about language. Some Christians believe that most Hollywood movies are an offense to God because they offer language that is inappropriate or blasphemous. A few months ago, I saw a TV special on Christian television where an interviewer was searching for Christians on the streets of Hollywood. He would ask questions—Are you a Christian? They would answer, yes. Do you go to R-rated movies? They would answer yes. The next question is the classic setup. Should you be going to see movies that take the Lord’s name in vain? They had a surprise look on their faces, feeling somewhat ashamed. They answered, no. Case closed. All R-rated movies are evil and contain foul language. That was the judgment according to the producers of this television program.
It never occurred to them that God could actually be at work in some of these films. So what is the third commandment saying to us? Exodus 20:7—Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God for the Lord will not let you go unpunished if you use His name in vain. Is this about language or something more? Who does it apply to? What constitutes a misuse or improper use of His name? One of the best examples that I have come across is it refers to actually taking the name of The Lord. When we are transformed, we become a representation of who God is and His character on earth. We are His representative; therefore, His name becomes our name. When we misrepresent Him or live a life that is inconsistent with His truth, we are misusing His name or are misrepresenting His nature. This commandment deals more about the bigger issue of how we live our lives than about the use of language although language is applicable to how we live our lives.
Is there a clear-cut answer to whether or not you should go see a movie that contains offensive language? I believe it ultimately will be a decision between you and God. It will involve your personal relationship with God and the level of your spiritual growth. Your discernment and your ability to use our second principle will help you to select movies that contain His truth and glory. In some ways, this is a gray area, but I do believe that movies which contain bad language can reflect His truth and speak to us. When we understand this, we can embrace our first principle more fully. This leads to a dialogue with the culture. They are asking questions and looking for someone to give them the answers. Do you think we, as Christians, might have some answers? We will never get to this point unless we are willing to take the journey and understand that media and entertainment presents us with an opportunity not only to make films that reflect God’s truth but also to watch movies that reflect His truth and by dong so will challenge us to examine the way we live our lives.
As I have written earlier, today we have a new church, the church of media and entertainment. Today’s media is the new church, and this church is just as relevant. They worship an unknown god, but their unknown god is our God, the God who created the earth and sent His son to die for us. He is at work in the world and in this new church of media and entertainment. But how?
The Spirit of God
Acts 17:28 says, In Him we live and move and have our being. That means the Spirit is active in and through the human spirit. We have to conclude that the sacred is present across all human endeavors. If that’s the case, than why would His presence not be felt in the movies.
Genesis 1:26 says, Then God said, “Let us make people in our image to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life—the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky and all the livestock, wild animals and small animals.” So God created people in His own image. God patterned them after himself, male and female, He created them.
This scripture would suggest that we are all capable of reflecting God’s truth at some level. That helps to explain why people can encounter God in the so-called secular media. The Biblical account of Jonah offers some interesting insight into the Spirit of God working in man. Jonah is directed by God to go to the great city of Nineveh to proclaim His judgment. But Jonah refuses to obey God because he realized the Lord is merciful, and he fears that God will not destroy the people of Nineveh. What’s interesting about this story is how the Spirit of God works in those who do not serve God. Jonah boards a ship going to Tarshish. A great storm arises which causes the sailors to ask Jonah, “Are you responsible for this storm?” Jonah informs them that he is running away from the Lord. He tells the sailors that in order to stop the storm they must throw him into the sea. This offered the non-Hebrew and non-followers of God an easy out. But the sailors acted in a righteous manner by trying harder to row the boat ashore. They did not want to kill Jonah.
God’s Spirit was obviously at work in the sailors’ lives. They even cried out to Jonah’s God, “Oh, Lord”, they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin.” Finally they were forced to throw Jonah overboard. As the sea calms, the sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered Him a sacrifice and vowed to serve Him.
Jonah’s disobedience against God was used to bring the sailors to repentance. The Spirit of God worked in all circumstances to fulfill His will. The fascinating aspect of Jonah’s story is that unrighteous men acted more righteously than a righteous man, which caused a righteous man to finally accept God’s will. Do you think that God can use filmmakers both Christian and nonChristian to fulfill his purpose?
God is Present
Some people might believe that God is no longer at work in the world. But the fact is God never left. He is still in the process of creation. Each day is a new day and a new creation. God’s presence can be felt throughout the world through His creation.
Genesis 1:31 says, Then God looked over all He had made, and He saw that it was excellent in every way.
Romans 8:19 says, For creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; that not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we waif for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
God is currently in the process of restoring creation back to excellence. He is not finished with this world or mankind. Therefore, His presence is actively at work in all things. Everything in the world reveals God’s truth. That includes filmmaking and media making. Because it is a creative process, it mirrors God’s love for creation and redemption. When we are creating, we are near God’s heart because we are made in His image.
God Uses All Things
God can use all things for the fulfillment of His divine purposes. For example, movies or any form of media from nonChristian media makers or filmmakers, including elements we may find offensive can contain God’s divine truth and is capable of moving our hearts toward God. That means God is able to use all things for his purposes—truth and untruth.
Romans 8:28 says, But all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.
If we accept this concept that God uses all things to fulfill His purpose, that would suggest that God’s grace is present throughout all of human culture. It illustrates the point that God can use filmmakers to speak both truth and untruth to fulfill His purpose. We cannot limit God’s power or choose which way He will work. Our theology is not the ultimate source of truth. God is truth and will use anything he chooses and in whatever order He wishes to communicate his truth to mankind, including films that may offend us because they contain both truth and untruth. Jesus had this in mind in His parable of the wheat and the weeds.
In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus says, the Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everybody was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servant came and said to him, sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from? An enemy did this, he replied. The servant asked him, do you want us to go and pull them up? No, he answered, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters to first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.
God can use films which contain both the wheat and the weeds for our benefit. We should not reject the wheat (truth) because the weeds (untruth) are present. The servant wanted to pull the weeds out. But the master wanted the process to go forward because it would harm the wheat. When we watch movies, we are confronted with a decision. In effect, it is our harvesting time in which we must discern what is true and what is not. That’s how God can use movies and media to speak to us. This gives us the opportunity to grow in our spiritual development as believers. It becomes obvious that the weeds are there for a purpose. In order to fully understand truth, we also have to understand and recognize the untruth.
When Jesus spoke this parable, He was culturally relevant to his audience, which was primarily an agricultural community. They could understand that wheat and weeds were metaphors for good and evil. But I also believe that Jesus was speaking to everyone, including us. He layered the parable with subtext and multiple layers of meaning that we could understand today in a primarily technical society.
We live in a world where both good and evil exist, along with truth and untruth. Jesus wants us to develop the ability to distinguish the difference between the two. The untruth or the things that are against God’s will can be used to lead us to the truth. That’s why I believe the farmer did not pull the weeds from the field. They serve God’s purpose.
Likewise, movies contain the truth and the untruth along with good and evil. We can develop skills to recognize the difference between the two just as we can distinguish the difference between wheat and weeds. We should not reject the weeds because they serve the purpose of bringing us to the ultimate truth of God’s love.
So if God is using filmmakers to tell His stories, why are we not seeing more results that lead people to Christ? First, we have to stop judging Hollywood and blaming them for every social issue in America over the last 60 years. Second, we have to understand that the media culture crisis, in some ways, is our own doing because we have failed to understand how God is at work in entertainment and media. We have withdrawn from what we consider to be secular art. We have discouraged our young people to pursue careers in media and entertainment. We have embraced the main theme of media by accepting materialism and consumerism as a primary source in our lives.
And finally, the secular filmmakers that have something important to say are few in number. When they create art that reflects God’s glory, we should embrace it and encourage it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Magnolia is a prime example where many Christians could not get past the language to see a greater truth which allowed us an opportunity to dialogue with those who are asking questions about forgiveness.
A substantial part of the body of Christ, in my opinion, have never thought about the concept of a media culture or a media church. Are we indifferent? Perhaps we just don’t care. Are we concerned with just living life. Do we understand what it means? Are we aware of its implications? Our first principle presents no easy answers. It requires us to be actively involved in the process of change. That means time, effort and money. Most of us go about our daily lives unaware of the changes which are happening in our society. The future will be very different. The continued growth of the media church will make certain of that. For good or bad, its coming. Today’s current generation thinks differently. They will come to see Christianity in a different light. They are more likely to see it as one of many religions that contain some truth but not a definitive truth.
Maybe we have reached a point where we believe that we can’t change anything. That’s true to a point. In our own power and abilities, it is impossible to change the world. But remember, God is still at work. He is working today in the media culture as you read this book. All that he requires of us is to join him in that work. This is a partnership between us and God. Philippians 4:23 says, “For I can do anything through Christ who gives me the strength I need.” And Mark 11:23 says, “Jesus said, I assure you that you can say to this mountain, may God lift you up and throw you into the sea, and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe, and you do not doubt in your heart. Listen to me! You can pray for anything and, if you believe, you will have it.”
The question is, do we believe these scriptures. Does scripture have a purpose? Or are they merely words on paper? The time has come for us to believe that anything is possible because through Christ we can change our world, including the media culture. We have three choices. We can pretend there is no crisis and continue to do what we are doing and hope for the best. Or we can acknowledge the media culture crisis and hope it will just go away. Or we can acknowledge the media culture crisis and view it as an opportunity to engage the church of media and entertainment. Which of these options do you think is the best?
Why have I spent so much time on the first principle. Because it is the key principle on which the other principles rest. And because the first principle is about changing our attitude and approach and not about trying to impose our will on Hollywood or the entertainment and media industry.
Principle One—Christianity is rapidly loosing its impact on culture. Today the media controls the culture and, by doing so, controls the hearts and minds of the people. That includes both young and old, Christians and nonbelievers. In fact, it is no longer possible to determine where culture starts and where media ends. They have united to create a media culture. We now have a “media culture crisis”. This presents an opportunity for Christians to utilize the media culture crisis for positive change by promoting and embracing media and entertainment that reflects Biblical truth. Every Christian must play a part in solving this crisis.
If we reject this principle, there is really no hope or anywhere else to go.
We cannot change the media culture until we, the Body of Christ, are willing to change. Are you ready to move on to Principle Two or not?