Before you read, take a look at this. I have thoughts, I have questions…

I picked this particular piece because it seems to typify the kind of Christian media I think the most about. Why?

It’s the content; what’s being taught by implication or otherwise. As storytellers, filmmakers, creatives, our primary concern should always be the content, and the style can follow suit as of secondary importance. I think style has increased very well over the recent years, and can only get better and diversify as Christians who happen to be artists regain their calling.

Now, Christians who are artists can create all sorts of media – the content doesn’t have to be Gospel, although in making anything, or living period, we should be proclaiming the Gospel to those around us and living it out by the Spirit. This applies to everyone. However: and a big however. When we create media for mission, whether it is for those who don’t yet believe or those who do, we need to understand that we are teaching, and we will be held to the level of accountability laid out in James 3. So: we should be very cautious what we create, do not malign the good news God has entrusted to the saints.

The content in this piece seems to say: Jesus did, now go and do the same. First of all, that’s not the Gospel. “Be like,” “Be good,” “Be disciplined,” never saved anyone. It’s moralism, religion, the very thing that we hope the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son was redeemed from. There is no hint of mission and good works in the order Titus 3 lays out:

3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

You see that? Paul says in v3 that 1) we all were foolish, disobedient, led astray, but now 2) since God has saved us through Jesus and the washing of the Spirit (vv 4-7) we 3) can devote ourselves to good works (v8).

Now, I first need to admit that the reason I write this is personal. Early in my Christian years, I understood (1) that we were all led astray, but jumped very quickly to (3) – that as Christians we must devote ourselves to good works – without understanding (2) – that the basis and beginning of everything is that He has saved us, not based on anything we have ever done, good or bad, but that as a result of that we are free to devote ourselves to all sorts of good things. And when I finally understood the Gospel, and I knew the very essence of my being had been changed, everything changed – my actions changed, my decisions changed. I could make choices for good things out of a will that had been changed by the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Before I had been frustrated by my attempts to change my will, and now I see that that it is His work that He is faithful to do in me and promises to continue till the day of His coming, when the change will be complete by me seeing Him as he is.

Now: encouraging Christians to go and be on mission, whether that is personally, corporately, socially, whatever – is not bad in itself. My concern is that there may be many more out there like me, who never quite received salvation, and who are trying so hard to Do Good Stuff For Jesus. And may I suggest – that a heart, a will, that has been changed by Jesus is driven to mission? It seems to me, that by the very essence of grace, that once having received it we are driven to go? I know that we are called to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and so there is a tension there – I have been freed, and therefore I must – by the wonderful grace given to me – obey, and I *could* disobey. But still: at the end of the day, it starts with His work, not ours.

Yet, knowing that tension exists at all and is spoken about at length in Scripture is what chastises me in critiquing Christian media that solely, within itself, contains a works-based message, such as this piece. Perhaps the media is shown within a greater gospel context of a particular local church, and of course I don’t see that because I’m not within it (perhaps then, we should be more careful about what we spread abroad on the internet, and the people who may be seeing it there?) Perhaps we can just have pieces like this, that stand alone, and are just meant for training and encouraging those who truly have received salvation *how* to go and do.

As redeemed creatives creating media for mission and the Church, have we created pop and pizzazz out of a felt need to connect with culture at the expense of Gospel foundation – the very thing that drives us to mission? If so, we’ve ended up as syncretists: muddling or diluting the Gospel out of a felt need to reach people. Now: doing so to reach those outside the Church is one topic, and one that needs to be discussed at length. However, the video clip is oriented towards Christians: when we muddle the message (or even change the language to be ‘understandable’ – c’mon, honestly, we have such a rich tradition of language and words that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater) to those who already do profess Jesus, those within the Church… where does that leave us? I’d suggest that, far from encouraging us to ‘get out there and be missionaries’ (whether that be socially, spiritually, or however) it actually leaves us woefully unequipped for the work of discipleship: exactly what Jesus has called us to. Saying “just go and do” implies simply that a) that is the answer to b) people who don’t go and do. But that isn’t the solution. Just going and doing on our own strength, without a constant reminder of the work Jesus has done for us, will most likely lead to a whole bunch of messy, confused, guilt-driven evangelism that will ultimately fail.

And it seems to me that that is the case: so much Christian media for Christians is now: go and do, go and follow… but there is no message of salvation, a reminder of the Gospel that has saved us, to give us any foundation or strength to do so.

2 Responses to “The Gospel & Teaching Through Media”
  1. Steve

    Thanks Ryan for doing the work of wrestling through this. And amen to Jordan’s “praise and lament” comment. I think when we start making stuff “from” where we are instead of making stuff “for” something we start to get the full breadth of human experience. It is happening, I see encouraging signs everywhere. I came across these guys [http://www.psalters.com/], who look like this [http://bit.ly/pigOqL] and quote Walter Brueggeman like this [http://bit.ly/nw9BP0] and sound like this [http://youtu.be/QtWu1psvIXE]. They’re the real deal. Yes, bring it on blood pumping wrestling creatives! [insert primal scream]

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  2. Jordan N.

    Great post, Ryan.

    I feel you’ve captured a tension that you and many Christian creatives have been struggling with for decades.

    In my own contemplations and studies, I have begun to understand that the tension comes from the purpose(s) or reason(s) the church uses art. The church has viewed art forms as an evangelistic tool rather than to understand ourselves better and in turn understanding God better. We have cheapened the artistic experience, dumbed it down and diluted it, all to serve the purpose of impersonal evangelism.

    I realize you have touched on much more than could ever be responded to in a comment, but I am glad you’ve wrestled with this. We, as creatives, need to wrestle this beast. We need to recapture what makes us want to create, use that inspiration and share what we have with the world, without the sole purpose of using it to show someone who Christ is, but to hopefully share what we see. There is praise and lament in the human existence, and thus should also be shown in our art. The church needs to engage in both in order to reach a world struggle to make sense of how both exist.

    Thanks again for getting my blood pumping about this topic once more!

    Cheers,
    Jordan

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