Last week I had a conversation with a family member about films, the need to produce Christian films that communicate biblical perspectives on truth and life. I explained that I was not interested in subtlety, not in the least, I wanted to present an alternative worldview but do it brilliantly, so brilliantly that even non believers will not be able to stay away. Why? Because the screen is the new Bible, it defines people’s understanding of reality and truth. They may remind themselves endlessly that it is only make believe, they are nonetheless influenced by it. As a matter of fact our entire perception of life and truth is affected by the model served to us in the media. People simply reproduce the words and the life they have seen; even Christian people. They have had their bowl of lentils and their birthright is gone.
That is the problem. Over indulgence in fictional definitions of reality that conflict with biblical reality certainly contributes to the disconnect between faith and life we increasingly witness in many believers. Their values are shaped by media and not by the Word. Their minds are renewed, not by the Scriptures but by Tv series, ‘Soaps’ and suds. What’s more, since that fictional reality is highly dramatized and contains astounding visual effects, they come to expect the same from every form of communication. It used to be that children would fidget in church, now some grown men and women cannot sit through a sermon that is supposed to inform, instruct and transform their lives, unless it be ‘content – light’ and ‘media rich’ or they will not connect. They have learnt to honour the hollow and disdain the deep.
People’s brains and attitudes are increasingly modified by media consumption, to their own detriment. Neil Postman the famous cultural critic wrote “Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore — and this is the critical point — how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails.” Indeed it often does even in the Church.
And sometimes it can go very far. I once watched a testimony of healing where the man talked about how he came across a minister on television. He said he did not immediately connect with them, why? Because they simply sat quietly and talked and did not offer the kind of visual stimulation that he was used to, read ‘showmanship’. Luckily for him and his wife they did overcome that initial bias and the teaching they received led to the wife receiving her healing from multiple sclerosis. How much do we miss when we want to be entertained in church rather than trained?
When we choose where we go to church on the basis of how much fun we’re having, we show we are victims of this same mentality that trivializes the profound, and empties out the substance of truth. We want to feel as we listen to a sermon what we feel as we watch a comedy. The gap between the holy and the profane dwindles. We lose appreciation of the weightiness of the subject matter, of any subject matter since the end of all things is my amusement; and we live lives of silliness until crisis hits and all of a sudden we are desperately looking for answers where we once sought superficiality and wonder that we don’t find them. We have honoured the false and despised the true, we have believed a lie and thoroughly enjoyed it till the taste soured. We were willing victims.
I like to watch people’s faces when I preach and warn against over indulgence in television and movies that tout and flaunt perverse values. We have values of our own to live by and to communicate. It means communicating a message that is not only media rich but also content rich. Last night I showed clips from several Christian films from the Christian movie capital of the world (Nigeria – Christian Nollywood) to one of my leaders. By morning they had had a dream in which they found themselves at a Nigerian wedding; it was a lovely dream, albeit non prophetic. But it was a clear illustration of how absorbent the human mind is and how deeply we are affected by what we choose to contemplate.