Monday, May 16, 2016

Want to Save Your Church? Turn off Your TV!

Each day we seek to live as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ. A faithful witness is a person called by Jesus to walk with him on the difficult path of freedom and, by doing so, share all his truth, love, and vitality with others. Being a Christian means developing a way of living, with other Christians, which is meaningfully different from the very Olympian way of living of the society and culture in which we live. For us today, that means developing a way of living free in relation to corporate media of communication. It means saying good-bye to television.
Let’s start with some statistics. According to Felix Richter (“Americans Use Electronic Media 11+ Hours a Day”), American adults (as of 2014) watch TV over 5 hours 20 minutes per day, listen to the radio over 2 hours 40 minutes, use their smartphones for almost 1 hour 30 minutes, and spend over 1 hour on the internet using their PCs.
This won’t do. TV is an intensely Olympian medium. If we watch it over five hours each day, our Olympian personality will be mightily strengthened and our Christian personality will shrivel to insignificance. We will understand society, culture, our own life, our church, the Bible, even Jesus, in terms of an Olympian worldview rather than understanding all from Christ’s unconventional point of view.
Since we want to strengthen our Christian personality, let us devote ourselves, with greater discipline and pleasure, to reading the Bible. It’s the most unconventional collection of books ever written and remains Christ’s favorite. Let’s aim for reading it an hour each day. That will give Jesus some chance of strengthening our dilapidated Christian personalities!
Television, movies, and video games are all visual media. Watching visual images takes no skill. We don’t develop any greater intellectual ability by watching visual images longer or more frequently. A two-year-old has all the skill a twenty-two-year-old has. Worse, the more time we spend watching images, the more difficult reading becomes. Eventually, we reduce ourselves to functional illiterates.
Reading does require intellectual ability. The more we do, the greater our intellectual ability grows. To continue such growth, we also need to increase the difficulty of what we are reading. The Bible is actually a rather challenging read. The more we read it, the greater our ability to understand it and much else.
Strangely enough, Jesus does not choose to reveal himself through visual images. He always prefers words. He speaks to us the truth that sets us free to love and leads us into fullness of life. It’s the Olympian gods who seek to awe and emotionally satisfy us through visual spectacles.
All of this, by the way, argues against using visual images during Sunday worship and videos to teach the Bible to our children during Sunday school or at home. I would even avoid illustrated Bibles. Hearing, reflecting on, discussing, understanding, and applying Christ’s words requires the development of verbal skills. The early disciples had them because they grew up in a verbal culture. We live in an overwhelming visual one. We have to be far more deliberate about developing our verbal skills.
As for radio, smartphones, and PCs, again, the content is overwhelmingly Olympian. What we want to do is to live in ways that strengthen our Christian personality, point of view, and way of living. There are times when listening to Olympian content matters, but then we must allow time to think critically about that content—to understand it from a Christian point of view. Otherwise it just strengthens our Olympian personality.
Freedom for Jesus, and from the Olympian gods, is our goal. That means we want to avoid legalism. We want to understand our relationship to corporate media in terms of freedom for Jesus rather than conformity to a moral code. I’m not saying we are forbidden to watch TV. I am saying that watching any TV almost irresistibly strengthens our Olympian personality, worldview, and way of living. We’ve got better things to do with our time.
Let us imagine, for a moment, that we are among the many Christians who, each day, watch more than five hours of TV and read no Bible at all. Christ's call? To repent of that and start moving in the opposite direction: less TV, more Bible. Our eventual goal? No TV, one hour of Bible reading each day.
Do we want to strengthen our witness, and that of our church, to Jesus? Then let’s turn off our TV and get back to his book!

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.