Thursday, June 25, 2009

Piper on TV and movies

If you have listened to John Piper over the years, you might have picked up that he does not own a television. In a panel interview a couple of weeks ago at Advance09, he was asked about this very subject. There was a small misunderstanding in the asking of the question, but the one thing Piper said was that he is not suggesting that everyone needs to do as he does in this regard.

Today, he wrote a follow-up article at Desiring God on this subject. He provides a few helpful explanations about why he does not own a TV and does not watch many movies. A popular thought of the day says that Christians and pastors should see tons of movies in order to be relevant to the culture. Here's one paragraph of Piper's response to that:
"I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies."
Though I practically differ somewhat from him with how much entertainment I take in, I still think his point is extremely valid. I should definitely be cautious about what and how much entertainment I take in. Because, if I'm honest, I believe my senses are often dulled by this exposure, making me less likely to enjoy Christ to the degree that I want to.

I would also say this same thing concerning Piper's thoughts on television:
"...It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ.

One more smaller concern with TV (besides its addictive tendencies, trivialization of life, and deadening effects): It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me; it’s a cliff I walk beside every day with trembling.

TV consumes more and more time for those who get used to watching it. You start to feel like it belongs. You wonder how you could get along without it. I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television. So we have never had a TV in 40 years of marriage (except in Germany, to help learn the language). I don’t regret it."
In the article, he also has some helpful advice on the danger of viewing nudity in films, so really you should just read the whole thing


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. hmmmm. . . i will have to read the whole article, but it seems pretty clear to me that he is assuming that messages through a modern medium are inferior to those that have a little longer history.

    i know piper is an armchair poet. in order to DO poetry, you have to take IN poetry. you have to learn the forms and stories in order to replicate the process. there is plenty of difficult stuff within worthwhile poetry. there is plenty of nudity on the roof of the sistine chapel (well there used to be, anyway).
    shakespeare is (in my opinion) just as vile as desperate housewives.

    to be sure art and entertainment are closely linked concepts, however my assertion would be that they are vastly different in their aims and outcomes. art might be entertaining and there can be an art to how you entertain someone, but they are different.

    the question is not whether or not to own a tv or ever see movies. the question is when is it mind-stimulating art, and when is it mind-numbing entertainment? as a believer who seeks to create art, there is just no escaping difficult situations. but i know plenty of accountants, salesman, financial planners, teachers and it salesman and in their spheres as well, there's just no escaping difficult situations. the difficulties are just different.

    the difficulties were slightly different when it was only a book with a sleazy scene. the difficulties were slightly different when it was just oral history with a risque moment. let's not fool ourselves into believing that television/movies invented immorality.

    you have to take in the art to understand the people. that goes even for our own city/state/country. there is no separation. people say in art what they cannot articulate in conversation.

    loving the guy down the street means that we have things to discuss (movies, music, sports whatever). loving the coworker means that we share a good laugh because we love the same comedian. loving your barista means that you might discuss fiction or philosophy together.

    it's sloppy. you're going to screw up. there are no hard and fast rules for what to see/hear or not other than: you can't hide. jesus does not give you that option.

    last thought is that reading piper talk about productivity and time is sort of like watching john adams do diplomacy. you watched the series right? adams bursts into versailles making demands because there's no time to lose and he gets ignored and shipped out. franklin builds relationships and wins the very demands adams had wanted. productivity, especially in terms of ministry and reaching the lost is a very difficult thing to measure.

    i hope piper continues to lift jesus high, just hope he learns not to villify technological advances in the transmission of art soon. he doesn't have that much more time after all. . . ;)

  3. Chris H.7:25 PM


    Thanks for the thoughts. I echo your hesitance to summarily malign television/movies. Also, I agree that the pressing question should not be "whether or not to own a tv or ever see movies." My reading of the article, however, convinces me that Piper was pointing to something much more central. To him, the uppermost question (which I think your post presupposed) is "when is art/entertainment damaging to my soul."

    Drawing from 2 Cor. 3:18, Piper concludes that "[a]ll Christ-exalting transformation comes from 'beholding the glory of Christ.'" Thus, if something veils, diminishes or dulls our sensitivity to Christ's glory, it cuts against transformation. So before we even approach the significant questions of "when is [art] mind-stimulating art" and "when is [entertainment] mind-numbing entertainment," we must first ask whether "taking it in" could destroy or disrupt our joy and peace in Christ. Obviously, we answer this question guided by Scripture, prayer, contemplation, etc.

    But if the price of being "culturally relevant" is that our souls suffer (a result which has a ripple effect beyond ourselves), we have made an idol out of cultural relevance. Let's use your laudable example of loving a coworker by sharing a laugh over a mutually-admired comedian. What if, for instance, we are laughing at a comedy routine that contains sexually-explicit comments? Clearly, we are not experiencing Christ-exalting transformation under these circumstances. Moreover, are we really loving that coworker by validating something that contradicts the glory of Christ, which the coworker ultimately must see in order to be rescued and transformed (2 Cor. 4:4)?

    Viewing the issue differently, I also think Piper has little time to consume television and movies. Beyond his roles as pastor, husband and father, he is a prolific writer (books, articles, blogs, tweets) and speaker (conferences, special speaking engagements). I, along with perhaps a million others, have experienced the benefits of Piper's decision to curb his television/movie intake. Using another example, consider the incalculable impact of Jonathan Edwards' ferocity to redeem the time and immerse himself in studying and meditating on Scripture. Modern evangelicalism is indebted to Edwards for the God-entranced worldview that he so compellingly expressed and advanced in his writings. Sure, Edwards' work ethic cost him some leisure. But I doubt Edwards regrets it at this moment.

    As to your historical reference, I think we all could use a dose of Franklin's disarming, winsome persona. Nonetheless, I can't help but relate with Adams, who acted out of sense of urgency. Faced with the reality that we are engaged in a war for our souls (1 Pet. 1:11) and that our adversary seeks to destroy us and those whom we love (1 Pet. 5:8), we must, in addition to anchoring our ultimate confidence in the immeasurable, unchanging, conquering grace of Christ, be sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). And by closely guarding our joy and peace in Christ (which can only be accomplished through his grace), we will, in turn, project a clearer picture of Christ to the "guy down the street," the "coworker," and the "barista." After all, they may have less time than Piper.

    Before ending, I want to pay tribute to individuals such as yourself and Whitney Wood, who use their obvious talents to courageously engage culture through the arts. I can't comprehend the fringes of God's sovereign, glorious design in making his name known through your efforts.

  4. Here are my thoughts from jiffy lube in my iPhone. Haha Culturally relevant is actually a much dirtier word than I have heard any comedian use. The relevance question is in the same category as Piper's movie/tv question for me. It's just the wrong question to be asking. The question is not relevance vs Gods glory (or some balance to be struck between the two). The issue at hand is HOW do you watch/hear/observe what your culture serves up? If you are simply looking for entertainment then I promise that no matter how safe for the whole family it seems, it will dull your mind and spirit and your ability to see Jesus. Entertainment is a primarily capitalistic notion. You entertain to please people, to make money or even survive.
    Art, on the other hand has a purpose beyond making you happy so that you'll fork over money. Often that purpose is to offend and I actually think that's healthy. Strikes me as similar to what Jesus might have done. Some of the most "offensive" works of art have been some of the most brilliant, in my opinion. I think that there is a redemptive way (or time) to use cursing explicit language etc. I am absolutely interested in seeing movies that use these devices in such ways. Even when I unequivocally disagree with the artists worldview or view point, I find this most helpful. I think No Country For Old Men was nihilistic but I see echos of the gospel even in an imaginary world created without hope. I should probably stay away from big summer blockbusters with boobs for no reason, but the nudity at the end of Babel is heartbreaking, artful and has nothing to do with lustful desire. And even comedians can be explicit in a way that makes you think even as you laugh. Most people that I know that don't know Jesus need to know that I am a person with a pulse not just a robot constantly stressing about doing it right. They need to know that I laugh when something is funny cry when it's sad and drink beer on Fridays AND that I love them. They don't need to know every scruple I have. So again I think it's the wrong question to be asking. We should teach people HOW to identify artistic expression so that they can appreciate AND critique it. People are always dogging me because I ALWAYS dislike something about a movie, but I have to see it to have an opinion. Instead we tell people what movie not to watch and they never learn to think for themselves. I think we are close to the same page on this. I just think Piper uses particularly strong language in this area where he is not an expert. His advice is tailor made for the ex college ministry student turned businessman. There seems to be no consideration that believers are and should be in every walk of life. Teach me how to think not what to think. Ok I am on my iPhone and this is getting hard! Haha love your thoughts though man! See ya soon!