Thursday, August 25, 2005

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Two posts ago in Freshman College Class of 2009, Mark left the following comment. . . .

Now most of the list from the article needs a bit more analysis/thought to make it anything but superficially important. But two items caught my eye off the bat as worth considering. First was the comment about this generations familiarity with and comsumption of cable entertainment. Apart from the incisive criticism that Neil Postman offers in pieces like *Amusing Ourselves to Death*, I think the church needs to consider how moving from a lexigraphical /word-based society to an image/pictorial society (with respect to processing information and even truth) affects how we communicate the Gospel. What roles do images play in the way this generation thinks about and understands things as true or compelling?

The reference to Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death reminded me what a great book that is. It may be one of the top ten influential books I have ever read. I need to read it again. It's actually a lament and strong critique of our continuing shift away from a print/word-based culture toward an visual/image based culture. He argues that we should stem the tide. The medium is the message and can't be separated from it.

So, Mark seems to be suggesting the opposite in his post. Do you agree with him? Should the church be moving from a word-based to a visual/image based approach to reaching the lost? God has ordained the Gospel message, but has He also ordained the Gospel medium? Should we be seeing pictures, instead of listening to sermons? How does faith come? By seeing? Jesus, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us, but He is no longer visibly present with us. So how do we show Him?

Any thoughts? Who's read Postman?


Mark said...

I didn't intend to be advocating a wholesale shift to a pictorial presentation of the Gospel just because there is good reason to think that is a (or even the) predominate communicative form of our culture.

I did intend to challenge followers of Jesus to pause and consider whether or not they are sometimes failing to communicate to their audience in a way that their audience can really hear and understand.

As for me, I don't think, for example, movie clips on Sunday mornings from the pulpit is the way to go. I am not even overly fond of power-point sermons.

But when was the last time we went to a movie with someone who has not embraced the Gospel and helped them process the spiritual implications of the plot, characters, or dialog? A simple question like, what do you think the screenwriter or director was trying to say in making that movie? I wonder the producer thinks about God and what life is most fundamentally about? Even something as basic as a televsion ad can be a great bridge to discussing eternal truths.

Moreover, when we are asked those awesome questions like: "What do you beleive?" or "What does it mean to be a Christian or have a relationship with God?" can we draw a picture with words, give them an insightful illustration on paper, or give them a relevant story from our lives, that moves their heart and their understanding forward. (I am not here talking here about quaint or nebulous stories, pictures or illustrations that have no theological umph.) Jesus was a master communicator who weaved theology into the stuff of life. Sadly, I have too often offered people stark theological truths in stale, well-reasoned arguments, instead of going deeper and asking where their heart is at and what sorts of means or modes of presenting the precious life-giving message of God's desire to reconcile with them will be most comprehensible and compelling for them.

Phillip Moses said...

It sounds like Mark and I have a lot in common.

I have not yet read Postman's book - although I would like to - but I think I would agree with him that God's Word is just that: His Word. The medium and the message can not be seperated. It is the method that God has chosen to communicate with us.

However, as a Christian in the film industry who aspires to someday create redemptive content of my own, it is my hope that Christians can begin to enter into the "great conversation" that is happening around them. People are discussing films - why can't we let this be our Areopagus?

In order to accomplish this joining in the "great conversation," I believe we need to do the following:

1. Learn to view existing and new media through a redemptive lens. Film encapsulates many elements from all art forms, and we must seek to find what each artist has to say about humanity and the world he lives in. Not only must we learn to view redemptively, we need to know the right kind of questions to ask in order to engage ourselves and those around us in a gospel centered view of entertainment.

2. Create new media that is redemptive in purpose. This does not mean that we must make strictly Christian Market films. We must tell well crafted stories with believable and sympathetic characters. They should be viable in our culture's market and relevant to our post-modern society. This is a task that we must be equipped to do as artists and as thinking, theologically sound believers.

3. Excercise discernment. We need to recognize that sometimes the best way to interact with our culture is to know when to be set apart. "Viewing films through a redemptive lens" is not a license to subject yourself to all levels of visual and intellectual filth that is available. But rather, we need to know how to comment on content that is morally void and effectively communicate why we choose to not participate.

I, for one, am glad that Pastor Tim and others on the pastoral staff are advocating responsible, redemptive participation in our culture. It does not, I believe, service the cause of Christ to simply boycott. Our culture does not understand that behavior and it does not extend the outreached hand of our Savior to this dying world.

Vikki Murray said...

I haven't read Postman's book, but it seems to me that we need to communicate the Gospel in a variety of ways to serve the multiple ways people learn. Not everyone in the younger generation is visual/image oriented. There are still differences among individuals. If our goal is to reach as many people with the Gospel as possible and have it be meaningful for each, we should offer it in written, visual and auditory forms. As a teacher, I would say that whether a person is dominantly an audile, visual or motor learner he is served by experiencing the Gospel in more than one way. What speaks to the intellect does not always speak to the heart in any generation. I would contend that this is why words and images set to music often move us more emotionally and are remembered longer than when presented alone. I would like to read Postman's book and see if it alters my opinion, but if God gave us more than one way to learn shouldn't we be using those gifts?

Brian Wong said...

I think that in order for me to be able to contribute to this discussion in a meaningful manner, it would require that I understood a few things. What does it mean to say, "The medium is the message and can't be separated from it"? If this is to say that the only way in which to present the gospel is through the reading of the Bible, then here's my question: of what significance is the Jesus Film Project? It seems to me that the gospel (the aforementioned message) is presented rather clearly through that project (a different medium than the written word). Also, if the medium and message can't be separated, what does that say about the fact that we read our Bibles in English and not the original language (Greek, Hebrew, etc.)?

I guess the final question is how far do we follow Jesus' example? That is to say Jesus' primary means of communicating his message was through parables. Many of his parables were stories that his contemporaries understood: stories of farming, fishing, families, etc. Jesus didn't tell the parable of the dollar bills; he told the parable of the talents. It was the good Samaritan, not the good Jihadist. Why? Because these were concepts that people of his day could relate to. What I mean to say is that Jesus put his message in a format that his audience understood. So the question that naturally follows is do we follow his example in doing this? If the format that today's audience understands is a visual/image based format, then do we follow Jesus' example and share His message in that format? Alternatively, is the written form of the gospel so sacrosanct that we must only share the gospel in this format?

I suppose I've raised more questions that I answered, but those are my thoughts.

Nate said...

First time, I've checked out your blog, it looks pretty good. Haven't read Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death since high school, but if I recall correctly, one of his primary points was that print is a better medium for conveying meaning than television. One of the side effects of this shift was, Postman belived, that our society has been moving towards prizing entertainment over reason.

It's clear that the Christian message can be presented through various mediums (print, voice, art, etc.). I think Postman was just quick to identify general trends which have now crept into our churches (e.g. emotionalism over reason, entertainment over duty).

However, I think overlooked in all this may be the reality that one of the best mediums for presenting Jesus to unbelievers are Christians themselves. The debate over print versus video is important and certainly has its place, but pales in comparison to the debate over the quality of an individual's personal testimony versus a compromising lifestyle that masks a vibrant witness.

Now, I'm not trying to sound preachy it was just a simple recognition of the fact that anyone I've ever brought to Jesus only came because of my friendship and personal lifestyle, not because of a video or book I gave them (although those are certainly good and useful too).

-joe r. said...

i haven't read the book, but felt compelled to respond. historically, the church has generated huge quantities of visuals to help in the aid of spreading the message.

should not all means of communication be directed at educating? i think this includes everything from the design of the worship space, the background images behind the pulpit, flower arrangements, the design of the bulletins, the location of the church in town, to how we dress?

perhaps i obsess as i'm visually dominant. for the catholic church art was used to educate the illiterate. we are literate, but could we learn more/share more/teach more from art and the visual?

we have more to offer the greater world, as well as our own church, than the fish symbol and a wwjd bumper sticker on the backs of our car.

i'm off to read the book. thanks for reading.


gordon Wong said...

Tim, what an interesting post!

I agree there is a trend of moving from a lexical based intelligence to becoming more visual.
I mean, if I IM you - I put ':o)' <- I mean we all know what that means!

Ravi Zacharias, the great apologetics teachers of RZIM: "...the danger of movies as a medium is that we surrender the last bastion of human imagination."

I think for special outreach events like evangelism, or illustrative purposes in church visual aids are important, but this book (I haven't read it) gives a disturbing trend: we are becoming a visual culture immersed in constant visual stimulation. Recently, in a psychological study, men who were repeatedly flashed women in swimsuits 'found their spouses' less attractive. Talk to enough Christian males and you will find a disturbing trend struggling with internet pornography.

All this visual stimulation whether on the internet or movies makes it difficult to read the Word of God. That's disturbing enough. Go to some Christian friends and ask them to pull a verse to encourage someone struggling with depression - how many will be able to turn to a verse in their bible?

By in itself the visual medium is not evil, but do Christians really need to expose themselves to the content of MTV? Why do Christians or people need to expose themselve to the content in the visual entertainment medium?

Here's an interesting test, sit in a room with no visual stimulation or music. See how comfortable it would be when you asked five friends to sit there alone with you and no one talks, and no is watching anything. I found it extremely difficult in this test and was reminded of 'Be still and know that I am God.' I regret I've lost a bit of this wonderful practice to be silent and be with God alone....only with Him alone.

Of course, this is written by a person who has a job to create more visual stimulation. LOL.
And I personally think the PASSION was one also a great illustrative example that media can be a powerful tool with the right content, but constant stimulation makes a sermon or listening more difficult to pay attention to. That's a challenge for a pastor, a congregation or a bible study leader...and that's why we need to pray for sermons, pastors and bible study leaders.