Media culture demands careful engagement

There's a simplistic version of Christian media criticism that says to shut off the TV at the first sign of sex, violence or profanity. And then there's actual media criticism: active, engaged, intelligent, non-partisan, the kind described in the excellent new book Prophetically Incorrect.

Prophetically Incorrect takes a look at media creation, consumption and critique through a view of culture informed by the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Walter Brueggemann. Woods' and Patton's idea of a prophetic media critic is someone who is a truthteller more than a foreteller, one who is burdened by humanity's greed and arrogance," rejects complacency and seeks stories that challenge structures of injustice.

The authors give us a broad range of critical tools for evaluating the form and content of the media we watch and participate in. They want us to approach things like movies and television with at least the same level of thoughtfulness and intelligence that goes into creating them. Faithfully reading media asks us to consider all aspects of media–the economic assumptions, political perspective, social and cultural values, broad narrative structure–through a thoroughly biblical lens.

Woods and Patton encourage us to not shy away from what many Christians might consider morally offensive because, they say, sometimes it's appropriate for us to be shocked. Like some of the Old Testament prophets who used R-rated imagery and stories to shock the self-satisfied (i.e. read Ezekiel 23), media that challenges the status quo and exposes structural injustice might not be appropriate for younger audiences. But, as the authors argue, passively consuming media that keeps us complacent can be much more dangerous than media that shocks or disturbs us.

Prophetically Incorrect is really a book about developing a deep Christian worldview. No doubt, the sort of cultural engagement described here is a lot more demanding than mindlessly sitting down to watch a bit of TV. But part of what makes this book so valuable is that it shows us how to watch media, rather than telling us what we should watch.

Whether you're a daily-download teenager, a parent who wants to help the kids make good media choices or a pastor trying to lead the congregation in uncharted media waters, this is a book that plenty to offer. I recommend it very highly.

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