Articles, Movie Reviews
Top 10 films on PureFlix right now
Pureflix is a per month subscription streaming service that provides Christian content on both sides of the US/Canadian border. While much of its cont...
Saturday Selections – Jan 14, 2023
Blue hair as a death sentence? A few years ago headlines declared that Iceland had nearly eradicated Down syndrome. But they hadn't eradicated the sy...
Articles, Entertainment, Movie Reviews
Here’s the problem with just closing your eyes during the sex scenes
Articles, Entertainment, Movie Reviews
Beyond judging a movie by its poster
Most “family friendly” films are precarious **** Recent research indicates that our brains are more synaptically active while we sleep than they are while we watch television or movies. This is not just a physical reality, but a spiritual one. Most people, including an alarming number of Christians, watch movies strictly for enjoyment, with a passive and receptive mental stance. But Christians should not view movies this way, and if they can’t watch movies any other way, they shouldn’t watch movies at all. The Proverbs tell us: “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding” (Prov. 10:23). In other words, vanity, futility, and immorality are fun to a fool. These alone please him. A wise man, on the other hand, finds pleasure and satisfaction in the exercise of wisdom and discernment. If a movie is little more than eye-candy – an exercise in superficiality and sensual experience – it won’t do very much to please a wise man. He wants something to chew on, some way to exercise and practice his discernment, some avenue to make a distinction between excellence and mediocrity, right and wrong. Mature Christians “because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). A thoughtful, well-produced movie can be and should be another playground for the pleasurable practice of biblical discernment. Between right and almost right As is apparent to most human beings, some family pets, and even some household appliances, one can either watch a given movie, or not watch it. Not watching a movie is the easiest way to avoid being affected by it. When a movie sells itself with sex, violence, and coarse language, it is almost always a good choice to skip it. Judging a movie by its poster, preview, and rating is the easiest form of discernment, and for me at least, it shaves off about 90% of all contemporary movies right off the bat without any further inquiry. But, as Charles Spurgeon has said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” It seems that most Christians, if they use discernment at the box office at all, discern only according to appearances. If a movie contains little coarse language, no nudity, and no exorbitant violence, they consider the movie harmless family entertainment. Well-dressed, sweet-smelling lies are harder to detect than stinky, ugly ones. For this reason, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, and we should not be surprised when his servants come to us in equally deceptive garb (2 Cor. 11:14-15). We must learn to exercise a discernment which looks at the heart of a matter. God exercises this kind of discernment perfectly, and we also can “spiritually appraise” all things because we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16). It is clear we must avoid supporting movies that display a penchant for sin and all that the flesh lusts after, but what about those “family-friendly” films that seem so harmless? How do we avoid the pitfalls of worldview deception when something seems “almost right”? “Imitation value extracts” I think the most dangerous feature of mainstream family-friendly films is the ubiquitous inclusion of what I call “imitation value extracts.” These are virtues or convictions that have been extracted from their context. They are ready-made virtues. It is easy to account (or should I say bank account) for their existence. Hollywood producers want to make as much money as possible from their films, naturally. In order to do this, they have to attract as many viewers as possible. This means it is important for them to neutralize any elements in their movies that might unduly offend any potential market. Thus, “value extracts” allow any number of viewers with vastly different substantive beliefs to pour their own definitions, sources, and foundations into the generalized, non-exclusive frameworks of any given film. Allow me a detour for a moment to talk about an interesting Biblical backdrop for this discussion. The word translated “medium” in the Old Testament (meaning necromancer or sorcerer) is the Hebrew word “ob” which means “empty wine skin.” This means that the mediums emptied themselves out so that they could be filled with any passing spirit. In the same way, Hollywood has embraced a stance of tolerant pluralism, emptying itself of any divisive or exclusive convictions so as to be open to the opinions (and especially, the money) of any passing viewer. Let’s look at a few examples of objectless, foundationless “value extracts” in some “classic” family films. Prince of Egypt Consider the movie Prince of Egypt, Dreamworks Animation’s first film, which is loosely based on the Biblical account of Moses. The theme song for the film is entitled “When You Believe.” The chorus to this song is: There can be miracles, when you believe Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill Who knows what miracles you can achieve When you believe, somehow you will You will when you believe… This is a great example of extracted values. Here, the faith and hope have no object. Their value is intrinsic. The focus is on the individual’s act of belief, not on the object of his belief. You can achieve miracles if you believe, even if what you believe in doesn’t exist, there is power in the act of belief. Belief is its own reward. It doesn’t matter what or who you believe in, just that you believe. The belief itself is what is valuable about religion because it gives you the strength to carry on through difficult times. I wish this were the only example of “imitation faith extract.” But it isn’t. Here are a few more examples. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader The first song for the ending credits of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader contains these lines: We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe. It’s written in the stars that shine above, A world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong, Exactly who we are is just enough. In these lines, we see both faith and love operating as value extracts – totally separated from any object. This would be bad enough, but consider this testimony from Liam Neeson, who has played Aslan in all the Narnia movies so far: "Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha, and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me." Hmmm. So the movie has been designed so that any religious belief can fit into its framework. It has been stripped of political incorrectness by removing or primarily neutralizing Christian truths that would exclude other beliefs. Notice again the emphasis on self. In fact, if mainstream “family” movies give any object for faith, it is always the self. How many times have you heard the platitude: “You’ve just gotta believe in yourself.” Something in me thinks that C.S. Lewis would not be terribly happy about the marketizing neutralization of his specifically and obviously Christian stories, but I guess there is no way to know until we get to “somewhere in the stars where you and I belong” and then, we can ask him. The Polar Express Another example is The Polar Express. In it, the train conductor says, “The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” Later, the protagonist chants, “I believe. I believe. I believe.” According to the conductor, the direction, destination, source, or foundation of belief – I mean trains – is not important. So the boy just has to “believe.” Whatever he believes in is unimportant. As long as he decides to believe, that is what is important. Or how about Cinderella: “If you keep believing, the dreams you wish will come true.” Or even Kung Fu Panda: “Promise me, XiFu! Promise me you will believe!” Once you start to notice this sort of thing, the examples are really endless. “Value Extracts” are the moral backbone of almost all family films. Love very commonly operates as a value extract – without boundaries, without object, without foundation. The “power of love.” Courage, loyalty, and honesty also appear regularly, and without a foundation. Whatever the value, it must be presented in a nebulous enough way to receive any viewer’s particular definitions. Hollywood provides the empty wineskin, you provide the passing spirit. Barely even half-truths Value extracts are dangerous deceptions – barely even half-truths. Virtue does not exist without Christ. Nothing has intrinsic value apart from Him. Faith without an object is useless. Love without definition is as good as hate. Courage, loyalty, honesty, etc. are arbitrary without biblical boundaries. Good and evil do not exist without an absolute standard to distinguish them. To ascribe intrinsic or independent value to anything is to say, in effect, that things can have existence and goodness independent of God. Non-Christians wish this were the case because they want the fruit of Christianity without having to bow the knee to Christ. But Ecclesiastes makes it very clear: under the sun (i.e., excluding the heavens where God is), everything is intrinsically meaningless and vain. So, these seemingly safe family movies may appear to be harmless family fun, but they are actually denying the root of all meaningful existence – God and His Word. As such, most “family friendly” films are precarious, and should not be viewed passively. It is profitable to watch these movies, even with your children, only if you couch the movie-watching experience as an active sparring session… a module of worldview conflict training. Without this self-conscious predisposition to “guarding our hearts,” we will leave ourselves vulnerable to the onslaughts of vain speculation and worldly philosophy. Watching movies and engaging with the philosophy of our culture must never be a passive experience, for to allow it to be such would be to sit under the tutelage and in the friendly company of scoffers. We cannot be deceived, such an approach has corrupted and will continue to corrupt Christian morals. The enjoyment we receive from movies must be the sport of exercising our Biblical discernment, not the passive and passing pleasure of folly (thinking again like Prov. 10:23). So, next time you go to the movies, don’t leave your mind at the box office or your heart unguarded. Prepare yourself for the invigorating exercise of your discernment. Then, take the strength and understanding you gain from that exercise and use it to engage your culture for the kingdom of Christ! This article is reprinted with permission from the author, and was first posted to Movieology.tv a now defunct website that offered challenging and highly enlightening movie reviews, from a biblical, Reformed worldview. Michael Minkoff Jr. is the cofounder of The Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal and Renew the Arts (RenewTheArts.org)....
Articles, Entertainment, Movie Reviews
Reading films: are Christians as discerning as they used to be?
"Moving pictures" have only the briefest of histories, spreading throughout North America early in the twentieth century. The first movie theatres were converted stores with hard wooden benches and a bedsheet for a screen, and they came to be known as "nickelodeons" because the admission price was five cents. Films were short – in 1906 the average length was five to ten minutes. In 1911 the earliest cinema music was played on tinkling pianos. During the silent film era, slapstick comedy – which depends on broad physical actions and pantomime for its effect rather than dialogue – was widely prevalent. With the advent of the "talkies" in the 1930s, screwball comedy became widely popular. It was laced with hyper action, was highly verbal, and noted for its wisecracks. In 1939 the first drive-in theatre was opened on a ten-acre site in Camden, New Jersey. A brief history of the Church and movies When movies first because a form of widespread public entertainment, Christians were frequently warned against movie-going. Many "fundamentalist" pastors forcefully exhorted, "When the Lord suddenly returns, would you want to meet Him in a theatre watching a worldly movie?" In Reformed Churches too, Christians were also exhorted not to attend movie theatres. 1. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) As early as 1908 the editor of the CRC denominational magazine, The Banner, complained: "Theatre going supports a class of people that frequently caters to the lowest taste of depraved humanity, actors and actresses and their employers." A general objection was that the movie industry as a whole tended to be "of the world," and thus against Christian values and the church… and ultimately against God's Kingdom. The CRC 1928 Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements paid close attention to the question of worldliness in relation to the movies. The Report stopped short of calling the whole movie industry anti-Christian, but still issued severe warnings against attending movies. CRC Synod 1928 judged: "We do not hesitate to say that those who make a practice of attending the theatre and who therefore cannot avoid witnessing lewdness which it exhibits or suggests are transgressors of the seventh commandment." In 1964 the CRC took another serious look at the movies. The CRC realized that its official stance and the practice of its members were at great variance, producing a "denominational schizophrenia and/or hypocrisy." In 1966 a major report The Film Arts and the Church was released. It differed substantially from the earlier studies. Film, it said, should be regarded as a legitimate means of cultural expression, so the medium of film must be claimed, and restored by Christians. The Report was idealistic in hoping that members of the CRC would become discriminating and educated moviegoers, reflecting on and discussing films as part of their cultural milieu. The review of movies in The Banner began in 1975, but faced strong opposition. But in time the Reformed doctrine of the antithesis (we should not be just like the world) became muted in the choice of movies made by CRC members. There was little difference in what they watched, and what the world watched. 2. The Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) The PRC was fervent in its denouncement of movies and movie attendance. The PRC considers all acting as evil, as is the watching of acting on stage, in theatres, on television, or on video. PRC minister Dale Kuiper said, "Certainly the content of almost 100 per cent of dramatic productions (movies, television programs, plays, skits, operas) place these things out of bounds for the Christian." But already in 1967 a writer noted that PRC practice did not match PRC principle: "When I was formerly an active pastor in a congregation, it was always a source of sad disappointment to me that so few of our young people could testify, when asked at confession of faith, that they had not indulged in the corruptions of the movie." And since 1969 and continuing till today, various pastors and professors have lamented that large numbers of PRC members watch movies, either in theatres or, more often, on television. 3. Evangelicals Evangelicals have a history of making films as a way of teaching Christian values. The Billy Graham organization Worldwide Pictures made modest independent films to evangelize youth: The Restless Ones (1965), about teenage pregnancy; A Thief in the Night (1972), an end-times thriller; and the Nicky Cruz biopic, The Cross and the Switchblade (1970). A reporter dubbed them "religious tracts first, entertainment second." More recently, evangelicals made new producing sci-fi films about the apocalypse, which critics claim are embarrassingly poor-quality – artistically flawed – productions marketed in the name of evangelism. As examples, they refer to the three profitable Left Behind Movies (2000, 2002, 2005). There has also been a trend to create "family-friendly" movies. However, these movies tend to depict a world where all issues are plain and simple. Evildoers are destroyed, the virtuous rewarded, and often times the “good” characters have within themselves everything they need to secure their destiny. Clearly, then, this is not the real world. We've also seen, among evangelicals, a defense of less than family-friendly films. Already back in 1998, the Dallas Morning News ran a story about the growing number of Christians who advocate going to even R-rated movies. The reason? Evangelical filmmaker Dallas Jenkins said, “Non-Christians are just as capable of producing God-honoring and spiritually uplifting products as Christians are, and I've been as equally offended by a Christian's product as I've been moved by something from a non-Christian." Perspectives So how should Christians think about films? How can we approach them with discernment? It begins with recognizing that a film is more than a form of entertainment: it propagates a worldview. Films often: exalt self-interest as the supreme value glorify violent resolutions to problems promote the idea that finding the perfect mate is one's primary vocation and highest destiny Films also so often promote a view of romantic love as being passionate and irresistible, able to conquer anything, including barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personality conflicts. But the love it portrays is usually another euphemism for lust. In Images of Man: a Critique of the Contemporary Cinema, Donald J. Drew observes that in contemporary films, the context makes it clear that love equals sex plus nothing. An underlying assumption in mainstream Hollywood films is that the goal in life is to become rich. And acquiring things is even supposed to make you a better person! But the values of consumerism, self-indulgence and immediate gratification can harm individuals, families, and communities. Titanic (1997) Most films depict a world in which God is absent or non-existent. For example, there is nothing in the film Titanic to suggest that God is even interested in the fate of those on board the sinking ship. Whether uncaring or impotent, God is irrelevant in the world of this film. In his book Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, William D. Romanowski comments: "Whatever outward appearances of belief dot the landscape of Titanic, they have little bearing on the faith of the main characters, especially when compared to the film's glorification of the human will and spirit." The principal character Rose Bukater is engaged to Cal Hockley, who is concerned only with the approval of his social set. He equates wealth and social status with worth and character. Aware of the limited lifeboat capacity, Rose says, "Half the people on the ship are going to die." The snobbish Cal responds, “Not the better half.” These attitudes run against the grain of American values associated with freedom and equality. And because he is the obvious bad guy, the director has so framed things that whoever stands against Cal will be understood, by the audience, to be the good guy. And so we see in opposition to Cal, the free-spirited artist Jack who is the ultimate expression of pure freedom. His character traits, talent, and good looks easily identify him as the hero. And so the scene is set that when Rose and Jack have an illicit sexual encounter, the audience is encouraged to cheer this and want this, because it is for Rose a declaration of independence from her fiancé and her mother's control over her. The now famous sex scene sums up many of the film's themes: Forbidden love, class differences, and individual freedom. The Passion of the Christ (2004) There was, not so long ago, a film in which God was included. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was highly recommended by evangelicals for its realistic portrayal of Christ's suffering and death. But how true to the Gospels is the film? Why did the director have Jesus stand up to invite more scourging by the Roman soldiers? Was the suffering Jesus endured primarily physical, as this film portrays? Is the film historically accurate or is it a reflection of Gibson's theology? Co-screenwriter Mel Gibson said that he relied not only on the New Testament but also on the writings of two nuns, Mary of Agreda, a seventeenth-century aristocrat, and Anne Catherine Emmerich, an early nineteenth-century stigmatic. The violence in the film became a matter of much debate when the film was released. On the one hand, the head of an evangelical youth ministry said, "This isn't violence for violence's sake. This is what really happened, what it would have been like to have been there in person to see Jesus crucified." On the other hand, many critics cringed at the level of violence in the movie. Romanowski comments, "In my estimation, it is difficult to provide dramatic justification for some of the violence in the film." Star Wars (1977) While the inclusion of God in a film is a rarity, the inclusion of spirituality is not. One of the most iconic and controversial film series has been Star Wars. In 1977 it hit the big screens and it was an immediate success. Legions of fans formed an eerie cult-like devotion and the box-office receipts were astronomical. It originated a new genre – the techno-splashy sci-fi soap opera. The film definitely has a semi-religious theme. In From Plato to NATO David Gress writes that the Star Wars film saga broadcast a popular mythology of heroism, growth, light, and dark sides, wise old men and evil tempters, all concocted by the California filmmaker George Lucas. Much of the inspiration came from the teaching of Joseph Campbell, who claimed there is truth in all mythology. Campbell wrote in 1955 that "clearly Christianity is opposed fundamentally and intrinsically to everything I am working and living for." Meanwhile, John C. McDowell, Lecturer in Systematic Theology at New College, University of Edinburgh, finds something redemptive in Star Wars. He analyses the "classic trilogy" Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and the Return of the Jedi in his book The Gospel according to Star Wars: Faith, Hope, and the Force. He calls these films a "pop-culture phenomenon" of unprecedented stature and much more than mere entertainment. He suggests that the films carry even "more influence among young adults than the traditional religious myths of our culture." He argues that these films possess rich resources to change and transform us as moral subjects by helping us in some measure to encounter the deep mystery of what it means to be truly human. He even claims that Star Wars is "a parabolic resource that reveals something of the shape of a Christian discipleship lived under the shadow of the cross." He notes that the theology of the original trilogy is difficult to pin down – though the interconnectedness of all of life does seem to be the fruit of the Force in some way and this is therefore exalted as the movies' "good" or "god." McDowell also discovered pacifist themes in the films – according to him, Star Wars at its best possesses radical potential to witness to a set of nonviolent values. Critical assessment Should we warn Christians about the kind of movies they are watching, whether in a theatre or on TV? Some say, "They are only movies. They won't influence us." I wonder whether the lack of critical thinking by evangelicals is the result of the tendency to privatize faith, confining religious beliefs to personal morality, family, and the local congregation, all the while conducting their affairs in business, politics, education, and social life, and the arts much like everyone else. Aren't even many Christians overlooking the persistence of evil in human history? We live in a fallen world that is at once hostile to God and also in search for God. Works of art can glorify God – including film art – but they can also be instrumental in leading people away from Him. Ever since the fall, human beings have been in revolt against God, turning their gifts against the Giver. Art, along with nearly every human faculty, has been tainted by the fall. Indeed, one of the first phases of the disintegration brought by sin was the usurpation of art for the purpose of idolatry (Rom. 1:23). Most people believe they are personally immune to what they see on the film screen or on TV. How do we grow in our faith? Not by watching and observing a steady diet of movies. We must restore the primacy and power of the Word of God. God gave us a book – the Bible – and not a movie. We should be critical in our thinking, and apply our Biblical worldview. Scripture calls us to "test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thess. 5:1-22). Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections....
How then shall we watch?
Imagine the following scenario. A Christian friend invites you over for a movie. The evening hasn’t progressed far, however, before you realize you’re watching an NC-17 film, complete with pornographic sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination. You turn to your friend in disbelief, but he assures you it’ll be worth it if you just keep watching. Then comes the twist: the characters in the film express regret over their immorality, and in a powerful display of repentance, they give their lives to Christ. Now, most of us would agree that a titillation flick – no matter what kind of redeeming “message” is tacked on – is not acceptable fare for followers of Christ. Sometimes the moral message of a story is drowned out by immoral methods. And yet, we’ve adopted a mindset that Trevin Wax once described with these words: “all sorts of entertainment choices are validated in the name of cultural engagement.” But we need to ask a question (one Wax also asks): “At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?” There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed, somewhere between the questions, “How does watching Chariots of Fire show us the gospel?” and “How does watching Girls Gone Wild show us the gospel?” Where is that line? What does it look like? 3 QUESTIONS We can’t answer these questions with the depth they deserve in a single article. What we can do, however, is pose a few additional questions to help us evaluate our own hearts more clearly. QUESTION #1: IS MY VIEW OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY TOO SHALLOW? The Christian recognizes that truth and beauty have been clearly communicated by a trustworthy and glorious God. His Word is a lamp that illuminates the darkness of our surroundings. Hints of God’s truth can be found everywhere – even in unlikely places. I personally have had God speak certain truths to me through movies that I now couldn’t watch with a clear conscience. God can use any means – even the mouth of a donkey (see Numbers 22:21-39)– to speak to us. However, the almost rabid rush to find truth in anything and everything might be a sign that we’re starving ourselves from the “real deal” and substituting shadows and reflections for substance and clear images. Just a couple years ago, The Christian Post reported on a survey that listed the mainstream TV shows most watched by Christian audiences. Several of the shows featured objectified actors (characters in lingerie, underwear, stripper getups, etc.), crude and crass sexual language (some of it pervasive), and sex scenes (including one show with a sex scene in almost every episode). And that’s just a tally of problematic sexual displays. If we need entertainment to give us explicit acts of depravity just to show how gross certain sins of debauchery are, I think it means we’re far too easily pleased with finding diamond fragments in dunghills, rather than taking in the beauty of polished gems in a jewelry store. Or, to modify imagery from Proverbs 11:22, you can deprive yourself of unadulterated truth and beauty to the extent that you find a pig decked out with a gold ring a beautiful sight to behold. You may think you’re exercising discernment (i.e., cleverly noticing truth in even unlikely places), but you’re actually lacking discernment (ignoring the pig because, well, shucks, that ring is fancy). It may sometimes be a challenge to find creative, God-honoring entertainment, but it’s not impossible. Considering the collective output of film and television from their inceptions, there are plenty of options available to us. There is no entertainment so popular or attractive that we must compromise real truth and beauty so we can experience inferior or tainted imitations of them. QUESTION #2: DO I USE “GRAY AREAS” AS AN EXCUSE FOR COMPROMISE? We definitely want to be careful about creating universal entertainment rules that aren’t Biblically justified. Depending on the varying maturity levels of different believers, certain content may be good for some to watch and others to avoid. Not everything is black and white. There are definitely shades of gray out there (just not, er, fifty.) But just as any one person will have blind spots, so will any culture and time period. It is helpful, and sometimes necessary, to examine how other cultures and time periods have addressed similar topics. In order to properly evaluate potential gray areas, we need to have a more global and historical perspective – a perspective that isn’t mired in our own cultural shortcomings. One such “gray area” is the pornification of much of our entertainment. In his book The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge says the following: oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago …. up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.3 Dr. Doidge’s book was published in 2007, and the societal trends he noticed have only worsened since then (on the practice of using porn stars for mainstream entertainment, see Seth Rogen on Hollywood’s Backdoor Connection to the Red-Light District). Pornified content is so commonplace that we’ve become largely desensitized to its presence. You won’t find many professing Christians argue that pornography is a gray area, and yet you will find many professing Christians argue that similar material is justifiable in a mainstream movie with a redemptive message. The cultural standard being used is a sliding scale; the “gray” is not found in the situation itself, but in our collective cloudy vision. QUESTION #3: AM I PLACING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON BEING RELEVANT? There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be effective in communicating with a particular demographic, including your own culture. The problem with focusing too much on being relevant, however, is that we can become so fixated on what is current and popular and fresh that we lose sight of what is lastingly valuable. What is relevant today will be irrelevant tomorrow. This is true in any setting, but when we are immersed in the very culture we attempt to minister in, we can be especially distracted by numerous fads, crazes, and trends. When the Pharisees debated with Jesus about divorce in Mark 10, they were consumed with current interpretations of the Mosaic law, whereas Jesus focused on ancient realities found in the book of Genesis. In the words of commentator David Guzik, It’s striking that Jesus took us back to the beginning to learn about marriage. Today many want to say, “We live in different times” or “The rules are different today” or “We need a modern understanding.” Yet Jesus knew that the answers were in going back to the beginning. Relevance is a tragic endgame. It’s a horrible target to set your sights on. With such a focus, the temporal can gain more importance than the eternal, and suddenly we’re majoring on minors and minoring on majors. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if we aim at eternal truth, we’ll get temporal relevance thrown in. If we aim simply at relevance, we’ll get neither. Chasing after the moving target of “relevance” can lead one to speak and act and live in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from those in the world. To a large degree, this has happened within our western Christian subculture: our entertainment choices rarely differ from those who claim no affinity for God and His word. And if our salt loses its saltiness in the name of relevance, we become pathetically irrelevant. 3 PRINCIPLES The above three questions are a good place to start, but we mustn’t stop there. We must find sound, Biblical answers. That being the case, let us examine three Scriptural principles that can help us formulate those answers. THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT First, when asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus answered with a quote from Deuteronomy 6: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (v. 4). This can help us better evaluate the first question: “Is my view of truth and beauty too shallow?” As the ultimate expression – nay, the very embodiment – of truth and beauty, God must capture our foremost affections and deepest love. Entertainment can actually be an aid in our pursuit of Him. No artist denies the power of art to affect and influence us. As such, one might well ask, “Will this piece of entertainment encourage me to love and value what God loves and values? Does it call evil evil and good good? Will it point me toward God or away from God?” It won’t work to consume entertainment that discourages us from loving the Giver of truth and beauty – not even if that piece of entertainment includes a kernel of truth or a nugget of beauty. It is self-defeating to compromise our convictions about truth and beauty in order to encourage our appreciation for truth and beauty. As one person once said, it’s like “rooting through a bin of over ripe garbage in the summer in hopes of finding a good sandwich.” LOVE TRUMPS FREEDOM Jesus also told us what the second greatest commandment is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This can help us better evaluate the second question: “Do I use ‘gray areas’ as an excuse for compromise?” One solid principle far removed from the “gray area” zone is the Christian’s duty to consider the needs of others. With that principle in mind, let us return to the pornification of our entertainment. This time, however, forget about your own wellbeing as an audience member and consider the wellbeing of the actors who are tasked with disrobing and sexually acting out for the camera. We may not personally know these actors, but they fit under the category of “neighbor” according to the sweeping definition Jesus assumed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Like the priest and the Levite in the parable, we may barely cross paths with Hollywood actors (we’re only handing money over to their employers so they get paid for entertaining us). But as with the priest and Levite, that leaves us with no excuse for our lack of neighborly love. Instead of evaluating whether or not a graphic sex scene is appropriate for you, evaluate whether or not it is your Christian duty to pay others to objectify and exploit themselves for your entertainment. Is that the best way you as a consumer can love your entertainer as you love yourself? There are scores of actor testimonials on how degrading and terrifying and horrifying it is to force oneself – or face pressure from studio executives – to be sexualized for the viewing pleasure of others. (For a fuller treatment of this topic, see Here’s the problem with just closing your eyes during the sex scenes.) The Christian’s liberty is subservient to the Christian’s duty to love. The second commandment helps clarify certain situations that we might otherwise categorize as “gray areas.” THE TEST OF FAITH In addressing the controversy surrounding meat offered to idols, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Roman church with this bit of advice: “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). This can help us better evaluate the third question: “Am I placing too much emphasis on being relevant?” Paul agreed with his readers that there was no inherent sin involved in eating meat that may or may not have previously been used in pagan rituals. Such meat was not tainted. That was a fact. Nevertheless, certain Christians experienced guilt even thinking about the practice. To them, it indicated a participation in pagan worship. Their conscience was, to use Paul’s term, “weak” (v. 2). Yet if they were to violate their conscience, ill-informed as it was, they would still be acting in sin. Thus, whether or not a certain piece of entertainment will allow you to be relevant to your culture, consider whether you can engage with it in full faith that such an action is good and right. You cannot use the convictions of others to carry or excuse your entertainment choices. If your conscience is bothering you, it is your Christian duty to heed your conscience. The most relevant faith is a faith that clings to its convictions. In fact, sometimes the best conversations, and sometimes the best form of cultural engagement can take place, not because you have watched the latest movie, but because you haven’t. ENTERTAINMENT ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL In generations past, prospectors did not typically find gold lying on the surface of the ground. They found gold through hard work: panning in the water, mining in the earth, and so on. Similarly, being a wise patron of entertainment requires thoughtful and deliberate analysis. It takes hard work. And that work can only be successful when informed by the gospel of the grace of God. His word and His will and His ways can – and should – transform our choices. The more we immerse ourselves in gospel principles and gospel practices, the better equipped we will be to engage with entertainment in a God-glorifying way. Cap Stewart blogs about movies and the arts at CapStewart.com....