Engaging CultureChristian Media

The Sin of Living in the Bubble

I often make fun of what I call the “Christian media bubble.” For those non-believers reading this post, that simply means people who live inside Christian radio, publishing, TV, or music. For an earlier generation, people of faith actually interacted with the surrounding culture. But 30-40 years ago, when we noticed the Christian audience was a buying audience, we stopped preaching to the world, and started preaching to each other. As a result,
now we have entire industries built around “Christian” radio, television, publishing, or recording.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. People of faith have every right to read books about Christianity, hear Christian teaching on the radio or TV, or hear someone sing specifically Christian songs. After all, we have the food network, sports networks, movie networks – even gay networks. So I have no problem with having a specifically religious network.

The problem happens when that becomes our only world. I have friends who only buy Christian music, watch Christian TV, or listen to Christian radio. They’d rather watch a poorly produced Christian movie than a really well made secular film.

So what’s the problem? People are free to enjoy whatever they want, right? The problem with living “in the bubble” is that we stop doing what Jesus called us to do. The Great Commission is about going into all the world, not just the “Christian media” world.

At the risk of generating some hate mail, I’m particularly uncomfortable with what’s called “safe” media. “Family safe” is something you hear a lot on Christian radio and TV. But try as I might, I just can’t find anything in the Bible that calls us to live “safe” lives. It wasn’t very safe for Jesus to say the things he did. People who have boldly preached the gospel throughout history have been beaten, tortured, and burned at the stake, so why would I expect the media expressing that story to be “family safe?”
So what are we supposed to do? Especially when we like some of the stuff in Christian media?

First, it’s about balance. I work in Christian media, and I’m not talking about dumping it all. But I am talking about getting out for an occasional breath of fresh air.

Second, protect the kids. But don’t do it by saying “no” or shutting off the outside world. Take the time to teach your kids about life. Watch TV with them, see movies together, and help them discover how to navigate the culture.

Third, understand that culture happens. We’re never going to be “family safe” – especially if you’re committed to sharing God’s message of hope with the world. Just ask the house church pastors in China, or Christian leaders in Darfur. Following Jesus is costly and involves a risk.

Fourth, we’re not “taking America back.” We’re not going back to the picket fence era of the 1950’s and I’m sure quite a few African-Americans believers are fine with that. The culture is moving forward, and we need to do the same.

Finally, popping the bubble will deepen your own faith. Listen to a little rock and roll, opera, or jazz, go to an art museum, read a good classic novel, go see an action movie or love story. Start looking for God in the most unlikely places, and you’ll be shocked to find that Jesus shows up outside the places we normally think are “Christian.”

Jesus spent his time where the people were – in the marketplace, social gatherings, on the road, and in the homes of friends.

So what are we doing in a bubble?

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  1. We (or they, which helps me sleep better) are in the bubble for in the bubble terms like "family safe" and "for the kids" keep the plates full and the white mail coming in.



  2. Amen, Phil! That's good stuff! I just registered a domain name called "almostchristian.com." I'll use it to list all of the secular media that I encounter that is "almost Christian" in nature. In other words — songs, TV and movies that have a spiritual undertone but are not produced by Christians. It's amazing to me to discover so many artists who are seeking answers to the hard questions in life. They almost have it, but it's not quite there even though it seems to be right under their noses.

    I think that these "almost Christian" products are great examples of how non-believers are trying to find a higher power. It's exciting to see the potential windfall of saved souls if these producers finally see the light. Of course there is plenty of "definitely not Christian" media out there that mixes in with the "almost Christian" stuff, but it's important that we examine that aspect as well. If we never expose ourselves to secular media, then how are we going to relate to those who are enveloped in it? You can't always cure a disease without knowing what caused it.

     Thanks for the reminder, Phil!

  3. There's a "Family Safe" radio network that has a local affiliate here, but for a while, almost every news break or commentary was about the homosexual agenda. My daughters are 11 and 7, and I don't listen to this station while they're with me, for obvious reasons. It is ironic that I had to enforce "family safety" by shutting of the "Family Safe" radio station. One of my best friends is their station manager for our area, and I spoke with him about it. He immediately called the corporate office to air my complaint. They don't do it as much anymore, but I still don't listen to the station when it's on the national feed.

  4. PFFFT. The air is slowly being let out of the Christian media bubble by people at two ends of the spectrum: the young, 'authentic' crowd and the dyed-in-the-wool conservative Christian leaders who see the change in their own churches and realize they can't hold on to the vapor of an ideal.

    We can't fixate on "Christian" music, because it doesn't exist. It's a manufactured marketing ideal that says song lyrics without Scripture quoted throughout can't be "Christian". I've been waiting, but thus far I've yet to see a song come to salvation by accepting Jesus as Lord.

    There ARE Christian lyrics…but there is NOT Christian music. There are Christian AUTHORS, but there are no Christian BOOKS.

    If pastors lived their lives inside the Christian bubble all the time, there'd be zero new believers because the relationship would never happen. And even if an unchurched person waltzed into a 'bubble church', they'd not find any life application from someone who preached but couldn't connect because they couldn't relate.

    You're right, Phil. Jesus lived WAY outside the Jewish bubble and instead showed us THE WAY. Why should we ignore his example?

  5. I totally agree!

    I just spent two weeks on vacation in Orlando, and that "safe for the little ears in the back seat" sales pitch on the Christian radio station drove me nuts! Along with that, I noticed that the station didn't identify itself as "Christian", but as "soft".

    Much Christian media is aimed at a specific audience of 30-something, upper-middle class, white, at-home mothers, but I'm afraid it often makes it seem that Christianity is for this demographic and none other.

    It also makes it seem that Jesus is only for those who want their lives to be "soft". Ugh.

    When did Jesus become a comfort-food accessory for the upwardly mobile?

  6. This issue has always been up for discussion – with disagreements on both sides. How far does one go in immersing themselves in the culture to reach others with the gospel? I guess that would depend on 1.where God is calling you; 2.to what extent you engage in “eating” the Word and communion with God through prayer and 3. what your areas of weaknesses are. A person would be dumb to go into an area where they are weak to minister to others. (ex.struggling alcoholic going into a bar to reach others.) It’s kind of like being innoculated against a disease. Once you are immune you can pretty much be among those who are sick, without getting sick – and you can help them. Jesus came for those of us who are sick. What would have happened if Jesus stayed in a bubble? He wouldn’t have come to earth at all. God calls us to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Be around sinners while shining light, but don’t partake of any darkness that may be committed. Here is a scripture that often sticks out to me – perhaps we should meditate on it when it comes to engaging the present culture “outside” of the Christian arena. “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolators. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-12

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  7. "In the world but not of the world," seems to be the key.  Many people are not strong enough as a Christian to know where to draw the line, hence, some are stuck in the bubble and others are so far out there in the world, they have compromised their Christian character and living.  I don't want someone "witnessing" to me who has a can of beer in one hand, blowing smoke in my face and using coarse jesting, anymore than I want someone with a beehive stack of hair and a pastey face, telling me, "This is Christianity."  Both are in the ditch of extremes.  There is a middle of the road that is far above and away from those extremes.  I want someone telling me about Jesus, who really knows Him and who exudes those attributes of Jesus with patience, love, and kindness…something you don't see much of, today. 

    On the flip side, we are bombarded with secular everything 24/7…so much to the degree that to live in a bubble takes some real effort.  I find nonbelievers are impacted more by believers who are genuine, honest, caring and who have the God-given ability to live above the world in word and deed.  Jesus' life gives us the best example.  Aweaver3, your three points are key elements in this discussion.  "Once you are immune you can pretty much be among those who are sick without getting sick and YOU CAN HELP THEM!"  That, my friend, is the bottom line.

  8. "Christian" music absolutely exists as a genre, but it is not the more broadly defined Christian market as most think of it. 

    The Christian music genre is praise & worship music which consists of modern music and hymns sung that can be heard in churches around the world. There is a definable musical style in Chris Tomlin, Tommy Walker, Darlene Z and so on that has a researchable history and has inspired others to continue on.  On a broader level many would also include black gospel, though that musicial style is really its own genre all by itself. There is obvious crossover between the two genres, but that's never been in issue in any other genre.  Artists can cross genres because it's about the musical style, the sonics of the music.

    What most people try to call the "Christian music" genre is wrongly defined by song lyrics rather than musical style.  Song lyrics can help to further define a genre, like the many story songs of Country Music, but a genre is fundamentally defined by sound not by words. 

    The Gospel Music Association had a problem with this issue years ago when the first real mainstream retail intiative was made. They tried to "sell" the mainstream retail stores on the "genre" of Christian music.  The problem was that they tried to define the genre based on lyrical content, when every other music genre in existence is defined by musical style.  While I applauded the move to get the mainstream retailers to expand their offerings, it was tough to sit there and hear "the experts" try to define the genre by putting Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman in the same "section" as Stryper and P.O.D. or a host of other artists…

    I completely concur with Phil that "First, it's about balance." I've have the pleasure of working with and privilege of serving every major Christian music label, publisher, many of the non-profits, as well as the general market companies who are trying to understand the "Christian market" and if I've learned anything at all, it's that God clearly has tasked different creative people with different missions and at different levels. Regardless of mission or size of reach, all artists are equally valid in fulfilling their specific mission.

    Fourth, we’re not “taking America back.”

    Finally, popping the bubble will deepen your own faith.  
    Want help in finding those Biblical themes in non-Christian market product, see http://www.hollywoodjesus.com.



  9. While a student at ORU, one of the things I learned that forever changed how I look at this subject, is how can I impact my society and the world if I, myself, have no idea what's going on.

    The theater department teaches students to evaluate what they watch and read so they can then have a reasoned, informed and balanced discourse with others.

    I don't how many of my friends have told me I will never watch a Harry Potter movie. When I ask them why, they tell me its full of witchcraft and whatnot. When I ask them if they have ever read the book, they say no. I then ask them how they plan to have an intelligent conversation about the Harry Potter series if they haven't ever read or watched it. They seem to think there is no reason.

    So in response – I usually take a movie or a book that I have seen/read that I know they would never be caught dead watching/reading, and I walk them through why I liked or disliked it. I talk about the artistic value of the movie, or the quality of acting done in the movie. I also talk about how my worldview and the worldview of the movie agree or don't agree.

    It's so strange that you posted this because my mother and I had this conversation just yesterday. After years of her telling me to stay out of Hollywood, writing, creating, being artistic, all of a sudden she has come around and realizes Hollywood [or anything else for that matter] is the way it is because Christian's relegated their duty a long time ago. They left in droves and secluded them in their own little bubbles and now are shaking their heads with dismay wondering how the world got this way.

    I have found, thanks to Professor Laura Holland and many like her at ORU, that if I use my analytical abilities, I can engage others in meaningful conversations about a myriad of topics. Sometimes they walk away thinking differently. Sometimes not. But that's okay. At least they are thinking….and so am I.

    Remaining Steadfast,



  10. I couldn’t agree more with you, Phil.

    I for one can’t stand the prudish, nauseatingly “wholesome” ideals endorsed by certain Christians, who seem to want to make all movies utterly toothless, even if they’re about war, the Holocaust, or other difficult subject matter.

    I also can’t stand the way some people patronise children by making everything squeaky clean for them. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are inappropriate for them, but its ridiculous when people water down the gory details of things like Bible stories.

  11. I think you have to be careful also to moniter what goes into your mind. Your mind can be polluted by this world and we should not allow that to happen with less than wholesome tv shows, movies, music, discussion, ect…..we can be in the world and not of it, but that doesn't mean taking part in the stuff we shouldn't. I think American's are in danger of losing sight of some truths. Take an honest look at the TV shows and movies your watching and decide if it would glorify God. What goes into your mind does matter…there is a battle for your mind going on..We are at a point where few if any secular movies and tv shows are truly appropriate to watch. While your saying not to be a prude, what we do watch does matter-it goes into our minds. Would you sneak across the yard to watch your neigbhors having sex? No, but you might watch titanic or any other movies that has a sexual scene and it's the same thing, except it's right in your living room. Would you invite a woman in a bikini to your living room? We do when we keep the tv on a commericial or shows that do such things…I would caution people to say it's "okay" to see these things…

    Then we have the luxery of birth control, ect…but scientific evidence shows that it is abortive in the 3rd way it works-it's observable science..if we believe life begins at conception shouldn't this be a bigger issue among Christians?

    The only problem I have Phil is that sometimes it sounds like your trying to comprimise and accomadate for our culture..if we comprimise our values to reach the culture I think we are comprimising ourself. I agree would should strategize as to how to reach our culture effectively but I would say there is a major difference between the risk of being a missionary or Christian in China and the risk of polluting your mind for the sake of learning or teaching how to navigate the culture. Just my thoughts, maybe I read your intent wrong…


  12. I think many evangelicals in the US are still living in the wake of the movement in some ways going underground in the 1920's in the wake of the Scopes Monkey Trial and the fallout of the advancement of Biblical Criticism.  Instead of engaging the culture of the day, the strategy was to retreat and try to preserve faith and belief.

    A lot of the movement reemerged publically in the 70's in the wake of Roe V Wade, flexing new found political muscles and tying into the end times theology of Hal Lindsey and, ironically enough, the post-millenial based idea that the church would be a change agent through government in bringing society into the form we belived it should take.

    That's very general and admittedly oversimplistic.  However, where we are now, is at a point where the political activism and tying to one political party has not really netted the impact that I think many imagined would come.  I think we're at a place, where we need to be.  Christ's Great Commission was not to take over the world by fiat.  It was to go into the world and engage people confronting them with the message and person of Christ.  You don't do that without interacting in the marketplace of ideas, cultural icons and being exposed to where the people you're reaching are.  That doesn't mean we compromise our message or values to do so.  It does mean however that we need to be honest with ourselves and with God and get out of our comfort zone and cease justifying our retreats from the field of engagement as maintaining holiness when in fact we're apparently either afraid or ill-equipped to take the field prepared to battle and get a little dirty and bloody from time to time.

    God called us to go out into the world, while remaining not of the world.  That's a whole lot different than establishing monastic retreats and expecting the world to come to us.

    Keep up the good work, Phil and those of you working to do that through the media.

  13. Like I said in my post go out into the world and out of our comfort zone is much different than monitoring what you watch on tv or movies. That stuff goes into your head and it does affect you whether you realize it or not. You can't say I'm going to watch an R rated movie with language, sexuality, ect so I can get out of my comfort zone and engage culture. Isn't that like saying I'm going to cuss and have extra marital sex, so I can better engage culture? It will affect you..

    Engaging culture is walking down the street and talking to the homeless, talking to the people in the street, meeting them where they at, but not participating in their activities. That's why strategy is needed-how do we meet them where they are at. You don't have to participate in their activities to learn how meet them where they are at..going to China as a missionary is hardly establishing a monastic retreat…but staying in your living room watching cable tv is…if we took a walk thru the inner cities in this country we would realize that is getting out of your comfort zone..if we went to africa, if we witnessed to our neighbor, but to say that watching sexualized media to get out of the bubble, ect is getting out of your comfort zone is not correct I don't believe. I'm sure Christian's killed for their faith are out of their comfort zone, but Christians engaging in hyper sexualized media viewing, I don't see that as a positive thing? It's one thing to enjoy art, culture, but your lives are being watched and if you speech, act, or do certain things-that affects those who see you. Trust me I've been guilty of this in the worst….

    Really can you even watch a sporting event without seeing many skantily dressed women? Women are completely objectified in this culture-regardless of their rise in the corporate world-the way men see them is even more so as a sexual object…challenge yourself to see what shows on mainstream tv exist without showing cleavage, bikini's, sexual material, ect…it's hard to find. Most likely most people feel their is nothing wrong with seeing these things on tv, it doesn't "affect  them"…well it does..

  14. Ah…"Bubble sin" didn't make the cut in Ellison's study on sin. http://www.ellisonresearch.com/releases/20080311.htm. Actually, I am not sure I know such a sinner, even after spending my first year of college at Bob Jones University (the rest at the University of Florida)…but maybe I am one. I am not sure I'll see "No Country For Old Men" after reading McCarthy's novel, but then it may depend on whether I want to be drug through the mud or soar with the eagles. It is, after all, about making the best choices wherever we are on our faith journey. (I am endeavoring to help people make informed media choices at http://pisgahview.net.)

    I want to encourage all of you who are responding to the call of God to communicate the good news of His kingdom in today's culture. Some may need to circle the wagons, others "move 'em out", others interpret the smoke signals, and still others scout out the land. I know this. We have come a long way in the three and half decades I have been on the trail.

  15. There is balance in everything.

    I think you're making a distinction between what we do in terms of our own lives and entertainment, and what we set our mind upon and immerse ourselves in.

    I agree there's plenty of room for discernment and care as to what we're primarily feeding upon spiritually.

    That said, there's still a need for mature, well-informed Christians to know the state of the culture and the world where we find ourselves and to engage in such a manner that the salt gets to the tongues of those who need to thirst for Christ.

  16. As Christians, we need to refrain from being totally goofy.  If we get a wild eyed look on our faces and start sputtering about "Debil Moosic" every time rap is mentioned, we look dumber than stumps.  Consequently, so does our faith.   Just because we don't understand or appreciate something doesn't make it bad.  Personally, I love Gregorian Chant and an Okinawan rock group known as Rinkin Band.    No one ever asks to borrow my CD's.  Nuff said!

    Most of the films and music Christians believe have the ability to reach the lost can only be tolerated by people deeply indoctrinated in the Evangelical world view.  The rest of humanity considers this stuff insipid. 

    Not just that, but we need to think about our news sources.  (Everybody please go out and find one that takes you OUT of your comfort zone, and read it regularly!)  I know of one media outlet popular among Christians that publishes outrageous propaganda written by a well known convicted criminal as "news".  It never fails to amaze me that this organization has any credibility whatsoever.  Has thinking gone out of style entirely?  C.S. Lewis must be spinning in his grave!  My non-Christian friends laughed themselves sick over the nonsense that spewed from Barak Obama's Pastor's lips on the news this AM.  Are we Christians totally lost to common sense?  It sure looks like it!

    This schlop, schlop, wonderful schlop with a cherry on top has got to stop!  (Credit to Dr. Seuss!)  It's worse for us than exposure to the occasional wordie dird or naked backside.  It may not rot our teeth, but it certainly will rot our brains. 

    When we run around believing goofy conspiracy theories, shaking our fist at every tune that isn't easy listening and pushing insipid movies, we turn people away from Christ.  You don't see people lining up clamoring for lobotomies do you?   Why would they want to sign on to a faith that seems to turn people into slack-jawed, drool-dripping morons? 

  17. Phil, I'm a 21-year old media student and attended NRB this last week. What I found somewhat disgusted me. This era of "Family Safe" Jesus-thumping, positive southern-gospel preaching DOES NOT APPEAL TO MY GENERATION! I go to a public school where I see students striving to find that peace, love and acceptance that is missing in their lives and doing it through things that create negative consequences. The people I sit in class with, the guy in front of me at the smoothie stand, and the girl locking her bike outside of my residence hall are not going to listen to "Christian Music"… because a lot of it sucks. Unfortunately, it's become an internal, insulated medium in which; to be honest, makes our gospel look stupid in this society. I'm all about groups that are preaching the gospel in a way that isn't read straight from Ephesians; groups that are not afraid to have a "secular sound" like Flyleaf, Switchfoot and Mikeschair. Beautiful, well produced songs that don't deny their faith, or their message, but package it in a way that can be swallowed by our society.

    Is the gospel offensive? Yes. It goes against everything this world has taught us is right, is pleasing and acceptable. Christianese needs to die. The message of Jesus is not just about "salvation by grace through faith".. It's about "God doing something for you because He loves you and wants the best for you."

    Have you ever been to Chipotle? It's amazing! You get to choose what kind of meat, and you can even add sour cream or avocado for extra. You get to customize and build your own burrito.

    Christian media should be like a chicken burrito. We need to package our message the way the world will understand. We need to fill our burrito with the best-tasting most fulfilling stuff and give it to the world, when placed alongside the other burritos, ours will be the best because it's not made with stuff that tastes good, but doesn't satisfy. The Gospel of Jesus Christ satisfies. If we change our approach, and allow our message to be heard in a way that is relevant to my generation, I forsee millions of people living life the way God has intended and having growing, fruitful relationships with Him.

    Christian music should not be the "pita" that it is.

    Thank God for people like all of you, who's hearts are aching for my generation, and the deficiency in the church for people like me. 


    Michael – Senior Electronic Media Student,  Northern Arizona University

  18. One reason for the new emphasis on Christian marketing is because it is a way to finance the new expensive media ministries that have popped-up along with it. They go hand-in-hand.  Also, some like TD Jakes, consider the ministry as a valid commerical enterprise, so they sell as many books, movies, cd's, etc. as they can.  They say that is hard work and God's blessing if they makes lots of money at it.  Many of these live in luxurious greed, but justify because they give what they think is God's minimum; the 10% tithe.

  19. Agreed that we are not called to live "safe" lives. There's a song popular in Black Gospel in which the refrain is, "the struggle is over for you." It's one of those emotional, you-suffered-all-this-time-and-now-you-can-finally-rest numbers. I detest it. I shout at the radio every time: "It's not SUPPOSED to be over!" When were we ever promised the struggle would be over prior to heaven? Was it over for John on the Isle of Patmos? Was it over for Paul as he received beating after brutal beating?

    Dick Staub (http://www.dickstaub.com) has a wonderful book–*Too Christian, Too Pagan: How to Love the World Without Falling For It.* Urging us to engage in the culture, he notes how often he is considered too Christian by his pagan friends and too pagan by his Christian friends. A very good balance, indeed.

  20. ur right again my brother ,my friend what we need is to b light in the world and not darkness of the world .we need to challenge ourselves from the Word & renew our minds with spiritual& intellectual world view reasoning.not just accept the media branding u talk about so well. as christians we the responsibility to have answers to give this lost & peverse generation. u truly are thought provoking,thx

  21. A bubble is good, but think of the future and just imagine what will happen if the bubble breaks and that will not much time starting from now… If you haven't read about the new discoveries in the quantum physics field, well, you should because quantum physics are starting to explain how does this universe work and who God really is…

  22. You are totally right – there is a huge difference between the risks missionaries and Christians face in closed countries and the North American Christian choosing to only listen/watch media that is wholesome and pure. Scripture tells us that whatever is true, whatsoever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Phil 4:8) Nowhere does it say to dwell on morally questionable (at best, often) things for the sake of getting a little culture. We do have freedom in Christ which allows for us to 'live outside the Christian bubble' and we ought to use that freedom carefully and in situations where we can build relationships with the unsaved around us in order to bring them the Gospel (such as seeing a movie with the gang from work that we wouldn't normally see).

    IMO, going out side of the bubble means that we deliberatly and conscientially spend time getting to know the people around us – not necessarily the culture. Frankly, unless you live in a closed commune, you have a pretty good idea as to what the culture is all about anyhow. We leave the bubble to fulfill the Great Commision – not be entertained.

  23. I have been dismayed at how many Christians go to R rated movies and think nothing of it. It is absurd to think as some do here that we have to fill our minds with hollywood sex and vulgartiy to be able to understand the world.
    as you do this you will become decensatised to sin. It will get worse for the evngelical church as it gets closer to the Lords coming. If you want to watch those movies with the language and sex and extreme violence taken out, go to


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