[I just started doing some thinking on the blog about entertainment culture, theology, and ministry. In my recent book TheoMedia, I have a “TheoMedia Note” (an aside or excursus) called “The Mediation of Sex and Violence.” Other than those few pages, I deal very little with entertainment media. So I am wanting to interact over it now in these posts.]

I mentioned earlier that the biblical stories and perhaps even some poems and songs certainly have an entertaining quality about them. So is there such a thing as “biblical entertainment”?

The Bible is indeed entertaining at times, but entertainment was not the goal of the biblical writers. Ultimately, they were seeking to engage their readers. This could come in the form of entertainment, of course. But the Bible does not stop with just entertaining us. It engages our intellect, our emotions, our sense of humor regardless of the entertainment value and seeks to upturn, overturn, unnerve, and ultimately redeem and recreate our lives.

The Bible is not bound to viewer ratings. It has no interest in the opinions of its reviewers. It is entirely dispassionate toward the literary critics.

The words of one literary critic are really helpful here. This is from Erich Auerbach’s comparison of biblical literature with the writings of the early Greek poets:

The Bible’s claim to truth is not only far more urgent than Homer’s, it is tyrannical—it excludes all other claims. The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality—it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy. All other scenes, issues, and ordinances have no right to appear independently of it, and it is promised that all of them, the history of all mankind, will be given their due place within its frame, will be subordinated to it. The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels. [1] (Emphases added)

That last line can be applied to a comparison between the Bible and the entertainment industry today. Media production often seeks “to court our favor,” to “flatter” our sensibilities. Scripture seeks to engage us and reconfigure our take on reality.

I do not think that entertainment, per se, is wrong. By no means. It is easy for Christians to bash the entertainment industry—we need to be much more nuanced.

But entertainment bound to profit margins needs to be held with some degree of suspicion. As in any industry, our entertainers must answer to the market dynamics of supply and demand. And what do we demand? A lot of things that are not that good for our souls.

Scripture, on the other hand, does not seek an audience or a market niche by suiting the fancies of its consumer base. It needs no survey for detecting trends in demand. Even so, it makes the attempt to engage us full on, arrest our senses, and alter our lives.

NEXT: what preachers can learn about their craft from the new era of TV…

[1] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Trans. by Willard R. Trask; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953), 14–15.

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