Christian Soap Opera

A startling video review recently appeared in Time magazine. "Provocative images fill the TV screen," the review read. "Over a driving, syncopated rock beat, a woman's voice—urgent, seductive—tells a story of possession and salvation." No, this is not a new Madonna video. It's a contemporary version of a Bible story, in which Jesus casts out the demons called Legion. The video's goal is admirable: It's trying to reach out to young people raised on MTV. But the almost surrealistic style of the video is so vivid it practically drowns out the biblical message. As the Time review put it, the "message is overwhelmed by the medium." I've seen the video, and I must say I agree. And if even a secular reviewer senses a discrepancy, maybe it's time for Christians to think hard about how we communicate biblical truth. Sometimes the medium sends a message of its own—one that speaks louder than the words we attach to it. Christians often simply imitate the culture around us. We wash out any objectionable content but keep the same format. So today we have Christian theme parks, Christian exercise videos, Christian rock bands, and Christian rappers. We're rapidly creating a parallel culture, different in content but identical in style. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Martin Luther borrowed tunes from drinking songs for hymns. But in his book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Ken Myers says some styles may have an effect all their own, which comes through regardless of any Christian message attached. For example, not long ago a Christian broadcasting company experimented with a Christian soap opera. It had the standard soap opera style of acting, the same melodramatic music. The only difference was that at some point the main characters got saved. But until then, they were just as decadent as any secular soap opera character. A clear case, Myers says, of the Christian message being reduced to a thin veneer, while the real tone was set by the soap opera format. The problem is that soap opera as a genre is inherently contrary to Christian values. As Myers puts it, soaps are "the dramatic equivalent of gossip." They arouse the same prying curiosity that gossip arouses—regardless of any Christian message we might tack on. Like soap opera, some styles of music or film or fashion may be inherently contrary to Christian values. That's because many forms of popular culture were developed expressly as a rebellion against traditional culture. Its founders were after something that was not classical art or music, not folk crafts or folk songs, but a new kind of culture rejecting any historical roots—and proud of it. For many teens, part of the attraction of contemporary music is precisely that it's a way of asserting independence from their parents' way of life. If defiance of traditional values is built into the warp and woof of popular culture, then redeeming it will be no easy task. Can Christians make videos that sound like Madonna—without sending the message she sends? That's a tough question, and one we'll be trying to answer tomorrow.


Chuck Colson


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