GoT holiness?

Note to self: There are some things in life you simply cannot question–the supremacy of SEC football, the vile depravity of the NE Patriots, and the suitability of a Christian’s entertainment.

Enter Kevin DeYoung’s  seemingly innocuous admission that he didn’t understand why so many conservative Christians devote themselves to Game of Thrones (GoT) when the series has so much explicit sexual content:

It seems to me sensuality–of a very graphic nature–is a major part of the series. And still, a good number of conservative Christians treat the series as must-see TV.

I don’t get it.

Tweeting the link to that post brought on a small flurry of comments on Facebook, most of them critical . . . of DeYoung. I must admit to being a little stunned and that was before I was directed to the comments section for the original post. I thought I had stumbled into bizarro world.

Having recovered from my stupefaction I’d like to offer a measured response to critics of the article. My modest objective is to show that DeYoung’s implied question (i.e. Why would a conservative Christian watch GoT?) is not pharisaical sin-sniffing but well within the bounds of what should be normal self-examination. I’ll proceed in two stages. First, I’ll volunteer some clarification on what the article did/didn’t say. Second, I’d like to address some of the early responses to the article.

One more thing and this is crucial. I’m going to assume that any Christian reading this post would at least agree that the graphic sexual content in GoT is sinful even if we don’t agree on the appropriate response. So if, as a Christian, you don’t believe this kind of material stands against the biblical imperatives concerning holiness and immorality, then we’ll just be talking past each other.

What the article didn’t say

(1) Real Christians don’t watch GoT. Some of the reactions to the post made it seem as if DeYoung had taken it upon himself to separate the sheep from the GoaTs.™ Far from it. As he stated from the outset: “I’m always amazed that a number of people I respect–smart people, serious Christians, good conservative thinkers–are obviously watching (and loving) the series” [emphasis added]. If DeYoung’s position were that no real Christian would watch GoT he wouldn’t be so perplexed.

(2) It is forbidden for real Christians to watch GoT. No doubt DeYoung would advise Christians to steer clear of the series but that’s a far cry from anathematizing the series and all who would watch it.

A rejoinder to the early responses

(1) What about holiness? Strange that with so many readers dismissing DeYoung’s concerns I never saw anyone deny his basic premise that “sensuality–of a very graphic nature–is a major part of [GoT].” I actually find the whole thing a bit discouraging–not the criticisms so much as the belligerent indifference.

Where is the longing for purity and its reward (Mat 5:8)? Who considers that we’re in a war for our souls (1Pet 2:11)? What does the pursuit of sanctification look like when I’m parked in front of a TV (Heb 12:14)? Responding to these questions with charges of legalism sounds more like deflection than reflection.

(2) Sin is deceitful and never satisfied. I don’t know that I could improve on this classic statement from John Owen. I’m a fool to think that I can safely manage my lusts as I indulge them.

(3) ‘Live and let live’ isn’t a Christian mantra. Christian community is in a state of disrepair when mutual accountability is held in suspicion. No doubt the Christian life holds some truths in tension. On the one hand, I am not the judge of a fellow servant (Rom 14:4; James 4:12); on the other hand, I’m not to passively watch my brother drift away (Heb 3:13; Jam 5:19-20; Jude 23). No man is an island, least of all the man in Christ.

(4) On the power of the remote. An experienced remote manager can save himself a lot of trouble so long as he remains alert and conscientious. Our remote has been used as a censoring device on numerous occasions while streaming TV shows and movies so I’m well aware that a simple flick of the finger can negate the baring of much flesh. Self-filtering is obviously better than taking it all in.

But two caveats are in order. First, as my wife & I were recently reminded when we tried to watch the first season of Homeland, sexual content often appears without warning. We simply can’t anticipate every sexcapade an episode has in store and, considering the amount of sexually explicit content in GoT, we’re practically guaranteed to see the baring of flesh despite our best efforts. Second, even if we could eliminate every objectionable scene, no one assumes that that’s what all Christians are doing while they’re watching the show–as it airs.

(5) On criticizing a show you haven’t watched. Living in the information age means we don’t always have to watch something to know what’s in it. Yes, if I want to critique the cinematography or the acting or the story I need to watch the show. But it should go without saying that I don’t need to watch soft porn in order to find it objectionable, so it’s hard to understand how not watching GoT due to the sexual content diminishes a man’s concern over said content–especially when we all agree it’s there.

All of that to simply say this: Watch what you will knowing that we all must give an account, but please don’t act as if it doesn’t matter what you watch.

Irreverent musings: The Facebook-driven faith

If Fb has tinkered with the trends what might that say about the incessant effort to keep Christianity “relevant”?

Brace yourself. If this report is true then Facebook curators aren’t honest brokers when it comes to managing the company’s “trending” news section. It would seem that said curators ignore some trends while manufacturing others. But the doctoring of the news trends wasn’t an attempt to drive more traffic thereby generating more revenue. No, the trends were tampered with in order to–brace yourselves–suppress conservative news.

Those of you hearing this for the first time (what? you didn’t see this story on Fb??) may need a moment to get over the sudden onset of  the vapours. For the rest of you I hope that you file this story under “unexpected, not surprised” since Facebook isn’t the only member of the media industrial complex to use their platform to serve an agenda. I guess part of what makes the story “newsworthy” is that not an insignificant portion of the population (millennials?) is purported to get their news from Fb. I suppose they had to find another reliable source when John “Just-the-Facts” Stewart stepped down from the Daily Show.

On a more serious note, I draw attention to the story for two closely related reasons. First, Fb (et al) has been something of an unofficial bellwether of societal mood and thought. Second, if the fix is in at Fb we have to seriously question whether or not features like “trending news” show trends or steer trends.

The plausibility of the report should at least give us pause. If Fb has tinkered with the trends what might that say about the incessant effort to keep Christianity “relevant”?

It’s not easy to buck the trend or to run against a headwind which is why on a host of issues–sexual ethics, racial reconciliation, biblical authority, etc–too many prominent Christians have assumed the role of ecclesiastical pioneer so as to lead the rest of us plodders into a new frontier. In the hope of saving Christianity from itself these brave souls run against doctrinal headwinds as they ride the cultural gusts. As one Dr. Zeitgeist has said:

Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go.

But what if the new winds blowing aren’t all-natural?

What if portions of that perfect storm have been generated by an industrial blower?

The ubiquity of social media has made it an essential tool in ministry today and a helpful, albeit imperfect, measure of issues that require a Christian response. We can and should use it responsibly.

But a word of caution is in order. If keeping up with trends is one of the conditions for maintaining your Christian witness, you’ll  look back one day and be shocked to discover that you were the tool all along.