It was twenty years ago this month that my kids had just about had enough. We had hunkered down together in the family room to watch Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s halftime show during the 2004 Super Bowl. As a culture watcher who had trained thousands of youth workers and kids to exercise media discernment using CPYU’s How To Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide To Making Wise Media Choices, I was once again making sure that I was teaching my own four kids those same skills. I wanted them to learn how to filter everything they would see and hear in life through the framework of a biblical world-and-life-view. I wanted them to manage their media rather than having their media manage them. I wanted to see them adopt a posture of mindful critique as opposed to a posture of mindless consumption.
As we sat and watched the 11-minute performance, I put on my media critic hat, which had me voicing things like “Did you see that?” and “Do you know what she is teaching you there?” and “Are you paying attention to what’s happening on the stage?” One of my kids eventually voiced the frustration of them all, “Dad! Can we just watch the halftime show?!?”
Truth be told, my kids got used to it. I always told them what I would tell youth workers and students when we’d be practicing skills in media discernment: “This is going to ‘ruin’ everything for you! You won’t be able to turn off your mind as you get in the habit of thinking Christianly about everything you see and hear in life.” That’s held true for me, and my mind has been in high gear ever since last Sunday’s Super Bowl. One thing that’s different about the big game these two decades later, is the way that everyone else is “thinking” about things on social media. I wonder how long it will all be trending?
The reality is that it “wasn’t just a game.” And, it’s never “just a song,” never “just a commercial”, and never “just a movie”, and he/she is never “just an entertainer.” As we say in our 3(D) Guide, “All popular media expresses and teaches a worldview by representing life in this world. What it boils down to is this – every song, every film, every artist, every video, every TV show, every game, every advertisement, every website, etc. communicates something to us about what to believe and how to live in this world. If you get in the habit of looking for the worldview, you’ll find it!” Like it or not, culture is catechizing our kids 24/7. Most of the time, the role models and their messages all add up to undermine our human flourishing by pointing us away from following Jesus Christ, into following the world, the flesh, and the devil.
For example, one name that I saw trending on Twitter this morning was “Kelce.” Not at all surprising! As I quickly scrolled through his feed I learned more about how the life he’s living could be influencing those who follow. I found a post from August that read, “#ChiefsKingdom and @budlight are what Sundays were made for.” Okay. . . there is a worldview message there. Do we look away? Or do we offer a corrective when we have the opportunity to impress Truth on our kids?
What I’ve been thinking about most over the last few days is “discernment.” Sure, there are those in our culture who have never had the opportunity to know about biblical discernment, and who consequently haven’t embraced it. Their own sense of good, bad, truth, and error are based on some other authority. . . increasingly the authority of one’s self. What is most concerning is the mounting lack of discernment among professing followers of Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be discerning? I find one of the greatest examples of how things should be in the life of the Apostle Paul. He wrote to the Philippians, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).Perhaps it’s easiest for me to share what I wrote about Acts 17:16 in my book, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture. . . .
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (v. 16)
With time on his hands, Paul embarks on a tour of this cultural center and immediately sees “a veritable forest of idols.” Pagan temples, statues, pillars and many phallic monuments were indicative of the city’s immorality. His senses are bombarded with things of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Before examining how Paul responds to what he encounters, note what Paul does not do. First, there is no indication that his presence in this polytheistic culture compromises his holiness. Being in the presence of idols doesn’t mean that he has worshiped them. It doesn’t mean that he has adopted the philosophies and ideas of the Athenians. He is in but not of the Athenian culture. Paul knows this is where he belongs as Christ’s ambassador to the Gentiles. He doesn’t have a bunker mentality. Instead, his faith in Christ and his holiness demand his sustained presence in Athens.
Second, Paul isn’t indifferent to the rampant idolatry he sees. Michael Green notes: “At once we notice how different he is from us. We are surrounded by various forms of idolatry—worship of fame, sex, money, power, and it does not bother us. We have lost the ability to care. Our forefathers were moved to tears by the thought of people dying without Christ. This concern fueled the worldwide missionary movement. But today in this pluralist society we do not feel it matters very much whether people become Christians or not.”
Luke tells us that Paul is “greatly distressed” by the idolatry he encounters. It’s an uncontrollable reaction that flows out of his deep love for Christ and compassion for the lost. The verb used here, paroxyno, indicates Paul is experiencing a paroxysm as he becomes deeply and emotionally concerned while feeling both anger and grief over the idolatry of the Athenians. This is the same verb used in the Greek Septuagint to describe God’s response to idolatry. Paul feels the same grief God felt over Israel’s idolatry. John Stott says that Paul’s distress is due “to his abhorrence of idolatry, which aroused within him deep stirrings of jealousy for the Name of God, as he saw human beings so depraved as to be giving to idols the honor and glory which were due to the one, living and true God alone.” As a result, Paul must speak up.
Are we paying attention? Are we feeling “greatly distressed?” Are we teaching our kids to look around at their world and see things as God sees them? These are crucial times for our youth ministry and parenting. We have to get this right.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts, Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 277.
Michael Green, Thirty Years That Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 106-7.
Stott, Message of Acts, p. 279.