Does what we watch really matter?
There are days I wish it didn’t. There are days I wish I could listen to whatever music made the Top 40 this week, or that I could watch the latest movie raved about by my online acquaintances.
Truthfully, I can do these things. I have the freedom to, but I don’t. It’s not that I’m afraid of what my friends, family, or church might say. I’m not restrained by any outside force, but by a quiet voice within my heart saying: “These things will not draw you nearer to Me.”
It would be easier if there was a list to check off; the do’s and don’ts of Christian media consumption. But if there were, this walk of faith in God would no longer be necessary. We wouldn’t need to stay in step with Him; we wouldn’t need to listen for His voice in the cacophony of voices calling for our attention. As it stands, that’s exactly what we need to do in order to make godly media choices in a corrupt and perishing world.
If you don’t think the TV shows, movies, and music you consume matters – or even if you do – read on.
The Media We Consume Determines How We Think
A year or so ago, Josh and I finished the last season of White Collar. I was depressed.
“I feel like those characters were part of our life,” I moaned. “What am I going to do without Peter Burke and Neil Caffrey?”
“Get to know me!” Josh replied.
Truth be told, the Netflix marathons that characterized many a weeknight in our home greatly influenced our thoughts. I thought about these characters throughout the day. I thought of witty remarks that echoed the scripted conversations we’d observed. We talked about fictional characters at dinner. Peter Burke and Neil Caffrey were the unseen guests at our home for as many weeks as we watched them.
While I think White Collar is a great show, it taught me a lesson on the power of media. What we watch has enormous power to alter our worldview. And it’s not that TV shows are “bad” (though some are crude, inappropriate, and celebratory of sin), but that consuming them at the cost of our mental clarity is not the best decision.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)
We have a choice with how we fill our minds. It’s easy to let Netflix run that ten-second countdown and marathon through the “Recommended for You” playlist, but there is a cost to that choice. The characters and conversations we watch are not harmless. We are not immune to the worldviews we witness. We are called to think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and excellent – and if our media choices do not directly enable those thought patterns, we need to make the break.
How We Think Determines How We Act
Why break up with your favorite TV show? Because how it leads you to think will determine how you eventually act.
The worldly views on work, faith, family, and sexuality that we absorb are in direct conflict with the Spirit of God we bear in our being. When we develop an entourage of counter-Christian worldviews, achieving a dedicated walk with God is that much harder. If you’re struggling to choose Christ in temptation, the first place to look is your media consumption. How we think determines how we act.
A few weeks ago Josh started watching a show he’d originally viewed in college: How I Met Your Mother. I started watching it with him for a few days. In one particular episode we saw Barney (one of the main characters, and a notorious playboy) manipulate a woman into sleeping with him, then brag about it to his friends. I left for the gym shortly after and had a treadmill realization: By watching Barney in my living room, I was silently endorsing his worldview, behavior, and treatment of women. I was not just endorsing it; I was using it as personal entertainment. I was being entertained by a view of sexuality I spend hours every week trying to destroy.
Josh and I talked about it that evening and immediately stopped watching HIMYM. Barney isn’t “funny” and he certainly isn’t harmless. He represents a worldview completely contrary to the faith we claim to hold. Barney, and everything he represents, deserves no place in the sacred space of my mind.
In Matthew 18:9 Jesus said:
“And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”
Jesus wasn’t encouraging people to literally spoon out their eyeballs; He was saying to be ruthless in our separation from sin. We need to do what it takes to control our thoughts and thus, our actions, as Christians in a perishing world.
Josh and I try to be ruthless in our media consumption. We rarely go to the movie theater. We rent “cleaned up” movies through VidAngel. As the previous story illustrates, we have to be vigilant with ourselves regarding TV shows – because we’re human, and we’d like to do what “feels good” now and then. The things we meditate on and follow after determine the actions we take. Our minds must be protected at any cost – and that often means making a painful separation between what is acceptable to our culture and honorable to Christ.
How We Act Determines Our Effectiveness for Christ
Why protect our minds and thus, our actions? Our actions on this earth determine our effectiveness for the gospel. We only have so much time. We are a consecrated people; set apart for the purpose of godliness. This is why we make the painful, deliberate separation from ungodly media: to glorify God with our time on earth.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a TV show or favorite playlist, but when we guard these things with more vigilance than we do our walk with God, we’ve missed the mark. We are immortal souls in mortal bodies; material beings with an eternal purpose. In light of eternity, limiting our exposure to cultural worldviews is a low price to pay for kingdom impact.
How do we decide what to watch, listen to, or otherwise absorb? Josh and I ask these questions:
- Would I listen to this with my kids in the car? Why not?
- What message is this show sending me right now? Would I live the way these characters are living?
- Would I recommend this show to an unsaved friend? How about a church member?
- Am I living up to my sainthood?
Sometimes it’s trial and error, start and stop. We’ve begun TV shows that were decent for the first season, only to descend into sexually promiscuous storylines by the second. Shows that we’ve watched in the past can be skipped over to episodes we know aren’t inappropriate (such as Gilmore Girls, one of my personal favorites, but which has some episodes with sexually promiscuous plotlines).
Living this way is beneficial to more than our walk with God. It provides overall mental clarity and more time to focus on things that really matter: productive hobbies, quality work, conversations with friends and family, and experiences you’ll want to remember years down the road. Eliminating negative media will limit your options – but that leaves you with more life to live.