The Media – A New Hope
The media it would seem is on the brink of revolution. But what is the media? How should Christians think about it? That's the question we're going to attempt to answer this morning. Let's get started by trying to understand the term media – what in essence is it? In the latest Hollywood blockbuster 'Inception' Leonardo Di Caprio's character says this;
What's the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.
I think that gives us an insight into the nature of the media. The media is about communicating ideas in a way that causes transformation. The dictionary defines it like this;
'The means of communication, such as radio and television, newspapers and magazines, that reach or influence people widely'
The media reports events, the news but it's more than that. Media is the means by which ideas are communicated. It's how messages are both heard and understood. When we think about it like that the importance of the media starts to become clear. However Christians often view the media as an enemy – we often feel marginalised and attacked by it. Is there hope for the media or is it something we should filter out and withdraw from?
I want to tackle the question in two points using 2 Timothy 4 as our guide:
1. Operating in a hostile environment
2. Telling THE STORY
1. Operating in a hostile environment
This quote from the Director of the BBC in 1948 seems sadly ironic;
We are citizens of a Christian country and the BBC - an institution set up by the State - bases its policy upon a positive attitude towards the Christian values. It seeks to safeguard those values and to foster acceptance of them. The whole preponderant weight of its programmes is directed towards this end."
Contrast this with one senior BBC drama producer who said rather cynically that in broadcasting you can be committed to anything except Christianity. That was in the late eighties. However, does that mean that Christians should retreat from the mainstream? If that's true it will be a very quiet final hymn this morning as we sing; 'Tell all the world of Jesus Our Saviour, Lord and King; And let the whole creation Of his salvation sing.'
Whilst it is not true to say that all the mainstream media is systematically opposed to Christianity, certainly things have changed since that quote from the head of the BBC in 1948.
Timothy was working as a church leader in similar but far more extreme conditions. In 2 Timothy Paul is giving Timothy instructions on how to guide the church in Ephesus, one that had descended into physical violence the first time it heard the Gospel. And it's into this context that Paul writes the words we heard earlier from 2 Timothy 4;
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
The Apostle Paul is here charging Timothy with the task of 'Preaching the Word' of relaying the true Gospel. He does so with a warning in v3;
3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
In other words people will be drawn to teachers or commentators, columnists, writers who say things which they want to hear. Those who we are willing to listen to are a good reflection of what is going on in our hearts. The media reflects the deeper wants and beliefs of a society.
The Christian philosopher; Francis Schaeffer explained society in five steps;
Media is the means by which this process takes place – taking the underlying philosophy of a society, normalising it and making it pervasive. In other words the media reflects what a society really thinks and feeds that message back into itself again and again. This can be both positive and negative. However, in our text Paul is warning Timothy that sinful humans will naturally be inclined to listen to and surround themselves with people who do not challenge their sin.
So what does this mean? Well it means that we understand that the media is not simply a neutral relaying of the facts. Media is rather a deeper reflection of a society's values and beliefs. In fact it is not just a reflection of culture but a positive reinforcement of a culture's identity – a way of forging it. We see this most vividly in totalitarian states such as North Korea where explicit propaganda is used to influence and control society. Practically this means that we should view media critically; I hope that you are listening critically now, examining if what I say matches up with what the Bible says but I hope that you do the same when you look at a cinema screen and are preached at for 2 hours. The media is also therefore a brilliant place to observe what our society really thinks, feels and believes. This is becoming more and more true as technology makes public self-expression easier think twitter rather than publishing novels. As of May this year there are estimated to be over 200 million blogs, since I started speaking well over 100 hours of video will have been uploaded to YouTube. The media is bigger and closer to us than ever before.
So how does Paul ask Timothy to react to the media around him? He urges Timothy to;
2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
Timothy is to keep preaching the truth and to be prepared to use those truths at all times to; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. Timothy should keep telling the story of the Gospel even when that goes against the grain. He corrects, rebukes and encourages by re-telling the grand narrative of the Bible. God is there, he has created the universe and us, and He has revealed himself to us. In spite of this we have rejected and ignored Him. Yet his love is so great for us that he would give up his Son, let him exchange the glory of heaven for poverty on earth so that He could give his life up for us on the cross. God restores our broken relationship with Him and so begins the process of restoring the earth until one day everything is made new – pain, suffering and injustice are destroyed and we are left to enjoy God as we live forever in His likeness. That's the headline that is always worth reading, the greatest story that has ever broken. For us as Christians every other story sits inside this bigger one that God is redeeming a people for himself. So;
a) The media reflects where society is at and influences its future. It isn't neutral but rather a powerful cultural defining and culture shaping device.
b) Christians however are shaped not primarily by the culture that surrounds them but by the big story of the Gospel.
As Paul's charge to Timothy makes clear, this message will often be a counter-cultural message. In light of that how are Christians to relate to the media? That's what I want to focus on in our second point; Telling THE STORY
2. Telling THE STORY
Paul has shown us how the media reflects the underlying philosophy of a society. He has given Timothy the task of preaching the Gospel unashamedly even when this is deeply counter-cultural. What confidence do we have to do the same?
In the first chapter of the Bible; Genesis 1 God speaks 10 times. God speaks 10 times and the universe is created. The human race comes into being. It is spectacular when God speaks; here two things relevant to media are achieved. God creates;
1. An audience to reveal himself to
2. The first type of media which he reveals himself by
God is committed to communication, to revealing himself and his glory we can be sure of that. Why? God creates a whole universe and in particular a people so that He can reveal himself to and have relationship with us.
God also provides an incredible type of media by which He reveals himself; Psalm 9 puts it like this;
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard. [a]
4 Their voice [b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
God speaks, he reveals himself through creation it 'pours forth speech'. The intricacies and beauty of life, the splendour of the universe all these are media proclaiming the greatness of God and His glory. From the beginning God is a God who chooses to reveal himself – he goes to extraordinary lengths to do so first by creating a people to enjoy Him and secondly by constructing the universe in such a way that it screams out the glory of God.
God reveals himself universally and spectacularly through creation (what Theologians call 'general revelation') but he reveals himself in others ways too; ('special revelation'). Hebrews 1.1-2 sums it up like this;
1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
God spoke directly and through particular men – 'the prophets' but now and most supremely he has revealed himself by sending His son who v3 says;
3… is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being
If ever there was a case of 'the medium being the message' this is it. God speaks to us by wrapping himself around the form of a man, leaving the glory of heaven to live on earth. In doing so God reveals the capital 'T' Truth about himself; Jesus is the exact representation of God, all the fullness of God lives in him, he shows us God. John 1.14 explains it like this;
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[d] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus is the supreme example of media. He makes his dwelling among us and shows us perfectly the glory of the Father. In his life, teaching, death and resurrection Jesus both shows us the fullness of God's majesty and makes it possible for us to know him. Now in 21st Century Britain we can know all this because God's very breath is recorded in this book that everyone of us can hold, read and understand.
God speaks; he communicates with us and desires to be known in all of His splendour. The very universe shouts out this truth. God creates us with the purpose of knowing Him and sends us His precious Son made man as a perfect representation of His grace, love and truth. We can know Him because He wants to be known.
If media is about communicating a message then God is the master of media. He communicates the infinite mystery of God through the universe He has made, the Book he has written and the Son He has sent.
This is the God we serve, a God who delights to reveal himself and has done spectacularly. We may feel that the media is opposed to the Gospel and often it is but we should be confident that the message of the Gospel is greater than the collective power of the media, as Paul says in Romans 1.16;
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes
If we were to look away from 21st Century Western Europe we could see the Gospel rushing through the Roman Empire or transforming modern day China and Latin America. A couple of years a go I visited South Korea. 60 years a go less than 1% of the country were Christian and missionaries to the country were frequently killed. Now over 30 % of the country are thought to be evangelical Christians. The Gospel has permeated to such a level that as one of my British friends crossed the road a man got off his bike and started to explain the Gospel there and then. The Gospel is also credited with transforming the economic, social and political landscape of that country. The Gospel is powerful, more powerful than anything else.
The challenge for us is whether we believe that. Do we believe that the most powerful idea that can be communicated is the Gospel? Do we believe that God who has revealed himself in the universe He has built, the book He has written and His Son who He has sent is capable of transforming the foundations our society? Will we involve ourselves in that task - will we use the new forms of media as leverage to 'Preach the Word'? Will we critically assess the media so that we can understand the culture we live in an tell it the greater story of the Gospel or will we consume it mindlessly and lose our identity?
Surely we have no choice, surely we must speak about what God has done. There's a section in Luke's Gospel chapter 19 which I love. Jesus is entering Jerusalem triumphantly as he does so his followers cry out in praise, the Pharisees tell Jesus to shut his disciples up. Jesus responds saying in v40;
"I tell you if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
The whole universe is programmed, as we saw earlier, to cry out in praise to God. It is his media. How much more should those who have been rescued by Him shout His praises from the rooftops?