In the beginning stages of the early Church, two things were very prevalent: Christians’ love for each other, and their community with each other. However, during the entirety of the Church’s existence, those two core-values were challenged through heresies, doctrinal disagreements, and quests for power by “Satan, the prince of this world” (Eph. 2:2). Throughout time, these challenges have increased rather than decreased, and so within the last thirty years a new force emerged that competes with the growth and maturation of the Christian community: Television (TV). 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.” Watching TV is certainly permissible and can provide a great deal of fun and entertainment, but, is it beneficial to my spiritual growth?
After analyzing and evaluating TV, I have to say that unselective watching of TV is contrary to the goal of becoming more like Christ— demonstrated in our love for God and others (discipleship) — and contributes to the trend of declining relationships in family, neighbourhood, and church (community). In this paper I first want to highlight the core of discipleship within community; second, I want to analyze and evaluate TV; third, show the effects it has on us; and finally conclude and suggest a Christian response to TV.
As a disclaimer I want to mention three things: first, I do not assume that television is inherently evil or part of a secular-humanist conspiracy. Although many programs are morally offensive, some display clear evidence of God´s grace. I believe, based on Romans 14:14, that TV, like every other object in this world, is neither good nor bad. The way it is used makes it good or bad. Well used, it can be a wonderful part of our lives. But if TV is used poorly, it can be harmful.
Second, not every person is affected by TV in the same way. Not everybody who is watching a thief will be tempted to steal as well. This is due to the fact that people come from different cultures and have different beliefs and convictions, among other things. Consequently, TV is a very nuanced subject and applies to everybody differently. In this paper I try to approach TV as objectively as possible, knowing that I will not be able to do justice to the effect TV has on every individual. Third, I am using the word TV to describe the entertainment industry such as TV-shows, movies, soaps, news, and documentaries. Since I claim that “unselective TV watching” is contrary to the goal of becoming more like Christ, I will elaborate on what I mean by unselective watching at a later point. Before I begin analyzing and evaluating TV, I want to describe the biblical goal for every Christian.
Discipleship: Jesus called us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), and not merely make Christians. But what is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who sets himself apart from the world and takes up his cross to follow Jesus wholeheartedly (Mark 8:34). Here are a few characteristics of a disciple.
Faith & Obedience: A disciple is characterized by his faith and obedience to the teaching of Jesus (John 14:15). Obedient faith marks growth to maturity. It is not gained by compiling information, but by exercise: living out doctrine in choices of obedience (Phil. 3:16; Heb. 5:11-14). If in our life our faith is not reflected in action, it is dead faith (Jam. 2:17). Jesus set the perfect example: He lived a life of complete obedience to his Father even to the point of death (Phil. 3:6-8).
Fruitfulness: Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. If we abide in Him, we will produce fruit (John 15:1-8). Our job is not producing fruit; our job is to abide in Christ. If we do, the Holy Spirit will produce, as a result of our obedience, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22).
Love: Our lives as disciples are characterized by loving God with all our hearts, and loving our neighbor, so that they may love God with all their hearts and souls as well (Matt. 22:37-39). A disciple´s love for God is reflected in their love for others (John 13:34), which proves that they are children of God and not of the devil (1 John 3:10).
Evangelism: One key aspect of a disciple is the zeal to “go to the people of all nations and make them God´s disciples” (Matt. 28:18-20). We are to proclaim that “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die” (John 3:16).
One key aspect of being a disciple is learning the law and truth of God (Dtm. 6:7-9), so that we may know the truth to replace our idolatry of unbelief (Rom. 10:17), be set free from darkness and error (John 8:32), be corrected and shown how to live (2 Tim. 3:16), be renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:2), so that we may be perfect, furnished to every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). Discipleship needs to be done in the context of the second core of Christianity.
Community: In Genesis 2:18 we read “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’” This was true for Adam, and this is true for any living Christian: it is not good to be alone. Therefore God provided community with brothers and sisters: the church. While there is huge diversity among the people of God within the church, all are united in Christ through their baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:4). In the New Testament we read several times about the church-community. Acts 27:7 says, “On Saturday evening we gathered together for the fellowship meal.” Talking about speaking in tongues, Paul says “…the whole church meets together…” (1 Cor. 14:32). The first believers “gathered frequently to pray as a group” (Acts 1:14).
The members of the church are equal and interdependent. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many…. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Cor. 12:12-27). Paul emphasizes the care for each other within the church when he says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). So we can conclude that the Church is a community of interdependent members with the goal of becoming more and more like Christ in love and obedience. Now let us analyze and evaluate TV and ask ourselves if and how TV contributes to this.
FACTS ABOUT TV
Occurrence? “In 1946 there were 10,000 television sets in use in America, by 1950, 10.5 million sets, by 1960, 54 million sets, and nowadays 99 percent of kids ages two to 18 live in homes with a TV set. Sixty percent live with three or more TV´s, and more than half have a television in their bedroom. To show how important TV has become, Phil Phillips said that “even by law, television today is considered a personal necessity: New York´s government signed a bill from exempting a TV set from being appropriated to satisfy money judgement.”
How much do we watch? The Nielson Research Institute analyzed TV usage and found that “the average household in America has the television turned on for eight hours and 11 minutes a day.” Eight-to-18-year-olds watch daily three hours and 51 minutes, while the average college student watches 24.3 hours of television a week. George Comstock calculated that “teenagers, by the time they graduated from high school, would have spent more hours with television than in the classroom—typically somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 hours.” I wonder if we forgot that God called us to be good stewards of our time. In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, the servant, who was a wise and diligent steward of the entrusted talents, was rewarded, while the unwise servant who practised bad stewardship was thrown out into the darkness. Ephesians 5:15-16 cautions to “be careful how you live. Don't live like ignorant people, but like wise people. Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days.” Therefore, the question one needs to ask is, “is watching TV a good use of my time?”
EXPERIMENT: Are we TV obsessed? The Detroit Free Press did an experiment and offered $500 to 120 families if they would stop watching television for one month. Of these, 93 said no right away. Finally, five families were selected to try the experiment. It is reported that “Soon after they unplugged their sets, each family began to see changes in their life-styles. Some families went to places together more than they had before. Others found themselves talking and sharing. Parents spent more time helping their children with homework.” Overall, “the family members felt more relaxed and were quicker to get their jobs done with less nagging.”
Instead of what? Kevin Perotta asks an interesting question: “So here we are, spending several years of our lives watching television. The question is: Instead of what? What else could we be doing? Reading? Talking? Fixing the roof or playing softball or sitting on the porch? Thinking? Praying?” This question is important because the investment is so great. Comstock said, “The time that people spend on hobbies and interests outside the home declined. On the average, people spent somewhat less time in conversations and personal interactions, in leisure travel, on housework and especially gardening and animal care, on child care, and in traditional religious practice, and more time shopping.” As I will explore at a later point, TV isolates and takes away from social time and accelerates the process of declining relationships in family, church, and community.
Do Christians take television more seriously than others? Quentin Schultze observed: “Apparently not. Christians on average view the same amount of television as non-Christians; moreover, they tend to watch the same programs, except that believers tend to watch more religious broadcasts.” Andy Crouch made the same discovery. He said, “when I am among evangelical Christians I find that they seem to be more avidly consuming the latest offerings of commercial culture than many of my non-Christian neighbours. They are content to be just like their fellow Americans.” Schultze shockingly concludes that “Evangelicals´ relationship to Christ have little or no impact on their television viewing.”
Considering the staggering statistics, we can say that almost every household in North America adopted another very time consuming and demanding member into their family: TV. In line with that, Schultze suggests that “TV may be the Trojan horse of Western civilization. We invited it into our home—first the set, then cable and the VCR, then big-screen models with stereo and high definition. Like the wooden horse, the tube seems to benign; then its sounds and images engulf viewers, families and nations.” Schultze continues, “In only forty years TV has captured the time of millions of North Americans and has subverted what many people claim to stand for: strong families, moral character and democratic values.”
What do we watch? The Bible says in Philippians 4:8 says, “Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable.” While there are good informative documentaries and a few good shows and movies, the majority of it is about sex, adultery, profanity, lying, cheating, stealing, disrespect for legitimate authority, racism, profane language, etc. In a study (2005) of more than 1,000 hours of programming, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70% of the prime-time television programs contain about five sexual incidents per hour with only 4% of these imparting information about the potential consequences of sex. This represents nearly twice as many scenes of sexual content since 1998. Eight out of ten programs contain violence. In a study from 1977, Lewis figured that the average American child will see more than 11,000 TV killings by the age of thirteen, which is an average of 1,000 murderers a year. A study commissioned by the president on violence in America in 1999 showed those stats changed a bit: “our children are being fed a dependable daily dose of violence, the typical American child will witness over 40,000 play murders, and 200,000 acts of violence by his 18th birthday.” Media publisher Mediascope discovered that,
Drugs and alcohol are even more prevalent than sex in the popular media. One survey found that 98% of 200 movies surveyed portrayed characters using some kind of substance. 51% of films depicted teenagers smoking, and in another 46% teenagers were shown consuming alcohol. In 3% teens were using illegal drugs with showing the consequences of it in only 13 %.
TV reporter Coleen Cook realized that “They have simply discovered that debauchery sells better than virtue.” He said that “they were told in a set of written guidelines from a major TV news consultant that everything we produced should attempt to ‘bait, lure, grab, tempt, invite, entice, arouse, beckon, seduce, attract, promise, enchant, capture, intrigue, tantalize, and fascinate.’” This goes in line with Schultze when he talked about Soap operas: “Soap operas use various kinds of sexual innuendo to arouse viewers and hold their interest. They also suggest that people are locked in a sometimes fierce struggle for survival; the only way for a person to get ahead is to use sinful power – coercion, blackmail, deception, and seduction.” Cook summarizes by saying, “the greatest sin in TV is to be boring, and the greatest temptation is to be entertaining and interesting, even at the expense of fact, context, slant, and accuracy.
Perotta raises an excellent question: “What if all the programs on television were innocuous or even, in our judgement, good? Would we be comfortable spending as much time with the medium as we do?” I think TV would be not as exciting and interesting! To put it in plain words: SIN makes TV interesting. My question is: why do we want to derive enjoyment from something God absolutely hates? Paul Washer once powerfully said, “You go to a youth meeting and you want God to move, but before you go there you watch programs on television that God absolutely despises. And then we wonder why the Holy Spirit has not fallen on a place and why you have to create false fire and false excitement.” If we are truly serious about “bearing fruit in every good work and growing into the full knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10), why do we—intentionally or unintentionally—feed our mind with something that is contrary to the knowledge and love of God?
Why do we watch? In a research project done in 1987, Denis McQuail offers a four-fold response for common reasons to use media, which, I believe, also reflect the attempt to meet the watcher´s conscious and unconscious desires. As long as desires are in line with the character and will of God, they are very legitimate. However, Quentin Schulzte recognized that “because we are inheritors of the fall, we seek immediate gratification and personal pleasure rather than the kingdom and will of God.” This is where it gets problematic: meeting legitimate needs and desires (like sexuality) in an illegitimate way (outside of marriage). Having said this, here the four common reasons:
Information:  People watch TV for general interest’s sake, for self-education, to find advice for practical matters or opinions and decisions, to find out what is relevant, or just to satisfy their curiosity. The desire for education is good and even biblical. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 we read: “Never forget these commands that I am giving you today. Teach them to your children.” Education is important and in the will of God, provided that it reflects reality—something I deal with at a later point— and is glorifying and honouring to God and not man or this world.
Personal Identity: People desire to find reinforcement for their personal sense of value, finding a model of behavior or to gain insight into one´s self. Talking about TV quiz programs, McQuail discovered that people watch them in order to compare and compete with the expert which makes them feel really good. The quest to find one´s identity is a desire God put in our hearts, and therefore it is of no surprise that the apostle Paul exhorts several times to find and know the identity one has in Christ (like Ephesians 1, Colossians 2). It is important to have security and confidence in who one is; if not, one experiences what Eric Erickson calls Role-confusion, and is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:6). However, it is crucial that one finds and defines his identity in and through Christ and not in what the world teaches. Therefore, the desire is legitimate, but TV usually does not offer a biblical answer about how we can meet this desire.
 Kevin Perrotta, Taming the TV Habit, (Michigan: Servant Books, 1982), 28.
 William L. Coleman, Making TV Work for Your Family, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1983), 15.
 Ibid., 13.
 Walt Mueller, Youth Culture 101, (Grand Rapdis: Zondervan, 2007), 105.
 Ibid., 106.
 Phil Phillips, Saturday Morning Mind Controll, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), vii.
 Walt Mueller, Youth Culture 101, 107.
 Walt Mueller, Youth Culture 101, 107.
 George Comstock, Television in America, (London: Sage Publications, 1991), 19.
 William L. Coleman, Making TV Work for Your Family, 47.
 Kevin Perrotta, Taming the TV Habit, 17.
 George Comstock, Television in America, 18.
 Quentin Schultze, Television – Manna from Hollywood? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 12.
 Andy Crouch, Culture Making, (Illinois: IVP Books, 2008), 89.
 Quentin Schultze, Television – Manna from Hollywood? 12.
 Quentin J. Schultze, Redeeming Television, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 179.
 KFF – The Henry Kaiser Family Foundation. Article “Number of Sex Scenes on TV Nearly Double Since 1998 ” was published on 09.11.2005. Article accessed on 20.03.2010. <www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia110905nr.cfm>
 Gregg Lewis, Telegarbage, (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977), 45.
 Phil Chalmers, Video: MUSIC to die for – Is Today´s Music Killing our Teens? (Cleveland. American Portrait Films, 2002)
 Denise Boyd, Helen Bee, Lifespan Development, (Toronto: Pearson, 2009), 340-341.
 Coleen Cook, All that Glitters, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 75.
 Ibid., 76.
 Quentin Schultze, Television – Manna from Hollywood?, 4-5.
 Coleen Cook, All that Glitters, 76.
 Kevin Perrotta, Taming the TV Habit, 12.
 Youtube – Broadcast Yourself. The “Paul Washer Project” was done by Peacy and uploaded on 25.07.2007. Accessed on 20.03.2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYsClDclvf0>
 Prifysgol Aberystwyth University. Article “Why do people watch Television” was written by Daniel Chandler and first published 1995. Accessed on 13.04.2010. <http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/usegrat.html>
 Quentin J. Schultze, Redeeming Television, 166.
 Prifysgol Aberystwyth University. Article “Why do people watch Television”.
 Prifysgol Aberystwyth University. Article “Why do people watch Television”
 Denise Boyd, Helen Bee, Paul Johnson, Lifespan development- 3rd Canadian edition, 28.