Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Christian and Entertainment

We have come a long way. Abraham Kuyper was one of the most profound and influential Reformed thinkers on matters of faith and life about one hundred years ago. His Lectures on Calvinism served as an impetus for Francis Schaeffer, and through him (and Carl Henry and others), for the whole evangelical move towards forming a comprehensive world-and-life view.

In the Lectures, he writes (and I paraphrase from memory), "On these three things, Calvinism places a distinct veto: dancing, playing cards, and the theatre.")

Not one hundred years later, most Reformed Christians (and others), look back, and think "How quaint." IN a cultural blink, we go from a complete ban on such things, to complete acceptance of them.

Now, don't stop reading, or throw away your Monopoly board. My point is not that Biblically serious Christians cannot dance, play games, or watch shows (movies, televisions, and plays). My point is that we need to start thinking about what we watch. Somewhere, we have gotten the idea that we can dredge about in the muck and dreck of the world for hour after hour during the week, and still think and act and feel Christianly?

Some Christians have over-reacted, and, as is always predictable with overreaction, fallen short. Some Christians will only read Christian literature, watch Christian movies, or listen to Christian music --almost all of which is junk, by any definition. I don't think it is providential accident that most good art and literature has not been done by Christians. But, that is a post for another time.

The question for today is: what may a Christian enjoy, of the world's entertainments? Is it wrong to listen to Beethoven, to read Twain, or to watch Spielberg?

Because of common grace, no. In other words, the world has some comprehension of truth and beauty, and God has gifted some unbelievers the ability to reflect his truth and beauty in profound ways.

But, as Christians, we need to think. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.

So, to wit, a few humble guidelines:

1.) Does this skew my moral compass? Does it cause me, even if only during the duration of the show/movie to call evil good, and good evil? For instance, did I cheer for Jim and Pam on the Office when they found out she was pregnant?

The great danger today is the normalization of homosexuality in media, in both drama (House, now Heroes), and comedy (The Office, Arrested Development). How will this shape the thinking of young people who watch these shows? How is it affecting ours?

2.) Does the show cause me to have the appropriate response to sin and tragedy? In other words, like Schindler's List, does it cause revulsion at evil, or do I end up cheering for morally ambiguous characters?

3.) Does it draw me into the sin? Nudity and sexual scenes in movies actually involve us in lust in a way that a murder on screen does not involve us in that sin. We find actual sexual pleasure in lust, and ought to avoid all sensual nudity in our entertainment.

4.) Should we avoid any stories with immorality in them? The issue is too subtle. The question is what the obvious intent of the author was. Crime and Punishment powerfully illustrates human depravity, but in a way that appalls us, and makes us averse to it (as only Russian novelists can). Porky's (or more recent incarnations of the same teen sex comedy idea) shows depravity, but in a way that draws us into it.

5.) Should profanity itself be a consideration? This is more difficult. Gratuitous profanity, used simply for its own sake, or for comedic value is certainly out of bounds, "let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth." Clark Gable's sole profanity in Gone With the Wind was uttered with devastating effect. It was the sentence of condemnation on the frivolity, triviality, self-absorbed and petty evil that was Scarlett O'Hara's life. An aside, we ought to be far more offended by the casual use of God's name ("O My God, Good Lord, Lordy, etc")than we are at scatalogic terms for bodily functions.

There are probably other considerations we can put into an entertainment matrix that will help us. The sad fact is that even these 4 principles will write off many, if not most, shows and movies.

I am being convicted of this in my own life, and thus I share it. Thoughts? There are certainly considerations I have missed, and I would like to know what they are.


  1. I think for me, a good basic question is does this even cause me to think about the beauty that God has allowed even nonbelievers to express or does it only entertain me because it's interesting but there is not really any beauty that it points to? You site The Office and I can relate because I love the show but was disappointed with the pregnancy. Then, I had to really examine myself because we're now in the sixth season and as far back as season one, we see sexual relationships outside of marriage as the norm. Why did it take the fruit of that lifestyle (the pregnancy out of wedlock) to get my attention? Why was I ok with Grey's Anatomy until they introduced a lesbian relationship, complete with kissing scenes? Something that's hard for me is just admitting that I don't like anything to get in the way of my good time so I find myself getting as close to the line as I dare, when really the line should have been drawn far behind where I already am. And I also think that this ties in some ways to what you were saying Sunday morning -- often times, when I'm convicted, it's hard because the less worldly I am, the more I fear being able to relate or sharing said conviction with someone even in the church and getting the blank stare or the change of subject. But really, that should not be my primary concern at all. Being more like Christ should be foremost. Good blog. I read it like a week ago but put off commenting because I really had to chew on it...

  2. Good thoughts, Katie. It is so hard in our media saturated age, and especially because we do have the need to laugh.

    But, what I notice happening is that comedy itself appears to be dying. There was a stage where the genuinely funny and the coarse coincided (Arrested Development is the pinnacle of this). But, now its just too easy to be coarse --and there is no genius energy being put towards comedy.

    The sad thing is that comedy doesn't need to be coarse to be funny. Creativity thrives within boundaries. It seems to thrive in overthrowing the boundaries for a short time, so you get some good, funny, or moving movies, books, etc that are also lewd. But, then the lewdness takes over and whatever art there was is eradicated.

  3. I agree that Christians should think more critically about what we consume. I think each person will fight this battle in a different arena depending on their preferences. I watch hardly any tv, but I like movies a lot - like reading about them, watching trailers, tracking box office results, etc. I don't get to actually see many movies, though. Having a baby hurt that a lot, but also the great lack of anything decent too see. (I use http://www.kids-in-mind.com/ to help inform me of what is in movies. I like it because it doesn't usually spoil the plot.)

    But there is also a much more subtle danger of creeping toward the normalization of evil. We see it all the time, and so it becomes accepted. Your point #2 was a new thought to me. I think it is important especially as the "flawed hero" becomes more and more popular. I remember the tagline from Mel Gibson's Payback - "Get ready to root for the bad guy." Why do we cheer for this cold-blooded, merciless killer over that cold-blooded, merciless killer? There are many movies without a 'good' character at all.

    On your thought #3, you say sex on the screen draws us in differently than murder. I agree that it is different but don't want to downplay the affect of watching violence. I think it affects us more subtley but accumulates as we think that is normal or justified.

    I think the line is in a different place for different people and their strengths and weaknesses. I think an absolute line would be Pharisaical. But I don't mean to err on the side of everything is relative either. Knowing my own self and my sin patterns I need to avoid things that tempt me where others may not be tempted. What do you think about that?

    I look forward to the post about why most good art and literature is not done by Christians.