Mr. Bill Didn’t Intend to Entertain

Is it news? Is it entertainment? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. The Washington Post recently reported that the Newseum, an “interactive museum of news and journalism,” is launching a new exhibit featuring…Walter Cronkite? No. Peter Jennings? No. Amazingly, it is for the comedy, Anchorman, and the adventures of Ron Burgandy. The point of the exhibit is to show that news and entertainment have almost completely merged in society today.

Not all “entertainment” in teaching is wrong or evil. But there is a fine line between teaching truth in entertaining ways, and merely giving the audience a show. Take, for example, Mr. Bill, the clay figure “star” in the 70’s and 80’s. As one of my professors used to say, “Mr. Bill wasn’t looking to entertain, but he was, nevertheless, entertaining.” Mr. Bill thought he was an actual actor, there to teach safety tips, give interviews, etc. The truth, though, was that he was only there to get smashed, cut in half, or in some other way destroyed for the entertainment of the audience.

Unfortunately, news often suffers due to entertainment. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy that the time would come “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires…” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). So what does it say about our society that more people in their 20’s got their news from Jon Stewart than from Matt Lauer? Even major news anchors like Brian Williams are trying to cross-over into entertainment. So is all “entertainment-news” wrong?

The goal of news is to tell the truth, not “give a show” to those who are merely looking to be entertained. Nevertheless, everyone deserves to hear the truth. People are more likely to hear that truth when it is attached to entertaining “hooks” we call illustrations. Christ used illustrations all the time. In fact, Jesus’ greatest teaching moment was using His own crucifixion to teach truth to a crowd of gawkers and rubber-neckers looking to be entertained by His pain. And when His murderers heard truth and witnessed that “illustration,” they said, “truly, this was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

Perhaps some in the church continue to underestimate the importance of a good hook. Entertainment isn’t the goal; teaching truth is. But surely, if Jesus is our model, we can find better ways to use entertainment for His glory!

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