By / May 9

I’m pretty sure my family was the last one in our neighborhood to get a color TV. It was around 1979. My parents shocked my two sisters and me when they brought home a Curtis Mathis color TV one afternoon. It was a 26-inch screen, enshrined in a built-in wooden stand. Gone were the days of tinfoil on the 19-inch black and white. My 9-year-old eyes dazzled with delight when I noticed that our new TV had 13 different channel buttons. 13! This gave me color access to all of the local channels in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. “Diff’rent Strokes” on Friday night, “Gilligan’s Island” reruns after school, and I’m not too proud to admit that I watched a little bit of “Hey! Hey! We’re the Monkees.”

Life was wonderfully simple back then. If you fast-forward to most of our homes today, the scene is a bit different. If you have not “cut the cord” yet, you likely have a minimum of 150 channels on your 70-inch flat screen. It’s also quite easy to see that digital media players and streaming services are quickly winning the day, providing countless options for our viewing pleasure.

And of course, newer shows explore contemporary topics with almost no restraint. The sexual boundaries and standards of our day are different than when I was trying to avoid admiting that I actually liked watching “Little House on the Prairie” with my sisters. Words that used to only appear on certain cable shows are streaming loudly into the bedrooms of teenagers on their phones. This world’s appetite for pornography has become more accommodating since the days of people awkwardly asking a gas station attendant to purchase a covered magazine behind the counter. Disney and other networks see to it that one can rarely watch a show without a positive angle on a LGBTQ character. So, it’s not exactly a hot take to point out that modern media poses a great challenge to followers of Christ.

Christians and media consumption 

So how do we respond?

Years ago, I sat next to a young man on a plane that belonged to a very small, strict sect of Christianity. As we shared our different experiences of the Christian life, he said that no one in his church had a television (“Except for maybe a few people that weren’t truly saved,” he qualified.). While I didn’t share the conviction that true Christians don’t own televisions, I respected the radical measures he took to guard against worldliness. My wife and I actually had long periods early in our marriage where we seldomly consumed any media. It gave us a great foundation for our marriage and spiritual life. Even though we more regularly watch certain programs now, we live imperfectly in the balance of approaching the tricky world of media consumption.

Faithful Christians will have different convictions and land in various places regarding what to watch — or not. The advice is not one-size-fits-all. But we are all called to pursue holiness, and that encompasses every area of our lives. In light of this, I’d like to offer a few suggestions from my personal experience, individually and as a pastor, regarding how to wisely watch what you watch.

Don’t worry about feeling “left out of the loop.” This is not a temptation for all. But sometimes we may tire of being the only person we know that has not seen Game of Thrones or The Sopranos. Maybe you’re not so much jealous of missing the profane content, but you have always prided yourself on keeping up with cultural trends and inferences. That’s when the temptation to just “watch an episode or two to see what it’s all about” comes into play. Soon, the well-written plot and highly developed characters draw you in. Before long, you may be glad you know what everyone is talking about, but find yourself pledging to quit watching the show tomorrow. If that doesn’t work, you vow to never let anyone from church know what you’re watching. Slowly but surely, you are nurturing a genre of entertainment that makes it difficult to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 CSB). We must remember that being left out of the loop is sometimes a great way to stay spiritually alive.

Watch as if you’re watching with your mother or daughter. I remember listening to Pastor Alistair Begg on a panel at a conference years ago. The interviewer asked him a question about television. He was asked that because he was sitting next to John Piper. Piper had just been asked what helped him walk closely with God. He mentioned that not having a TV was beneficial to him. Begg was then asked about his television habits. He simply said, “I do watch it. But I try to watch something that I’d be comfortable with if my daughter or my mother were watching it with me.” I realize that how you apply this has a lot to do with the moral fortitude of one’s mother and daughter. But in general, if you asked yourself, “What would Mom or my baby girl think of this show?” I bet we would practice much wiser media scrutiny.

Be mindful of the softening of biblical convictions. The first gay character on television was a guest star on an episode of All in the Family in 1971. Over the next few decades, more shows boldly included occasional same-sex attraction story lines. Pressure from activist groups, especially since the turn of the century, pushed studios to insist on significant LGBTQ representation on the majority of scripted television. The stated goal of such activists has been to normalize gay relationships in every way possible. In that sense, one would have to credit this effort as a massive success. The result is that it no longer feels unusual to most people to watch two gay characters interact, even on a sexual level. 

Is there a connection between this phenomenon and the growing number of former evangelicals that are now gay affirming? It would be difficult to apply research to such a question, but it is certainly worth thinking about. As Christians who lovingly hold to a biblical understanding of sexuality and marriage, we must be mindful of the dangerous effects modern media saturation can bring about to our belief system. We must be vigilant to never let a show normalize the culture’s worldview and weaken our biblical convictions.

See the good and potentially bad effects of filtered streaming services. Personally, I am a huge fan of streaming services that allow viewers to skip profanity, nudity, and graphic violence. The main reason is that I want to see zero nudity in my media viewing. A cursory reading of Scripture makes it clear that believers are not to have a “hint” of sexual immorality in their life (Eph. 5:3). Streaming filters will greatly sanitize your movie nights. However, I would like to offer three cautions regarding these services: 1) While they can clean up the show, they cannot clean up the plot. Some plots are so vile, that cleaning them will literally wipe out the entire show; 2) A steady diet of inappropriate, filtered shows does not help kids and teens discern the course for their media future; and 3) You can’t filter a person’s heart. Ultimately, we can rightly use filter services all while our hearts remain unchanged. We must prioritize evaluating our hearts, and helping our children understand theirs, by constantly asking if our motivation and desire is to honor God with what we watch. 

Lastly, don’t forget about the joy of reading. This probably depends on how you are wired, but visual media tends to create a desire for more and more screen time. A gripping story or a hilarious character always seems like a great way to end a stressful day. Even if you enjoy reading, heavy media consumption tends to lead one to say, “Eh, I think I’d rather just zone out tonight. I’ll get back to that great book tomorrow.” When you see this habit forming, that’s when it’s time to make yourself read more. You may need to declare, “Tonight is a reading only night!” You also may learn to multitask and read while other things are going on. Regardless, make sure that you don’t push the importance of reading, especially the reading of good Christian books and the Word of God, out of your life. 

There are many more things that could be said. As with everything, we must call out to God for wisdom. We must be determined to watch what we watch with godly discernment, for the sake of pursuing holiness. While we will make different choices regarding our media consumption, we must spur one another on to walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27) in the midst of what feels like an anything-goes culture. As we seek to live in the world but not of it, may God make us more like our Savior and use us to point to the better, more satisfying way that he offers. 

By / Oct 18

Do you ever wonder why the love of movies and stories and television seems innate? Stories can affect our souls in profound ways. At the 2016 National Conference, Mike Cosper addresses this in his talk, “The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth.”

By / Nov 25

This Washington Post report about Bill Cosby is profoundly disturbing. We have to acknowledge that he has yet to be tried in a court of law. Still, this story stirs up in me two feelings that I suspect are common among those who have been Cosby fans for a long time, as I have been.

There is the sense of profound sadness over the revelation that a revered icon may be a serial fraud. Cosby is so gifted at making us laugh, so representative of a father figure we wish everyone could have, so emblematic, in his sitcoms, of the kind of wholesome two-parent family we believe is God’s best design for human flourishing. And yet it seems that everything he portrayed on TV is the exact opposite to the kind of man he is reported to be.

This is the kind of deep and terrible disappointment that comes when someone we admire is not even close to what we thought they were. In the last few years we’ve seen too many mighty men fall by the weight of their own sins. One by one institutions and people we’ve come to trust are proving no longer trustworthy. This is bad for our culture, but also reminds us that all men—even revered public figures—are tainted by sin and that there is only one real, perfect example in Christ upon whom we can truly project our longings.

But there is another feeling that moves beyond disappointment to rage. There is a morally justifiable anger at a powerful and connected man who is alleged to have used his position to systematically prey upon vulnerable young women. Even if only a fraction of the allegations are true—and with over twenty women coming forward, it’s hard to escape the overwhelming circumstantial evidence—it’s a scandal that Cosby wasn’t prosecuted long ago.

I’m a father of three girls. I consider it one of my life missions to protect and defend my girls against men who behave as Cosby is alleged to have behaved; predators who rob young girls of their innocence.

What’s even more disturbing is that it seems everyone in Cosby’s circle protected him, the perpetrator and continues to protect him, even those who knew this was happening—reporters, law enforcement—kind of did a “wink and nod” and looked the other way on this injustice.

As followers of Christ, we hold two ideas in tension. First is the recognition that as fallen sinners, we are capable of the very crimes Bill Cosby is alleged to have perpetrated. Only Christ can redeem us and replace hearts of stone with hearts of love, made possible by the blood of his cross and his triumphant resurrection.

The other idea we hold is that, as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation, we fight for justice in the world. This means fighting against injustice. The gospel doesn’t just make us nice people. It makes us warriors and healers.

It is this prophetic voice the world needs to hear when it comes to alleged predators like Bill Cosby. There is a tendency to want to ignore or even protect him because he portrayed, on the screen, a kind of family structure we know is good for society. But there is no defense of Bill Cosby’s alleged actions.

The Church, specifically Christian men, have to speak out loudly against assault against women. We must be a refuge for the voiceless, the vulnerable, and the violated in a Fallen world. They must hear of a God who loves them and a Christ who came to set them free. They must find in us an advocate for justice, their justice.

It’s sad that we’ll never remember Bill Cosby as we once knew him. But his fall from grace is not the real tragedy here. Not even close. The real tragedy is the lost innocence of the many female victims, who’ve had to live scarred lives because of this predatory behavior.

Let’s make sure we don't preach a partial gospel that only preaches forgiveness for the worst sinners; let’s preach a gospel that also offers healing and hope for those victimized by the Fall.