"Oh to Grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to Thee!"

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

No Really, You are NOT Going to Believe This....

Scenario: A couple of days ago it was 4 o'clock in the morning and I was pulling an all-nighter studying for two of my finals the next day. One of those which happened to be my "Television and the American Family" class. One of the chapters that I was studying in my textbook was on how television influences religion in our society. AND GUYS, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP....right there in the middle of the night with my eyes getting real heavy, there it was...the passage that woke me up straight out of my bed and on to my feet. Take a look...and keep in mind this is from my textbook...

It may be that the mere presence of television as a medium has altered all religion in subtle but profound ways, so much so that the perceived reality about religion will never be the same agian. In his provacative book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman (1985) argued that television has radically reshaped practically everything about our lives. One domain that has been greatly changed is religion, in ways that go far beyond the Sunday broadcasts and the TV evangelists. Postman argued that, because TV is, at heart, entertainement, then the preacher is the star performer, and "God comes out as second banana" (p.117). Although Christianity has always been "a demanding and serious religion," its TV version can acquire its needed share of the audience "only by offering people something they want" (p.121), which is hardly historical Biblical Christianity. Furthermore, Postman argues, TV is such a fundamentally secular medium that religious TV uses many of the same symbols and formats (e.g., The 700 Club was modeled after Entertainement Tonight).

Thus, TV preachers are stars attractive and affluent just like movie stars. Worship on TV is not participatory; the audence can sit at home and absorb, but cannot have the corporate worship experience of group singing, praying, or liturgy. Although a church may be considered holy ground where people act with reverence, there is no comparable sacred space when watching church on TV at home, where one can sit in dirty underwear drinking beer and eating pizza during the sermon.

Postman argued that, as more and more religious services are broadcast on TV and as pastors are more acquainted with the television medium, the "danger is not that religion has become the content of television shows but that television has become the content of religion" (p.124). Pastors become concerned about providing the kind of worship conducive to television, even if the service is not being televised. Congregations subtly expect to be entertained, even amused. Worship services have jazz music, rap liturgy, and computerized multimedia presentations. One church ran a full-page ad touting its contemporary Saturday evening service called "Church Lite" for college students who wanted to sleep in on Sunday. Other churches use Sunday school curricula like "The Gospel According to the Simpsons" or "The Gospel According to Harry Potter." A Baptist church in Arkansas hired Wacky World Studios in Tampa for a $279,000 makeover of a former chapel into "Toon Town," with buzzers and confetti that explode during joyful celebrations like baptisms; the Sunday school attendance doubled (Labi, 2002). Is this creative reaching out to people in mission or selling one's soul on the altar of popular culture? The answer is not always obvious.

Places of worship have no particular sacred character, because one can worship through TV while at home. One congregation worships regularly in a former roller rink, another in an old laundromat, whereas yet another rents space on Sunday mornings in a large university classroom. There is no sense of the sacred, as was found most strikingly in the magnificent cathedrals of Europe. Thus, behavior in the house of worship is no different than it is anywhere else. Has television contributed to this change?

Wow. Folks, this is a class at the University of Florida. We may win a sports championship here and there but we sure as heck don't win theological debates and we certainly wouldn't be considered anything less than a liberal school. This wasn't an article I copied from an, oh what are they calling them these days..."over-religious, Pharisaical blogging-coward." Nope. Straight from the mouth of Richard Jackson Harris in his book A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication. Even the psychologists are picking up on what most of American Christianity is letting happen right before their eyes. He did a FANTASTIC job of pointing out the danger and absurdity of the "emergent" philosophy of "let's just get them here in any way that we can!" There are consequences of that, and it usually results in the compromising of truth. Harris said it himself, the only way to get the needed audience (or as we have heard by leaders of these places referred to as "their numbers") is to offer what it is their audience wants...and well, let's be honest that usually isn't to hear they are a sinner and that without Christ they are storing up for themselves jars of wrath from a Holy and righteous God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ of the scriptures was a very offensive thing to the world 2007 years ago, so offensive in fact that they killed Him. So we must ask what Richard Harris asks in his book: have we sold our souls to the altar of pop culture in order to become friends with the world? Do you see the danger?

Many people will read this and call me judgmental, but I'm seriously just calling it like it is. As the church becomes more and more like the world, its hard to point out which is which....and as Richard Harris proves right here, it doesn't take a John MacArthur or a R.C. Sproul to see it. America is doing an excellent job of letting pop culture infiltrate the very doors of the church (little "c"). I am not saying that in order for a church to grow and be big that they must be doing something wrong (nor do I think it is wrong for a church to meet in a rented out space), I am simply saying when the cases in which they do so involves conforming to this world, it is doing the very thing that God hates. But despite all of this, God has and will continue to preserve and protect His Church (big "C") in the midst of a world that insists on exchanging a truth for a lie, and for that I am very grateful.

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