I grew up in a church context where music and movies were the enemy and the mantra that was used to remind me of their threat seemed simple and harmless.
Garbage in, garbage out.
The idea was that people are like computers. Whatever you put into a computer is what eventually comes out of the computer. The conclusion was that if I listen to or watch what the rest of the world was consuming, garbage would come out of me.
Garbage in, garbage out was the basis of many sermons that I heard growing up. Unfortunately, garbage in, garbage out is the opposite of what Jesus taught.
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mark 7:14-15 ESV)
Garbage in, garbage out implies that I’m a pretty good person and that I’d be even better if it wasn’t for Kanye West. Or Waylon Jennings. Or any other boogeyman.
But Jesus doesn’t let us off that easy. Instead, he confronts us beneath the surface to the real root of the problem – the heart.
It’s interesting that garbage in, garbage out is almost exclusively directed towards music. A while back I read an article by a pastor who was criticizing gospel rap music. The basic point of his critique was that rap music was beyond redemption. No matter what the message was, the means had already been so corrupted that it should be off limits for all Christians. And hardly no one failed to notice that this pastor expressed his critiques on the Internet. You know the Internet right? The vehicle that, almost right after it went public, began distributing pornography to people all over the world.
I have yet to hear someone use the garbage in, garbage out argument to tell me that I shouldn’t watch The Andy Griffith Show. But wouldn’t that make sense? After all, The Andy Griffith Show isn’t a Christian show. And yet, a simple love song from Paul McCartney or Adele is off limits. I think I smell a contradiction.
As I write this, I’m listening to Mos Def rapping about his childhood.
Grey heavens! Good grief!
Bright gold on they teeth!
The windows on the Ave look like sad eyes
They fix their sharp gaze on you when you pass by
And if you dare to stand, you can see ’em cry
Every time I hear that song it makes me think about the families we minister to in our local housing authority and how they need the gospel.
The other night during dinner I listened to the song Belief by John Mayer.
Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water
You never can hit who you’re trying for
I take that to mean that your personal beliefs are okay just as long as you keep them to yourself. I disagree. But hearing those words reminds me of the basic worldview of people I hope to reach, people who have given up on any kind of faith in Jesus Christ.
Mos Def and John Mayer aren’t Christians and that’s my point. Listening to some of their music gets me thinking vertically. It shows me what I’m dealing with as I try to lead our church to reach the lost. Their talent helps me to appreciate a majestic God who is the source of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).
You can lock yourself away from all the music and movies you want but you will still have to deal with your own sick heart. Sure, there are things we can consume that fuel that sickness and that’s where discernment comes in but as Christians, we are more than consumers. We are missionaries. Paul displays a perfect example of this kind of missional discernment in Acts 17 when he uses pagan artists as connecting points with unbelievers.
Last night at my son’s soccer practice I got to spend a lot of time talking to two other dads. Our point of connection was rooted in paganism. Sports. We talked about the time Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan. We talked about Terrell Owens. We talked about pagans. I was thankful that I hadn’t limited myself to only watching Christian athletes in Christian games sponsored by Christian organizations.
“This timeout is brought to you by Test-a-mints. Test-a-mints: Keep the word on your tongue!”
As Christians, we can do better than blanket rejections of things that aren’t expressly forbidden by Scripture. Sure, some believers prefer to listen to only Christian music, watch only Christian movies and read only Christian books and that is perfectly acceptable. Those of us who do not maintain those standards should be careful to respect their boundaries when we are in their company (1 Corinthians 8:12-13) and those who take a more separatist approach must be careful that they are not adding to the gospel or forcing personal convictions on others (Matthew 23).
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
(John 17:15 ESV)