Friday, January 2, 2009

Christianity and the Media of Pop Culture

This is an excerpt from my article, "The Gospel According to LOST," published in Christian Research Journal. The complete article is available online.

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote about "the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television," and the replacement of the "Age of Exposition" by the "Age of Show Business."

Television, argued Postman, communicates in a different manner than printed material, its emphasis being on images rather than carefully crafted words. As a result, television, as an entertainment device, discourages rational discourse, claimed Postman.

Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis argues that television's "unrivaled immediacy, impact and entertainment capabilities…make it a potent agent of truth decay." Declaring television "an unreality appliance," Groothuis advises refusing its enticements. Kenneth Myers observes, "Television is thus not simply the dominant medium of popular culture, it is the single most significant shared reality in our entire society." According to Myers, "Television discourages reflection."

I agree with much of what Postman, Groothuis, and Myers write; Myers is correct, for instance, when he acknowledges television as the "dominant medium" of pop culture. It is precisely because this is true, however, that, contrary to what some of those authors write, Christians should seek to engage popular culture and its media wisely, in order to develop apologetics approaches that are relevant to a contemporary audience.

Since space does not allow a thorough assessment of critical views of television and popular culture, I will summarize and offer six points from T. M. Moore's Redeeming Pop Culture as advice for the wise use of television programs in the field of apologetics.

First, Christians must approach popular culture prayerfully. Second, we must approach it intelligently, "with an active, inquisitive mind, one that seeks understanding and is not easily tossed about and carried by every wind of doctrine." Third, we must approach it purposefully in light of the Christian mission "to embody, proclaim, and advance the kingdom of God and His righteousness." This "means that we may no longer adopt a passive approach," but instead "must rethink our approach." Fourth, Moore advises that we approach pop culture critically. To this end we should "ferret out the presuppositions" of those who "produce and sponsor" pop culture and "analyze the various messages they send." Fifth, we must approach it dialogically (i.e., we should dialogue and interact "with the creators and proponents of popular culture"). Finally, Moore advises that we approach pop culture redemptively: "We want to gain whatever benefit popular culture might have for us…while keeping up our guard against being so overwhelmed by the forms of popular culture that our distinctiveness as Christians begins to be obscured."

Christians should not embrace pop culture uncritically, but neither should we be out of touch with the world we are called to reach. If a television program such as Lost can be used as an aid to communicating the Gospel, we should use it wisely and within the framework of a solid Christian worldview.

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