A long time ago now, I remember somebody making a point about worldly attitudes among believers. It was a valid enough general point of itself, as I recall. But the argument they made to support their point was problematic. I wonder if you can spot the issue that struck me?
They mentioned that they had friends who had gotten into a particular TV programme (the specifics of what it was were omitted). They got into the habit of putting the kids to bed at a particular time so that they could settle down to watch this programme together. Then, so went the punchline, they realised the problem. They began to really look forward to putting the children to bed so that they could watch their programme. They realised that they considered the programme unsuitable for their children, so they were putting them to bed so that they could continue to enjoy it. They had to put the children to bed before they could watch their programme because it was too inappropriate for the kids. This was deemed a tragic insight into their willingness to watch worldly programmes (of which, we were assured, they recognised and repented).
Now, I don’t want to diminish the need to be careful what we watch. Clearly there are things that are inappropriate for Christian people to watch, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. But can you see any problems with this logic? Let me share with you the problem I perceive here.
The argument rests on a presumption that if something isn’t appropriate for the children, then it isn’t appropriate for the adults either. But that strikes me as evidently false. But there are clearly things that are appropriate for adults that are not appropriate for children. Loads of things.
For example, sex within the context of marriage is entirely good and right for adults to enjoy. Kids… not so much. Or what about doing tax returns? Fine for adults, probably not something you’ll be getting your children to do for you. What about a documentary on the Holocaust? Informative, and potentially even important for an adult to view and yet not suitable for children. How about drinking alcohol, or full-time work, or certain levels of education, or loads and loads of other examples? All perfectly fine legitimate things (often good things) that are not appropriate for kids. It is just demonstrably not true.
And we can push this further, can’t we. Because not only are there physical things that are otherwise good for us that aren’t appropriate for our children, there are evidently ideas that are going to be difficult, if not entirely inappropriate, for children to engage with. Certainly, even if we think broader ideas are acceptable for our children to know about, we would inevitably contextualise exactly what we say about them. We don’t discuss death with children, for example, in exactly the same way we would with adults. Nothing wrong with knowing about and understanding the idea in principle, but we would want to handle it very differently depending exactly whom we are speaking to.
If that is true (and I think it is), that necessarily presses to the arts. Or, to be less pretentious about it, music, TV, film and that sort of thing. These are concerned with conveying, challenging, addressing and discussing ideas and concepts. It is perfectly reasonable to assume certain forms of discussion are entirely inappropriate for our children that are absolutely fine for the adults in the room. That means certain programmes on TV might well be entirely legitimate for adults to watch whilst we might not be too keen on letting our children watch them. That’s not a question of imbibing worldiness; it’s a question of maturity and ability to credibly assess the ideas presented (and the manner in which they are presented).
I recall the speaker confidently asserting, ‘the Bible doesn’t come with an age guidance rating!’ And, obviously, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t deal with issues that might not be suitable for children to engage in their fullness either.
We are just about to start ‘whole church curriculum’ that means the Sunday School will be following the same teaching programme as the rest of the church. That is being put immediately to the test as we are also about to start Song of Solomon. That always draws sharp intakes of breath because, apparently, we all recognise that there are ideas (even in scripture) for which the fullness thereof is not necessarily for children. But, of course, the elders (and the Sunday School teachers) are not cretins. We recognise that and want to focus on more appropriate application and contextualise the material to whoever we are addressing. So the exact content of the sermons will not be the exact context of the Sunday School material, even if there is crossover in the concepts we are talking about.
I have heard this kind of logic play out in other places. Worldliness, fundamentally, is defined as what is acceptable for children or whole families. I find that a highly limiting, problematic definition of worldliness. Whilst I don’t want to suggest that Christians can listen to and watch whatever – as if nothing represents a problem at all – I just think we need a better approach to sifting such things than this. Perhaps a more Biblical approach, one that recognises such things also exist within its own pages.