The Best (and Worst) Types of Christian Media
When it comes to mass communication, Christians do some things well and some things horribly. Here’s a breakdown:
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1) The Best
Christians have been publicly speaking for thousands of years — since Old Testament times. Church culture is inundated with motivational and inspirational presentations, sermons, illustrations, speeches, and teachings. Sunday schools, youth groups, small groups, church services, camps, retreats, and conventions all have a variety of public speakers.
Christians were experts at the art of speaking before TED Talks became popular or business presentations were commonplace. People working in full-time ministry often speak in front of groups at least two or three times a week — sometimes more. They can sense when audiences are engaged or bored and have the ability to whip stadium crowds into an emotional and spiritual frenzy.
Revivals happen, revolutions begin, and souls are transformed through the power of the spoken word. Looking back on my faith journey, most of the profound moments of intellectual understanding, prophetic revelation, deep communion with God, and inspiring worship have been sparked by a powerful public speaker.
Sure, there are some bad speakers — we’ve all cringed (or slept) through more than a few sermons — but public speaking is something that Christians are generally pretty good at.
No form of media has affected Christianity more over the last few generations than published writings. Imagine Christianity today without the likes of C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, John Bunyan, Augustine, and hundreds of others. More recently, imagine the modern evangelical landscape without the works of Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Gary Chapman, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, and John Piper (to name just a few).
Every new Christian controversy seems to be the reaction to a published book. Books define the Christian landscape, providing platforms for dialogue, debate, and new ideas. Whether it’s through theology, ministry, devotionals, relationship advice, educational teachings, or self-help guides, Christian authors continue to challenge us to mature in our faith.
2) The Worst
Ironically, Western society’s most influential form of media is arguably Christianity’s worst, with the least amount of influence and presence. Does anything have a poorer reputation than Christian television? Not only is the production value usually horrible — chintzy sets, big hair, and flashing 1-800 numbers — but the legitimacy of most programs are either seriously lacking or completely non-existent.
Superficial preachers often use manipulation, guilt, hypocrisy, scams, scandals, and large profits to keep their shows running — often at the expense of vulnerable audiences. The shows usually appear on late-night television or are sandwiched between gimmicky telemarketing programs, and the vast majority of them are awful — lacking any theological or spiritual substance.
Mark Burnett’s successful The Bible miniseries and the rumors of Rob Bell’s upcoming venture into television might add some quality into a genre that has historically been embarrassingly bad. But at this point, the genre almost seems impossible to redeem.
When was the last time you saw a good Christian movie? The problem with Christian film is that there always seems to be an obvious agenda, and the plotlines feel more like preaching than entertainment.
The stories are predictable and the endings are neat and tidy — not reflecting the messiness and complexity of real life. Faithful believers don’t always get miraculously healed, reconcile relationships, resolve all conflicts, incessantly smile, and finish on top. In reality, many Christians are suffering and hurting and facing barriers that feel-good Christian movies simply don’t reflect.
3) The Average
There are some good Christian websites and blogs out there, but for every good one there are thousands of bad ones. For example, there are more than 200 churches located within a few miles of my home. But a quick Google search brings up only 20, and out of these 20, only five actually have attractive websites containing information that is relevant and updated. The first impression of a church isn’t when someone walks through its front door — it’s their website (or lack thereof).
Considering there are hundreds of millions of Christians who have access to the Internet, it’s astonishing that there are only a handful of really good websites — this needs to change. Fortunately, the younger generation of believers is reversing this trend, and a person’s personal faith is starting to have legitimate online resources, but there’s still a long way to go.
With the advent of online streaming and numerous Internet resources, the traditional form of radio is being replaced by easily accessible and more user-friendly web platforms. Christian artists are no longer confined by the old restrictions of radio.
Musicians and artists can record music from home, post videos on YouTube, raise money via Kickstarter, create publicity using social media, and utilize a variety of free and inexpensive programs with the click of a button.
Christian music often acquires a self-inflicted inferiority complex when comparing itself to secular pop stars, and if Christian artists do experience mainstream success they often face the unfair criticism of being “too worldly.” Overall, the industry has a dichotomy of progressive groups that are creative and groundbreaking while at same time possessing groups that reuse clichés and refuse to break familiar molds.
Obviously, this reflection has some pretty big generalizations, but do you agree or disagree with the overall assessment?
Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Red Letter Christians and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
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