Embracing Truth in Fiction

In response to our recent podcast, Sniping for Christ, Seminarian writes:

“Are we giving young adults and men further justification that they do not need to grow up? Later, an assertion is made that ‘Movies touch on the deep things of life.’ Sure, they might, but for many we would have to expose ourselves to sin first, and most teens don’t sit and ponder the questions afterwards anyway.”

The argument is something I hear often from those who have decided they would rather avoid film, television, video games, etc. than take their chances exposing themselves to sin. This is a valid argument. It stems from good intentions, particularly a desire to refrain from being “of the world,” a desire to “make disciples, followers of Christ, and to display the superior desirability of the Lord and spiritual things to this world,” as Seminarian says himself.

In this sin-stained world in which we live, it’s impossible to touch on “the deep things in life” authentically without acknowledging that sin, and yes, even sometimes exposing ourselves to it.

This desire to avoid sin and to instead carry out God’s purposes for his church should be cultivated. It is every Christian’s duty to live for Christ’s glory in these ways. It is the accompanying desire expressed to avoid being “exposed” to sin which is somewhat misguided.

Granted, there are cases in which weak brothers ought to do their best to avoid that which causes them to violate their conscience or otherwise sin, but the concept of the presence of sin being sin in and of itself is a foreign concept in scripture. In fact, the pervading setting in Scripture is a series of cities and situations wherein Christians are forced to come face to face with sin. We could call this “real life.”

Every Sunday Christians gather at church. Some Christians go to Christian schools and Christian oriented club gatherings at various times throughout the week. The rest of the time, we have to deal with the world. That is, we are in the world. When we are a part of this world, sometimes we experience the sin of the world: course jesting, malicious gossip, lost tempers and lost integrity. These are the realities of our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our schools. If we’re honest, sometimes they’re the realities of our churches.

A good film speaks to these things realistically. In this sin-stained world in which we live, it’s impossible to touch on “the deep things in life” authentically without acknowledging that sin, and yes, even sometimes exposing ourselves to it. A good film or yes, even a good video game (rare, but but lately becoming more and more likely) can cause us to consider our reaction to and our attitude toward sin.

But why expose youth or anyone else to such a thing if they “don’t sit and ponder the questions afterwards anyway”? The question should instead be whether or not they ought to be able to experience any part of life without thinking it through in the context of their own Christ-centered worldview. Rather than writing off film because people don’t think about it, encourage them to think about it. Take them out to coffee afterwards and talk. Embrace the good, and expose the bad. Let your worldview play out before one another. Edify. Fellowship.

So, “are we giving young adults and men further justification that they do not need to grow up?” Absolutely not. We’re teaching them (and ourselves) to grow up even in the midst of their free time. We’re teaching them (and ourselves) that there are no breaks from the Christian life and worldview. Even if we cut out film and video games, there will always be something filling up what little free time we may have. Whether that’s sports, reading, or a card game with friends, none of it should be done without a little pondering.

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  • Put another way, what is meant by “expose to sin”? This (I suspect) pop-terminology doesn’t seem to find much play in Scripture, whether in word or in expression.

    Do we mean exposure to temptation? If so, then we should be quite wary about such exposure, recognizing our fallibility and need for protective measures – while simultaneously recognizing that temptations are sometimes unavoidable and we must rely upon the assistance of the body, the grace of God, and the work of the Spirit in our lives in order to overcome. If this is what is meant, then no, it would be unhelpful to purposely draw people into temptation. Still, this only seems a plausible reading if movies = temptation, which seems less than plausible.

    Do we mean actively sinning? If so, then we should absolutely not encourage fellow believers in this area, since encouragement to sin is clearly wrong. But I think it’d be a hard sell to promote the idea that watching a movie is actually sin.

    Do we mean being in the presence or being a witness to another person’s sin? If so than we’re gone beyond the pale of Scripture, for to warn against this is to warn against life. In this sense, every one of us is “exposed” to sin in every moment of our lives. As a result, “exposure to sin” in this sense loses all force and meaning – especially because witnessing sin bears no necessary relevance to one’s reaction to said sin.

  • David Dunham

    well put brothers. I am especially grateful to Rich’s comments that we need to take young men to films and teach them how to think about them. If young people don’t engage the culture as Christians it may be because older Christians haven’t showed them how to. Good words.

  • Rich, thank you for interacting with my post and for some of your insightful remarks. I do wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion, and that in fact we need to dialog and encourage thoughtfulness among our people in all areas of life.

    However, I do have a few objections in general:

    1. I’m not advocating a media-fast or complete avoidance. Let’s interact with our people at this level, but let’s not leave them there but encourage them beyond entertainment.
    2. I’m mostly speaking to sexual promiscuity on the screen. Violence and sinful attitudes can be dealt with separately. I don’t know of any men who would claim to be able to see pornography and not be tempted.
    3. We are not called to balance the good with the bad. One moral theme does not redeem a raunchy movie.
    4. Remember, there are always alternatives, and let’s not assume our people will always choose worse alternatives.
    5. Sin on the screen in many cases is temptation to us, so willful exposure to such sin is not wise.

    In the end, can our people watch whatever movies they want? Yes. I (nor any pastor at my church) am not their parent nor policeman. I will still read reviews and discuss it with them. But, I will not encourage any of my youth to attend movies that I believe will be a temptation OR desensitize them to sin (lit. seared consciences).

    I appreciate the Dane’s comment and categorization, but I believe honest consideration witness to another’s sin overlaps in part with temptation to sin. Just because we can say that we’re exposed to sin every moment does not justify choosing a movie where such things are flaunted.

    Finally, of course, it all comes back to the heart which is what we’re trying to change, and not merely behavior. Why do our youth want to watch these movies? Address that issue and we won’t have to tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t watch.

  • Rich Clark

    Seminarian, I completely agree with everything you’ve said here, although I’m not sure what you mean by “alternatives.”

  • Rich Clark

    I should also add that you might be more encouraged by some of our previous podcasts (and hopefully some of our future writing and podcasts) where we really spend a lot of time pointing out real problems with some of the more popular cultural artifacts.

    I just want to make it very clear that we are far from the extremes of legalism or moral libertarianism. Like you, we want to challenge Christians to think through the issues themselves and come to a point where they can articulate why they should or shouldn’t watch a film.

    For example, I know so many Christians who refuse to watch some of my favorite films while literally delighting in the sinful immorality rampant in the James Bond films, or the violence in Die Hard.

  • Regarding Seminarians list:

    1. Calling for an encouragement beyond entertainment presumes a kind of single-facetedness in the victims of our encouragement that I don’t see borne out in those I know. Most don’t need any kind of encouragement to move beyond entertainment because most don’t live wholly to be entertained.

    2. “I don’t know of any men who would claim to be able to see pornography and not be tempted.” I don’t think anyone is suggesting that believers view pornography, as it’s designed to be fuel for erotic lust. Now of course, pornography is a distant throw from nudity in film. And I, as a man, will admit to rarely being tempted by nudity or sexual situations in film. I am tempted by, I’d say, less than a percent of the nudity I come across in the films I see – and in those times, it’s always because I’m predisposed by mood to find them tempting. Different strokes for different folks – a guy I work with can’t go to the beach because he is certain he will lust at just about everything that walks by with no Y-chromosome. Know yourself and your limits.

    3. “One moral theme does not redeem a raunchy movie.” Are we now called to redeem movies as well as men? Again, the kinds of things one might indulge are wholly based upon the life and need of the individual. Sometimes a moral theme will make a raunchy movie worth it. Sometimes the raunchy movie will make that movie worth it.

    4. “Let’s not assume our people will always choose worse alternatives.” I don’t know what this means.

    5. “Sin on the screen in many cases is temptation to us, so willful exposure to such sin is not wise.” I’d be happier with this restated to say, “Sin on the screen in some cases may be temptation to certain ones of us; in such cases, willful exposure to such sin is not wise.”

  • I subscribed to the podcast just now, and I like it! As Rich stated, I need to consider more of what you have said previously. There are far too few Christians who are actively engaging culture and for that I do appreciate your ministry and will recommend it. I need to grow in faith and trust that my people can listen and be discerning – to “think about it themselves” which really is a theme of this whole discussion.

    To the Dane, thanks for the comments. Number four was in response to Rich’s post, namely that “Even if we cut out film and video games, there will always be something filling up what little free time we may have.” Sometimes we forget that what we (and others) use to fill up that time might not be only “sports, reading, or a card game” but Scripture reading, family time, sleep, etc. In that sense, I meant to say that we shouldn’t assume that activities will be replaced with neutral or negative ones, but that the time can be used better.

    Thanks for helping me to communicate better and understand this all myself :)

  • Alan Noble

    When talking about morality and culture we can make very few broad statements with accuracy. In fact, perhaps the only broad statement we can make is that the extremes of legalism and libertarianism are wrong.

    This is one of the things that excites me about the New Testament and the New Covenant: we don’t get to sit comfortably on a Law, we have to come before God daily, moment by moment, seeking discernment. Sometimes, in some moods, it would be sin for us to watch a film that on another day would be edifying to us. It’s a tremendous freedom, but also a serious responsibility.

    I really appreciate Rich’s emphasis upon encouraging believers to think about culture. I believe that there are far more Christians who unquestioningly embrace the influence of the world (except when it comes to pet sins like homosexuality, sexual immorality in general, and profanity), than those who legalistically shut themselves off. Both groups need to place all their interactions with the world under the authority and grace of God by being active participates in culture and its products rather than passive recipients.

    Great discussion.

  • David Dunham

    What a healthy discussion!