Monday, April 6, 2015

What Makes Entertainment Christian?

Over the past two decades or so, we have seen Christian entertainment grow by leaps and bounds, and reach levels of popularity it never has before.  From the mega-bestselling Left Behind books, which have inspired spinoff media ranging from movies to comic book adaptations to even a computer game, to Big Idea's VeggieTales, which started off as a series of videos but has practically become a household name, even among those outside the Christian community, to Christian bands and artists ranging from Skillet to TobyMac to Amy Grant to Relient K, all of whom have fans in the millions, to various movies ranging from Biblical epics (Son of God, The Prince of Egypt) to dramas (God's Not Dead, Fireproof) to even comedies (Moms' Night Out, Thou Shalt Laugh).  In every case, you've got plenty of people who don't identify themselves as Christians, but are nonetheless fans of such entertainment.  You've also got some Christians who refuse to consume such media, because they believe it to be of low quality, or they believe a term like "contemporary Christian music" is an oxymoron.  As someone who regularly consumes entertainment of all kinds, I have to ask myself: What makes it Christian? Sometimes, that can be hard to determine; here are some thoughts I have about the whole issue:

First off: Does the media literally praise God? That can be hard to determine; I've heard praise songs that could just as easily be interpreted as being about romantic love.  It isn't just the contemporary stuff that you hear on K-Love; at my old church, we used to sing a song called "When I Fell in Love With You" that sounded like something from a cheesy Broadway musical: "When I fell in love with You/ I fell hard; what could I do?/ You took the old and left me new/ [...] When I fell in love with You/ You swept me off my feet!" (Just reading the lyrics doesn't do it justice; you have to actually hear it sung a capella to appreciate the cheesiness.) Then again, many of the best-loved Christian songs never mention God in any way, such as Relient K's "Pressing On," which even ends with an allusion to The Mary Tyler Moore Show: "We're gonna make it after all." Many popular CCM bands--including RK--have songs that have nothing to do with God, such as "I'm Lion-O!", which is all about ThunderCats.  I myself have written such songs--okay, technically, rewrites of others' songs--that do similar things, such as turning "All About That Bass" into an ode to the Disney Channel...but I wouldn't consider them Christian.  In fact, if someone made a recording of one of my spoofs and played it during a Sunday morning service at my church, I'd probably walk out; that's no time to be singing the praises of some cable channel!

Don't get me wrong: I do believe that mainstream entertainment has its place.  Some would say that a song that doesn't specifically praise God isn't worth singing, but, think about it: What would you sing at someone's birthday party; "Doxology"? How would you teach kids the alphabet? I don't know whose idea it was to put all twenty-six letters to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," but he or she was a genius; it makes it much easier to help little kids learn their ABC's, as I learned when my mom used to run a daycare.  If you look at the Bible, you'll even see that the book of Esther never mentions God; so, if God's Word has an entire book that never mentions the Almighty, why does every single thing we write, sing, watch, read, or play have to?

Second off: Is the media based in morality? Some people would assume that absolute morality implies an unequivocal "G" rating, but, I don't think so; in fact, these days, some theatrical films with a label of "PG" or higher are more moral than the ones supposedly for "general audiences".  A good example is To Save a Life, a Christian film that was given a "PG-13," and for good reason; it contains everything from profanity to drug use to illicit sex, all involving teenagers.  That may sound sinful, but, that's exactly the point: Such behaviors are vilified for the sins that they are.  It may not be first grade Sunday School material, but, it definitely gets its point across.  Still other Christian movies--and other entertainment as well--can also contain harder-edged content, but they're not glorifying it; they're simply using it as an example of what not to do.  One of the things I've always liked about the Disney Channel and old-school shows such as Mork & Mindy or The Andy Griffith Show is that characters usually either do the right thing or face the consequences of their actions, if not both.  The same is true of much Christian entertainment: It may contain people acting in sinful ways...but it decries it.  Too much media these days glorifies sin instead of vilifying it, which is a big problem, especially for discerning viewers like me.

Third off: Does it point people to Jesus? This kind of relates to the first point, but, praising God is a little different than pointing people to Jesus.  You can thank God for giving you everything you have, but that doesn't mean you've accepted Jesus as your Savior.  One of the things I've heard in recent years is that, as humans, we are made to worship; the only question is: What exactly are we worshiping? People everywhere are practically bowing down at the altars of celebrities, sports teams, fictional characters, etc. They may not think it's worship, but, it very well could be; I never literally prayed to Hilary Duff or Anne Hathaway--doing so would have been unthinkable--but, my attitude towards them bent on idolatry.  It's pretty bad when you reconnect with an old friend from high school and one of the first things he asks you is, "You still worship that one actress?" Suffice it to say: I know all about idolatry; I suffered from it for years.  Oh, sure, I went to church; I attended Bible class; I believed in God; I listened to Christian music...but, my heart still lied with whatever entertainment-related entities.  I could say those days are past, because I'm done with the celebrity crushes, but television in general could be just as much of an idol as any given celebrity.  Maybe if I spent less time talking about the Mouse network and more time discussing my faith, people would know more about the One who created us and died for our sins, and less about the ones starring in I Didn't Do It.

In conclusion, I will say this: Entertainment speaks to people everywhere; in fact, I believe part of the reason Jesus was a popular teacher was because He didn't just speak words, but also entertained folks as well.  Even people in the Christian world would agree that mainstream entertainment can be very good; when Pat Robertson started the Family Channel--before it got ruined by ABC--he intended to have family-friendly shows and movies instead of nothing but Christian media.  I read somewhere that Robertson himself said upon founding the network, "Only a masochist would want to watch religious shows all day long."  Like anything, Christian media can get tired after a while; thanks to modern technology, there are plenty of alternatives, even for seriously discerning viewers and listeners such as yours truly. 

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