Monday, September 17, 2007

Should Christians Go To Movies?

  • Many Christians wonder if it is right or wrong to even attend movies. Different decisions are made by different Christians based on such factors as their knowledge of the Bible, level of committment to Jesus Christ, personal background/upbringing, etc. Here, I describe the range of choices under six headings. Most Christians fall into one or another of these headings. (For the record I tend to favor numbers 4 and 5, but other Christians may differ.)
  • 1) Don’t go to movies at all. This approach is followed by many who want to be serious about never exposing themselves to anything that is morally impure. Also, they believe that by going to see even a “clean,” movie, they are supporting a morally decadent enterprise, and the money they spend on this movie may be used to make a bad movie later on. (Other Christians disagree on this last point and believe that if enough people will go to see “clean” movies, Hollywood will be motivated to make more of them, since it is money that drives the system.) This plan has the virtue of being simple, and it really does prevent one from being corrupted by an indecent movie. Besides, there is no biblical command to go to movies. However, such people need to be careful of spiritual pride.
  • 2) Use the movie ratings system as a guide to which movies to see. These Christians believe that the rating system offers a way to determine which movies are “proper” and which ones are not. Such people will set a standard expressed in terms like “I will only go see G or PG movies.” Or, “I won’t go see any R-rated movies!” Many Christians follow this method, and it is probably the most popular. This plan is simple and easy, but can be inflexible. What if a movie you really want to see is rated above (or below?) your standard? Do you go and feel guilty? Also such standards are arbitrary, and may not be biblical.
  • 3) Set a specific standard that you will not violate. These Christians believe that the movie rating system is at best only a rough guide. They add an additional standard, such as, “I will not go to any movie with a nude scene in it.” Or, “Killings are OK, but if they are too graphic, I won’t stay.” Or, “Such things are OK if they are integral to the story itself, but if they are not, I won’t go see the movie.” All of these require that one read movie reviews and depend on the testimony of friends, so it is a little more work than the first two approaches. This is a more thoughtful approach, which is a good thing. However, it is rather subjective. One danger is that you may wind up setting yourself up as the standard: “I will not go see what offends me” becomes, “What does or doesn’t offend me personally, is actually God’s standard for movies.” Remember, the Bible is the authority, not us.
  • 4) Base the decision on the theme of the movie, its worldview and moral vision. These Christians also spend a lot of time looking at movie reviews and pondering the overall meaning of a movie. Under this approach, a nude scene, or violent action is not seen as a hindrance to going to the movie itself, as long as the overall theme of the movie is morally or philosophically biblical. This requires a bit of work, researching reviews and such. It has the strength of being thoughtful and mature. However, one must be sure one’s motive is pure: “Am I going to this movie because of the nude scene, and just making an excuse with all this talk of themes and worldviews, or am I really putting my priorities straight. Remember, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.”
  • 5) Judge the movie on artistic merit alone, while taking into account the theme and worldview. This approach requires much time examining movie reviews (the internet really helps here). This approach is similar to four, but Christians who take this approach will go see a movie that presents a false picture of reality, if the movie is well made. They are able to look at the movie’s understanding of reality with a critical eye, and do not believe that it will affect them unduly. Like those who follow number four, such matters as “body count,” four letter words, or nude scenes are not so important in themselves as the overall quality of the movie. This is the most thoughtful approach, but one must be careful about motive, just as in four above. Also one must be careful to avoid spiritual pride, as in number one above. There is nothing wrong with appreciating well done moviemaking, but one should not be proud that one can do so. As those who choose number one must avoid a “holier than thou” attitude, similarly those who choose number five must avoid a “more worldly wise and aware than thou” attitude.
  • 6) Don’t worry about it, just go to any movie that is showing, if it appeals to you at all, even superficially. These Christians believe that entertainment has no connection to the rest of life (they are wrong: it does), and they go to movies without giving the whole matter any real thought. If a title appeals to them, or they like the actors, or the trailer looks exciting (but don’t all trailers look exciting?), they will go see the movie. This is the least biblical approach. The Bible teaches us that all of life is interconnected. We are affected by what we do, see, and hear. Entertainment is serious business. Also, we should not be led around by advertising and promotion. Biblical wisdom requires that we make careful decisions about everything we do.
  • You should prayerfully consider these options. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Which of these have I followed in the past?
  • Which of these seems to appeal to me most? Why?
  • Should I continue to do what I have done before or should I make a change?
  • Is my motive right?
  • Is there any spiritual pride in me about how I make this decision?


hm said...

Dr. Fred,
Interesting comments about Christians and the movies. I liked how you put some questions to consider at the end of your post. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, "But examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." This is a call to personal holiness. Every Christian should examine media involvement in their lives.
This is a hot subject in many circles! It comes down to personal examination.

Fred Smith said...

Personal holiness certainly is an important matter in this regard. I am disturbed that too many Christians stop with holiness alone when evaluating media. I hear Christians make comments like, "It was a great movie--only two bad words, and no sex scenes!" That is NOT the criteria for a great movie. Many really bad movies have no cuss words and nothing "offensive."

Also many movies that have little or no bad language, and nothing "offensive" make assumptions about reality that are directly contrary to what the Bible says--and yet Christians love these movies because they are "not offensive." Why?

Anonymous said...

The Bible says Love not the world or the things of world. If you Love world the love of the father is not in you. It also says the world will think it strange that you run not with them. Also the word says. come out from amoung them. and be partakers of no mans sin. If you attend you are partaking of the sinners sin.

Fred Smith said...

Two responses:

1) Love not the World. . . means not loving false philosophies, or embracing them. This is why my number six option does not work. The number one--don't go to movies at all, does not work either--too often it builds pride, something God hates. We cannot obey the injunction "love not the world" if we love pride.

2) Often it is by attending the movies, that I can understand and confront the false beliefs contained in them. We must confront the world with the truth that is in Christ. we cannot allow the devil to have the ONLY voice in our soiceity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Smith,
Thankyou for writing this, it really has helped me. My parents (or mom), wont allow us go to the movies. My dad wouldn't mind if my mom wasn’t so stubborn about this subject. What they are worried about is not necessarily about the movie we are seeing but the environment. We have tried convincing them but it hasn’t worked. So I have been trying to research what other Christians think about this subject and make a (wonderful) essay to convince my parents... hope it works :)
-thankyou for all the info

Samuel said...

I have a major problem with number 4. The divine standard is to not to look at naked people that don't belong to me. I can't go watch a movie with nudity in it, even if it is Schindler's list, etc. Those are naked people. I am setting myself up for temptation later on.

Chris said...

How about you ask yourself, "Would Jesus watch this movie?" If the answer is no, then do not watch it yourself, because Christ lives in us. C'mon guys!!!

Agna said...

Going to the movies is my number one hobby. But I don't just go see whatever is playing just for the sake of going whether it's a morally decent film or not. If a film appeals to me I go see it unless it's obviously not something a Christian should be watching. Fortunately I have no interest in the sorts of films that typically fall into that category such as Borat and The Hangover anyway.

Anonymous said...

If you fall into the categories that rely on movie reviews to make your decision, keep in mind that not all reviews are accurate. I learned this recently. I very much wanted to see Inglourious Basterds in 2009 but decided not to based on reports online of how bad the violence, sex, language, etc. was. Well recently I decided to rent it. Now I regret that I listened to the reviews and missed out on seeing it at the theater because not only was it an excellent film but the violence, while gory, wasn't nearly as bad as they made it out to be, the only sex scene was literally five seconds long and I've heard much worse language in PG-13 rated films. So of course be careful and thoughtful, but don't always necessarily let other people determine whether or not you see a movie that you really want to see.