How much media is too much media? In the digital age, this is a question we all face all the time, and it’s a question with implications for our relationships. It’s a dilemma faced by one young woman who listens to the podcast and writes us today. “Hello, Pastor John and Tony — thank you for the podcast! I have been learning a lot about the conscience lately, and how some things affect me in varying degrees compared to other Christians. I know I cannot pass judgment on those who do not share my convictions of conscience on things that are not inherently sinful. But I do struggle to apply my convictions to group settings. Specifically, constantly watching television and playing video games as an adult weigh heavy on my conscience.
“These are the things my family, whom I still live with, and my friends maintain as part of their daily lifestyles. If I listen to my conscience, and don’t participate, my time spent with them is greatly reduced. But if I do participate, the weight on my conscience brings me great misery. I ask them, but get nowhere because it’s not a clear sin issue. So how do I live in a space that does not share my convictions, with love and grace — and especially when it comes to screens?”
I suspect that in the modern technological age that we have entered, especially an age of ever-present visual entertainment created within the framework of a God-ignoring or God-hostile worldview — I suspect that in this new entertainment-saturated world,
- the pursuit of purity of heart (1 Timothy 1:5),
- possessing the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16),
- setting our affections on things that are above (Colossians 3:1–2),
- being renewed in the spirit of our thoughts (Ephesians 4:23),
- being transformed in our emotions,
- keeping our lives unstained from the sinfulness of the world (James 1:27),
- laying up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19–20),
- keeping a clear vision of the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4),
- enjoying the daily fellowship of the Son of God (1 John 1:3),
- having the eyes of our hearts enlightened to know what is the hope of our calling, and the riches of the glory of our inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward believers (Ephesians 1:18–19),
- the taste of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5),
- freedom from the desires of the eyes and the desires of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:16),
- the power of the Spirit in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16),
- a clear sight of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17–18), and
- the enjoyment of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19),
I suspect that in this new world of incessant screen time — whether widescreen TV or computer or tablet or smartphone — all these precious marks of what it means to be real Christians will require a kind of radical recovery of the ancient early-church commitment to being more intentionally detached from the patterns of the world, especially the patterns of entertainment, for the sake of the everlasting enjoyment of the greatness of Christ.
Adrift in Godless Media
For decades, most Christians have simply drifted into the embrace of the patterns of the world in the way we spend our evenings and our weekends, with the exception of a couple of hours for church on Sunday. At first this drift seemed harmless because there was such an overlap between the supposedly Christian worldview and the products of the media and entertainment empires.
“To be a real Christian in the days ahead will require a commitment to being more intentionally detached from the world’s patterns of entertainment.”
That overlap was not as great as we thought it was — at least, I think I really blew it as a kid and didn’t see it. It was superficially Christian in that many taboos in the culture were still shared with Christians, but God was absent. And we scarcely noticed, let alone were heartsick or offended. But now that superficial overlap of media culture and Christian culture is very small. And the vast majority of programs and movies are through and through void, not only of God and Christ and any worthy advocates for his greatness or his righteousness, but also increasingly void of any restraints on the celebration of sin. Sin is consistently destigmatized and normalized in what Christians watch with pleasure.
And yet, even though these changes have happened, most Christians have not altered their pattern of immersion in that entertainment culture for their own enjoyment. Therefore, millions of Christians find themselves pleased with God-omitting, Christ-neglecting, man-centered, ego-exalting, sexually titillating, sin-normalizing entertainment, night after night. The effect of this is a church that more and more absorbs the intuitions, the instincts, the reflexes, the preferences, the desires of the world.
The church that regularly makes the world the source of its relaxation and enjoyment must become a worldly church. And a worldly church is a powerless church. It will not experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and boldness in prayer, and courage in witness, and readiness to sacrifice for the salvation of lost people and for the exaltation of Christ. You cannot feel brokenhearted over lost people when you enjoy, night after night, being entertained by them in their lostness.
This is why I said that to be a real Christian in the days ahead will require a kind of radical recovery of the ancient early-church commitment to being more intentionally detached from the patterns of the world, especially the patterns of entertainment.
I do believe that God will raise up a generation who are so thrilled with what they gain in God and Christ and salvation and the way of righteousness and the sacrifices of love that they will not be intimidated by the accusations that they are a new kind of fundamentalist. They will joyfully recover with seriousness and joy the words of the apostle when he said,
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16–18)
The recovery of this kind of radical detachment from the emptiness of the world will not be for its own sake. We will not make the mistake of thinking that separation for the sake of separation is a Christ-exalting virtue. It’s not. We will say no for the sake of the glorious, all-satisfying yes.
- We will say no to being children of the age because of the spectacular privilege of being sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.
- We will say no to the short-term, unsatisfying titillation of our lusts for the sake of the deep, profound satisfaction of savoring Christ and serving him with the conviction that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- We will say no to the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life because we are on a quest for something vastly deeper and higher and richer and fuller and more lasting than anything secular entertainment can offer.
Set Your Mind on Things Above
This will not be easy. The young woman who has written this question is showing us what we are up against. Thousands of Christians simply default to watching TV and playing video games. They are not yet awakened to what’s happening to them. And the fact that they would resent someone’s discontent with their pattern of entertainment is simply more evidence of how profoundly saturated they have become with the spirit of the age.
My simple counsel to this young woman is that she thank God for the direction her conscience is pointing, and that she put all her focus on cultivating a great and glorious yes to God and his kingdom and his righteousness and his promises and his fellowship, so that whatever no she must speak and live toward her family, it would point mainly to a great and better yes: the glory of Christ. You won’t regret it, and neither will they, if Paul’s words become your passion:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1–2)
The pleasures found in this path are greater, and they last forever.