In the last year, I've preached, podcasted, and penned articles about the glories of Complementarian theology at home and at church, the necessity of holding the line on LGBTQ issues, the tragicomedy of transgenderism, the beauty of Calvinism, the dangers of Dispensationalism, and the inhumanity of abortion. In spite of the fact that the aforementioned topics are the verbal equivalent of Claymore mines, none of those things have been the most controversial thing I've said this year.
This is astonishing to me, but the single most argued about, eye-rolled-at, and disagreed-with thing I've publicly spoken about is Netflix. Yes, you read that right, Netflix. You know, the online TV and movie streaming platform with subscriber numbers in the 9-figures and a per-share price of $335.70 as I write this sentence.
Let me back up. Coming up on two years ago, my wife and I decided to delete our Netflix and replace virtually all TV/movie watching with reading and conversation. As she wrote about here, the results have been wonderful. Our marriage is better, we both read more widely and deeply, and we've thought and conversed about things we never would have considered. I think we both became more fully human.
So downstream from that, sometime in the last year, I encouraged my church to do the same, to delete Netflix, snip their cable, pawn their TVs, smash their Rokus, cancel HBO Go, and generally resolve not to spend their hours and minutes on those things any more. To be totally clear, I never have and never will teach justification by media abstinence. No, this was more like a shepherd who discovers a really good pasture and says to the sheep, "Follow me here. There's good grass and somebody hunted the wolves into extinction."
Well, today I want to double down on that recommendation, along with some exposition as to the reasons I believe wholeheartedly in the wisdom of living out this kind of cultural abnormality. Here are seven reasons you should delete your Netflix:
1. You're (probably) wasting (significant portions of) your life.
I promise not to say the word "seashells" in this paragraph, but think about it: If you watch an hour or two of TV six days a week—which is a very moderate consumption for the average American—you have just invested 300 to 600 hours of your life in one year on that habit. Listen, I'm not going to tell you that in that time you could single-handedly evangelize Tanzania or write the next great American novel, but you could talk to your wife more. You could play more baseball with your kids. You could read 20 or 30 more books that year. You could grill burgers with your unbaptized neighbors.
If the liturgy of your average day is shaped by waking, eating, commuting, working, commuting, eating, watching TV, then sleeping, you haven't left much room for authentically human conversations with your husband, wife, children, friends, and neighbors. There isn't much margin for reading. How will you cultivate good fruit at home if some of your best hours there are given to a virtually mindless and basically asocial activity? The time is short, and there are hundreds of better things to do—for the world and for your soul.
2. You're being catechized.
Catechism is a teaching method whereby students learn to respond to set questions with a specific answer. And what you need to know is that everybody everywhere at every waking hour is being catechized—no exceptions. Media, for example, is always doing this, always catechizing its consumers. So when you watch TV, you need to start with the assumption that it’s not a neutral medium; there’s no such thing. It’s trying to teach you specific answers to specific questions.
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: To glorify myself by enjoying myself forever.”
Q: What is the nature of man?
A: Man is essentially good, but can make bad decisions that are almost always entirely the fault of his circumstances and other outside pressures.
Q: What is marriage?
A: An antiquated system of family meant to oppress women, limit sexual expression, and support an unjust system of patriarchalism.
TV and media is constantly preaching some idea of why people exist and what people are, some pathway to happiness and fulfillment, some standard of law. It’s always bringing some substitute for Moses to the top of some Mount Sinai to receive some instruction to please some god—usually the god in the mirror.
3. Worse, most of this cultural catechesis is happening totally unconsciously.
It is impossible to avoid this kind of cultural catechesis; it's everywhere. So I'm not preaching bomb shelter Christianity. But one of the peculiar dangers of our patterns of media consumption is that we assume that we're entering a neutral delivery medium that merely dispenses entertainment. This is like walking down Normandy beach on the morning of June 6th, 1944 thinking you're just going to watch the sunrise—there are bullets flying and bombs falling!
The average media consumer isn't interacting with media on a mainly conscious, logical, sifting-through-the-worldview-claims sort of plane. No, through story and art and beauty and music, culture is sneaking its catechism past the watchful dragons and into your heart. It's a tragedy to be catechized by the demon gods of our age, but worse to be catechized without even knowing it's happening.
4. You have probably become numb to—and maybe even ok with—the extremities of evil.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes, “…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.” Instead of these things, many of the images and words we see and hear on TV are incredibly, graphically, pornographically evil, ugly, and damnable—portraying the glib destruction of divine image-bearers with a wink and a smile.
That’s not an overstatement, and I’m not just talking about Game of Thrones (although I am talking about that as well and you should stop watching it). What I’m saying is that going with the flow of culture on issues of beauty and justice and loveliness will land you in a swampland of the most despicable evils. Our standards are so lowered, our eyes so desensitized, that much of what would have shocked our spiritual grandparents doesn’t even register on the Richter scale of evil to our consciences.
We can watch simulated sex scenes and think they are ok so long as we don’t see a nipple. We can watch people glorying in the most obscene vanity and greed and not even blink. We can watch homosexual relationships and slowly come to view them as beautiful, good, and even begin to cheer for the characters as they succeed in them.
5. Because you’re lying to yourself about the nature of cultural relevance.
One of the biggest lies you probably believe is that you must watch these things to be culturally relevant and therefore effective in evangelism. You must be an expert in evil if you are to reach it. Nope. Paul is glassine in 1 Corinthians 14:20 that—even though he wouldn't have us be children in our thinking—we absolutely must be, “...infants in evil, but in [our] thinking be mature.”
Infants in evil. You don't need to be fluent in the language of the demonic to preach freedom to her captives. Reject such facile, self-excusing nonsense. When was the last time you shared the Gospel because of your encyclopedic knowledge of Parks and Recreation? That's what I thought. Don't get a second DVR if you want to reach the nations; get rid of your first.
6. Because I don't want you to be stupid.
There is such a thing as wisdom and folly, knowledge and stupidity. TV is not a good doorway to the more edifying of those options. Now, you might argue that you've actually learned much of what you know by watching TV. It’s how you stay up to date on the news, maybe, how you learn about cultural issues; maybe you watch educational programming.
Ok, granted. But there’s a fundamental reality that you have to understand and factor in when it comes to TV as a medium for communication: It is built on entertainment, not education. Inescapably so. I’d encourage you to read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, a prophetic book written in 1985 that really unveils the epistemological problems with TV as a means of communicating truth.
One example, then we’ll move on. Take the news. You focus on a story for an average of 45 seconds. At the end of it, you feel informed. But are you? I’d argue, and Postman would agree, that you are profoundly not informed. You have a set of facts that haven’t been submitted to any investigation or challenge. These facts are radically disintegrated from reality. They are not, in other words, hung into a framework that makes them usable. You can’t do anything about this information, but you walk away with the illusion of knowledge.
Further, the knowledge you've gained is extraordinarily shallow—10 minutes of direct sunlight and it will evaporate into the aether. Take the current issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. After watching a 45-second clip on this issue, could you explain anything about the roots of the Korean conflict? Its history? Possible solutions? Could you name one leader in North Korea apart from Kim Jong Un? Will this information be usable to you in any way today, tomorrow, or this week, other than to vaguely worry about it or argue with an equally uninformed coworker?
Books, not TV, are better at giving you this kind of richness and depth. Most professors or experts in a subject wouldn’t consider someone to even have an introductory knowledge of a topic until they had read 4 or 6 books from diverse voices on it and considered it—the work of 3 weeks, not 45 seconds.
7. Because your kids need to see you what wisdom looks like at the intersection of cultural norms and authentic faith.
Your kids need to see you thoughtfully engaging with culture, not unthinkingly embracing it. They need to see you forge family liturgies that are absolutely foreign to the liturgies they see outside your home. They need to see you rejecting certain patterns of the world, not simply receiving them as healthy and normative.
So even if you do decide to keep your TV, you must do the hard work of considering the manner in which you will use it. Will you set hard limits on time and content? How will you talk about the worldview issues with your kids and yourself? Where will you put the TV in your house? Will your living room look like a temple set up in worship of the screen, or will it live in a closet somewhere for special occasions?
Heed wisdom and live, says the preacher!