Have you noticed just how many different forms of media can consume our waking hours? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, Hulu, Regular TV, Pandora, Apple Music, Youtube, Movies, Music, Magazines, Books, Radio, Podcasts, Newspapers (whew!)—not to mention the endless stream of options available when you jump on the internet. And that is just a fraction of the ways media can possibly intersect with us on a daily basis!
The Challenge of Mass Media
The media’s reach is extensive and has a powerful impact on influencing popular thinking with worldly wisdom. Maxwell McCombs in his book, Setting the Agenda: The Mass Media and Public Opinion, notes: “The mass media are teachers whose principal strategy of communication is redundancy.” By exposing people to the same idea over and over and over again, what once was shocking or sinful becomes commonplace. What once skirted the margins or mocked a biblical worldview becomes mainstream.
Consider the topic of sexuality. While different forms of media have unquestionably simply reflected already shifting perspectives on sexuality over the last few decades, media has also played a role in swaying perspectives. Biblical sexuality—the idea of one man and one woman joining in an exclusive, life-long union of marriage and the idea that marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual intimacy—is the shocking concept in our culture today. What the Bible calls sin in regards to sexuality (sex outside of marriage, 1 Thessalonians. 4:3; adultery, Exodus 20:14; lust, Matt. 5:27-28; homosexuality, Rom. 1:27) is now often portrayed as normal by pop culture.
The Call Against Conformity
Even back in the first century before mass media ever stepped onto the stage of history, the Apostle Paul warned believers about being and influenced and captivated by worldly culture. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul encouraged believers not to be conformed to the world. One paraphrase of Romans 12:2 paints a vivid picture of Paul’s warning:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (Romans 12:2, The Message paraphrase).
Worldly wisdom will drag us down to its level of sinfulness, and believers must be alert so that we don’t become so well adjusted to the sinful elements of contemporary culture that we fit in without giving it a second thought. Some indications that we may be in danger of this very thing would be if the hosts on television shows like The View or Dr. Phil or Oprah hold more sway in how we approach life than God. Or, if popular magazines define our standards of beauty rather than God’s unchanging standards. Or, if movies, novels, or hit TV shows determine how we view sexuality rather than God’s Word.
Ultimately the question for believers is whether or not we look to Christ or culture—the world or the Word—to form our ideas about how to live life. If worldly wisdom is a rival to God’s Word in our life, it means it is battling for superiority. Here’s the problem with that—worldly wisdom is constantly changing and is foolishness before God (1 Corinthians 3:19a). What a poor substitute it is for the wisdom of the Creator of the world! God’s standards are unchanging; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). While the things of this earth will fade and pass away, the Word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).
The T.D.D. Test – Transform, Define, Direct
One simple way I check to make sure that I am not slipping into worldly ways in my own life is to run through what I call the T.D.D. Test:
- Transform – Am I spending time in God’s Word, allowing it to transform me? The way to combat worldly thinking is by knowing what God says. A sure warning sign in my own life that I may be in danger of culture conformity is that I have stopped spending time learning what God says to me about how to live life.
- Define – Does the Word of God define my beliefs? For any belief I have (how I think), I ask myself if that belief is grounded in God’s thinking. For example, if I were to define my approach to sex by worldly wisdom, I may believe it is okay to sleep with anyone I want despite the fact I am single. However, that belief fails the “define” test because that thought isn’t found in the Bible. In fact, it is condemned in the Bible.
- Direct – Does the Word of God direct my behavior? For my behaviors (how I act), the Word of God must direct me. The Bible tells me what to pursue and what to avoid, how to act and react. When I look at how I am living, I want to make sure that God’s Word sets my path.
The T.D.D. Test is a way “to check under the hood” of our lives to see if we are allowing God’s Word to transform how we think and how we act. With the amount of worldly wisdom that floods our waking moments through different forms of media, each of us needs to be on guard against ungodly influences. Holding up our thoughts and behaviors to the light of the Word of God can help diagnose whether or not worldly thinking has crept into our lives. Remember, God’s desire is that we would live life in such a way that people would see a difference in us and want to know about Him (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15).
Candi Finch is Assistant Professor of Theology in Women's Studies, Dorothy Kelley Patterson Chair of Women’s Studies, and Executive Assistant to the First Lady at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Maxwell McCombs, Setting the Agenda: The Mass Media and Public Opinion (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 2004), 47.