(Adapted from a lecture given at the RYS National Convention)
In Louis Berkhof’s book Subjects and Outlines, published in 1918, he wrote about what he perceived to be a “craze for amusement.” It amazes me that in 1918 he was already speaking about a kind of obsession for entertainment. It also scares me. If they were infatuated with distractions in 1918, what adjectives can Mr. Webster conger up to describe our generation?
If we began to make a mental list of some of the famous people in this world, who might we consider? Julia Roberts? Brad Pitt? Sammy Sosa? I am sure our list would look something like this. Perhaps we are more refined and our list would include people like Bach or Mozart. That’s fine, the point is the same.
And that point is this: people love to be entertained. We don’t make plumbers or farmers or elders famous. You can almost hear a sarcastic voice ask, “Why should we?” As if to say, “They don’t entertain me.”
We like what entertainment does for us and to us. Hence, we elevate the tools of entertainment to celestial heights calling them “stars.” I suppose we can do this with relative ease because we are all about having fun. My generation jammed to such rock anthems as “Everybody’s Workn’ for the Weekend,” and bebopped to such ditties as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Well, not quite. More accurately, people just want to have fun. Even if the point wasn’t as gender inclusive as it should have been, we all got the message. Live for fun!
You can see this craze for amusement all around you, and you do not even have to look that closely. It is as obvious as the smell of the people we stand in line with, sweating for three hours, in 90+ heat, to go on a two minute roller coaster ride. In some areas it is not uncommon for people to camp outside Ticket Master so they can get tickets to see the Rolling Stones with their kids. Indeed, this craze is passed on from one generation to the next.
We will spend obscene amounts of money and waste obscene amounts of time for one purpose, to be amused, to escape, or, to be distracted. They are just variations on a theme. But is that a problem? Is there something wrong with having fun?
Keeping our Clothes
Clean Not unlike many children, I remember coming home from church wearing what used to be called “the Sunday best.” Getting from the church to the car in the Sunday best wasn’t that risky. However, getting from the car to the house could be. After all, boys will be boys! You see, there were all sorts of toys that you had to pass in order to get in the house. Inevitably my little ears would hear those forbid-ding words, “Don’t get your clothes dirty. You’re in your Sunday best.”
Today you can still see parents struggling against the old man in their young men. Young parents walking into church with young boys just after it has rained can be especially fun to watch. I suppose it’s because most young boys have a little voice that only speaks after it has rained and while they are wearing their Sunday best. If I remember correctly, the voice goes something like, “Do you see all those puddles? Jump in! Go ahead, get wet. It’s fun.”
We might call this “puddle-pressure,” which, physiologically speak-ing, comes years before peer-pressure in little boys. The net result of this pressure is that moms end up looking like dogsleds being pulled by Alaskan Husky’s in the Iditerod. It is all quite amusing until momfinds her voice. I remember that too. In fact, it’s indelibly impressed. The reason is because it’s hard to keep good clothes clean. Especially hard when you are a child. The answer to this universal phenomenon lies in the fact that chil-dren don’t think in the categories ofclean and dirty. They have to learnthis. Until then, they only think inthe categories of fun and not fun.
The same is true today when it comes to the struggles of our Chris-tian walk with entertainment. Bynature, we do not think in terms of clean and dirty. By nature, we only think in terms of what is fun and what is not fun. Put another way, what pleases the flesh and what does not. Parents wisely teach their puddle-jumpers about clean and dirty by pointing out what they are wearing. Similarly, as Chris-tians, we will only full understand and see the significance of clean and dirty when we hear our Heavenly Father tell us, through Scripture, how we are dressed. This will mean everything for our under-standing of entertainment.
When Christ addressed the churches in Revelation, he continually reminded them of what theywere wearing. He used this meta-phorical device to instill in them the need to be pure in heart and action. Listen to what he says to Sardis, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Rev. 3:4–5).
To the Laodiceans, the infamous lukewarm church, he says, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Rev. 3:18). The simple message is that when we are in Christ, we are not wearing our play clothes. We are dressed in Christ! We are dressed in the best! Everything we do is in relationship to whowe are now wearing. What we dois now effected by the clothes wehave on. We are clean and now we need to stay clean in thankful living.
Listen to how Paul addresses the Colossians in the third chapter, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self withits practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (9–10). This languageuses the metaphor of clothing. He goes on further to say that this is a constant work. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”(v 14). In other words, there is a continual putting on of Christ and his attributes. But how can that be? Are we being clothed or are we clothed in Christ? The answer is both. It is the difference between justification and sanctification. In a sense, we are clothed and we are being clothed. Just like we are saved and we are being saved and we will be saved (justification, sanctification, glorification). That is the tension of the converted life (L.D. 33), and that is its challenge as well. It is a constant, daily challenge to remember how we are dressed in Christ so that we do not spatter ourselves with this world. It was a challenge for the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and the Sardinians. It was difficult in 1918 just as it is in 2001. After all, we live in this world of mud puddles and the old man has still not been fully silenced. In all of this, we need to look to our Savior who not only clothes us, but also prays for us to stay clean.
In John 17 we find what is commonly called Christ’s high priestly prayer. Before he is about to be betrayed and die he prays, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (v15). This fills us in on something. For the time being, this world is our home. It is temporary, but nonetheless, God wants us to live here for now. We also learn that this world is a dangerous place for those who are clothed in the garments of Christ. This world is the place where “the evil one” roams (I Peter 5:8). Therefore, just like little children need to be taught that puddles are bad because of what they are wearing, so too with Christians. We need to learn how to walk in an open parking lot of inviting mud puddles wearing clean clothes. Difficult? To be sure. Thus, the comfort of John 17. Our Savior prays for us, just as He did for Peter in the midst of his temptation (Luke 22:31–32). Far from making us lazy though, this should make us wise to how temptation can come at us.
I happen to think that the most tempting opportunities to “jump in” and get our clothes dirty, come from the various forms of entertainment that are around us. The come-inbecause-the-waters-warm invitations are delivered round the clock through the television, movies, advertisements, etc.
But does this mean that all forms of entertainment are trying to muddy our clothes? To answer this question, I want to break the entertainment world into two parts. This division is not ironclad. It is simply a generalization for the sake of discussion.
Rat Poison Entertainment
The first type of entertainment I want to refer to is the rat poison variety. This is the kind of entertainment that is simply bad. It is deadly to your spirituality if you consume it. Some is more rapid to the system, some is less severe. No matter. It will have its effect eventually. The solution might seem easy. Just say no. Not quite so easy when it looks good, sounds funny, and seems harmless. That’s why I call this “rat poison entertainment.”
It probably goes without saying that rats do not eat poison because they have a death wish. They probably do not salivate with the wafting smells of Diazinon or other deadly poisons. Therefore, they need to be attracted by something tasty so that they will consume what is not. It is a little known fact that when rat poison is produced, it is roughly 90% good food. Parents have harnessed these deceptive tactics for their own well intentioned agendas. Countless children have innocently eaten their applesauce oblivious to the fact that it was laced with multivitamins. This conspiracy against rats and children is perpetuated by a general rule: if you want to get something disgusting down the throat, use lots of sugar! Welcome to the world of entertainment where the rats have gotten savvy.
From movies to magazines, Hollywood has mastered the rat poison approach to entertainment. Recently, Miramax released a movie named “The Cider House Rules” with typical Hollywood bravado. It was advertised as a heartwarming movie, with excellent cinematography, and picturesque scenes of New England life. It won two Academy Awards.
Once you suck off the sugar coating, the truth is less sweet. In fact, the movie was about incest, premarital pregnancy, and coming to grips with the need for society to embrace abortion. The long and short of the movie’s message was that there are no absolutes. All “rules” are gray. One of the world’s own admits that this movie comes down on a “controversial pro-choice stance on abortion” (David Rooney, Variety). It gets to this conclusion by mocking the idea of absolute truth. No, this was not advertised as a comedy. Remember, it is a heartwarming coming of age movie. Therefore, if you are coming of age, go and see it. It’s only rated PG-13. Take the whole family and die together. After all, it looks good! It received two awards. It probably even received two thumbs up. But its message is poison packaged as candy.
The world does this so successfully. Therefore, in this world, we are called to be wise. Wisdom means that we will not consume something just because it looks good and smells sweet. As Christians we need to be careful, circumspect, and inquisitive. It’s when you are not looking that you get splattered. And instead of looking like Christ, we look like the world. We clothe ourselves with numbness and callousness. I believe this kind of carelessness marks our present Christian generation in America. We have bought into the marketer’s advice, “If it feels good, do it.” We need to refocus our attention on our Savior’s exhortation, “Keep your clothes clean.” We do this when we are thankful for being washed and bring that thankfulness into every area of our lives. We do this when we put ourselves under the Savior’s influence instead of the subtle influence the evil one. We do this when we think about what kind of entertainment we are ingesting.
So then, are we saying that all entertainment is bad? No, not at all. This leads me to the second kind of broad category of entertainment. I’ll call this, for lack of any other creative title, “Innocent entertainment.”
The problem with the craze for amusement is that people just want to have fun. You see, the emphasis does not always need to be on fun. There does not have to be anything wrong with fun as such. There are all sorts of innocent entertainments that we may freely engage in as Christians. There may be an appropriate movie here and there that makes us laugh at our comical idiosyncrasies. Outside the world of media, there is baseball, basketball, and all different sorts of physical games and recreations. There are all kinds of fun activities that are not offensive to God. The problem doesn’t have to be that people just want to have fun. Often times, the fun is not the problem. It is that people just want to have fun that often gets us into trouble. All some people want to do is play sports. All some people want to do is laugh. When all you want to do and all you live for is entertainment, albeit innocent entertainment, there is a problem.
As Christians we are especially pro-entertainment and pro-amusement properly defined. We are especially for relaxing and having fun.
God gave us this! Unfortunately, this is where most innocent entertainment scholars return to their game. We need to finish the thought. God gave us entertainment for a purpose. Whenever something is removed from it’s purpose, it ceases to fulfill its function. So, we need to ask, “What is the function of entertainment?”
The function of entertainment is to refresh us so that we can do a better job in glorifying God in the normal workload of our lives. Thankfully, our elementary teachers understood the function of amusement. Who didn’t love recess? Here all along we thought it was for honing our monkey bar skills. Wrong. It was so that we could be better mathematicians when we went back to our desks. Our teachers understood recess functioned to serve a purpose – work!
A certain amount of entertainment or amusement is therefore a good thing. It helps us glorify God in our creational mandate to labor. When entertainment becomes an end, instead of a means to an end, we are in serious danger of loosing it altogether. We are reaching for something with one hand which we are knocking away with another. When a child plays with a toy endlessly, watch out. Eventually that toy is going to take flight, the launch sequence initiated by boredom. There is no satisfaction in it anymore. When we were in Junior High we called this the “summer time blues.”
It came around mid-August. We had all the toys we could want and yet we still said, “I’m bored!” Boredom is essentially the inability to enjoy enjoyment. This happens when entertainment is removed from the purpose of labor and it eventually fizzles out to purposelessness. Sooner or later what looks awesome, fun always and forever, fizzles out in dissatisfaction. In this scenario, we get splattered, not because of the entertainment, but what we did with the entertainment. By not being wise, our clothes get dirty despite our best attempts to stay clean. Even innocent entertainment can be dangerous.
But I don’t Listen to the Words
The frequently repeated phrase, “But I don’t listen to the words,” is the fuel for our craze for amusement. It fuels this craze in that it justifies the worst kinds of entertainment to the best kinds of entertainment with a quick application of verbal salve to the conscience. “Don’t worry, I’m ignorant.” This has gotten more than one young person out of the entertainment prison their moms and dads would have certainly thrown them in to. But how true is this well worn phrase?
When I was at the RYS convention, I tried a little experiment. I had someone stand up and say the word “silk” ten times. After which, I immediately asked, “What do cows drink?” Without exception, the four groups, through their sacrificial volunteer, answered, “Milk.” To me, this serves to illustrate a wonderful point. Our children are telling the truth! They don’t listen to the words. I say this in good humor as I asked this question in good humor. But, this was not simply for kicks and giggles. There was a point. The correct answer to what cows drink is not milk. People drink milk. Cows drink water. And yes, people did try to justify their wrong answer by claiming that calves drink milk. Still wrong. The question was, “What do cows drink?” Of course, the confusion came from the way I set the stage before I asked the question. I prepared my brave volunteer to not listen to me when I had them say silk ten times. I coated their mind with a word that rhymed with the wrong answer that I wanted them to give me. I was looking for an answer. I was counting on the fact that they wouldn’t’ listen to me. What do you know, I was right. In less friendly situations we call this manipulation. Have I introduced you to Hollywood yet?
How many times haven’t we used or heard this phrase “But I don’t listen to the words,” thinking that we are beating the system? Foolishly, we do not realize that much of the system is based on this assumption. Sometimes we fumble simple theological questions because of the “silk, silk, silk…” white noise of the world. We claim that we don’t listen to the words or ideas of our culture but strangely our words and ideas, our answers and thoughts can sound a lot like our present culture. There is that same bizarre “ilk” sound to our words. We need to realize that many of us have foolishly believed that we can actually not listen to the words and ideas of our culture’s entertainment. When we say, “I don’t listen to the words” our sworn enemies rejoice! In this one phrase, we are announcing that our main defense, the mind, is shut down. When the mind shuts down, everything receives an all access pass to our heart. Never mind the fact that our enemies (the world, devil, and the flesh) “cease not to assault us” (L.D. 52). Never mind we are engaged in a war. We just want to tune in and turn off, or something like that.
If you have ever been waiting for the light to turn green at around 11 P.M. at a busy intersection, chances are you know how impossible it is to not listen to the world. There are these cars that are loaded with those thumping, bass booming stereos. Try, try as you may, you cannot tune out that insidious noise. Your windows can be rolled up and still all you hear is, “thump, thump, thump.” You can even be three cars away going 65 down the highway and still, “thump, thump, thump” is all you hear. You can try to ignore it but it has this kind of omnipresent nature to it. That’s the world. It is all around us. As much as we roll up the windows and ignore it, it is still thumping on your chest and pounding in your ears.
Perhaps it’s not as clearly heard when you don’t listen. But it is still there. The “ilks” can still be faintly heard and processed.
Time To Respond
It is time to respond to our culture as Christians and not self-proclaimed ignoramuses. Put in language we can easily understand, we need to start listening to the words. Rather than ignore the world, which is impossible, we need to listen to it.
In light of everything I have said, this is not as dangerous as it may initially sound. When you want to check to see if the white stuff on the table is salt or sugar, you don’t pour it on your toast with cinnamon and hope it is not salt. You take a taste-test first. Only after we have tested can we respond either positively with enjoyment, or, negatively with revulsion. We need to get rid of the “ilky” twang in our voices. That means we need to listen to words, discern ideas, and examine the worldviews of our amusements or our approach to amusements. We will never see the difference between the poison and the innocent if we do not investigate and discern. And that is both our biblical responsibility and Christian privilege.
Roman’s 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Our responsibility becomes our privilege when we are able to enjoy ourselves in God’s good will. Here is the only place where there is any real joy. Along this train of thought John writes, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). Only when we test the spirit of our approach to and the content of our entertainment, can we enjoy God through our entertainment. Therefore, it is time to kick start our minds, get the mental defenses back up, and get back to the job of listening.
The craze for amusement will always be present. People, it seems, just want to have fun. Sometimes it is a little bit of a bad thing. Sometimes it is too much of a good thing. Either way, we need to learn how to avoid these dangers when we, unlike this crazy world, carefully approach our entertainment saturated culture. We show this care when we look to our Father to guide us through this puddle filled world. We do this when we hear what the world says and compare it’s claims to the truths that our Father has told us. Only then can our true enjoyment be protected. Only then can God be truly glorified through our entertainment.
Rev. W. Jason Tuinstra is the pastor of Community Reformed Bible Church in Highland, Indiana.