This week I was going to write a post about Washington Irving’s famous tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I had planned an elaborate metaphor about how the headless horseman is representative of the modern evangelical church which has severed its body from the head of Christ, casting aside His lordship in favor of a phantasmal rampage─nothing more than an illusion in mist, a gruesome distortion of what it should be─as it tramples both body and spirit in its wake. But it’s more important to be sincere than clever, and this week my focus has not been on the general state of the wayward church, but on our culture as a whole.

In the course of the last week, we’ve had several discussions here at Bone of Bones and within our larger church community about entertainment, particularly what a Christian response should be to depictions of violence in movies and on television. While this post is not about that issue directly, it led me to thinking about how Christians engage with culture. My concern is that we have made a practice of entertaining ourselves as the world does: passively…in truth, brainlessly.

We rightly understand the need to guard children from explicit content in entertainment, understanding how moldable little minds can be. Yet when we consider our own participation, we think ourselves immune to the effects of the silver screen. As adults we believe we can be entertained without being affected. We feign neutrality as we sit, catatonic, in the glow of our devices. Sometimes you just need a break from reality, we say, as we power down our minds and open our eyes. Nothing like a little brainwashing before bedtime.

All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

It’s often said that hypnosis requires a willing participant. Brainwashing is not so choosy. We are deeply affected by the assumptions of our surrounding culture whether we realize it or not. (Especially, I would argue, when we don’t even recognize it’s happening.) It is this passivity that is so dangerous. To combat cultural indoctrination requires not just the refusal to hand over the conscious mind, but a commitment to discern what is being seen, read, or heard in the light of God’s revealed truth. Discernment is not passive. It is an active skill that must be honed in the life of the mature believer so that he or she is constantly making distinctions between what is good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2, NIV

As Christians, we should be wary of entertaining ourselves with the things of this world. Everything we do should be for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). From that perspective, we have an obligation to examine the music, movies, and literature we consume, measuring it against the Word of God. It is spiritually lazy to disengage our brains in the pursuit of entertainment for its own sake. Instead, let us be shrewd as serpents as we evaluate the modern onslaught of images (Matthew 10:16). We should make a practice of judging societal mores through the lens of a Christian worldview, not a habit of indifferently absorbing the whims of pop culture.

What our eyes linger on, our hearts will learn to love. What our hearts love, our eyes will linger on. When by supernatural grace Christ becomes the highest prize in our life, then he becomes the supreme focus of our attention. 

Tony Reinke, Desiring God

I am not advocating for cultural abstinence. Stories are powerful tools, and like any tool they can be used for good or ill. The answer to engaging with culture is not to buttress ourselves like monks in the confinement of an abbey (for we seek to flee sin not temptation), nor is it to dive headlong into the practices of the world in the name of Christian liberty (Galatians 5:13). We are neither antinomians nor fundamentalists, but are called to employ discernment.

So let us not sacrifice our heads in the name of recreation, for few things are more frightening than allowing our flesh to roam rampant. Just ask Ichabod Crane; he learned firsthand the terror and destruction of the mindless man.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8, NIV
Until next time, salutations & selah.

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