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What Goes In
What goes in our minds is who we are.
When I was a kid, my parents and most of the people around me in our largely Christian environment often issued strong warnings about the negative impact of pop culture on my soul. “What goes in, comes out,” was the refrain. This was the 80’s when concern about Hollywood’s corrosive influence was bipartisan. Both Tipper Gore and James Dobson were nervous about it.
They were all right. The Bible tells us quite often about the importance of managing our influences. “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” Romans 12:2 warns. 2 Corinthians 10 urges us to “take every thought captive.” And in a verse many families attached to the tops of their television sets, Philippians 4:8 urges us to dwell on what is beautiful and true and pure and lovely.”
Though application of this principle can often turn into legalism, I’m glad I was raised this way. And as a parent of four children in world where inputs are hitting them from so many places, where devices are ubiquitous and the Internet seems endless, I’m trying to emulate this same ethic in our family. What goes into our minds, what shapes our thoughts, the influences, the heroes, the content, the ideas—this all shapes us.
I think it’s time we apply the necessary warnings we were given about Hollywood and pop culture to our consumption of news and politics. And the filters aren’t just for the kids. If the assault on the Capitol teaches us anything—and I hope this ugly moment in American history does serve as a mirror—it should teach us the wisdom of discernment on the kinds of news and information that we allow ourselves to consume. Too many of us are being held captive by conspiracy theories and misinformation.
What’s hard about this moment is that this kind of false teaching preys upon our political instincts. The very good and right impulse to want to change the country and to apply the gospel to shape the world so that it flourishes for more people is a deeply Christian one. I’ve written about the responsibility of Christians in a representative Republic to love their neighbor as themselves. Yet what begins as loving our neighbor and what starts as a very right instinct to engage politics can easily – too easily – become an obsession.
What goes in our minds is who we are. Too many of us are orienting our life around politics in a way that lets pundits and would-be prophets disciple us. Daily intake of news and opinion, especially the kind that only reinforces our most entrenched political biases, is bad for our souls. We need to read the news, but we need to read better news and we need to read less news. We need to challenge ourselves to hear from voices across the spectrum and to challenge ourselves: if a narrative about our “side” seems to just confirm what we already think, we should be skeptical before we believe it or advance it.
But more importantly, some of us need less intake of politics. I say this as someone who grew up reading three newspapers a day and National Review in high school. I say this as someone whose idea of leisure is reading American history. I say this as someone who loves the up and down nature of politics. We can get so deep that our engagement with politics becomes something altogether corrupting to our souls.
What goes into our minds is who we become. It’s important to know what is happening in the world, but you know what is infinitely more important? That we know, truly know, the One who created the world. If your social timeline is more important than your daily intake of God’s word, something is amiss in your soul. If that podcast or talk show or pundit is more authoritative in your life than your pastor (be honest with yourself here), something is amiss in your soul. If you are more exorcised about the latest troubling development in Washington, D.C. than the eternal state of your neighbor, then something is amiss in your soul.
What goes into our minds is who we will be. Let’s make a commitment this new year, 2021, to adopt practices that back us away, not completely, from news and politics. Perhaps swapping a talk radio podcast for a sermon podcast. Perhaps unfollowing a few pundits and following a few more pastors (but not the ones who tweet all day about politics). Perhaps less conversations about what is going on in DC and more about what is going in in our neighborhoods, in our communities, and more important, inside our own hearts.
Hollywood can corrupt. Pop culture can corrupt. And, yes, our (my) obsession with politics can corrupt.
One more thought: I’ve been thinking a lot about misinformation and conspiracy theories and while there are a lot of good ideas out there on how to combat untruth, I think mostly this will solved through relationships. A friend who is convinced about something untrue will not be unconvinced by an angry op-ed written by someone they don’t know or tweets from the ivory tower. It will be a friend who gently pulls them back from the brink, who gently whispers to them, I think you are going a bit too far here. Let’s talk about this.
I remember a conversation with my pastor when I was in junior high and I was convinced of a massive conspiracy theory that was making the rounds in our conservative world. I was even passing out fliers about it (before the age of the Internet when you could just send emails or post on social). He pulled me aside and in a very quiet way said, “I’d be careful with that.” It pulled me back.
The Bible says love casts out fear. This is not only will the love that we experience in Christ as we renew our minds with the Scripture, but the love we apply to those around us caught up in false ideologies and sinful strongholds. Paul would remind us that it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance. Kindness, not condescension, is the perfect companion to truth.
This Week on The Way Home Podcast
Bob Lepine joins me on The Way Home podcast to talk about his latest book “Love Like You Mean It: The Heart of a Marriage that Honors God.” Bob has been married for 41 years, and in this conversation we talk about what it takes to have a lasting marriage and the sanctifying work that God does in people through both marriages and singleness.
Carl Trueman has a penetrating must-read on controversial conversations about CRT.
Ben Watson and Tony Dungy call the church to revival and repentance.
Caitlan Flanagan’s description of the violent insurrection at the Capitol is characteristically good.
Ed Stetzer has some hard, but necessary words about evangelicals and President Trump.
Matt Hall has some really insightful thoughts on leadership and weakness.
What I’m Reading
Here is what I’m reading right now:
Carl Trueman is always an arresting author and his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self might be the most important book released last year. It’s thorough, academic and yet incredibly accessible.
I’m also reading President Obama’s memoir: Promised Land. I hate that I have to add caveats to something like this. You likely know well my conservative political and theological views, but for some reasons folks are triggered when I post that I am reading the biography of a person whose policies I disagree with. For some reason I didn’t have to do this with biographies of Grover Cleveland and James Garfield! But I read bios of all sorts of folks. And you should too. That out of the way, it’s an arresting read. President Obama is a good writer and the chronicle of his meteoric rise and time in office is a good history of our era.
My book, The Characters of Easter, releases in a couple of weeks. I’m excited about this project, especially this year, as many will return to church in person for the first time after missing Easter last year due to COVID. We have all kinds of free downloadable study and church resources if you are interested.
The Gospel Coalition published a piece I wrote about our temptation toward Phariseeism.
My friend Terry Mattingly published an interview with my about social media and its unique temptations.
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