If you’re anything like me, you may spend your evenings flipping through the channels, scrolling through Netflix and Hulu, and consuming hours of television. It seems that a new streaming service pops up each day, offering an abundance of content to explore. There are crime dramas, cooking competitions, reality series about dog grooming and falling in love, and everything in between. With so much content aimed at a secular audience, you might be asking the question: what can I, a Christian, watch on TV? Am I limited to Christian shows? What about shows with profanity, sex, or violence? Those are all important and valid questions to ask. At Think Christian, we tackle questions like these. We know that not all popular culture is created with faith in mind, but we believe it is important to keep faith in mind when engaging with it.
So, you may be wondering if you can watch a particular show or series like Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, or The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (this writer’s guilty pleasure). Well, TC isn’t here to give an all-affirming thumbs up or down on any particular TV show because we value the individuality and complexity of the discernment process. However, we do believe that it’s not necessarily what you watch, but how you engage with it.
As Christians, we have a particular worldview that emcompasses our beliefs about our Creator God, the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, and our ultimate redemption and participation in God’s restoration. These core values dictate how we view the world and make sense of what’s happening around us, and it’s no different for pop culture. While most mainstream television shows are not made with this Christian worldview in mind, we can watch them through that lens.
Look for love
One of the key foundations in Christianity is love. We are called to love God and to love our neighbors. While watching television shows, we can look for love. We can watch for characters treating each other well, providing acts of service for one another, and modeling good values. We see love as a gift from God; 1 John 4:19 tells us: “We love because he first loved us.” While you watch your favorite shows, think about these questions: how is love being portrayed? Where do you see goodness in this show? How do characters demonstrate the quality of loving their neighbors? Who is in need of God’s redeeming love?
Recognize the bad
We know there is darkness in the world. Each of us struggles with sin. We grapple with the people and events that promote hate and demonstrate the fallenness of our world. We see this in television shows as well. Media is a reflection of our society. Sometimes we use it as a tool of escapism, but often, it parallels the happenings of our world in an attempt to help us make sense of it all. Shows that contain violence often reflect violence in the real world—we regularly see “based on true events” at the beginning of a program.
We also recognize that violence is prevalent throughout the Bible too. In her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, theologian Rachel Held Evans wrote: “[t]here are parts of the Bible that inspire, parts that perplex, and parts that leave you with an open wound. I'm still wrestling, and like Jacob, I will wrestle until I am blessed. God hasn't let go of me yet.” While we’re watching television shows that are dark, or violent, or contain explicit sexual content, we can take Evans’s advice and wrestle. God wants us to ask questions, to engage with hard topics, and to consider how the good news of the gospel offers an answer to the groaning of creation. At times, TV may contradict our worldview so profoundly that we may be called to speak the truth in love. Television shows help us recognize the complexity of the human condition and experience.
Search for redemption
You may have heard the term “Christ figure” or “Christ-Image” before. This literary device draws parallels between a hero or heroine of a story and Jesus Christ, utilizing themes like redemption, justice, and kindness. Christ figures are prevalent throughout pop culture—think the Doctor in Doctor Who, or Spock in Star Trek. We can watch television shows and recognize this device at play. But the redemption arc isn’t limited to Christ figures alone. We can see redemption in many different ways in television shows. We can watch characters grow and change over seasons, overcoming difficulties and obstacles to find joy and fulfillment. We can see hope restored and faith in humanity reestablished. Look for these themes in your favorite shows, and recognize the moments of joy when the battle has been won.
Television offers us a unique opportunity to follow the same characters over many seasons, watching them develop in a way that films just can’t give us. Television embodies the growing process of our own lives, recognizing the ways that we shift and change over time. Television shows can challenge us, comfort us, and leave us with questions. Sound familiar? The Bible does that, too. Television shows can echo the gospel in that they are a reflection of our life and our growing with God. They can also explore and mirror a world in deep need of Christ’s transforming love. Whatever the plot, the context, or the story, we as believers in Christ can engage the television we watch through our Christian worldview.