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“Here we are now! Entertain us!” When Kurt Cobain mumble-screamed these lyrics during the recording of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, he may not have known that he was stating the motto of an entire culture. If he did not know this at the time, it probably became clearer when the album went on to sell more than thirty million copies worldwide and the song itself became an anthem for an entire generation of bored and cynical young people.

When I say that these lyrics are the motto of an entire culture, I mean that we live in the midst of a culture that demands constant entertainment, constant diversion. It is the world in which we as Christians live. Given this reality, are there any dangers of which we must be aware if we are to be faithful followers of Christ—in the world but not of it?

Other articles in this issue of Tabletalk point out that we must be careful to avoid legalistic blanket condemnations. There is no chapter and verse in the Bible telling us whether we are permitted as Christians to play checkers, attend a symphony, watch a baseball game, or play Madden NFL 17 on the Xbox or PlayStation. There is nothing in the law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, or the New Testament that lists the dangers of the specific forms of entertainment we encounter on a daily basis in the twenty-first century. Neither Moses nor Jesus said anything about Pokémon Go. (Don’t believe me? Go look.) When considering the dangers of entertainment, therefore, we must use wisdom. This means that we must understand some basic biblical principles and learn how to apply them to issues not specifically addressed in Scripture.

There are numerous passages of Scripture that provide us with some broad principles that we can consider as we think about the potential dangers associated with entertainment. One of the most basic of these principles is found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). “Whatever you do” includes entertainment. The well-known first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism express this same basic principle in a memorable way: “Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” One of the first questions we must honestly ask about any potential form of entertainment is whether we can enjoy it to the glory of God.

The most serious danger posed by forms of entertainment is the possibility of our allowing them to become idols in our lives.

Paul also provides us with a second fundamental principle in 1 Corinthians 8 when he urges us not to do anything that we know will cause a brother or sister to stumble (vv. 7–13). There are activities that, while not sinful in and of themselves, can become sinful if we engage in them in a way that does not demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Love of God and love of neighbor must take priority over love of entertainment. This means that a second question we must ask is whether engaging in a particular form of entertainment is going to cause a brother or sister to stumble.

If we keep these two basic principles in mind, a number of questions are answered before they are asked. If a form of entertainment is defined as sin by Scripture, obviously, we cannot engage in it to the glory of God. Sexual sins, for example, are not glorifying to God whether we are engaged in them ourselves or watching or reading them in the form of pornography. To engage in such sins as a form of “entertainment” displays a lack of love for both God and other people.

Love for God and love for neighbor provide two broad and general principles that allow us to see major danger zones. Are there, however, any specific dangers of which we should be aware? In general, it is good to know if you are traveling through an area where dangerous creatures exist. It is also good to know more specifically that there is a rattlesnake behind the log you are about to step over. In order to be prepared to navigate this terrain, let us look at four specific dangers associated with entertainment.

the danger of idolatry

The most serious danger posed by the various forms of entertainment is the possibility of our allowing them to become idols in our lives. Our chief end is to glorify God. When any form of entertainment becomes the chief end in our life, it becomes an idol. Our culture idolizes entertainers. (We even had a television show called American Idol.) We idolize sports teams and players. We idolize our favorite movie stars and musicians. There are many professing Christians who can tell you more about their favorite baseball, football, or basketball teams than they can about the Bible or basic Christian theology. Idolizing our favorite form of entertainment, whatever it might be, is a serious danger against which we must guard.

the danger of worldliness

Another serious danger associated with many forms of entertainment is the danger of worldliness. James tells us: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). As Christians, we have to be aware that much of what is produced in order to entertain us is produced by people with worldviews that are antithetical to Christianity.

Furthermore, those who produce it want to instill their values, and thus far they have been very successful in doing so. Much of what is produced for viewing on television and in the movies and much of what is produced lyrically in popular forms of music is clearly depraved. Every form of God-hating thought and behavior, from blasphemy to sexual perversion, is glorified, and we as Christians watch or listen to it hour after hour after hour. And then we wonder why there is so little discernible difference between the thinking and behavior of Christians and non-Christians.

We have not only allowed the entertainment industry to take our thoughts captive, we have paid them to do it. Instead of paying those who hate God to shape our minds, we need to ponder the words of David: “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Ps. 101:2–3). We also need to meditate on these words of Paul: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the things we set before our eyes (and ears) true and pure and worthy of praise? Or are they worthless?

the danger of worship as entertainment

In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman explored the ways in which television has affected everything from politics to education, from journalism to worship. A shift from a word-based culture to an image-based culture has turned everything into entertainment. Sadly, we have witnessed the consequences of the constant demand for entertainment in the way many churches have tried to make worship conform to this shift. This has resulted in the exchange of God-centered worship for man-centered worship. The danger here is real. Not every church has taken it to the extreme of having the clergy and laity dress up as clowns for the observance of the Lord’s Supper (some actually have done this), but many churches have at times capitulated to the demand for entertainment in other ways, and everything from the prayers and music to the sacraments and sermons has been affected. Some worship services have more in common with Broadway shows or rock concerts than they do with anything found in Scripture.

If our worship is biblical, however, it is not to be man-centered but God-centered. Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 KJV). This cannot occur if the primary concern is amusing those whose brain cells and attention spans have been annihilated by a steady diet of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. When we attempt to make worship amusing or entertaining, we are showing the entire world that our God is not to be taken seriously. That is either blasphemy or something very close to it.

the danger of distraction

A fourth danger associated with entertainment is the way it can harmfully impact other areas of our lives. Our demand for incessant entertainment can easily distract us from more important things. Have you ever been in the middle of worship and found yourself playing a game on your smartphone? Have you ever been a student who has failed an important assignment or missed a class because you and your friends stayed up until 4 a.m. playing Halo rather than studying or sleeping? Have you ever been an employee who has been reprimanded by your boss or fired from a job because you were checking sports stats on your fantasy football team rather than doing your job? It is a real danger.

As Christians, we are permitted to enjoy the good gifts of God, even the good musical, storytelling, and athletic gifts He has given to others, but these good gifts are not the greatest gift and must never become our chief end in life. If we are to be faithful and wise followers of Jesus Christ, we must constantly be on guard against the ways in which the enemies of Christ (the world, the flesh, and the devil) seek to cause us harm.

The Gift of Entertainment

Glorifying God and Engaging Entertainment

Keep Reading Entertainment

From the July 2017 Issue
Jul 2017 Issue