Why ’Leave It to Beaver’ Is No Better Than ’Hell on Wheels’

As an Evangelical Christian, it’s pretty easy to criticize modern TV programs.

A show like Two And a Half Men (even before Charlie Sheen was replaced) is an easy target because of its sophomoric but degraded sexual “humor.”

“Darker” shows like Hell on Wheels or Breaking Bad, whether they’re aware of it or not, clearly depict depravity and the inevitable results of our fall into sin. Those shows are a commercial for our need for grace.

But of course, grace is nowhere to be found in Hell on Wheels or Breaking Bad. Instead, we find evil with no remedy. Sin without redemption.

But I Don’t Yearn for the Good Ole’ Days

As an Evangelical Christian, it’s pretty easy to think, “Oh, for the good old days of television!”

I suppose from a shallow perspective that might be true. I mean, I enjoy a good episode of “wholesome” TV as much as the next person.

Just contrast 30 minutes of Leave It to Beaver with 30 raunchy minutes of … well … pick most any current “situation comedy” and you get my drift.

But as much as I like Leave It to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show or The Dick Van Dyke Show, they all leave out something vital. In fact, they leave out the vital element.

It’s true of “old-fashion” dramas, too, be it Mannix or Marcus Welby, M.D. They, too, miss the point.

Missing Grace

Whereas great literature from the past, such as Les Miserables is infused with grace, TV—classic and modern—is missing grace.

Les Miserables is dark. It’s not naïve. It paints sin with bold colors and sin’s consequences with dark hues.

But Les Miserables doesn’t miss grace. It is a commercial for grace. It is a primer for our need for grace—our common human, desperate need for grace.

Not so modern TV. And, not so classic TV. The Beave’s problems were solved by morality, not by grace. Andy solved Barney’s problems in a 23-minute morality tale, not with any sense of Christ-dependence.

A Morality Tale, An Immorality Tale, and a Grace Tale

The Old Testament is Hell on Wheels with a clear message that We Need a Savior! The Old Testament is not a morality tale. It is an immorality tale with a longing for grace—for a Redeemer. The Old Testament points us to the grace narrative of the New Testament.

Breaking Bad is an immorality tale…but the producers, writers, and director point us nowhere—but to despair.

Leave It to Beaver was a morality tale where the producers, writers, and director pointed us somewhere—to ourselves!

In fact, Leave It to Beaver may be more dangerous than Hell on Wheels! At least with the latter our sinfulness is clear. With the former, the subtle message is that we are basically good but just need a little help to draw it out and fix ourselves up.

We Need Grace Story-Tellers

We need messages and images, stories and narratives that point us to a grace tale. The Bible is an immorality tale that points us to a grace narrative.

The “in” focus today in preaching and ministry is to be “gospel-centered.” I’m all in with that! We don’t need preaching and teaching that become little more than Leave It to Beaver lite—pointing our hearers to works and self-effort.

However, we also need to raise and equip a generation of artists, musicians, writers, actors, producers, and directors who can produce material that points people to their desperate need for grace.

We don’t need Christians going into the “arts” who end up producing shallow, throw-back 1950s-ish morality tales.

We need Christians going into the world, not being of the world, but speaking a grace-theme to the world.

What would that look like?

It might be even darker than Breaking Bad or Hell on Wheels. But the darkness would point to humanity’s desperate need for light—the light of Christ’s gospel of grace.

Join the Conversation

What do you think, is Leave It to Beaver subtly just as much a non-Christian message as Breaking Bad?

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