Turn off the screens!

Screens, screens everywhere and not a thing to see.

Modern life is dominated by the screen. Our living rooms – and increasingly bedrooms – have the television in the corner which we stare at for hours. We spend more hours at work looking at a computer screen. We fill our spare time with playing Angry Birds on our smartphone, and if we’re really cool we read our Bible on a tablet computer.

If we work in an office environment then it’s often the case that when we’re not in front of our own screen we’re in front of another as we look at the latest PowerPoint presentation that our middle manager has spent the last three weeks preparing.

There’s no getting away from these screens. The outside of my local shopping centre has a continuous loop of a Boyzone concert playing on a giant screen. The advertising boards inside said shopping centre are now screens with multiple moving images. The SureStart centre connected to one of my church has a TV on in the reception churning out trite parenting advice even when the only person there is an increasingly exasperated receptionist.

The screen is ubiquitous in much the same way that statuary was ubiquitous in the first century world. I had the great joy of visiting Ephesus a few years ago and saw the streets lined with images of the great and good, and shrines to various gods every 100 yards.

You’ll hear the comment made nowadays that we live in a visual age and therefore the church needs to adapt. And so, increasingly over the last 30 years we’ve seen our previously austere churches put up banners and now screens. (And to be fair, this started even earlier with stained-glass windows. It’s probably best not to get me started on those.)

And on these screens are not only put the words for hymns but the preacher will have prepared a lovely PowerPoint slide display to accompany his sermon. I’ve heard of some ministers say how the presentation takes up as much time as the preparation of the sermon itself.

So now people not only have to put up with rubbish PowerPoint at work but they get another one on the Lord’s Day too.

I think our capitulation to our visual culture is a sign of our loss of Reformed convictions. We worship a God who speaks. We worship a God who, although revealed in the visible things he has created, is only fully revealed in his Word. As Reformed Christians we should be fully aware of this fact and celebrate that the way God ordinarily works is through the preaching of that Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Visuals can deflect from that. The Reformers understood this when they urged the destruction of idols and the whitewashing of church walls. Images distract the worshipper from the true God. Images distract the preacher because they’re more concerned with the next slide and guiding us through their points than proclaiming the Word with power and authority.

I’m sick of screens. My eyes hurt. But my ears are crying out for the Word of God. Please, preachers, give it to me. Unmediated. Without distraction. Our souls depend on it.