Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2010 11:57 am
The Messenger, April 22, 2010
Worship as entertainment
By ARTHUR W. HUNT III
Special to The Messenger
As a young man attending Bible college, I once delivered a chapel message on the subject of preaching. Toward the end of the sermon I said, “So if the audience wants to be entertained, then entertain them!”
This, I believe, was the dumbest thing I ever said.
Almost 30 years have now passed, and not only has a great amount of water gone under the bridge, but what I said in my splendid youthful naivety seems to have actually been embraced by many churches as standard practice.
The Wall Street Journal reported a number of years ago the various methods churches were using to attract visitors. One church staged a wrestling match using church employees. Another church had its pastor conclude his sermon by “ascending into heaven” via invisible wires, surrounded by smoke, fire and a light show.
Theologian David F. Wells describes the changes taking place in our churches in this way: “Gone … are the familiar church buildings, and in their place are those that look more like low-slung corporate headquarters or country clubs. Inside, a cyclone of change has ripped out the crosses, the pews, the 18th-century hymns, the organs, the biblical discourses. In their place are contemporary songs, drums, cinema-grade seats, light discourses, professional singers, drama and humor.”
So, what happened? I really couldn’t say myself until I read a book in graduate school by Neil Postman titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” His thesis is relatively simple: Because the average amount of time a television camera stays on its subject is 3.5 seconds, this medium will always be a medium of entertainment.
For most of us, this is not new information. We know deep down television is mindless entertainment. However, it is the second part of Postman’s thesis that is so scary:
“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
Postman believed our most important cultural institutions — journalism, education, politics and religion — tend to embrace the values associated with the dominant communication medium of the day.
We make our technologies, and in turn our technologies make us. And this is what happened to our churches. Many of them are following the rules of the entertainment industry.
But the church cannot afford to become an adjunct of show business. Her message is too important. Heaven and hell are at stake.
“I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion,” said Postman. “When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”
Editor’s note: Arthur W. Hunt III is assistant professor of communications at the University of Tennessee at Martin and a member of Grace Community Church in Union City.