Reflection Paper on Brent Laytham’s iPod, YouTube, Wii Play

Posted: June 18, 2016 in Book and Article Reviews
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What is Laytham’s primary concern(s) regarding the impact of entertainment on the church? What aspects of Laytham’s critique/wisdom were most helpful for you?

In regard to our technologies, Brent Laytham writes, “In the twentieth century, entertainment became a cultural superpower.  That has, inevitably, inescapably impact Christian discipleship, though not always in the most obvious ways.  Unlike so many authors that focus on the content or ‘message’ of our entertainments, I write with the conviction that entertainment’s massive impact on us is rooted mostly in its mundane everydayness: in the way it shapes our subjectivities, affects our affections, cultures our choices, and permeates our possibilities.  This power isn’t accidental; as a commercial enterprise, entertainment intends to shape patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting…  For disciples this matters precisely because following Jesus is a journey meant to transform how we think, feel, and act” (2).

As Laytham expresses, entertainment has significantly shaped us.  We have moved toward more virtual community rather than actual presence, which creates isolation.  Our words have lost meaning and power because of its erosion.  “There is a corporatized scripting of play and imagination” (4).  It organizes how we spend our “free time” and gives us the perception that we own time.  Laytham further points out that we have allowed television to determine reality through its discourse, which we continue to imbibe.  Laytham states, “So entertainment raises the question of attending to truth, which is finally a question about worship” (6).

Laytham relates a story about a pastor that employed the culture’s forms of entertainment as a way to shape disciples.  After a sabbatical, the pastor returned and was able to see that this form of worship was very shallow.  In essence, entertainment had become god rather than truly worshipping God.  Laytham is concerned that our worship is formative enough to withstand this movement and offers a counter-shaping narrative.

The entertainment culture measures its success and effectiveness by numbers.  The larger the audience, the better it is.  Perhaps this is why mega-churches have sprung up and been made the model of “successful” church in the past thirty years or so.  Number of parishioners in pews, which tends to be our dominant measurement, is the way we usually see how “successful” we are at evangelism and discipleship.

However, these numbers do not tell the whole story of a community.  In fact, merely looking at those numbers can cause us to be blind to sickness in a congregation.  Entertainment is about consumerism and, unfortunately, that is often why people go to such large churches – to have their “needs” met.  Let me be clear to say that attending a large church isn’t wrong.  But, as Laytham suggests, we must always recover the cruciform way of discipleship (whether in a large or small congregation) so that we can properly see our entertainments in light of Christ.

Another aspect of entertainment’s impact on us is how it causes us to arrange our time.  We have come to structure our time around our entertainments, whether vacation, sports games, television shows, and more.  The overall influence can be seen in relation to the Church calendar.  National holidays, sporting events, and Hallmark sometimes largely shape the Church’s calendar over against Christ’s life.  If someone thinks this is untrue, try skipping mentioning Mother’s Day or the Fourth of July.  You quickly learn that these have tremendous sway on our community’s imagination.  The same can be said for Super Bowl Sunday.  Rather than competing, we often allow church Super Bowl watch parties for “fellowship.”  Entertainment has significantly re-arranged our calendars.

Sports is another arena that Laytham points to some serious problems.  It creates an audience (notice quite often that congregations have become audiences as well).  We watch other perform or act or play instead of playing in the game ourselves.  Spectator sports have created an atmosphere that promotes lack of engagements and participation, which runs counter to the Christian life’s call for participation in life!

This is also connected to our idolization of heroes and entertainers.  The cult of personality has exploded in recent decades, even the Church is not immune (think of Joel Olsteen’s naming his church after himself).  This creates a problem when the Gospel is made “cool” by athletes, performers, and entertainers.  It suggests that the Gospel needs sponsors in order to be powerful enough to change lives.  This denigrates Christ’s work, the power of the Cross, the hope of the Resurrection, the revelation of the Word, the will of the Father, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

I think Laytham has several great points that should be noted.  First, he makes a strong argument that entertainment is not an innocent medium.  They are meant to shape culture by shaping our attitudes, desires, and thinking.  In other words, they are shaping our actions through enculturation.  We need to be wary of these formative practices and habits that shape us in “mindless” kinds of ways.  As such, entertainment is not innocent fun.  It has lasting impact on our hearts and minds.

Despite this fact, Laytham does not suggest that we do away with technologies and entertainment.  That would be difficult, if not impossible.  Plus, playing is part of who we were created to be!  Not all entertainment is negative.  As such, Laytham recommends using a dialectical approach to entertainment.  Using these things is not simply a “yes” or “no”, take it or leave.  Instead, it’s about saying “yes” and “no.”  Entertainments call for wisdom in knowing when, how, and the duration for our use of such technologies.  Technologies can have positive uses, even as they can have negative uses.  This calls for prayerful discernment from the community of faith in finding helpful ways to engage our culture.

The final aspect from Laytham’s work that is particularly insightful and helpful is his emphasis on theological anthropology.  Each of the technologies and entertainments that Laytham highlights (iPod, Youtube, Wii Play, etc.) give voice to a deeper longing that each human being was created with in the beginning.  These longings are natural.  The problem lies in allowing these technologies and entertainments to become the primary or only way of meeting these longings.  If God is not at the center of our lives, it is quite easy for these tools to become idols that replace gods for God.

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