Serious Concerns about Christian Comedy and the Christian Celebrity Culture

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Excellent article. Many thanks to Bro. Schaal for a good read.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

OK, what do we then make of Sarah after Isaac was born, or the laughter in the Sermon on the Mount, and such?  Does reverence mean we need to look, as was said of President Coolidge, as if we were weaned on a pickle?  What about the pun "onesimus" in the book of Philemon?

No argument that comedy can easily become rather base mockery, or simply outright vulgarity.  That noted, if Scripture commends some degree of laughter and dancing to us, I don't think we can simply condemn Christian comedy as a whole as necessarily irreverent.  Is Tim Hawkins that much of a problem--I enjoy some of his stuff and dislike other bits of it--or is P&D getting tired of being at the butt end of the humor?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've never liked Hawkins. In general, I prefer satire (i.e. Babylon Bee) instead of attempts at Christian stand-up. The nature of Babylon Bee is that is can deliver short, punchy, often witty satire pieces and then retire. Stand-up requires a long monologue, and the Christian comedian's material will often degenerate into mockery and outright blasphemy. I don't think it's funny to make fun of Jesus as the lamb of God (read the article for context).

The issue is that Christian stand-up comedians are trying to copy secular stand-up, and make fun of Christian culture. To be sure, they may intend to be good-natured about it. Fine. I just don't like Tim Hawkins. I don't like any Christian stand-up comedians, actually. I also don't like hardly any Christian movies either (i.e. Christiano films, Facing the Giants, Courageous, etc.).

So, take my criticism with a grain of salt, if you must. But, my wife did con me into binge-watching episodes of When Calls the Heart with her yesterday, and it wasn't too bad! For those who aren't aware, it's a girly, Christian-esque period soap opera set in the remote Canadian frontier around 1900.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

I had some background in the entertainment business and vowed that I'd never let my pulpit become an avenue for stand-up comedy. My taste in humor runs along that of Tyler's.

I would add one more item to the list in the article and that is banality. For years I have heard preachers use the same tired, trite humor to the point where the congregation could do the punch line in unison but instead respond with laughter leaving the poor deluded preacher thinking that he really is a wit when he's only half right. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

....keep in mind, Tyler, that what you've said is that stand-up often degenerates (no argument there), but the argument of P&D is that comedy in general is always wrong.  Let's make sure that our premises can plausibly match the conclusion in our syllogisms, no?  Premises of "some" can never prove a conclusion that states "all."  Plus, stand-up is by no means all comedy, as fans of Weird Al (guilty) know very well.  Celarent can never prove Barbara, to use the Aristotelian categories. 

Back to the P&D claims, while comedy is by no means among the fruit of the Spirit directly, a well-turned joke does indeed induce a degree of joy in the hearers.  It comes out as laughter.  

OK, so why do I care?  I'm not of the P&D tribe, after all.  The reason I care is simply because the tools used in good comedy are quite simply the tools used in good literature.  Plays on words, figurative language, and the like are all key parts of good humor, and....the interpretation of Scripture.  A former pastor of mine notes that the Old Testament is full of puns we don't get in translation.  (again, Isaac)  So if we don't get a good clean joke, we're far less likely to get Scripture.  That's a big deal. 

And Hallmark shows?  Shudder.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Bert, I read the article a couple of times, I don't see where Schaal says comedy in general is always wrong.

Bert: "but the argument of P&D is that comedy in general is always wrong"

Kevin Schaal: "Popular Christian comedy often crosses this line" [emphasis mine]

Schaal: "This irreverent spirit permeates the entire entertainment culture of Christianity and it is wrong. It is not a sin to laugh and there is redeeming merit at poking fun at ourselves. But God is not a joke. His name is not funny."

Schaal: "It’s not wrong to tell a funny story. But it is wrong to be demeaning (Ephesians 4:32). It takes some discernment to know the difference."

Schaal: "Comedy can easily become irreverent or unkind, but it can also be just plain arrogant. It cannot be godly humility to present yourself as the cool guy and everyone else as idiots (Romans 12:3). Christian entertainment (and some preaching I have heard) crosses this line regularly." [Emphasis mine, pointing out that Schaal did not use the word always.]

 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Watch When Calls the Heart, and you might change your mind! Will Elizabeth actually marry Jack, the brave Mountie!? Will war tear them apart? What about the evil railroad men; will they destroy the town? My heart is all a-flutter at the possibilities ...

Good humor can be good. A lot of what passes for humor isn't funny, or is inappropriate, or (as Ron mentioned) stopped being funny during the first Reagan administration. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Darrell, read the prelude, the title.  "God is not funny and comedy is not a fruit of the Spirit.  Where has all the reverence gone?"  Then ask yourself how far those exceptions he grants actually go.  Ask yourself how a statement is actually funny, and ask yourself if a pastor can make a joke without poking fun at himself (and implicitly other pastors), his family, or his associations.  You've simply got to have some absurdity there that will be seen as some as insulting, and the fine line is how to make a joke with a feather and not a brickbat.

Tyler: saw an episode.  Let's just say it wasn't my preference.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Fine. I'm separating from you.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Darrell Post's picture

I read it again, and I don't see what you see Bert. You told Tyler, "keep in mind, Tyler, that what you've said is that stand-up often [emphasis mine] degenerates (no argument there), but the argument of P&D is that comedy in general is always wrong."

Kevin Schaal: "Popular Christian comedy often crosses this line" [emphasis mine]

Like any article, Schaal's piece is up for honest criticism, but lets not say he said comedy in general is always wrong when in fact he stopped short of that, saying it often crosses this line.

 

 

 

Phil Siefkes's picture

I think I get the gist of both sides of this. I enjoy a good pun. But puns are not necessarily always humorous. They can often lead one to think a little deeper on a topic. The pleasure may be found in observing the skill of the wordsmith, not necessarily in any potential humor.

I have an acquaintance who intros every sermon with a series of jokes. Gets old real fast.

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.

John E.'s picture

I read the article yesterday, and am still somewhat unsure of my level of agreement. For me, the biggest hurdle is the opening four words - "God is not funny."

As a writer for PJ Media that relies on clickbait headlines to help me earn bonus checks, I understand the value of an eye catching and controversial opening to hook readers and encourage them to share the article (often to point out what an idiot the writer is). But that doesn't seem to be the space that P&D operates in. Why would such a dogmatic propositional statement about God be made like that? I think it distracts from the overall article.

That being said, I'm not a fan of jokes in sermons. Frankly, most of the time the jokes aren't funny and, more importantly, the jokes rarely add any clarity to what the speaker is trying to say. I'm also not a fan of what passes for "Christian" comedy. At best, "Christian" comedy is lowbrow, one-liners that add next to nothing to any overarching conversations. For me, I can think of much better uses of my time than going to hear Tim Hawkins tell "dad jokes."

And while I'm expressing my unpopular opinions, I'm also not a fan of the Babylon Bee. I'm afraid that the satire is too biting for those whom we are trying to reach. It takes a very deft touch (think Chesterton) to be able to effectively wield satire without wounding.

 

Andrew K's picture

John E. wrote:

I read the article yesterday, and am still somewhat unsure of my level of agreement. For me, the biggest hurdle is the opening four words - "God is not funny."

As a writer for PJ Media that relies on clickbait headlines to help me earn bonus checks, I understand the value of an eye catching and controversial opening to hook readers and encourage them to share the article (often to point out what an idiot the writer is). But that doesn't seem to be the space that P&D operates in. Why would such a dogmatic propositional statement about God be made like that? I think it distracts from the overall article.

That being said, I'm not a fan of jokes in sermons. Frankly, most of the time the jokes aren't funny and, more importantly, the jokes rarely add any clarity to what the speaker is trying to say. I'm also not a fan of what passes for "Christian" comedy. At best, "Christian" comedy is lowbrow, one-liners that add next to nothing to any overarching conversations. For me, I can think of much better uses of my time than going to hear Tim Hawkins tell "dad jokes."

And while I'm expressing my unpopular opinions, I'm also not a fan of the Babylon Bee. I'm afraid that the satire is too biting for those whom we are trying to reach. It takes a very deft touch (think Chesterton) to be able to effectively wield satire without wounding.

 

Babylon Bee has a number of different contributors, I think. Some of the contributions are subtle and very funny. Some (most?) are a bit heavy-handed and juvenile.

Personally, I think some of the finest satire ever written is to be found in the Old Testament. Think the stories of Elijah, for instance, or Dagon and the Ark.

The funniest writer, incidentally, is PG Wodehouse. And let no one dare dispute that. :) 

Andrew K's picture

josh p wrote:

Can you recommend a Wodehouse? 

I recall Right Ho, Jeeves as particularly excellent.