Home > Brandenburg, Culture > Scriptural Realism in Application to Television

Scriptural Realism in Application to Television

May 28, 2008

For several weeks of summers, during my college years, I spent time in a cabin with jr. age boys.  I always had a disciplined group and rarely missed the few hours designated for sleep.  To get this accomplished, I didn’t make threats like:  “If you don’t stop making noise, I’ll jump from this bed, roll you in honey, and make you do 1000 push-ups on top of an ant hill.”  That was big talk that might work until they found out that you wouldn’t follow through with your promise.

We want to get rid of the television problem in churches, but we shouldn’t do that with big talk that we can’t back up with Scripture.   We should strive for air-tight application in the verses we use as guidelines for television viewing.  We also don’t want to set standards that we don’t enforce because we can’t due to the fact that we’re not convinced of them ourselves.  A few things will happen in a church if we do that.

1.  Lots of television will be watched; we’ll just not know about it.

2.  The people who do watch will limit talk about television to those with the least discernment in the church—those with the most discernment won’t talk about it.

3.  Kids will grow in the church seeing the standard as phony, so won’t have sustainable convictions.

4.  Wild contradictions will exist in behavior in the church relating to entertainment.

5.  We’ll be a joke to the world and deserve it.

I’ve already explained my television credentials.  You may not do better than sending your TV to the dump.  We survived just fine the centuries before television came along.   With television, networks possess a convenient pipeline to send out their moral sewage.  Advertisers will feed your lust and news outlets will manipulate your view of the world.  Even the sports is often a distraction to what’s really important.

You know all that.   Still most people will own them.  Most won’t go so far to say that merely owning one is sin.  Scripture is powerful (Hebrews 4:12).  Rightly divided and applied, the Bible will strengthen believers in their walk with the Lord.  The church will do as well as it can do when it takes the sufficient Word of God and turns it on television.

A Communication Device

Since the TV is a communication device, we can analyze it almost the same as literature.  To start, paper, ink, screens, and knobs are morally neutral.  Nothing is inherently wrong with any of it.  The images of television are what differentiate it in impact from written materials.  However, once we’re settled on that point, we need to go to Scripture for our evaluation just like we would the things we read.

Scripture adequately meets the demands for deciding acceptable television viewing.  It provides all the criteria necessary to evaluate anything successfully.  Mostly the burden of proof falls today on the television abstainer to provide reasons for doing so.   However, some burden must also rest on the television watcher to justify his degree of involvement with this man-made and non-Scriptural thing.  There’s no way, for instance, that a television should receive more time and affection than God Himself.   No one should know more about what’s happening in the realm of television than he does his Bible.  The Bible might permit a particular program, but it won’t allow television to enflame the heart more than the things of God.

Understanding Our Goal

If we are going to understand how much and what kind of television to watch, we need to ascertain our goal in living.  If we aren’t here for God in the first place, our TV viewing is the least of our concerns.  However, if we are shooting to please the Lord, that will affect what we do with our television.

Paul melded his vision for the Philippians down to this prayer (1:10):  “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.”  Our growth toward glory ends at Jesus Christ, so our trajectory ought to reflect Jesus’ growth (Luke 2:52).   If we we get little out of the television spiritually, we should at least get something out of it intellectually.  At the least, it should help us in our relationships.  As a bottom line, it can’t help us or please God in any way if it is doing harm to our relationship with the Lord.  We can’t justify TV when it keeps us from our goal.

Considering Television at a Fundamental Level

It’s a sure thing that more than a little television will cripple intelligence.  Many studies bear this out.  If we aren’t growing intellectually, we’re not choosing excellence and we’re not growing like Jesus Christ.  The answer to, “Do I want to be more stupid?” is “No.”  It isn’t God’s will that we’re dumbed down intellectually.

Intellectual growth automatically impacts amount of television.  Then we start deciding what.  Based on Philippians 1:10, the standard should be intellectual excellence.  Television watchers should curtail the mindless, plotless shows they watch.  I’m not promoting British Jane Austin flicks.  I’m saying that there’s only so many shattered plates of glass we can see before it becomes counterproductive to our life’s goal.  Unless you are going to earn your living as a professional stuntman, it won’t add anything intellectually.   The gun play and explosions might feed your inner Rambo, but if you need movies for masculinity, you might be better served stopping by sporting goods to pick up that weight bench.

Shows can provoke thought.  I know that. I’ve watched them.  Sharing the same story can also spur a deep conversation on an important topic.  Other factors must be considered.  Moral excellence.  We can’t countenance gratuitous foul languge.  Our limit on expletives must be very small.  We shouldn’t allow the story to undermine our conscience or our convictions with even subtle promotion of unscriptural behavior.   When the film shows insufficient concern for these—profanity, scatological realism, erotic realism, sexual perversion, lurid violence, occultism, erroneous religious or philosophical assumptions—that’s a deal breaker.   Compelling aesthetic qualities of the work can’t counteract a diet of ungodly elements.  We must not allow permissiveness to hinder our goal of pleasing God.

I said “diet of ungodly elements,” because even the Bible itself has portions of the above list in specific contexts.  Fools blaspheme God in Scripture, but they’re punished for it.  Certain amounts of coarse language come from the lips of enemies of God.  Proverbs and Song of Solomon are full of erotic realism presented in God ordained and honoring fashion.  The Bible portrays many diverse sexual perversions, including the sins of Sodom and the rape of Tamar.  Joab murdered Amasa in particularly lurid fashion.  The wicked witch of Endor introduces us among others to occultism in Scripture.  Job’s friends bombard him with wrong philosophical assumptions.  They’re not always the easiest to pick out.  We have to think to do so.

These contents of Scripture should affect our understanding of Psalm 101:3, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.”  All of us are required to judge wicked things and to do so, we must set them before our eyes.  God sets many moral failures before us in the lines of Scripture.  The acts are wicked, but not their descriptions.  Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can know when a movie most likely produced by a pagan film maker has dipped into a violation of Psalm 101:3, just like we regularly do so with our reading materials.

The negative examples of the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 10:1-14) were placed there for our example.  What we must do is to judge everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  We can’t allow ourselves to tolerate something God would not have us to look upon.  There’s no place for nudity in film.  Wicked music can’t edify.  We must protect our conscience to continue fulfilling its designed purpose, accusing and excusing, being the warning device God intended.  More television harms our conscience than does not.

Scriptural Tests

Scripture offers excellent tests to judge what we see on television.  Everything in the Bible has a purpose and thoroughly prepares us to every good work.   Scripture forbids anything for gratification of lust.  A lot of televison shows pictures and situations for no reason except for raw, unharnassed pleasure, for the arousal of human lust and to revel in human perversity.  We’ve go to shut that off right away.  We should show better judgment in even risking it in the first place.

When we read Scripture, we get a linear account.  Bad things are explained, but nothing as explicit as seeing it acted out.  Entertainment that was pornographic a hundred years ago is common fare on television.  We would be setting a wicked thing before our eyes if we watched that.  What is lust is regularly presented as love.  We shouldn’t involve ourselves with that confusion.  It isn’t good for a man to touch a woman (1 Cor. 7:1), so it shouldn’t be made to look good either.  We should reject it when it is made that way.  We don’t want to develop an acceptance of evil.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become familiar with it.

Paul told us to flee idolatry, fornication, and youthful lusts.  Television can be a way to sit in the seat of the scornful instead of planting our roots by the river of water to bring forth fruit (Psalm 1).  Even though the people aren’t physically present, our toleration of an immoral tone will desensitize us to sin.  When we become comfortable with sin, we can easily move to participation.   Because of this, we should approach the TV with caution.  He that thinks he stands; he’s the one who will fall.

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  1. Anvil
    May 30, 2008 at 8:44 am

    I don’t like to play the role of cheerleader, especially since such comments don’t generally add anything valuable to a discussion, but in spite of that, I still wanted to say that this was a really good article — well worth the time to read and consider. Thanks for writing it. On the surface, it at first seems like just common sense application of scripture, but you speak directly and in contrast to a lot of the poor preaching on TV that exists — the type that has a lot of inconsistencies and usually causes people to “tune out” and no longer listen to any warnings at all on this topic.

  2. May 31, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Thanks Anvil. Actually when you add a comment, people look at the comment section and more people read the article.

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