Go to the Movies. . . But Don’t Turn Off Your Brain!

Feb. 12, 2010

How many of you have seen one movie in the past month (on TV or at the theater)? Two movies? Three? Ten? How many of you, like me, see so many movies on a regular basis it’s too hard to count? Do you know how many movies are made on average per year in Hollywood? Over the last ten years or so, Hollywood puts out an average of six hundred movies each year. That’s almost two a day–many many more if you include Bollywood. Movies are everywhere! They show up in abundance in our culture and in our lives. On that level alone movies are important to think about and discuss in our Christian communities as we try to help one another live more like Christ.

But movies aren’t only important because they’re prevalent. Movies are important because they communicate ideas about what is true. We’ve always used art as a way of expressing our beliefs about and experiences of reality: what is true about life and what it means to be a person, why is there evil and how can we be saved from it… “Man has always and will continue to express his hope and excitement, as well as his fears and reservations, about life and what it means to be human through the arts. He will seek to express his world through any and all available mediums, and presently that includes film.”{1}

So movies are important not just because they’re everywhere, but because they tell us about life and what it mans to be human. Normally, in church, when we talk about where our ideas about life and what it means to be a person and how we should live, where do we say those ideas come from? Right, the Bible.

And that’s true! But God has given us art too. And we need art and science and nature and each other and the Bible to interpret what is real, what is true. We need all of these things together to help us make sense of life; because life can sometimes be a mess. When your friend betrays you and you don’t know why. When your parents divorce. When life isn’t bad just uncertain, or confusing… or complicated because two boys like you at the same time or you’re not exactly sure where you want to go to college… Now, the Scriptures come first among all informers of reality; but we’ll come back to that.

I have to thank my friend and colleague Todd Kappelman; he works with me at Probe and he is a professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. I’ll be pulling a lot from his lecture “Perspectives on Film: What’s in a movie?” Let me quote Todd:

“A film is able to convey an enormous range of human experience and emotions. A good film maker, script writer, director, producer, or actor can take us to places that we might never be able to see through our everyday experiences.”

Can you think of some examples? Avatar. Lord of the Rings. Even movies like Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart. And because movies are able to involve us in situations that are outside of our everyday experiences, but that we can relate to, “[movies] may also show us things about our world that would otherwise remain hidden to the untrained eye.” For example, Wall-E. How many of you have seen Wall-E? So basically humanity destroys all oxygen-producing plant life and has to ship civilization out into outer space. Everyone’s on a giant cruise ship in space, lounging in these mobile recliners that take them wherever they want to go and they have these screens that pop up and they can order whatever food they want, and it comes right to them. And they’ve been living like this in space for years so everyone is super fat. There are a couple of underlying messages in this movie; they’re pretty obvious, right? Take care of the Earth our home and discipline yourself in this world of modern convenience. But because these messages are communicated to us, not directly in the world in which we live, but indirectly through a world with robots and space cruise ships, it’s a message that’s easier to swallow.

The underlying messages of Wall-E are pretty obvious; however, many movies have messages which are much more subtle. And unless we know what to look for and how to look for it we will miss it. We will miss what the movie is really saying behind the special effects and witty dialogue. Often movies communicate ideas about life and reality through symbols; it’s like code. The movies don’t often just come out and say, “This is the message about life from this movie.” So we need to learn how to interpret the code.

Movies have ideas and those ideas come from the women and men who make them. Duh. Right, I know. But we don’t always think about it. Every person has a worldview and that worldview is always in a person’s art.

My colleague Todd gives us five basic questions to ask when watching movies:

1. How important is life to the director/writers, etc? Are tough issues dealt with or avoided? “Christian” movies come to mind when I think of this question. Sometimes these movies are really bad about candy-coating life–everything ends nice and neatly and all the bad stuff about life is kind of skipped over or neatly dealt with. This is a disservice because it isn’t true to life.

2. Is there a discernible philosophical position in the film? If so, what is it, and can a case be made for your interpretation? How many of you saw Avatar? I saw it twice. It was awesome in 3D. I hear it’s even cooler in XD. I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. Hollywood’s favorite and most popular worldview right now is pantheism. Think about Avatar and look at your chart (under Cosmic Humanism). See anything that rings familiar from the movie?

3. Is the subject matter of the film portrayed truthfully? Here the goal is to determine if the subject matter is being dealt with in a way that is in agreement with or contrary to the experiences of daily reality. Let me think here… what comes to mind? Um… romantic comedies. Don’t get me wrong, I like many romantic comedies, but I also go to those movies with my brain turned on, watching the screen through my biblical worldview lenses. And it’s important we do that because those movies aren’t just fun-loving and warm-fuzzy, they also communicate ideas about romance and marriage and dating and sex. And if we go into these movies with our brains turned off, we will begin to subconsciously absorb these false ideas. If I’m not filtering the film with my biblical worldview, I can easily begin to expect my love life to be like the movies, which when I say it out loud like that sounds ridiculous. But it happens in subtle ways and more often than we think.

4. Is there a discernible hostility toward particular values and beliefs? Does the film seek to be offensive for the sake of sensationalism alone? I think a case can be made that The DaVinci Code fits into this category. But you know, hostility toward Christianity is all over, not just movies, but TV too. When Christians are portrayed on the show Criminal Minds for example, they’re often extreme fundamentalists who hate gays and repress women. And you know, that’s a legitimate complaint against some who call themselves Christians. But when those are the only types of Christians shown time and time again on TV and in the movies, the whole picture isn’t being shown. It’s being distorted.

5. Is the film technically well made, written, produced and acted? I confess, Transformers II was a major disappointment. It was technically well done; I mean, the special effects were awesome. But the writing… I felt like I was getting dumber sitting there listening to that dialogue. Even the plot had some holes in it, which was disappointing because I like action flicks.

Now as Christian interpreters, we have three more questions to ask ourselves:

1. Does the interpretation of reality in this work conform to or fail to conform to Christian doctrine or ethics? Sometimes a movie will match up pretty solidly with the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture. Sometimes a movie will represent the complete opposite ideas about what life is like and what it means to be human. But most of the time, movies present to us ideas that partly conform to Christian doctrine or ethics. Because movies come out of the ideas in the heart and minds of the women and men who create them, and Romans 2 tells us that God has written his truth on the hearts of all people.

2. If some of the ideas and values are Christian, are they inclusively or exclusively Christian? That is, do these ideas encompass Christianity and other religions or philosophic viewpoints, or do they exclude Christianity from other viewpoints? The case could be made that The Book of Eli presents Christian values in an inclusive way. It’s subtle, and if you blinked you might have missed it. The movie isn’t about preserving the Word of God. It’s about preserving the religious books of the world. And it is no mistake that the Bible was placed right next to the Koran in the library at the end.

3. If some of the ideas and values in a work are Christian, are they a relatively complete version of the Christian view, or are they a relatively rudimentary version of Christian belief on a given topic? (Like Criminal Minds.)

Finally, a few cautions:

1. Just because a movie depicts unChristian ethics or values doesn’t mean it’s bad art. Likewise, just because a movie depicts Christian values doesn’t mean it’s good art.

2. Be careful not to allow your personal perspective to dominate the description of a particular work. Try to understand as many other perspectives as you can.

3. Do not expect a non-Christian to agree with you, arrive at the same conclusions, or completely understand your perspective. At best we can hope to offer a clear and coherent insight into a work and thereby gain an opportunity for a Christian voice to be heard.

Okay. So movies are important. And so is the need for Christian interpretation. So if you like movies as much as I do, I hope you will go to the movies and keep your brain turned on because movies communicate messages about life and what it means to be human. And if we don’t turn on our brains, we will unknowingly begin to believe untruths about life and what it means to be human. Movies are also important because they provide a good, nonthreatening way to talk about truth and worldview—ideas about life and what it means to be human—with our friends.


1. Kappelman, Todd, Film and the Christian, bit.ly/LvfUe1

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2010/02/12/go-to-the-movies-but-dont-turn-off-your-brain/

“Where Can I Get Christian Movie Reviews?”

There are two excellent Web sites that provide Christian reviews of movies:

1. Movieguide

2. Crosswalk Movie Reviews

There is also a conservative movie review Web site you might want to check: www.screenit.com

Kerby Anderson
Probe Ministries

Confessions of a Cellphone-Challenged Journalist

I have a confession.

Not one of those tawdry confessions, but it is a little embarrassing. You see, I am cellphone challenged.

I used a cellphone once — about ten years ago when volunteering to help rebuild Miami after Hurricane Andrew. The BellSouth loaner, a real clunker, helped me navigate the storm-ravaged county amidst downed street signs and landmarks.

But I’ve never owned one. Voicemail takes my messages and I’ve seldom wanted to be more accessible. Some of my friends swear by cellphones. Others swear at them. Ever been in a movie theater when a filmgoer gets a call and decides to talk?

My wife attended a conference presentation during which a woman asked the speaker a question from the audience. In the middle of her question, with all eyes on her, her cellphone rang. She not only answered it, but also conducted a brief conversation while everyone watched aghast.

Airline travelers talk before takeoff until the flight attendant tells them to stop. They resume talking when the plane lands. They talk walking through the airport, on the inter-terminal shuttle, entering the restroom. They talk while using the toilet or washing their hands. Some restrooms sound like offices.

Drivers talk. Beachgoers talk. Students talk between classes. Shoppers talk while cruising the aisles. (“What kind of cheese did you want me to get?”)

Some restaurants ask diners not to use cellphones. Some summer camps have banned them because they distract kids from social and recreational activities.

My doctor’s office has a sign asking patients to please not talk on cellphones while the doctor or nurse is examining them. (Let your mind wander on that theme for a moment.)

One of my favorite signs is inside a nearby church: “Please turn off cellphones during service. (Let God call you.)”

The hit movie, “Bruce Almighty,” depicts God’s attempts to contact the main character (played by Jim Carrey) by leaving a number on his pager. Turns out the number is valid in many area codes. After the film’s release, people and businesses began getting calls from folks asking for God.

A Florida woman threatened to sue the film studio after 20 calls per hour clogged her cellphone. A Denver radio station built a contest around the fluke. Some callers to the station seemed to think they’d really discovered a direct line to God. One left a message confessing her adultery.

Another number holder decided to offer some friendly advice. She changed her voice message to say, “Looking for God? Well, I’m not Him, but I do know Him. And knowing Him has changed my life. You can know Him too. In fact, it’s a local call.”

Come to think of it, that may not be a bad idea. Jeremiah (the Jewish prophet, not the bullfrog) said God told him, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” It doesn’t even require a cellphone.

I guess I can live with cellphones if people can realize that they’re not for everyone. If you have one, I certainly don’t fault you. But please, do turn it off when you go to see the doctor.

“It’s OK to Patronize Pro-Atheism Films to Provoke Christians to Action”

Regarding The Golden Compass, I agree, age-appropriate viewing along with informed parental guidance is required for the film, but I personally don’t have a problem spending my money on this film. In fact I would pay double the cost to show my teenage children simply for the opportunity of “inoculating” them against the false perceptions of God, the church and sexuality that are pushed in these stories. I actually hope that the other movies are made so that Christians are forced to react INTELLIGENTLY regarding defending the Christian worldview. The war is already won! But we do need to pick up our swords and finish the battles.

But thank you for all your work for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, God bless!!

Thank you for your interest in my Probe Alert article. I commend you for your commitment to take advantage of opportunities to equip your children to recognize and respond to contrary worldviews pushed on us in our culture. As you know, I suggested this as one alternative in my article.

However, I don’t agree with the idea that we should encourage more of these movies to be made by supporting them financially (especially, when we can read the books and watch the movies in ways that do not directly benefit the author and producers). Let me summarize several reasons I am taking this position:

Most of the children and young adults who would view the movie and/or read the books will not have a parent discuss the worldview implications or issues with them. On the contrary, most of them will strongly identify with the protagonists in their battle against the authority of God. Without critically evaluating their feelings, this emotional experience can influence how they perceive their relationship with God. As we have witnessed over the last forty years, movies and television have helped move the norms of our society further and further away from holiness and purity.

Phillip Pullman openly states his intent is to influence people to view Christianity as misguided and damaging. Providing him with more resources to support this objective does not seem to be a prudent use of the financial resources entrusted to us.

Early financial success will lead to more advertising and greater distribution of these books to a largely unchaperoned audience. It will probably also encourage New Line Cinema to take a more anti-Christian approach in the production of the sequels.

This trilogy and any associated movies are not going to single-handedly convert our culture to atheism. However, they reflect the greater and more public antagonism to religion being espoused in our society. In general, we should not encourage these attacks through our financial support. At the same time, we should not be on the defensive. When these attacks do occur, we can use them as opportunities to share Christ whose position as the Way, the Truth, and the Life is not threatened by the imaginations of those who oppose Him.


Well said; I admit my pro-atheism movies position may be a bit naive; I do see the value of your arguments. Maybe I take this extreme view just to provoke my fellow Christians to take up arms and not be afraid of the fight as I find so many from my (reformed) Christian circles tend to take isolationistic approach rather than see logical and reasonable discourse as a legitimate means to answering a fool according to his folly or casting down every lofty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Thanks for your reply, I really appreciate the attention to individual concerns, (even though I probably agree with almost everything you said).

I recommend Probe.org, Stand to Reason (str.org) and others to all my friends.

Keep up the good work!!

© 2007 Probe Ministries

Titanic: A Critical Appraisal

Titanic as Romance and History

James Cameron’s epic film Titanic, the most expensive film in history, swept the 1998 Oscars and has been both praised and scorned by critics. The Christian community has been especially tough on Cameron and what they properly sense to be an overly romanticized and unnecessarily cheesy retelling of the historic maiden voyage and untimely ending of the largest moving man-made object of its day. Many people who wanted to see a historic drama with special effects, realistic sets, and period costumes were surprised to learn that they would also have to endure a romantic love story, complete with frontal nudity, which celebrated an adulterous affair between a young third class steerage passenger and a wealthy first class socialite who is engaged to be married.

Although many of my initial suspicions were justified when I saw Titanic, I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story. I would like to offer some guidelines that might assist those who are struggling with an interpretation, or who may be wondering if they too would enjoy this film.

First, I believe that one must realize that there are actually two stories within the film. The main story is not that of the Titanic itself but rather the romantic liaison between Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Rose De Witt Bukatar, played by Kate Winslet. The second story, the one bearing the film’s title, is the tale of one of the greatest disasters of the modern industrial age, the sinking of the Titanic. Unfortunately, it is the romantic story which most viewers will remember, and the one that is most celebrated. I say unfortunately because there are valuable historic and moral lessons to be learned from the retelling of this tragedy if one will take the time to sift through all of the romantic drivel which threatens to suffocate it.

There is the danger of going to see Titanic and forgetting that it is a story that has been retold for most of this century without much of the romanticism that Cameron and Hollywood include in their latest retelling. The real story of the Titanic is not about the celebration of heroic individualism and personal autonomy. It is about a single machine which has become a symbol in the twentieth century for man’s technological brilliance, resourceful imagination, and inability to completely master his universe. The monuments and personal testimonies include acts of cowardice and bravery, accounts of class conflict, and excessive celebrations of wealth that would make most people blush.

Rushing to hasty judgment about James Cameron’s account of the Titanic is neither wise nor expedient. I believe that too often our tendency is to reject films, literature, and the arts in general because there are a few things we find objectionable. Francis Schaeffer always cautioned us against hasty judgment when evaluating the arts.(1) Schaeffer believed that the work of understanding a particular piece of art and the artist should always precede an evaluation. For many viewers, the romantic overshadowing of the historic event may prove to be overwhelming and, ultimately, the film will have to be rejected. Likewise, the careful viewer may find that the historic story and its moral lessons are preserved, managing to shine through the Hollywood commercialism and romantic sentimentality.

Titanic: Romance Hollywood Style

Having introduced the dual nature of Titanic, a fictionalized romance and a factually inspired historic costume drama, I will now examine each aspect separately. By inserting the romantic plot into Titanic, Cameron presumes that a modern audience will not be interested in a historic costume drama, even one about the Titanic, without some form of entertainment to elevate the boredom of mere history. As his vehicle, Cameron chooses the love story between Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young bachelor in third class and Rose De Witt Bukatar (Kate Winslet), a young socialite who is engaged to be married.

Jack wins his ticket on the Titanic in a last minute poker game and jumps from the gang plank just as the fated ship is pulling out of the harbor. He is the embodiment of the classic male adventurer. Jack has no ties to friends, family, or country. His days are occupied with whatever adventure he chooses and he answers to no man. By contrast, Rose is a beautiful young woman who is accustomed to the finer things in life, a member of the upper class and a lady in every sense of the word. Her family has come to financial ruin, and the only means of rescuing their fortune is for her to marry back into wealth. Rose, distraught with her arranged marriage, is contemplating suicide by jumping overboard when Jack comes to her rescue.

Jack is an amateur artist specializing in portraiture and the human figure. Rose is impressed with Jack’s talent and proposes that he paint her in the nude. Jack naturally complies with Rose’s request and we see Kate Winslet in the film’s only nude scenes. Jack and Rose fall in love, consummate their love out of wedlock, and Rose begins to scheme for a way out of her marital commitment. When the ship begins to sink, it is Jack who leads Rose through the maze of hazards, assists her after the ship sinks, and is finally responsible for her survival. Their love is portrayed as triumphing over natural disasters and societal constraints. They will not be denied by man or God.

We should not vicariously live sinful adventures through the lives of others, whether in film or literature.(2) When we applaud the sinful behavior of others, we participate in their sin and are thus guilty. Likewise, to remain silent is a sin.(3) Too often a film like Titanic inspires young people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to applaud sinful behavior. Young people frequently see romantic adventure and thrilling lifestyles in characters like Jack and Rose. What they often fail to realize is the sinful nature of the romance in the film and the direct contradiction of biblical principles. If young people are going to continue to watch films with mixed messages like those of Titanic, it is imperative that we discuss the philosophical and doctrinal content in an intelligent and reflective manner.

Men and women are born with a fallen nature and we should expect to see this nature in fictional literature and film. What we should not do is celebrate this fallen nature and revel in wickedness. And too many people, especially young people, applaud Titanic on the basis of the romantic triumphs of Jack and Rose.

Humanistic Confidence and Technological Arrogance in Titanic

Having discussed the romantic aspect of Titanic, discussion of the historic nature of the film is at hand. In order to accomplish this more fully, one must begin with an understanding of the thinking prevalent when the Titanic was built and the place that its demise has held throughout the twentieth century.

Understanding the historical milieu of the beginning of this century is a prerequisite for grasping what the Titanic meant to those who lived at that time. Following the rebirth of classical studies in the Renaissance, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were characterized by a vigorous application of the scientific method to almost all aspects of life. The Enlightenment period was a time marked by some of the greatest discoveries of mankind, discoveries which have so impacted our lives that we cannot imagine our modern society without them.

The first and second Industrial Revolutions followed the Enlightenment period, and the modern world as we know it came into being. The confidence from the Enlightenment period, coupled with the obvious engineering and technical successes in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, fostered a confidence in man’s ability to master his universe that was unrivaled in any preceding period.

The Titanic, built during the early and formative years of this century, was truly a modern project in that it was built out of the confidence acquired by the western world during the previous two centuries of progress. Designed by Thomas Andrews, and built by The White Star Line in England, the Titanic was completed in 1912 and weighed over 45,000 tons. It was the largest moving man-made object of its day, and eyewitness accounts of it were often marked by a daunting reverence for her sheer size and presence.

The Titanic was the pride of the White Star Line and became, for many, a symbol for man’s ability to accomplish anything he endeavored. The designers, captain, and engineers claimed that she was the fastest and safest luxury liner on the ocean. We even hear the infamous boast that “God couldn’t sink her.” Rather than objecting to this type of statement, or assuming a posture of righteous indignation, Christians should understand that lines such as these accurately reflect the true spirit of the time. The Titanic may be understood as an overwhelming example of sinful pride on the part of many individuals in that era. She was able to inspire in many, from designers and builders to the hundreds of thousands of men and women who participated in her glory, a false estimation of man’s control of the universe.

In 1985, 73 years after the Titanic sank, Eva Hart, the last living survivor who was old enough at the time to remember the actual events surrounding the fateful night, had many interesting things to say about the disaster. She said that the entire catastrophe could simply be attributed to man’s arrogance and desire to demonstrate mastery over his universe. We now know that the Titanic was traveling too fast to react quickly to the report of icebergs ahead. Coupled with an arrogant over-confidence, this caused a disaster that need never have happened. James Cameron’s Titanic provides a new opportunity to reconsider some of the lessons that many hold to be fundamental aspects of this tragic event.

Class Conflict, Religion and Heroism in Titanic

I have discussed the technological arrogance which is usually cited in reference to the Titanic disaster and has been part of the story for most of this century. I now want to examine some additional aspects of the film which are valuable as moral lessons and interesting from historical perspectives.

First, and something that has caught many by surprise, is the glaring presence of class conflict in the movie. Men and women from every class of society and many ethnic origins were on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The early part of this century was characterized by an extreme class consciousness. People were extremely conscious about their social and financial status, and upward mobility was very rare. In the film, as in real life at the time, the poor and the rich have little association with one another. On the occasions when their lives intersect, it is the rich who have all of the benefits and the poor who endure most of the pain and suffering. In Titanic we have an opportunity to see this class division from a unique perspective. We can find rich and poor characters with whom we genuinely sympathize, as well as those whom we despise. For the most part though, James Cameron portrays the rich as oppressive, rude, and arrogant. This may or may not be a true perspective of that time, but it does capture the distinction. In the film we are given the opportunity to attend one party for first class passengers and a separate celebration for third class passengers. The third class folks look like they are having every bit as much fun as the first class passengers, and possibly more.

The heroic aspect of the Titanic legend remains intact in Cameron’s film. All of the historical facts are not perfect and there have been outcries from some about the portrayal of specific individuals in the film in a manner that is unflattering and factually false. However, the film is true to the account that many people went down honorably and courageously with the ship. Many of the crew remained at their stations throughout the sinking. We witness Captain Edward John Smith’s (Bernard Hill) disbelief at the sinking of the great ship, as well as his willingness to go down with her. The musicians who played while the ship was sinking in order to provide a calming background are portrayed as noble and of unflinching courage. There are scenes in which men of all classes step aside so that women and children from all classes can get to the life boats. There was not perfect equality, calm, or heroism. However, there were enough heroic and noble acts performed that night to merit respect for those individuals.

I also found the treatment of Christians to be fair and realistic in the brief scene dealing with the religious life of the passengers. Groups are seen in prayer as the ship sinks. Eva Hart also testified that the last song the band played as the Titanic went down was Nearer My God To Thee.(4)

The Problem of Pain and the Sovereignty of God

To conclude this appraisal of Titanic, I will discuss the theological questions that are raised and offer some insights for discussion. Regardless of one’s position on the film, the factual account of 1500 persons losing their lives in a disaster that did not have to happen raises some serious issues. Many Christians believe that God is in control and that, had He wished to do so, He could have intervened in the Titanic disaster. In this instance God did not intervene, and many innocent people perished, including women, children, and infants.

C. S. Lewis summarizes the problem of pain and suffering in this way. “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”(5)

The first part of this problem, which pertains to God’s goodness, presupposes that the sinking of the Titanic was not good, and that God allowed an evil thing to take place. One response might be that He allowed this to take place to avoid a larger disaster, such as a collision involving two ocean liners. Or perhaps there was a plague or virus on the ship which would have stricken a large portion of the American population, and God prevented the Titanic from reaching its destination in order to save millions. While this is pure speculation, it does illustrate that we, being finite, do not have the same perspective as God in determining what is good or evil.

The second part of this problem questions God’s ability to intervene in human affairs. Here the argument would be that God saw the Titanic in danger, but was powerless to stop the disaster. Any Christian who believes the Scriptures knows that God has miraculously intervened in human affairs in the past, and could do so again at any time. The fact that He apparently did not act may be accounted for by supposing that God saw a greater good in allowing the Titanic to sink. Furthermore, He may have been instrumental in her sinking just as He was instrumental in stopping the Tower of Babel from being built.(6) Again, the point here is not to argue this position specifically, but to show that we do not completely understand how God works in every situation. In Isaiah 55:8-9 the prophet declares that God’s thoughts and ways are not man’s. His understanding is higher than ours. We should expect His actions to be higher also.

The presence of natural, moral, and gratuitous evil in the world is one of the greatest challenges to the consistency of Christian truth claims. Titanic is a wonderful opportunity for believers and non-believers to engage one another. When we remember that over 1500 people perished in the 1912 Titanic disaster and thousands of friends and family members were also dramatically affected, the problem of pain and suffering should not be neglected. Very few, if any, of the passengers on board the Titanic that night thought it would be their last night on earth. Yet for many, it was just that. Though we can use film as an easy escape and a vehicle for vicarious living, we should both realize and maximize the potential for dialogue and the opportunity for contact with our culture afforded through a film like Titanic.

For Further Reading

James Cameron’s Titanic, Forward by James Cameron, Text by Ed. W. Marsh, Photographs by Douglas Kirkland, Harper Perennial: NY, NY 1997.

Sinking of the Titanic: Eyewitness Accounts, Ed. Jay Henry Mowbray, Dover Publications Inc. Mineola NY. 1998.

The Titanic: End of a Dream, Wyn Craig Wade, Penguin: NY, NY. 1987.

Titanic, An Illustrated History. Text by Don Lynch, Paintings by Ken Marschall, Intro. by Robert D. Ballard. Madison Press Books, Ontario, Canada. 1992.

Titanic: The Official Story April 14-15 1912. Facsimile Reproductions Of Documents From The Public Record Of The Office Of London, Random House Inc. NY, NY. 1997.

Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy, Eaton, John P. & Charles A. Hass. 2nd ed. Norton, W.W. NY, NY 1994


1 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. I, A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture, (Crossway Books: Westchester), 30-31.

2 For a more detailed account of how Christians should approach the arts see: Ryken, Leland. The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly about the Arts. Harold Shaw: Wheaton, 1989. and Ryken, Leland. Culture in Christian perspective: A Door to Understanding and Enjoying the Arts. Multnomah Press: Portland, 1986.

3 I Jn. 5:17

4 The Titanic. Public Broadcasting System. Aired on channel 13, Dallas, TX, May 4, 1998, 9:00 PM.

5 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (The Macmillian Company: New York, 1944), 14.

6 Gen. 11


©1998 Probe Ministries.

Film and the Christian

How should a Christian view films? Todd Kappelman, a longtime film critic, calls us to exercise discernment in distinguishing between art and mere entertainment, without damaging our spiritual vitality.

The Convergence of High and Low Culture

An examination of the history of our century will reveal the importance of viewing and studying film for any individuals who wish to understand themselves and their time and place. Film is essential because the distinction so many make between so called “high” and “low” culture has in fact disappeared (if it ever existed in the first place).

Approximately one hundred years ago the dawn of electronic technology, beginning with the invention of the radio, gave birth to mass media and communications. The increase in leisure time and wealth fostered the birth and development of an entertainment industry. The decline in the quality of education and the explosion in the popularity of television sealed the union between what was traditionally considered “high” art and popular culture. Western society is now defined more strictly by the image, the sound, and the moving picture than by the written word, which defined previous centuries. Seldom does anyone ask, “What have you read lately?” One is much more likely to hear the question, “What have you seen lately.” We have become, for better or worse, a visually oriented society. Because literature is no longer the dominant form of expression, scriptwriters, directors, and actors do more to shape the culture which we live in than do the giants of literature or philosophy. We may be at the point in the development of Western culture that the Great Books series needs to be supplemented by a Great Films series.

The church as a body has a long standing and somewhat understandable tradition of suspicion concerning narrative fiction, the concepts of which apply here to our discussion of film. A brief examination of positions held by some Christians from the past regarding written fictional narratives may help us to understand the concern some have with involvement in fictional narratives as recorded on film.

Alcuin, an influential Christian leader of the ninth century was extremely concerned about the worldliness he saw in the church. One of the things that troubled him the most was the monks’ fondness for fictional literature and stories about heroes such as Beowulf and Ingeld. Writing to Higbald, Alcuin said: “Let the words of God be read aloud at the table in your refractory. The reader should be heard there, not the flute player; the Fathers of the Church, not the songs of the heathen. . . . What has Ingeld to do with Christ?”{1}

Tertullian, the father of Latin theology, writing six centuries earlier voiced a similar concern about Christians involved in secular matters when he said: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”{2} Specifically, Tertullian believed that the study of pagan philosophers was detrimental to the Christian faith and should be avoided at all costs.

Paul, the apostle, writing to the Church at Corinth, said: “What partnership does righteousness have with iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial?”{3}

Conclusion: The objections raised against the arts, both past and present, do have merit and should not be dismissed too quickly. Christians have a right and a responsibility to make sure that entertainment and art are not used in a manner that is damaging to their spiritual welfare. It is often a difficult call. For example, many Christians objected to the work of Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman in the fifties and sixties, yet men such as Francis Schaeffer thought that it was necessary to pay attention to what these individuals were saying and why.

The Nature of Film and the Opportunity for Christians

Properly understood film is a narrative medium, a kind of “visual book” with a beginning, middle, and ending that contains some degree of resolution. All film is not created equal; some movies are made with the express purpose of providing diversionary entertainment, while others represent the sincere efforts of artists to make works of art that reflect human emotions and call people to a more reflective existence. This second category of film should be considered an art form and is therefore worthy of the same attention that any other art such as the ballet, sculpture, or painting receives.

Art is the embodiment of man’s response to reality and his attempt to order his experience of that reality.{4} Man has always and will continue to express his hope and excitement, as well as his fears and reservations about life, death, and what it means to be human through the arts. He will seek to express his world through all available means, and presently that includes film. Schindler’s List, a recent film by Steven Spielberg, is an excellent example of film’s ability to express man’s hopes and fears.

As a picture of reality, film is able to convey an enormous range of human experiences and emotions. The people one encounters in films are frequently like us whether they are Christian or not. Often the people we see in the better films are struggling with some of the most important questions in life. They are attempting to find meaning in what often appears to be a meaningless universe. These people are often a vehicle used by a director, producer, or writer to prompt us to ask the larger questions of ourselves.

Film is not and should not be required to be “uplifting” or “inspiring.” Christians should remember that non-Christians also have struggles and wrestle with the meaning of life and their place and purpose in the universe. Christians and non-Christians will not and should not be expected to come to the same conclusions to the problems they face in the fictional universe of film. The Scriptures indicate that Christians and non-Christians are different, and this should be a point of celebration, not alarm, for the Christian audience.

T. S. Eliot, speaking about literature, but with much that can be applied to film, had this advice for the Christian:

Literary criticism should be completed from a definite ethical and theological standpoint…. It is necessary for Christian readers [and film goers by extension], to scrutinize their reading, [again film by extension], especially of works of imagination, with explicit ethical and theological standards.{5}

Therefore, Christians should take their worldview with them when they attend and comment on any film. They should be cautious about pronouncing a film that does not conform with Christian beliefs or their particular notion of orthodoxy as unfit for consumption or undeserving of a right to exist as art.

Conclusion: The need for participation in film arises from not only the diversity of material with which the medium deals, but also from the plurality of possible interpretations concerning a given film. Christians have an opportunity to influence their culture by entering the arena of dialogue provided by film and contending for their positions and voicing their objections with sophistication, generosity, and a willingness to hear from those of opposing beliefs.

Some Concerns about Christian Participation in Cinema{6}

Christians are often concerned about the content of certain films and the appropriateness of viewing particular pieces. This is a valid concern that should not be dismissed too quickly and certainly deserves a response from those who do view objectionable material. The two primary areas of concern leveled by the many detractors of contemporary culture as it pertains to film are found in the categories of gratuitous sex and violence. It is crucial that Christians understand the exact nature of sex and violence, gratuitous and otherwise, and how it may be employed in art. Taking only violence as the representative issue of these two concerns, we must ask ourselves what, if any, redeeming value does it have, and can it be used and viewed under some circumstances?

We might turn to the use of gratuitous violence in literature in order to better understand the role of violence in film. If the former is understood and embraced (albeit with reservation), the latter may also be understood and embraced (again with caution) as a means of expression employed by a new image-driven culture.

The image of gratuitous violence in modernity has one of its first and most important articulations in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Recall that in the poem the sailor shoots an albatross for absolutely no reason and is condemned by his fellow sailors, who believed the bird was a good omen, to wear the dead body around his neck. The ship is ravaged by plague, and only the cursed mariner survives. After many days of soul searching on the ghost ship, the mariner pronounces a blessing upon all of creation and atones for his wrongs. A sister ship saves the man, and he begins to evangelistically tell his story to anyone who will listen.

Every time this poem is read in a class or other group there is invariably some person who is fixated on the act of violence and emphasizes it to the point of losing the meaning of the entire poem. The story is about a mariner who realizes the errors of his ways, repents, and comes to a restored relationship with creation and other men. For Coleridge, the act of violence thus becomes the vehicle for the turning of the character’s soul from an infernal orientation to the paradisal. Other authors have used similar methods. Dante, for example, repeats a similar pattern when he explored the spiritual realms in his poetic chronicle The Divine Comedy. First, he takes his readers through the harshness, pain, and misery of the Inferno before moving into Purgatory and finally into the bliss and joy of Paradise. Dostoyevsky composed four novels that begin with the heinous crime of Raskolnikov and develop to the salvation of the Karamazov brothers.

Conclusion: The writers mentioned here and many serious, contemporary film makers often explore the darkness of the human condition. They don’t do it simply to posture or exploit, but to see deeply and lay bare the problems and tensions. But, they also do it to look for answers, even the light of salvation/Salvation. The picture is not always pretty, and the very ugliness of the scene is often necessary to accurately portray the degree of depravity and the miracle of salvific turns in fiction. By virtue of their full acquaintance with the dark side of the human condition, when they propose solutions, these solutions appear to be viable and realistic.

Biblical Examples of Gratuitous Violence

The prohibition against and objections to the use of violence in film may be understood better through an examination of the use of violence in the Bible.

One example found in Scriptures is in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Isaiah. In verses fifteen and sixteen the prophet is forecasting the particulars of the future Assyrian military invasion and the conditions the people of Israel and the surrounding countries will experience. He writes:

Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished (Isaiah 13:15-16).

The prophet is talking about the impaling of men by the conquering armies, the willful smashing of infants upon the rocks, and the raping of women. In an oral and textual based society, those who heard the words of Isaiah would have been able to imagine the horrors he described and would have made mental images of the scenes.

In an image-driven society if this scene were to be part of a movie, a scriptwriter and director would have actors and actresses play the parts, and the violence would be obvious to all. Recall the scene in The Ten Commandments where the Egyptian armies attempted to follow Moses across the Red Sea. One sees horses and soldiers trapped under tons of water. Their bodies go limp before they can get to the surface. And those who can make it to the top face certain death trying to swim back to shore. In spite of these, and other horrific scenes, this movie is often held to be a “Christian classic” and deemed to be a good family film by many.

A second and even more disturbing example of gratuitous violence in the Bible is found in the twentieth chapter of Judges. Here a Levite and his concubine enter the house of an old man from the hill country of Ephraim to spend the night. While they are there, some wicked men in the city want to have homosexual relations with the Levite traveler and demand that the old man hand them over. The evil men take the man’s concubine, rape and kill her, leaving her dead body in the doorway. The traveler is so distraught that he cuts his concubine into twelve pieces and sends the body parts back to his fellow Israelites. The Israelites then form a revenge party and go into battle with the Benjamites who will not turn over the evil men for punishment.

Again, if this story were to be translated into a visual medium the scenes of rape and later dismemberment of a body, even if they were filmed in standards from the forties or fifties, would be very disturbing.

Conclusion: The purpose of the violence in these examples may be that the details in each passage provide information which serves as a reason for a latter action. Or, the information provided shows us something about the nature of God and the way He deals with sin. If both these examples show a difficult, but necessary use of violence in telling a story, then perhaps violence may be used (portrayed) for redemptive purposes in fictional mediums such as film. This is not an airtight argument, rather the issue is raised as a matter for consideration while keeping in mind that Christians should always avoid living a vicariously sinful life through any artistic medium.

Weaker Brother Considerations in Viewing Film

Paul’s great teaching concerning meat sacrificed to idols and the relationship of the stronger and weaker brothers to one another is laid out in 1 Corinthians 8. We should remember that Paul clearly puts the burden of responsibility on the stronger brother. It is this person who should have the interest of the weaker brother in mind.

Persons who exercise rampant Christian freedom when watching films that are objectionable to some others does not necessarily mean that they are strong Christians. It could indicate that these people are too weak to control their passions and are hiding behind the argument that they are a stronger brother. Do not urge others to participate in something that you, as a Christian, feel comfortable doing if they have reservations. You may inadvertently cause the other person to sin.

There are basically three positions related to Christians viewing film.

The first of these three is prohibition. This is the belief that films, and often television and other forms of entertainment, are inherently evil and detrimental to the Christian’s spiritual well being. Persons who maintain this position avoid all film, regardless of the rating or reputed benefits, and urge others to do the same.

Abstinence is the second position. This is the belief that it is permissible for Christians to view films, but for personal reasons this person does not choose to do so. This may be for reasons ranging from a concern for the use of time or no real desire to watch film, to avoidance because it may cause them or someone they are concerned about to stumble. Willingly abstaining from some or all films does not automatically make one a weaker brother, and this charge should be avoided! One should avoid labeling a fellow Christian “weaker” for choosing to abstain from participation in some behavior due to matters of conscience.

Moderation is the final position. This is the belief that it is permissible to watch films and that one may do so within a certain framework of moderation. This person willingly views some films but considers others to be inappropriate for Christians. There is a great deal of disagreement here about what a Christian can or cannot and should or should not watch. Although some of these disagreements are matters of principle and not of taste, Christian charity should be practiced whenever one is uncertain.

Conclusion: There is a valid history of concern about Christian involvement in the arts and fictional and imaginative literature. This issue extends to the medium of film and manifests similar concerns about film and Christians who view film. However, because film is one of the dominant mediums of cultural expression, film criticism is necessary. If Christians do not make their voices heard then others, often non-Christians, will dominate the discussion. All films contain the philosophical persuasions of the persons who contribute to their development, and it is the job of the Christian who participates in these arts to make insightful, fair, and well-informed evaluations of the work. Not everyone feels comfortable in viewing some (or any) films and the Christian should be especially mindful of the beliefs of others and always have the interest of fellow believers as well as non-believers in mind. While “film,” the artistic expression of the cinematic medium has been the focus and not “movies,” the entertainment based expression, much of what has been said of the former is applicable to the later.


Christians should be aware that the freedoms exercised in participation in the film arts are privileges and should not be practiced to the point of vicarious living through escape into fictitious worlds. In 1 Corinthians 10: 23-31 (and 6:12) the Apostle Paul writes that “everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive.”

He is addressing the issue of meat sacrificed to idols in chapter 10 and sexual purity in chapter 6. This may serve as a guide for Christians who are concerned about their involvement in film and a caution against construing what is written here as a license to watch anything and everything. The Apostle is very careful to distinguish between that which is permissible and that which is constructive, or expedient. What Paul means is that, in Christ, believers have freedoms which extend to all areas of life, but these freedoms have the potential to be exercised carelessly or without regard for others, and thus become sin. The guiding rule here is that Christians should seek the good of others and not their own desires. This would mean that anyone who is participating in film that is objectionable should have the interests of others, both believers and non-believers, in mind. We live in a fallen world and almost everything we touch we affect with our fallen nature, the arts notwithstanding. If we are to be active in redeeming the culture for the glory of God, then by necessity we must participate in the culture and be salt and light to a very dark and unsavory world. It is imperative that Christians who are active in their culture and interested in participating in the ever growing “culture wars,” remember Paul’s admonition in Philippians that we “work out our salvation daily with fear and trembling.” Anything less would be flirting with spiritual disaster and would not bring glory to God.

Parents concerned for the spiritual and psychological welfare of their children would do well to offer more than a list of prohibitions against what films can be viewed. As with anything that involves issues of Christian freedom, maturity in individual matters must be taken into account. The example of a young child’s first BB gun may serve as an illustration. In some instances a child may be ready for the first air rifle at age twelve or thirteen. Other children may not be ready until they are eighteen, and some may best served if they never possess the gun in question. Parents should realize that film is a narrative medium which often contains complex philosophical ideas. To continue to absorb films at the current rate and not offer thoughtful criticism on what we are watching is equivalent to visiting museums and announcing that the Picasso or Rembrandt retrospective is “cool” or “stupid.” If we are concerned parents, and wish to gain the respect of our children, we can and must do better than this.


1. “Letter to Higbald,” as quoted in Eleanor S. Duckett, Alcuin, Friend of Charlemagne (New York:Macmillan, 1951), 209.
2. Tertullian, On the Against Heretics, chap. 7.
3. Paul, 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.
4. John Dixon, Jr., Nature and Grace in Art, as quoted in Leland Ryken’s The Liberated Imagination, p.23.
5. T. S. Eliot, Religion and Literature.
6. Much of the material for this section was first articulated by Jeff Hanson, my co-editor, in the March/April issue of The Antithesis, vol. 1, no. 2, 1995.

©1997 Probe Ministries

Is It Just Entertainment?

The Christian enters the world of entertainment equipped with the knowledge of the clear biblical statements of God’s will. He then applies that knowledge to the decisions he makes in regard to entertainment.

Picture a grocery store in your mind. There are many aisles filled with a variety of products. Fresh fruit, vegetables, canned foods, bread, cereal, meat, dairy products, frozen foods, soap, and numerous other items can be found. When we shop in such a store we need to be aware of certain things. These may include the price, size, weight, variety, brand, quality, and freshness. After analyzing all of this, we are left with the most important part of the shopping trip–the decision! We must decide which of the products we will buy.

Our world is a lot like a grocery store. There are a variety of ideas (worldviews) to be considered. Those ideas can be seen and heard through television, music, movies, magazines, books, billboards, and bumper stickers, and other sources. In a sense, we are shopping in the grocery store of ideas. As Christians, we need to be aware of the products. We need to consider what is being sold. Then we need to decide if we should make a purchase.

Most of us want to be physically healthy. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t eat as if that were true. The same is true of our minds. We want to be mentally healthy. But too often we don’t “eat” as if that were true! Our minds are often filled with things that are unhealthy. This can be especially true of the entertainment we choose.

How can we become more aware of the products and make the right purchases when we “go shopping” in the world of entertainment? It is our intent to help answer this question.

A Christian is usually encouraged to think of God’s Word, the Bible, as the guide for life. Of course the challenge of such a position is found in practice, not theory. Living by the tenets of Scripture is not always an easy thing. And we can be tempted to think that God’s ideas are restrictive, negative, and life- rejecting. The “don’ts” of biblical teachings can appear to overshadow a more positive, life-affirming perspective.

Does God Intend for Us to Enjoy Life?

Think of a series of three questions. First, if you make the Bible your standard for living, do you think that means life will be dull? Some Christians tend to live as if the answer is “yes.” This certainly applies to entertainment. It appears that we are to be so separate from the world that we can’t enjoy any part of it. Second, if you wrote a song, a poem, a novel, or if you painted a picture, sculpted a statue, etc., do you think you would know best how it should be sung, read, or understood? Of course the answer is “yes.” It came from your mind and imagination. You “brought it to life.” Third, if God created all things and knows everything about you, do you believe He knows how to bring true joy into your life? Again, the answer is obviously “yes.” You came from His mind and imagination. He “brought you to life.” He knows best how you should be sung, read, and understood. And He relays that information through His word, the Bible. He wants you to enjoy life, but with His guidelines in mind.

What is God’s Will for Entertainment?

Just what are those guidelines? What is God’s will for us concerning entertainment?

Before this question is answered, it is important to understand that the Bible clearly teaches God’s will for much of life. Too often we tend to think of pursuing God’s will for reasons that include such things as a particular occupation or marriage partner, and other such important decisions that are not stated clearly in Scripture. But the Bible frequently teaches the will of God for daily living in obvious ways. The following passages demonstrate this:

  • A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless (Prov. 14:16).
  • Flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18a).
  • Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Phil. 4:8).

Obviously various types of contemporary entertainment are not mentioned in these verses. The Bible “does not endeavor to specify rules for the whole of life.”(1) Thus we are challenged to make decisions about entertainment based upon the application of biblical principles. The Christian must know the “principles for conduct: which apply here, which do not, and why. Then he must decide and act. Thus, by this terrifying and responsible process, he matures ethically. There is no other way.”(2) In fact, this process signifies our continual spiritual growth, or sanctification. As Hebrews 5:14 states: “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Most of us probably don’t think of “training our senses,” but such a concept surely should be a part of our thinking continually. And the application of such training to entertainment should be clear.

Years ago I had an opportunity to demonstrate the use of “trained senses” when I attended a heavy metal rock concert at the invitation of a sixteen-year-old friend. He was a new Christian then, and we were spending a lot of time together. He had entered his new life after years of attachment to a certain popular rock musician who was the main act of the concert.

During the evening the musicians heavily emphasized the themes of sex, drugs, and violence, and the crowd of adolescents and pre- adolescents was encouraged to respond, and did. After awhile I asked my friend how Jesus would respond to what we heard and saw. His response indicated that for the first time he had begun to think about this form of entertainment–which had been very important to him–with Christian principles in mind.

Perhaps the most succinct statement of Christian ethical principles is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Can you think of anything more than “whatever” or “all”? These all-encompassing words are to be applied to all of life, including our entertainment choices. My young friend made this discovery that night.

What Types of Entertainment are Evil?

What types of entertainment are evil? A simple answer to this is, “None!” For example, the rhythm of rock music is not evil; television is not evil; movies are not evil; video games are not evil; novels are not evil, etc.

Of course it is possible for some to claim, for instance, that pre-marital sex is legitimate entertainment. But the clear admonition of Scripture forbids such activity. And the underlying point is that sex is not intrinsically evil. The one who is engaged in such activity is taking what is good and misusing it for evil. So evil does not reside in sex, rock music, television, etc. Types of entertainment are conduits for good or evil. People are evil. People who provide entertainment and people who use it can abuse it. A basic premise of theology is that man has a sin nature. We are prone to abuse all things. As Genesis 8:21 states, The intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.

What About Content?

So the Christian is free to make entertainment a part of his life with an understanding that evil resides in people, not forms. But caution and discernment must be applied. We must be alert to the importance of our minds and what they can absorb through entertainment.

Perhaps we need to stop doing some of the things we normally do while listening to music, watching television, etc., so we can concentrate on the ideas that are entering our minds. We might be amazed at the ideas we’ll notice if we take the time to concentrate. For example, an old TV commercial says, “Turn it loose! Don’t hold back”! We may want to ask what “it” refers to, and we may want to know what is to be “held back.” Such a commercial is a thinly-veiled espousal of hedonism, an ancient philosophy that says pleasure is the ultimate good. Ideas are powerful, and they have consequences, even when they come from something as seemingly innocuous as a TV commercial.

Consider the following illustration. Think of your mind as a sponge. A sponge absorbs moisture not unlike the way your mind absorbs ideas. (The difference is you are making choices and the sponge is not.) In order to remove the moisture, you must squeeze the sponge. If someone were to do the same with your “sponge brain,” what would come out? Would you be embarrassed if the Lord were to be present? Biblical teaching says He is always present. If we honor Him, we’ll enjoy life in the process.

If we are using our minds and thinking Christianly about entertainment we will be more alert concerning content. All entertainment is making a statement. A worldview, or philosophy of life, is being espoused through what we read, hear, or watch. Movies, for example, can range from the introspective existential comedies of Woody Allen to the euphoric pantheistic conjectures of Shirley MacLaine. We are challenged to respond to such content with our Christian worldview intact.

Are We in a Battle?

We must take care of our minds. A battle is taking place in the marketplace of ideas. Entertainment can be seen as one of the battlefields where ideas are vying for recognition and influence. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 states, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” And Colossians 2:8 warns us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

What About the Conscience?

The place of the conscience should also be considered. We must be aware of the possibility of defiling our conscience (1 Cor. 8:7). As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.” The believer who cannot visit the world without making it his home has no right to visit it at his weak points.(3) It is the responsibility of each of us to be sensitive to what the conscience is telling us when we encounter those weak points and respond in a way that honors God.

Thus I suggest three steps in cultivating sensitivity to our consciences. First, we should consider what our conscience is relating prior to the entertainment. Is there something about what we’ve heard or seen that brings discomfort? If so, it may be a signal to stay away from it. Second, consider the conscience during the entertainment. If we’re already watching and listening, are we mentally and spiritually comfortable? If not, we may need to get away from it. Unfortunately, too often the tendency is to linger too long and in the process we find that what may have disturbed us previously is now taken for granted. Third, consider the conscience after the entertainment. Now that it’s over, what are we thinking and feeling? We should be alert to what the Lord is showing us about what we have just made a part of our lives.

What Do Others Say?

In addition to an awareness of the conscience, we may benefit from what others have to say. Perhaps the advertising will provide information that will prove to be of help before we decide to participate. Frequently ads will tell us things about the content and the intent of the producers. Also, we may find it beneficial to be alert to what friends may say. The things we hear from them may indicate warning signs, especially if they are Christian friends who are attempting to apply biblical principles to their lives. In addition, some objective critics can offer insightful comments. There are ministries around the country, for example, dedicated to analyzing the latest movies. And there are others that attempt to cover a broader spectrum of entertainment from a Christian perspective. You may benefit from subscribing to their publications.

Of course this encouragement to consider what others say cannot exempt us from personal responsibility. To rely completely on others is an unhealthy practice that can lead to mental and spiritual stagnation. Each of us must be mentally and spiritually alert to the content of entertainment.

Isn’t It “Just Entertainment”?

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “It’s just entertainment”! Is this true?

The principles we have affirmed can lead to several common objections. Our answers to these objections can help us gain additional insight into how we think about contemporary entertainment.

First, some may say that what has been shown in a movie or some other entertainment is “just reality.” But is reality a legitimate guideline for living? Do we derive an “ought” from an “is”? Saying that reality has been portrayed says nothing about the way things ought to be from God’s perspective. Reality needs analysis and it often needs correction.

Second, a common statement is, “I’m just killing time.” The person who says this may be doing exactly that, but what else is being killed in the process? The Christian redeems time; he doesn’t kill it. As Ephesians 5:15-16 states, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”

Third, “It won’t affect me” is a common objection. Tragically, these can be the proverbial “famous last words” for some. Ted Bundy, a serial killer who was executed for his crimes, began to look at pornography when he was very young. If you had warned him of the potential consequences of his actions in those early years, he probably would have said it wouldn’t affect him. We can’t predict the outcome of our actions with absolute clarity. In addition, we may not recognize the consequences when they appear because we have been blinded subtly over a period of time.

Fourth, others may say, “There’s nothing else to do.” This is a sad commentary on contemporary life. If that is true, then God has done a poor job of supplying us with imagination. Spending hours watching TV each day, for instance, says a great deal about our priorities and use of our God-given abilities and spiritual gifts.

Fifth, young people in particular tend to say, “Everybody’s doing it.” It is highly doubtful that is true. More importantly, though, we must understand that God’s principles don’t rely on democracy. We may be called to stand alone, as difficult as that may be. Sixth, some may say, “No one will know.” Humanly, this is absurd. The person who says this knows. He’s somebody, and he has to live with himself. And if he is a Christian his worldview informs him that God knows. Is he trying to please God or himself?

Seventh, “It’s just entertainment” can be the response. No, it’s not just entertainment. We can’t afford to approach contemporary entertainment with the word just. There is too much at stake if we care about our minds, our witness, and our future.

So what should we do? Should we become separatists? No, the answer to the challenge of entertainment is not to seclude ourselves in “holy huddles” of legalism and cultural isolation. Should we become consumers? No, not without discernment. As we said in the beginning of this series, when it comes to entertainment, we should be as selective in that “grocery store of ideas” as we are in the food market. Should we become salt and light? Yes! We are to analyze entertainment with a Christian worldview, and we are to “infect” the world of entertainment with that same vision.


1. Carl F. H. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1957), 419.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 428.

Additional Reading

Henry, Carl F. H. Christian Personal Ethics (Chapter 18). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker,1957.

Lawhead, Stephen R. Rock of This Age: The Real & Imagined Dangers of Rock Music. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1987.

___Turn Back the Night: A Christian Response to Popular Culture. Westchester: Crossway, 1985.

Medved, Michael. Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values. New York: Harper Collins/Zondervan,

Myers, Kenneth A. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians & Popular Culture. Westchester: Crossway, 1989.

Ryken, Leland, ed. The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1981.

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1973.

Schultze, Quentin J., et al. Dancing in the Dark: Youth, Popular Culture, and the Electronic Media. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991.

Schultze, Quentin J. Redeeming Television. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992.

©1994 Probe Ministries