Today’s Media: Content & Constraint

MEDIA IN THE 21st CENTURY

Media today more than ever, in its various forms, has become the determiner of the thoughts and intents of our hearts and minds. This is a scary concept! The definition of the word media is the means of communicating information or ideas through publishing, radio, television, computers, smart phones, videos/DVDs, movies, the Internet, and computer games. Media influence has a profound effect on our thinking and lives. It can be a very useful, positive tool in many ways, but if misused it can bring devastating and destructive consequences to us and to the lives of those we love. Because of wrong choices in this area many young people have been drawn down the path of spiritual bankruptcy and sinful disobedience to God.

More importantly, the advent of the personal computer has transformed how we communicate, promote ideas, perform research, plan vacations, and conduct our personal finances. Of critical concern is the extent to which we—especially our youth—text, post and chat rather than sit down face-to-face and have a conversation. Among family and friends, among colleagues and lovers, we turn to our smart phones instead of each other. It is not unusual, for example, for couples to break up via text message or by changing their relationship status on Facebook to single. This new mediated life has gotten us into trouble. Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. When fully present to one another, we learn to listen. Frankly, this is the only way we learn the capacity of empathy. Experts worry that social media and texting have become so integral to teenage life that they are causing increased anxiety and low self-esteem. Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.

Lately we seem to be finding ways around conversation. We hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. From behind our mini screens, we are tempted to present ourselves as we want to be seen. On line and at our leisure, it is easy to compose, edit and improvise as we revise. We put our best foot forward, even if we’re lying or exaggerating. The word phubbing has been coined to describe the habit of snubbing someone in a face-to-face conversation in favor of texting. Unfortunately, this has become such a normal part of life that we might not even notice we’re doing it.

JUST HOW WIRED ARE WE?

According to the Pew Research Center, U.S. Census figures from 2015 indicate that 84% of U.S. households own a computer, and 73% of U.S. households have a computer with a broadband connection to the Internet. (Census: Computer Ownership, Internet Connection Varies Widely Across U.S., Sept. 19, 2014). The Internet, and specifically social media, has had a major impact on the Christian church. While some pastors and elder church leaders see this as troubling, worrying that Christ can only be properly shared face-to-face, and that online churches will eventually replace the local church, others see it as aiding the church in spreading the Good News worldwide. Regardless, it is important to see computer technology from a biblical worldview. 

GOOD OR EVIL?

My great-grandmother had a very jaded and suspect view of computers, and felt they were the makings of the Beast. To her, computers would be integral to establishing a one-world government, and would help the government establish complete domination.  I used to see computer technology as one of those tools that were “of the world,” with the potential to do more harm than good. By the time I reached college in 1982, I no longer held that negative opinion. My biblical worldview regarding computer technology has been given a positive boost as a result of personal experience and research.     

The notion of being able to connect to millions of people worldwide with a personal computer or smart phone is irresistible to someone with a story to tell. I found an online article on the Society page at www.christianitytoday.com that fits completely with my biblical worldview of computer technology and social media. According to Tim Kenny, vice president of Media Services and Internet Evangelism for BGEA, “We happen to think we’re called to tell the greatest story in human history, so it’s a no-brainer that we need to be active in social media.”

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Richard Helsby of CBN’s Digital Media department, said, “As [Christians], we now have unprecedented opportunity to reach people we could never reach before.” CBN Social Media manager Juana Lopez said the response toward evangelism has been so great that in just one month they received over 7,000 salvation responses through social media. (Christian Ministries Using Social Media to Connect to Millions All Over the World, April 11, 2016).

CONTENT OF MEDIA

Two important areas in the use of media today must be carefully considered to help guard our minds and hearts. The first area is content. Many of the programs on television are an increasing source of crudeness which lead us to accept warped social standards and immorality. Bold, blatant sexual content, profane language and graphic violence are entering our homes on a regular basis through television. The videos and DVDs that have made their way into our living rooms have served to desensitize us even further to what the world’s view is and what is acceptable to watch.

Christian parents, teens and children watch movies that the world has rated PG, PG-13 and R. According to one Barna survey, 30% of born-again Christians watched an R-rated movie in the past week. At the college level, many students don’t even realize there are sexual scenes or profane language in some of the DVD movies they watch. Ephesians 5:3-4 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking…” (NIV).

The computer with its Internet and gaming capabilities has not only had a negative effect on many people, but has destroyed their lives and families. The readily available “private” pornography on the Internet, the graphic sexual violence on many video games, and cyber gambling have the devastating consequences of control and addiction. As much as 60% of all websites typically visited are sexual in nature and the term “sex” in the word search is used more than the next eight most popular terms combined. More than 50% of men with Internet access admit to spending significant amounts of time viewing explicit material.

There are an alarming 15-plus million Internet users that visit gambling sites, wagering a combined amount of money in the billions. Also, smart phone capabilities have compounded the problem with easy downloading of pornography and gambling sites. Christians, young and old, have been drawn in and hooked. Content choice in these types of media, unfortunately, is very destructive to our spiritual well-being and ultimately to those around us.

CONSTRAINT OF MEDIA

The second area that needs to be very carefully considered is constraint in media usage. Not only is pornography/gambling controlling and addictive, gaming has become a worldwide obsession. Young adults enjoy many of the fast-paced computer games, which are very entertaining. But it’s hard to stop at a game or two. Because of the time spent playing these games late into the night, high school and college students are failing their courses and dropping out. My research shows that sitting for long periods of time—as occurs often in all-night gaming sessions or regional gaming marathons—may increase a person’s risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) regardless of age. Chris Staniforth, 20 years old, died after spending twelve hours at a time playing video games. He suffered a blockage—pulmonary embolism—to his lungs when he developed DVT. The coroner confirmed DVT as the cause of death despite Chris having no medical history of ill health or underlying medical conditions.

Chris Stanisforth

BUT IT’S NOT ALL BAD NEWS

A mind-blowing number of people are able to become members of a global community today as a result of the Internet and social media that would otherwise be severely limited in their exposure to other cultures, geographic images, writings, publications, news and religion. I believe God, in His infinite wisdom and omniscience, knew future population growth on our planet would reach the billions. He knew the Body of Christ would need extraordinary help in reaching the four corners of the globe. Inasmuch as God created man in His image, and given the fact that He created all raw materials available, I also think the computer is an indirect creation of God.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The rise of social media has provided for the church both challenges and opportunities. Social media opens doors and opportunities to engage with people who rarely, if ever, step foot in a congregation. Numerous pastors have started blogging. Pastor Mike Miller, of my home church Sunbury Bible Church, writes a weekly blog. Our church also has a Facebook page and an official website. These media outlets allow for spreading information about our church, including worship times, community and Sunday school groups, special events, and the opportunity to watch sermons and worship services online. In addition, we are able to provide links to websites relative to special Sunday school groups, such as our current class in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Through social media, Christians can share their faith with people they might not otherwise have the opportunity to witness to. The Internet allows for posting of testimonies, spiritual or inspiring quotes, photographs and other images relating to missions, teaching Bible study, inviting people to events, reaching out to individuals mired in sin or in bondage to addiction, create prayer groups or bulletin boards, share contemporary Christian songs, hymns, and gospel music, and seek to create unity in the Body of Christ.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15, NIV).

What Kind of Mirror?

“I believe all of you, somewhere within your heart, want to be the instruments of God’s power, and therefore, even if you don’t feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or woman of fervent and effective prayer.” – a quote from John Piper

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John Piper advocates what he calls Christian hedonism which teaches that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. This happens when God’s highest pursuit (His glory) and man’s deepest and most measurable happiness come together in one pursuit – namely, the pursuit of joy in God.

Every one of us is created in God’s image. Each one of us was created to be a conscious mirror of God, reflecting His very character. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve had an overwhelming longing to be used by God to carry forth His power and wisdom and love in the world. They wanted to be mirrors of His glory. That longing is buried deep within each of us today. Unfortunately, it has been smothered by sin. In a sense, the quelling is only slight, but it has a dulling effect. The wonderment of a mirror lies in its ability to put one’s face to the light and let that light shine.

The serpent, more crafty than any other beast of the field, tempted Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree that was in the midst of the garden. God warned Eve that consuming the forbidden fruit would cause her to die. The serpent, however, said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5, ESV) [Italics mine.] But what happened when Adam and Eve ate the fruit? They suddenly became aware that they were naked, and they were ashamed. In order to hide their “reflection,” they made loincloth out of fig leaves.

We want to decide for ourselves which way to turn our faces. “This is my good side.” We want people to esteem us and admire us and compliment us. We loath the idea of being a mirror which does not reflect beauty. We tire of having to turn our face wherever the light wants to go. We want to be our own light. We want to be God. This comes with our fallen humanity. It is the very essence of sin. If honest, you will admit you too have felt this way. But this universal experience of sin is Satan’s distortion of something wonderful: Our pure and righteous longing to be used by God to reflect His glory in the world. Concealed beneath our pride, craving for self-esteem, and our love of power and influence, is a good thing that has been distorted: the longing to be a mirror of God.

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A mirror faces away from itself to its source of light so that it might have some use in the world. A mirror is designed to receive light and channel it for the good of others. The value of a mirror is not in itself, but in its potential to let something else be seen. It is utterly dependent upon the source of light outside itself. Sometimes it seems God shows much more of Himself to some people than to others – but this is not because He is playing favorites. Rather, it has to do with us. The instrument through which we see God is our whole self. And if our self is not kept clean and bright, as with a mirror, then our glimpse of God will be blurred – like the moon seen through a dirty telescope.

God can show Himself as He really is only to real men, who are united together in a body, aware of the importance of all the parts of the body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like: musicians in one orchestra, or organs in one body.

“For the body does not consist of one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:14-20, ESV)

Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community looking for Him together. Christian fellowship is, so to speak, the technical equipment for this search. That’s why the false prophets who turn up every few years with some patently simplified religion of their own are really wasting time. He or she may appear to be very clever; may even sound more convincing than the true men of Christ. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the very elect.” (NIV)

When all is said and done, God is the Gospel. Gospel means “Good News.” Christianity, therefore, is not theology but news. But what is the ultimate good in this Good News? It all ends in one thing: God Himself. All the words of the Bible lead to Him. Christ is revealed from cover to cover. “Salvation” is not good news if it only saves us from Hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt but does not open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God, but doesn’t spark fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage, but doesn’t lead us to relationship with God.

Unfortunately, many people seem to embrace the Good News without embracing God. There is no real assurance that we have a new heart – that our image in the mirror has changed – simply because we are motivated to escape Hell. That’s a perfectly natural desire, but it is not a supernatural one. It doesn’t take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God’s wrath, or the inheritance of God’s world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don’t need to be born again to want these things. Even Satan and his minions want them.

Why is this the essence of the Good News? Because we were made in the image of God, to experience full and lasting peace – shalom – and to see and savor the glory of God. He created us in such a way that His glory is displayed through our joy in it. The Gospel of Christ is the Good News that, at the cost of His Son’s life, God has done everything to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and everlastingly happy. Namely Himself. Long before Christ came, God revealed Himself as the true source of full and lasting pleasure. “You made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Then He sent Christ to suffer “that He might bring us to God.”

So here we are: image bearers. The word image means representative likeness. This tells us at once that we should be reflecting, at our creature level, what Genesis 1 shows God to be. We must always act with a godliness that comes from elsewhere, reflected – indeed, imitated – in what we say and do. Our mirror must show others what the face of God looks like. We are to be His hands, His feet, His arms, His words. God generated value by producing what was truly good – so should we. We should be showing love and goodwill toward all other persons. A distinction has to be drawn. We still bear the image of God formally – that is, we still have in us the abilities that, if rightly harnessed, would achieve a fully-righteous, God-like life – and so the unique dignity of each human being must still be recognized and respected as a gesture of honor to our Maker. This is the kind of mirror we are called to be.