Of Sins and Cinemas

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by Spencer Harmon

Iron Man 3.  The Great Gatsby.  Star Trek.  Man of Steel.  The Wolverine.  300.

Within the next three months, you are most likely going to be invited to see one of these movies.  And not only these, a vast array of other highly anticipated summer films.  Your favorite stars, your favorite stories, during your favorite season.  From the ultra-conservative who only watches movies recommended by their pastor, to the movie connoisseur who finds “gospel” even in the most explicit films, the cinema often creates blurry lines for Christians who live in between two worlds. Here are a few categories and cautions to be thinking about as you consider going to the theater for the hottest summer flicks.

Research.  You should never feel victimized by sin at the movie theater.  In our day, there are several resources available to you to aid in making a decision about going to see a movie at the theater.  First, a simple glance at the rating of a movie can save you a lot of heartache.  If the movie is rated R for sexual content and nudity, don’t go.  Is this legalism?  No.  It’s fleeing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and it will help you see God (Matthew 5:8).  Yet, some movies demand more careful thought.  At this point, I always find it helpful to check a movie review site.  You can find sites that offer a Christian perspective, or just the facts.  Either way, you should never walk out of the theater feeling taken advantage of – the resources are available.  Take and use!

Bail.  Sometimes, whether because of neglect or some other outlying circumstance, you will find yourself in the theater when the movie goes downhill.  If the movie is causing you to sin, you should leave.  Walking out of the theater does several things.  First, it tells the truth.  When you leave the theater during a sex scene, you are telling the truth about marriage, sex, covenant love, and purity.  When you leave the theater during uncalled for, excessive, cruel, and unnecessary gore and violence, you are telling the truth about courage, honor, dignity, and human worth.  Second, it provokes conversation.  Why did you leave the theater?  Why do you care so much about what you watch that it would cause you to walk out?  Third, and most importantly, it protects your soul.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit by the things that we do and say (Ephesians 4:30), and we should be striving to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).  Sometimes, obedience means saying excuse me, sidestepping out of the aisle, and waiting in the lobby of the theater.

Engage.  No matter what you are watching, you should watch movies like a Christian.  There are glorious amounts of truth to be gleaned at the cinema, but horrendous amounts of deceit to be rejected as well.  Ask yourself good questions while watching the film:  What are the makers of this film trying to say to me?  How do the relationships, circumstances, and actions of the characters relate to how the Bible presents life?  Hebrews 5:14 says that mature Christians are those who, “…have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” Movies present wonderful opportunities to exercise moral discernment.  Don’t watch passively.

Engage Together.  Let movies that you see with friends lead to good discussion.  It is good at times to take a few moments to gawk at incredible special effects in the movies, but if that is all you ever talk about you are missing out on a world of fellowship.  Ask questions in the car on the way not just about things you liked and disliked, but things you agreed with and disagreed with.  Let the movie spur you on to depth.  Movies can lead to conversations about war, marriage, love, hate, relationships, divorce, death, eternity, God, politics, and a million other important life issues.  Engage in these discussions during the summer – let these talks take you late into the night.

Beware of Infiltration.  There is nothing like a steady diet of Hollywood to corrupt your view on beauty, truth, and goodness.  Don’t forget that the Bible says that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain (Proverbs 31:30) when you see nothing but coke-bottle figures, and rough whisked buff tough guys presented as beauty.  Don’t forget that you are called to forgive and show grace (Ephesians 4:32), even though revenge is portrayed as the only way to respond to hurt.  All too easily, Hollywood begins informing your values instead of Scripture.  It rouses your feelings before faith, your passions before principles.

Beware of Saturation.  It seems that during the summer, every Friday holds a new film.  Every film claims to be the film of the year.  And you don’t want to miss out, do you?  Remember that you are called to seek the Lord’s presence (Psalm 105:4), and enjoy his free grace, not gorge on movies.  Sure, enjoy a movie with friends; however, don’t become so saturated with the newest and  latest this summer that the only means of “fellowship” you know is happening in front of movies instead of in real conversation about real life things.

Remember, the aim at the theater is not to please your friends, please yourself, or your pastor.  The aim is to please God and honor him with life.  Holiness happens in the small circumstances. It happens with steps. The thoughtful response, the restrained tongue, and even the intentional watcher of film glorify God.  It’s here that the battles are fought.

5 thoughts on “Of Sins and Cinemas

  1. Great thoughts. Along with discerning and engaging the film, one of the most important issues to realize is that any worldview works in a movie. Unlike the real world where ideals have consequences, The writer can make the most tragic ideals produce the most happiness. Something to always be on the watch for.

  2. The influence of what our minds and eyes absorb is subtle but oh so powerful..we need to protect our hearts with exits, turning away, and clicking the off button.. God wants us to be holy for Him and bring Him Glory..not much to ask after what He did for us.

  3. Thanks for this. (I stumbled on it after following a link from Facebook to one of your more recent posts.) Although I tend to avoid movies pretty much altogether — my own personal conviction — your post provides fair and balanced guidelines for Christians who do go to movies. Thoughtful and well said.

  4. I’m a young Christian filmmaker and this strikes me as a vast oversimplification.

    If any one needs it I’d reference them to Frank Schaeffer’s “Addicted to Mediocrity”

    You can not judge a movie simply by it’s content rating, or the checklist on how many naughty words it says. Instead you should be looking at it’s underlying philosophy and worldview. The lack of sex in “Birth of a Nation” doesn’t somehow make it a better film than “Brother’s Bloom”.

    Film is an art form, and art is an expression by a person about themselves and the way they see the world. In that process, some art delves into the realities of fallen human nature and the struggles of faith and doubt.

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