Not too long after I moved to the community of Sycamore I made an interesting discovery. I was walking around the church property checking things out when I came across two trees with a board wedged between them. Evidently, the board had been there for quite some time because the trees have grown over the edge of the board, so much so that you couldn’t pull that board out of there if you wanted. You would have to cut it out.
Now, I have no idea how long that board has been wedged between those two trees. But what I do know is that those two trees didn’t grow over that board overnight or even in a matter of weeks. Instead, that board was quietly and slowly absorbed by its environment over a long period of time.
What happened to that board is a good illustration of what could happen to us and what we are in danger of every single day. As those who are supposed to live set apart lives, we are in danger of being absorbed by our environment. Specifically, what I mean is that we are in danger of losing our unique Christian identity and beliefs. To be sure, that loss isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a slow and subtle process that takes place over a period of time. A process we must guard against. But how?
How can we avoid being absorbed into our environment?
Daniel provides a good example. He lived during Israel’s exile – a period of time when Israel was carried off from the Promised Land to Babylon because of their disobedience to God (Da 1:1-4). The exile happened in several waves. Daniel and some of his friends found themselves in one of those waves (Da 1:6). It is here that Daniel begins to teach us how we can avoid being absorbed into our environment. What did Daniel do? How did he avoid being absorbed into his environment?
He Understood the Babylonian’s Plan
Beginning in Daniel 1:3 we read,
“Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.” (Da 1:3–5)
The Babylonian’s plan was to immerse the youth from high ranking families in Judah into the culture of Babylon. They would be given new names, clothing, and a new diet. They would also be taught a new language and be schooled in Babylonian literature and customs. All of this would take place over a 3 year period. Essentially, they were attempting to absorb the Israelites into their own culture by giving them a new worldview, and they were starting with their youth.
Daniel, however, wasn’t fooled by all the glitz and glamour, the perfectly prepared meals, and a chance at acquiring a high ranking position in his new home. He knew their plan and what it entailed. He knew he would have to give up his heritage, his connection to Israel, and more importantly his faith. As you read through the rest of the chapter and book, you see that Daniel resisted their attempts to absorb him into their culture. Over the years, he remained faithful to God. As a result, he was able to have an impact on their culture and king. To be sure, Daniel’s actions took courage, and he did experience persecution and suffering, but he was also successful in accomplishing his God given purpose – to glorify God. He was able to do that because he knew the Babylonian’s plan.
How is our culture trying to absorb us?
While Daniel knew the Babylonian’s plan, we may not always know how our culture’s plans to slowly absorb us. While we don’t have time to discuss them all, I do want to point out one major tactic our culture is using to slowly absorb Christians and change our worldview, and that is through the use of entertainment. Look at what one author has to say,
“Those who produce it [speaking of entertainment] want to instill their values, and thus far they have been very successful in doing so. Much of what is produced for viewing on television and in the movies and much of what is produced lyrically in popular forms of music is clearly depraved. Every form of God-hating thought and behavior, from blasphemy to sexual perversion, is glorified, and we as Christians watch or listen to it hour after hour after hour. And then we wonder why there is so little discernible difference between the thinking and behavior of Christians and non-Christians.” 
So the world uses entertainment. The world uses entertainment because it is a powerful worldview shaping tool that exists in many different forms – social media, news, talk shows, print media, novels, television, YouTube, video games, the arts, etc. Entertainment comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. Americans are voracious consumers of these entertainment mediums.
Entertainment’s Ability to Shape Our Worldview
Entertainment has a powerful ability to shape our worldview because when we are being entertained we generally let our guard down. After a hard days work, the last thing we want to do is put in more work analyzing that which we are seeking to be entertained by. I know that’s true of me. After I have worked all day in my study – reading, writing, thinking, and interacting with others, after I have taken care of the kids, played with them, bathed them, and put them to bed for the night, I’m worn out. The last thing I want to do is analyze the worldview significance of the show or YouTube video I’m watching, the novel I’m reading, or the podcast to which I’m listening. In reality, I don’t want to do much of anything. All I want to do is relax on the couch as a passive consumer for a few minutes before I go to bed.
While there is nothing wrong with relaxing while being entertained, we must realize we are still being influenced, and in some sense to a great degree. Stories play on our emotions, shaping and changing us, while at the same time entertaining us. I was reading an article the other day in the opinion section of the newspaper. I can’t remember which newspaper it was, but the article centered on how to win people to your side. One tactic the article kept coming back to was the power of story. They told their readers not to enter into a debate, but to simply tell their story. They chose that tactic because stories affect and move people in a way that debate and argument can’t.
Our secular culture knows the power of story and they use it in the form of entertainment to try and shape our worldview.
Now, I’m not telling you this to ruin your time of relaxation at the end of the night. We can still be entertained, but we do need to think more carefully about that which we are allowing to entertain us. We should do that thinking before we get to the end of the day when our bodies and minds are worn out.
So if we want to avoid being absorbed into our environment, and as Christians we should because we can’t be salt and light if we are the same as our culture, then we need to know our culture’s tactics. While our culture uses other tactics, one powerful tactic used is stories in the form of entertainment to shape and change our worldview.
Question for Reflection
- What other than entertainment is our culture using to absorb us?
Post developed from my sermon How Can We Avoid Being Absorbed into Our Environment?
 Keith A. Mathison, Table Talk Magazine, July 2017, 16