TV Or Not TV?
I sometimes feel like a doctoral candidate in the School of Hard Knocks. So many of my daily habits seem so out of kilter with the practices of the early church that I often find myself asking, “How in the world did I get so far away from an intentional, biblical pattern of living?”
I live – as I suppose many of you do – in a constant tension between the simple, non-conformist pattern of early Christianity and modern, “sophisticated” neo-evangelical culture. This tension is caused, I believe, by two polarities: (1) the need to obey the teachings of Scripture as God grants us light, and (2) the necessity to be patient and forbearing toward those – ourselves included – who are struggling with these issues. Very few of us seem to find a healthy balance between these two poles. Those who emphasize #1 without #2 become condescending and arrogant, causing strife and disunity within the Body, while those who emphasize #2 without #1 seem to remain trapped forever in the status quo.
One example of this tension is the question, “Should we allow TV in our home?” Yesterday my son challenged our congregation to reconsider their viewing habits. He quoted this very witty ditty:
The TV is my shepherd, I shall not want anything else. It maketh me to lie down on the sofa. It leadeth me away from the Scripture. It destroys my soul. It leadeth me in the paths of sex and violence for the sponsor’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will enjoy the evil, for blood and sex they excite me. It’s cable and remote they comfort me. It prepares a commercial before me in the presence of my children. It anoints my head with humanism, My coveting runneth over.
Surely laziness and ignorance shall follow my family all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house watching TV forever.
He suggested that we spend no more time watching TV than we do reading the Word of God. Thus, if I were to watch TV for one hour, then I must obligate myself to spend at least one hour reading the Bible. This suggestion got our people thinking – and sound, biblical thinking is where we must always begin. We cannot start with our finite, human reasoning, and have things turn out right. But with an open Bible we may certainly expect divine guidance on the issues of life.
It seems to me that the most important consideration is this: Christian liberty is not license. “All things are lawful for me” is the slogan of the careless Christian. He thinks being a believer gives him liberty to do as he pleases. In one sense, of course, he is right, for the law of the Spirit of life has made him free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). But one thing he must never do is confuse freedom with “free” living. Each time the sloganeer parrots his “All things are lawful for me,” Paul answers with a qualifying “but.”
(1) “But not all things are expedient.” This is the test of expediency. Some things, though innocent enough in and of themselves, hinder my running well the race set before me. I will therefore discard what delays me.
(2) “But I will not be brought under the power of any.” This is the test of enslavement. The avocation easily becomes an obsession. I will therefore not be enslaved by what I allow.
(3) “But all things do not edify.” This is the test of edification. Not everything builds me up in the faith. I must therefore build with gold, silver, and precious stones and not with wood, hay, and stubble.
This is similar to what Paul says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be ye not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Here the apostle tells us to stand firm in the freedom by which Christ has liberated us. So if the situation in our lives clears the three hurdles set forth by Paul, we may go ahead. But if there is any doubt, we must forsake that path altogether. The Lord very clearly led my wife and me to give up TV altogether when we moved to our Virginia farm, but this does not necessarily mean that He will lead others in the same way. However, it is important to pray and look to the Lord for His leading, realizing that the wisdom of God comes through the Scriptures and not, as we moderns would like to think, through our own finite knowledge. That’s why Paul also commands us to seek the things that are above – that is, to see everything from the perspective of God’s existence as taught in Scripture, rather than as though we were autonomous.
In light of this, it is perfectly acceptable to view TV programs provided we view them in the proper (spiritual) perspective. Nowhere do the Scriptures teach a “platonic” approach in which the proper pleasures of life are held to be suspect. I would also note, however, that our family has found infinitely more pleasure in other things – open communication between people, visiting shut-ins, working outdoors, spending time with our animals, riding horses, listening to classical music – than in watching TV.
I believe there is some good on TV, but I can say from personal experience that the longer you go without it, the less you will miss it. If you find that you cannot live without it, then perhaps you are enslaved to it. If that is the case, then I would suggest that you follow my son’s advice and spend at least as much time in the Word of God as you do in front of the idiot box.
December 6, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.