Is this Web Site in Sin?

God has given us clear commands in scripture on a number of issues in the Christian life. We know that we are not to commit adultery, steal, get drunk, forsake the church, or oppress the poor. But what are we to do when the Bible does not give an explicit command on a certain issue? Can we watch Sex and the City, listen to Kanye West, or get tattoos?

There are a number of issues which Scripture does not address that are considered somewhat controversial in Christian circles. For example: Should Christians go to the movies, play video games, smoke, drink, watch football games on Sunday afternoon, dance? These and many other issues are a main source of division in the church. How are we to deal with such subjects when God’s word does not deal with them? In one Pauline phrase “do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6) the Apostle gives us a principal of guidance

Where God’s word remains silent, by either direct statement or implication, then we are free to make our own choice in good conscience. This one verse assuredly condemns making a moral universal standard out of something that is nowhere recorded in Scripture. You cannot make a universal law about something that the Bible is silent on. In Romans 14 Paul lays this principal out for us:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The passage continues with an astounding and forthright declaration on the freedom of the Christian to make decisions where the Bible is silent, and on the prohibition of judging where there is no definitive Biblical rule:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the Judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

The whole chapter is rich with this topic and in a straightforward fashion declares judging where the Bible is silent is an un-Biblical form of judging. Instead it promotes the freedom that Christians have in Christ, and one phrase in particular stands out as key: Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. In this one sentence we have a mandate for free thinking and conscience guided decision-making. After all, a biblically informed conscience can be an excellent guide in the Christian life, though it is not the only one or the ultimate one. Dave Swavely calls this the “Principal of Conscience” and it is an important principal to grasp to help aid us in the fight against legalism.

The Principal of Conscience
Dave Swavely writes, “The apostle Paul ends his discussion in Romans 14 by explaining more about Christian liberty and its relation to that mysterious faculty of the human soul that we call conscience.”[1] God has instilled in man a conscience with the intent that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, man would be led in the way he should go. Of course with the fall into sin all of man has been contaminated, and even our conscience can sometimes lead us astray. But when informed by God’s moral law and requirements the conscience can be a great tool. In verses 22 and 23 Paul gives encouragement for us to enjoy the freedoms that we have in Christ. So he writes:

The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

On issues where the Bible has given no clear direct or implied moral command we are free to make our own decision. But, as Paul tells us here, that decision must be Biblically informed and you must be convinced in your conscience that you are in no way sinning against God. Speaking of those who would eat food sacrificed to idols when it is against their conscience to do so Paul says that they are “condemned,” meaning guilty. To eat without faith, Paul says, is sin. It is not the eating that is the sin, it is the person’s heart that is causing him to sin. Dave Swavely uses an interesting example to explain this point.

A helpful illustration would be a woman who was taught while growing up, by her parents and her church, that wearing pants is wrong. Men wear pants, the argument goes, so women should not wear pants. This is a legalistic view that is read into Scripture…, but does not proceed from a sound interpretation of Scripture and is not consistent with common sense…So she has been convinced that it is wrong for her to wear pants. Now suppose she is getting ready to go out for the evening with some female friends, who are all wearing jeans and begin to encourage her to do the same. They even poke fun at her hesitancy, and practically browbeat her into breaking her tradition. If she decides to put the jeans on while she still thinks it might be wrong, she will be sinning, because at that moment something is more important to her than pleasing God. It will not be her faith in Him that motivates her to put those jeans on, but her fear of what her friends think, and perhaps her own comfort. [2]

Here is a clear case of how the “Principal of Conscience” should be applied. It is not a sin to wear jeans; nowhere in Scripture do we find even the slightest implication of such a rule. Yet if one believes it is a sin to wear jeans, yet you do it anyways, than you say with your heart, “I would rather wear jeans than honor God.” As is often the case with sin, the action is not necessarily the sin; it is the motivation and inclination of the heart. In the case of Swavely’s fictional woman, her heart is more inclined towards pleasing her friends than pleasing God.

Where Scripture does not give us boundaries we are free to make our own choice, but that choice must never be to do what we think might even possibly be a sin. It’s not a sin to enjoy pop culture, but enjoy it to the glory of God… and of course CAPC is all about helping you do that.


[1] Swavely, Who Are You To Judge?. Philipsburg: P&R, 2005. 126.

[2] Ibid. 127.

About Dave Dunham
  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    David,

    Thanks for the excellent article!

    Very helpful stuff. I do have one small quibble… it might have been a nice addition to point out the issue of “protecting the weaker brother.” This is an extremely common argument among Christians; that even if drinking is not wrong, someone might see you and stumble, and then it’s your fault. That line of argument is a big one in relation to movies.

    Other than that, though, very helpful. Thanks again!

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • http://www.boundless.org Ted Slater

    Yes, individuals are personally responsible to God for their behavior. And in lots of instances, it’s appropriate that we not judge them when they do things differently from us, or have different “thresholds” in the area of, say, media consumption. One person will not see R-rated movies, and another senses no restriction from the Lord from seeing certain R-rated movies. Fine. They’re following their God-informed consciences.

    How might James 3:1 apply here, though? Should not a publication that provides counsel to hundreds of thousands of people be held to a higher standard than a private individual? If that publication encourages Christians to expose themselves to troubling audio/visual material, in order to gain insights into how “the depraved” view the world, and diminishing those who would rather not expose themselves to such media … would it not be appropriate to draw attention to the danger of their doing so?

    Let me put it another way. Say you’re with a group of friends, and one of them really struggles with pornography, but is doing a decent job resisting the temptation to view it. Would you speak in glowing terms of a movie that includes lots of nudity and sex, telling him that you found it refreshing and enjoyable, that you found it more relevant than your “college church group”? Probably not.

    What if your “group of friends” consists of hundreds of thousands of people who place a good deal of trust in your words? What if one of them struggles with pornography, and by telling how much you “enjoyed” a particular soft-core porn movie (supposedly “elevated” by the discussion of certain lofty themes), they found themselves being able to justify to themselves that they could watch it? Would not this entity with such a large “group of friends” share some blame for that person’s falling into sin?

    Just some thoughts, trying to broaden the conversation….

    Ted Slaters last blog post..Working Man Hands

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    See? I told you that was a key line of argument in Christian circles!

    I’m actually thankful for Ted’s perspective… Though I don’t know that we would agree on every issue within the Christ and Culture relationship (that’s ok… as Carson tells us in Christ and Culture Revisited: http://www.christandpopculture.com/general-culture/reviewing-christ-and-culture-revisited/). However, in this case I think Christianity Today’s article went over the top.

    Read it and ask yourself this question; is there anything here that provides a truly gospel-centered Christian perspective on the movie? Or is it just a basic secular review?

    It’s good to engage culture. Even so, I think Ted’s right- this was a mishandling of a position of responsibility. The people CT speaks to deserved clearer discussion of the ethical implications of the movie’s content.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • http://www.mikeduran.com Mike Duran

    Many Christians who oppose pop culture consumption often do so on the grounds of conscience or personal preference, rather than specific Scriptural injunctions. In this way, being “friends with the world” has come to mean lots of different things to different people. Leaving the parameters of this “friendship” up to individual conscience is, as you say, the biblical means of resolution. However, one problem facing those of us who “partake” in pop culture, are those brothers intent on making their conscientious abstinence a Law unto others. In my mind, they are far less “weaker” brothers than they are legalists.

    Mike Durans last blog post..Is Belief in God and Extraterrestrials Incompatible? #1

  • Alan Noble

    The issue of causing a brother to stumble is a serious one, and one I’ve thought a lot about. Probably the most relevant verses dealing with this issue are Romans 14:13-15:

    13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

    Something that I have noticed as I’ve studied these verses is that Paul’s language clearly implies that the person eating has foreknowledge that he will offend a brother if he consumes. There is a specific person in a specific situation that will be offended, that will stumble, if he eats.

    This, I think, is crucial to a proper understanding of not causing another to stumble. The alternative is the teaching that we must protect hypothetical brothers from hypothetical stumbling–we must avoid things that could potentially cause some people to stumble. This teaching leads to legalism and obsession. And it doesn’t make sense in relation to the rest of Paul’s teaching.

    If Paul was saying that we must avoid all things which could conceivably cause someone who happens to see us to stumble, then he would not have told us of our freedom. Why ever eat meat sacrificed to idols? What if someone happens to see us eat?

    This, I believe, needs to be our focus:

    “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”

    If you are partaking of something that causes a brother to grieve, then stop, you’re not being loving. However, if you are partaking of something and you are not aware of anyone who is grieved by it, then you do not have to stop in order to guard the heart of some random person.

    So to Ben’s example of drinking. If you are with a brother who would stumble if you drank, then don’t drink. If you are not with a brother who would stumble, then by all means, drink. Paul’s teaching here is not meant to have us obsessing about who sees us do what, but to remind us of the centrality of loving our fellow man.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    To add further to Alan’s point, Paul does not wish the weaker brother to be kept in his weakness. As we cease from the activity that will cause a particular brother to stumble, we do so as well in order to have an opportunity to strengthen the faith of the weak that they might no longer find cause to stumble.

    We should not be pleased for the weak to remain weak, but through the preaching of the power of the gospel and through the example of lives of maturity, we should seek to lead such brothers and sisters into lives of faith and righteousness.

    The Danes last blog post..20080610

  • Alan Noble

    To add to what Dane was adding to what I said:

    I’ve always been struck by Paul’s use of the word weaker in this context and how it clearly indicates a state that is not preferable. When being taught these verses, I’ve often found that people ignore the implication of this word, thus treating the mature and weaker brothers as equally preferable states–which is not the case.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    I agree with what Alan and The Dane are saying, but this question is especially tricky for those in a position of influence. I can agree that for some, going to Sex and the City might be fine.

    However, as far as the, “causing a brother to stumble,” question, CT is in a position of influence over its many readers. Doesn’t it seem to violate the spirit of Romans 14 if positive reviews of a movie encourage (or justify) a, “weaker brother,” going to see the movie?

    Granted, we can debate whether the CT review sufficiently warned its readers about the dangers of such a movie. But I think that if, hypothetically, it gave a positive review to a movie that caused large portions of its readership to fall into sin, there is a lot of responsibility on their shoulders (again, not all, but just in the sense of violating Romans 14).

    So while I don’t have a problem with a CT reviewer SEEING the movie, they definitely bear responsibility for how they communicate the movie’s content to their readership. Again, we can debate whether this particular review fulfilled its responsibility in that area or not, but I don’t think the can absolve itself of any and all responsibility no matter what they say in their reviews.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    *The last comment should end by saying, “…I don’t think the magazine can absolve itself…” rather than, “…I don’t think the can absolve itself…” Sorry!

  • Alan Noble

    Ben,

    You’re right, it’s a lot harder to sort this issue out in regard to those in the position to influence.

    The question for me is, if the movie is “good” (good acting, plot, dialogue, etc…), but has sexually explicit scenes, as a Christian reviewer, how do you react to the film?

    This reviewer chose to be positive about the aspects of the film that she felt were praiseworthy (although I have my doubts that her assessment was correct…) and to warn the reader about the sexual explicit parts. What else could she have done?

    Does a few sexual explicit scenes make an otherwise well-directed movie (a four-star movie) deserve only one star?

    I don’t really have an answers to these questions, so I’m looking forward to the podcast!

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – You say “This was a mishandling of a position of responsibility. The people CT speaks to deserved clearer discussion of the ethical implications of the movie’s content.”

    Why?

    What is there about CT‘s station (what, as a publisher of print media?) that gives them this responsibility? These are not pastors and elders. These are not people who hold any authority over the church or any authority on matters of doctrine and its application.

    It seems like any responsibility that you (and Mr. Slater) are requiring of them has to be arrived at through arbitrary means. You might like them to discuss the theological implications and the moral underpinnings of the films they review, but they have no mandate to do so. Your requirement of them is merely your desire for a particular thing rather than their responsibility for that thing.

    Do CT readers deserve other than what they got in the SATC review? No, they don’t. Might they appreciate something different? Some of them would, sure. But there’s a difference between what’s owed and what’s wanted.

    Mr. Slater wants hand-holding and a dismissal of positive elements if they co-mingle with negative elements of a sexual nature. I want nothing more than an evaluation of a film’s merits as a film and am perfectly satisfied to look at the MPAA rating to see whether a film will be morally damaging to me. You, I suspect, fall somewhere between us and would appreciate the added dimension of interaction with a film’s themes (especially those that are relative to our Christianity). The thing is: none of us are owed our preferred style of movie review and one style is not morally superior to another (though I don’t particularly appreciate the mindset that Mr. Slater’s preference caters to and, perhaps, encourages).

    The Danes last blog post..20080612

  • http://www.boundless.org Ted Slater

    The Dane, you wrote, “Mr. Slater wants hand-holding and a dismissal of positive elements if they co-mingle with negative elements of a sexual nature.”

    If that’s what you honestly believe about me, then you totally misunderstand me. I don’t think further explanation on my part will help, as I’ve tried repeatedly to explain myself.

    Maybe look at my comments on the “Boundless Magazine Openly challenges Christianity Today’s review of Sex in the City” thread to get a more accurate understanding of where I stand. I’m not a cliche, despite your proclivity to see me as such.

    Ted Slaters last blog post..So You Wanna Be a Freelancer

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Dane,

    I think your tendency is toward a somewhat libertarian view of life; lots of freedom within certain bounds, high responsibility for self, low responsibility for others outside of certain tight-knit and narrowly defined lines.

    If that’s an accurate portrayal of the world, then I would say you are right. CT is not in official authority over its readers, and so is not “responsible” for what their readers do or don’t do with the review, no matter what that review actually says so long as it isn’t a lie.

    However, I tend to think that Christians should shy away from that pseudo-Ayn-Rand-meets-Christianity view, and be more thoughtful about how their actions affect others and point (or don’t point) to the gospel.

    So, let’s say I’m an expert mountain climber, and I come back from climbing Mt. Everest. Some amateurs come to me and ask, “How was the climb?” Now, it may be true that I’m not technically responsible for them, and can just tell them I had a great time. But even so, I think a godly response would be to warn them that though I enjoyed the climb, I was prepared for it. They should not attempt something without the training, maturity, tools, support team, etc. I should care for their health and safety, and a failure to do so is a failure to love on my part.

    In a similar way, perhaps I’m a great traveling speaker. If a young man asks me whether it is rewarding, the loving thing would be to carefully warn him about the dangers, stresses, temptations, and frustrations involved. If I fail to do so, I fail to love him.

    In the case of CT, their movie reviews are a piece of why people buy the magazine or come to the website- CT provides the service of watching and reviewing movies in a way that Christians can (hopefully) trust more than secular reviews.

    When they occupy that position of trust, and then deviate from it (again, setting aside whether the Sex and the City review did this or not) by posting a review that is supportive of something that has portions the readers expected them to point out or criticize, I would say they are violating a trust that was given to them and bear some moral responsibility for promoting something that could cause many to sin. I would say they fail to love their readers when they fail to highlight the problems with the morals and worldview of a secular movie.

    Alan, I think you’re probably right that as far as the sexually expicit scenes in the movie, the reviewer DID at least mention them. However, I felt she brushed over them a little too easily.

    The problem isn’t merely that the movie HAS them, the problem is that the movie promotes (I assume) a worldview that is accepting of such things. She suggested that the movie deals with questions that Christians rarely deal with, but didn’t really dwell on that fact that the movie’s answers, being self-focused rather than God-focused, are certainly WRONG answers. In this, I would say she did not love her readers as fully as she ought to have, given her position of responsibility.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ted – Honestly, though you may not reflect the picture I painted there in comments on the Boundless site, I haven’t seen anything but reinforcement of that view in your comments on this site.

    You objected to Ms. Courtney’s review primarily on the grounds that she spoke too positively about a movie that, by your portrayal, no devout Christian should see. Her admonitions that the film contains strong sexual content hold no water for you because despite that admonition and a small pile of other negative comments, she in the end enjoyed the film.

    She spoke honestly of what she appreciated about the film and what she didn’t so much care for, but because she doesn’t roundly condemn the film for consumption by believers, you pick on her. When Alan asks you whether you would have preferred her to lie about the aspects of the film that, in her opinion, were well done, you dodged his question by saying that her positive impressions obviously wrong (here citing Rotten Tomatoes). You continue for the rest of the thread ignore the balance Ms. Courtney provides and chastise CT for daring to, in your words, “promote” a film they refer to as soft-core pornography (something they never actually do).

    No, nothing in these comments would drive me to think that the picture I painted (of you desiring hand-holding and a dismissal of positives if they co-mingle with sexual elements) was in any way off-base. Nothing you’ve said (save for your objection to the picture just now) in any way contradicts this image, but mostly just supports it.

    It may be that you really aren’t like the you that you’ve shown yourself to be in both your Open Letter and in your comments here. If that is the case though, you are having serious difficulties using your writing to accurately portray yourself. If repeatedly trying to explain yourself just means dodging questions and avoiding points that won’t work in your favour (which is what your explanations amount to), then I don’t know what else to say.

    You’ve obviously justified yourself and you plainly have fans if the comments I did read on Boundless were any indication. I wish you did feel the need to interact forthrightly with the questions raised over the last couple days, but so far it doesn’t seem like that is the case.

    The Danes last blog post..20080612

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – You’re certainly right about my perspective in some ways. I do place a high level of responsibility on oneself for living righteously in the world. I also put a high value on the authority and responsibility of the clergy.

    I liked your analogies but I didn’t think they fit the matter at hand quite so well. They would work much better if the situation was that someone comes up to me at church, knowing that I’d seen Popular Movie A and what I thought of it. In that case, I would take more care to describe the movie in terms that I imagine she is looking for. This is especially the case if I know more about her—perhaps she is a mother who has in mind her 14-year-old son when she asks. My answer then would be tailored toward what I imagine her needs to be.

    A closer analogy to the matter at hand would be if I, an experienced (and celebrated!) climber, had just returned from Everest and an interviewer for Outside magazine asked me to describe the experience. Because of the situation and the context, there would be little need for a disclaimer for Outside‘s subscriber-base warning of the dangers of such a climb. This is more where the position of Ms. Courtney sits, to my mind.

    As far as the level of detail she gave concerning the offensive elements, I think if you’re someone who at all struggles with dealing with on-screen sexuality, then her description of the film as containing “a threesome, a naked man in a shower, some steamy makeup sex” and “sex scenes between married folk” should be plenty information for you to adequately decide that the movie is not for you. Any more focus would tend toward salacious and probably harm the most easily offended—those who weren’t already offended by the fact that the movie was reviewed or that she mentioned the word “threesome.”

    The Danes last blog post..20080612

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Dane,

    I’m definitely following your thoughts on this, and generally comfortable with how you’re seeing it. The key disagreement here is the CT reviewer’s responsibility to the audience.

    You keep referring to the reviewer (in our little metaphors) as a, “describer,” or as one who is expressing their experience of the movie, perhaps tailored a bit to fit the audience.

    My problem here is that finding a “description” of a major movie is as simple as picking up your local newspaper. An R rating and a little reading between the lines will tell you whether the movie is good for people who struggle with those areas of sin. There’s basically no need for CT to do reviews at all if that’s all they are doing.

    The goal for a Christian magazine is to help believers approach a movie with discernment- and that discernment should extend beyond merely pointing out the three bad scenes, and then getting down to aesthetic merit.

    Instead, I think they (intentionally) take on the responsibility of helping believers think through the moral, spiritual, and intellectual implications of a movie from a Christian viewpoint.

    So to me, the question isn’t
    A) Did she do a thoughtful review? and
    B) Did she remember to mention the questionable parts?

    Question B can be answered by any review of the movie in any newspaper, and Question A may be true or not of any review (and is more consistently true at more prestigious publications than CT).

    The real question for a Christian to think about is this:
    Did the reviewer helpfully critique the movie in the light of a Biblical worldview?

    Frankly, I’d say the answer for that particular CT review was no.

    She did not interact helpfully with the myriad problems raised for Christian fans of the franchise by its worldview, content, moral stance, and ethical implications. She didn’t highlight areas of temptation that women (who tend to be fans of the show and movie) should be especially wary of. She celebrated the questions the movie asks without challenging its answers. She critiques the church’s mishandling of those same questions without acknowledging that even if mishandled, only Christ can answer problems of career and direction and relationships and loneliness.

    In short, it was fine as a review, but wasn’t a Christian review, which is what CT readers have (rightfully, I think) come to expect from CT movie reviews. I feel that the magazine intentionally takes on the responsibility of helping believers be discerning toward movies, but in this case fumbled the ball.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • http://opuszine.com/ Jason

    I asked this question over in the comments for “Boundless Magazine Openly challenges Christianity Today’s review of Sex in the City”, but I don’t think it was answered, so I’ll ask it here. :)

    I’m curious about the critics of CT‘s review. Do you feel that their SATC review is the rule or the exception when it comes to their reviews of potentially “objectionable” movies? In other words, do you feel that, by and large, CT does a good job of writing about such movies in a manner that does show discretion and responsibility? Do they have a good track record?

    The reason I ask is this. Having read and re-read the SATC review, I think I can see where the critics are coming from (even though I may not agree with the whole of their criticism). But in my experience, I do think that CT has done an exemplary job when it comes to such films, of addressing the films’ problematic aspects and being upfront about them while still praising any artistic and spiritual merit that they might have.

    It’s a balancing act to be sure, and no-one can do it perfectly, even the most objective of critics. No single critic is going to catch all of the bad stuff, or being able to bring out all of the good stuff. Inevitably, someone is bound to be offended, or feel like a critic who is striving to achieve that balance did a bad job. So the question is, is there some kind of systemic problem within CT‘s operation, or is this more of an isolated incident?

    If you think it’s an isolated incident, wouldn’t it be somewhat wiser to give them the benefit of the doubt? And if you think it’s a systemic problem, wouldn’t it be more gracious to bring up those concerns in a manner that doesn’t seem to imply that you’re just lying in wait, hoping that they’ll slip up once more so that you can pounce on them? (Perhaps the principles put forth in Matthew 18:15-17 have some relevance here.)

    In any case, I think that it’s all too tempting to just come out swinging and begin poking holes in the methods and stances of a particular publication when you disagree with them, especially on such an impersonal medium as the Web. You might be motivated by spiritual and brotherly concern and love, but you may be communicating in a tone that is condemning, salacious, gossip-y, and/or moralistic.

    And I’m not merely directing that criticism at Ted Slater. I’m directing it at myself as much as anyone. I’ve often made many a snide and snarky comment at the way in which publications such as Movieguide and Plugged In review media. I have concerns about how those publications conduct their business, concerns that are good to be discussed and debated — just as people obviously have concerns about CT. But the temptation is to sit in judgment and deal out any criticisms, as valid as they might be, in as snarky a manner as possible. I get a good laugh out of it, but that’s it. Nothing’s solved, no-one is made any wiser, and more importantly, no-one is edified, especially not Christ.

    We’re all on the same side here, we’re all in the same family (unless you want to start questioning someone’s salvation, which is someplace that I don’t really want to go). Ted Baehr, as much as I may disagree with his methods and viewpoints, is still my brother in Christ, as is the rest of the Movieguide crew. And Camerin Courtney is still your sister in Christ, as is the rest of the CT crew. And it’s a grave thing to criticize or seek to correct a brother or sister if done, not in a spirit of grace and humility, but in a manner that simply proves me right.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – I see where you’re coming from and though we can quibble about just how “Christian” the review in question was (me being fine with the level of Christian-and-culture interaction there and you being less so), I think part of the roadblock between us is our different understanding of the job of the film reviewer.

    From my perspective, the level of consideration and engagement you look for is the role of the critic rather than the reviewer.

    The reviewer’s goal is to tell you whether a movie was appreciated or not, lay out the evidence to support that judgment, and allow readers to decide for themselves based off their knowledge of the reviewer’s tastes and from what other reviewers have said.

    The role of the critic is to evaluate various aspects and themes of a film. Discussion of a film’s message, the ethical dilemmas brought about by a given character’s outlook or choices, and things like that are all the province of the critic.

    It seems like you would like to conflate those two roles, at least in the case of publications like CT (evident from your wish for the reviewer to “critique the movie in the light of a Biblical worldview”). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, with the creation of, I don’t know what we’d call it, a Super-Reviewer, but I think we need to be careful of expecting mere reviewers to become Super-Reviewers.

    Interestingly, I think this segues nicely into recent discussion about Christian music as well. I’m rather leery of the concept that a “Christian” publication needs to say certain things just as I refuse the idea that “Christian” bands must sing certain things. I think that as a community, American Christendom has become far to ready to ghetto-ize the cultural expression of their faith by creating these arbitrary distinctions as what a Christian [fill in the blank] should be like.

    If I were to forge a Christian movie review site, it would contain reviews essentially unchanged from the ones I currently pen—reviews that don’t deal with any of the issues that you or Mr. Slater are here concerned with. You’re not so much a fan of this approach because such things “can be answered by any review of the movie in any newspaper.” This is, of course, true—but my review is a Christian review not because I say particular things or nail down on particular points or give a checklist of how many effwords are in a film, but my review is a Christian review simply because I am Christian.

    And I think that should be enough.

    Now if I’d care to go further than simply reviewing films, if I’d care to begin critiquing as well and discussing greater issues, well then that’s fine. And I might be able to cater to a whole crowd of people who really want that. But those people shouldn’t confuse what I’m doing than as being more Christian than what I was doing before, nor should it be considered better than what I was doing before.

    Both choices are entirely Christian choices (as I am a Christian and my choices flow out of my faith). Just like when Starflyer sings a song about spending the holiday with one you love rather than singing about listening to that Jesus music, their song is no less Christian than if they had swiped lyrics from Handel’s messiah.

    We need to dump this kind of expectation, because by supporting it we help further the perpetration of the Christian ghetto. And I don’t think any of us want that.

    The Danes last blog post..20080612

  • Carissa Smith

    Alas, I don’t really have time to fully enter into the conversation, but I’ll just add something that passed through my head as I was reading the discussion in the comments (largely between Ben and the Dane) about CT’s level of responsibility.

    Here’s my example from personal experience: I can’t deal with violence against animals in movies. This might be because I am “weak,” but for whatever reason, I think I can even say that viewing violence against animals is harmful to me spiritually (not because it tempts me to abuse animals, but because it tempts me to despair). Do I appreciate it when a review mentions that a film contains violence against animals? Absolutely. A.O. Scott’s review of The Incredible Hulk mentioned that the villain kills Bruce Banner’s dog–now I can make an informed decision about whether I want to expose myself to that or not (probably not, and it’s a movie that I otherwise would have been interested in seeing). But do I expect a Christian review of The Incredible Hulk to mention the dog’s death because it could cause a spiritual problem for me? No. And I don’t think that’s just because fewer people find animal violence objectionable and more people find explicit sexual content objectionable. Sure, I’m really grateful if a review mentions what I personally feel I need to avoid, but I don’t feel that a site or publication has a responsibility to mention that content in its review unless it is a site called “Movies to Avoid if Violence against Animals Makes You Despair.”

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Dane,

    I can agree with your separation of the critique and the review. And I can agree that there is such thing as, “reviews done by a Christian.”

    However, I am again drawn to the role a publication like CT takes upon itself. The magazine is not merely relating the experiences of its reviewers… it attempts to help Christian subscribers make decisions about which movies to watch or not. This role necessitates some degree of interaction with worldview issues.

    Christians can be, I think, too quick to pass responsibility off on technicalities. “Oh, we’re just reviewers.” Um, how about realizing that lots of weaker Christians pay close attention to what you write, and guide them accordingly with love, wisdom, and discernment? CT should know better than to celebrate the qualities of an extremely secular movie without also telling their readers of the problems inherent in its worldview.

    Carissa,

    I do see your point, but CT doesn’t sell itself to animal lovers, it sells itself to Christians trying to live circumspectly in this world.

    If an animal rights magazine reviewed movies, shouldn’t they feel a responsibility to point out to their readers those times when animals are mistreated? If a Hindu magazine reviews Rocky, shouldn’t they feel obliged to their readers to report that the Italian Stallion abuses the corpses of the dead?

    And shouldn’t a Christian magazine marketed to Christians report that a movie has a decidedly secular viewpoint in solving tough questions of life and loneliness?

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • http://scottedwardschultz.blogspot.com/ Scott Schultz

    @Ben – I think a much more interesting question is, should such an organization (such as CT) exist?

    I think I tend to think that it’s at least “okay” for it to exist, but I think some hard thinking is in order for the evangelicals that cultivate CT’s very being.

    CT is not under the formal authority of any ecclesial body. That is to say, if they err on the side of heresy or blasphemy or condone immorality, there is no clear means by which CT could legitimately be under discipline. If such a thing is disjointed from legitimate Christian authority, can such a thing justify itself as an authoritative voice of the Church – that is, is CT a secular business or a sacred ministry?

    Now, I think I side with you in saying that it was at least imprudent to publish a review that did not take into consideration the weaker brother, but my question goes beyond whether or not they were right. I want to know whether or not they even have a right to exist as something sacred (and therefore subject to your critique) or if they are merely a secular organization, perhaps under sacred pretense (and thus immune to the responsibilities you impute to them). Whattaya think?

    Scott Schultzs last blog post..Appendix

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – If CT truly puts themselves in that position, then you’re probably right that some responsibility for discussion of those kinds of things has been voluntarily taken up by their editorial staff. How much responsibility they have here is probably found in what they promise their readers. I am not a reader of the publication, so I really have no idea how much they promise to deliver. If they promise the moon and the stars, they should be accountable for the delivery of such; if they only promise an occasional out-of-focus Polaroid of the moon, then our expectations of them should be much less. I don’t know where they are in between those two choices, but this is where Jason’s question comes in—and I was sorry to see Mr. Slater pretty much ignore his valuable insights and questions.
    ___________________________

    On another side of things, my wife wonders who exactly we’re upset for here? Who exactly is going to have their faith damaged by this film that would be turned away by reading a discussion of the film’s negative thematic elements?

    Really, the sex scenes aren’t going to stumble many guys (who aren’t intending to be stumbled), as 1) the number of guys who will attend a film like this is going to be relatively small, and 2) seeing women in their 50s in R-Rated sex scenes (i.e. only vaguely explicit) is not going to be a big turn-on for many of those who do attend. I doubt many of the women who see the film are going to have their faith stumbled by the overt sexuality of the protagonists either. It’s possible some will, but then, those women will have received fair warning via Ms. Courtney’s report of what sexually objectionable material the film contains.

    And we should keep in mind that being offended is not the same thing as being stumbled. Oftentimes, it’s the polar opposite.

    Hm, really Ben, I think this is more an argument against Mr. Slater’s POV than yours—as you seemed more concerned, if I gather, with the outlook and ideology of the protagonists than the presence of overtly sexual content (would you agree that Ms. Courtney’s review covered satisfactorily that aspect of the objectionable material? or would you prefer she also discussed why a threesome is objectionable?).

    I suppose that the biggest danger to women of faith who engage the film is that they would have their perspective of the world and of love and of relationships skewed by the protagonists’ worldly sense of things—but skewed in such a way that the victims of such diversion are unaware of the change. I’m not sure, however, if a movie review is the best place to offer a worthwhile counter to such an issue. It seems like a special article, offering a particular angle of critique would be a better venue to effect any reasonable level of change of heart/mind of those negatively affected by the film. And should we be operating under the presumption that Christians seeing a movie featuring four immoral, unbelieving protagonists, living lives overtly out of balance with biblical standards—should we presume that Christians would see these women as sources to be emulated?

    Though there may be some of particular confusion or particularly weak faith that would see these four as fine role models, I’d bet that such people are in a very distinct minority—and are probably not reading CT reviews and looking for good discernment on whether a movie is for them or not.
    ____________________________

    Heh, and in case my niggling and caveats make it seem like I’m just being contentious (or cantankerous), I really do agree quite a bit from where you’re coming.

    Plus, I’m cantankerous.

    The Danes last blog post..20080612

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Scott,

    I definitely wouldn’t call CT a “sacred” organization. They are simply a parachurch ministry. However, I think those can have a lot of value if handled well. In a way, Apollos or Paul and their crews were parachurch ministries.

    You are right that they shouldn’t be authoritative. However, the individuals there are subject to the guidelines of Scripture and are under the authority of their local churches.

    The key issue to me is that they’ve reached a position of influence that demands a level of responsibility. A Christian businessman has a responsibility to act in a godly and responsible way toward his employees and in his business dealings because he is a Christian in a position of responsibility, even if his business is not a Christian one.

    In the same way, I would say a magazine that has put itself in the position of a voice of Christian guidance and wisdom (though not, as you say, authority)bears responsibility to guide wisely, and not to suddenly disavow themselves of responsibility for thoughtful guidance. Personal reflections can be interesting, but I don’t think people look at CT reviews to see what one person experienced- they look to see whether Christians they trust think a movie is a good idea. That demands, to me, careful interaction with the worldview problems rather than simple affirmation of the questions being asked.

    Dane,

    Good points, all. Once again I think we’re honing down to the essential disagreement- I think CT DOES take on a guidance role for how they review movies, you don’t. Fair enough.

    And I do think you’re correct that the review should have sufficiently satisfied those who only care about the “technically offensive” parts. In other words, if the ONLY bad thing about the movies was those specific parts, the review mentioned them and that’s that.

    However, I do think you grossly underestimate the spiritual condition of large portions of the church. As far as I’ve seen, huge portions of the church are made up of very weak Christians attending very large churches with little to no discipleship or guidance. When you meet them, they seem little different than the rest of the world. (Once I was getting my haircut, and the from the lady who cut my hair I found out the following things- she doesn’t think anyone is going to hell and hates preachers who say that, she hates her pastor’s wife, she has hundreds of angel pins because she is near-obsessed with angels, and she was the deacon of children’s ministry at an evangelical megachurch in the area I lived in at the time!)

    These people need to see that the world and the church are separate in their thinking, and discussions of movies are a great place to start. However, these people are often not wise enough to seek out counsel and guidance. That’s why I feel a publication that goes out to hundreds of thousands of people who like the simple articles and stories might be a good place to at least help them see the difference between the Moralistic Therapeutic outlook of Sex and the City vs. the Biblical worldview.

    It’s not that I need this reviewer’s help to see the seperation, and am mad at her for not giving it to me; it’s that I know so many people who don’t realize that they need more discernment about the secular worldview, and this review did nothing to help them.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – Yeah, I realize there are those people out there, the people who only lightly consider their faith was they make decisions and interest with the world about them. I think my only question was whether those people (like angel-pin lady) actually read CT. From what I’ve seen (and again here, my sample of their articles is incredibly small as I’m not a regular reader), their articles deal with all kinds of stuff that would make people like your barber-lady uncomfortable because CT begins with a pretty mainline evangelical perspective.

    So I’m just wondering if the people who would actually benefit from the kind of movie review you’d want for SATC are even reading CT. If they aren’t, then there seems little loss for the omission. If they are, well then that’s a story more in favour of the picture you present.

    Do we know anything about CT demographics?
    ____________________________

    “Once again I think we’re honing down to the essential disagreement- I think CT DOES take on a guidance role for how they review movies, you don’t.”

    I’m not opposed to the idea. I was just operating on the assumption that CT wouldn’t be dumb enough to take on that responsibility. But then, not being so familiar with their work, I don’t really have any reason to say that they haven’t taken that on. So you may well be right.

    And now that I look at CT‘s movie section anthem, “informing and equipping Christian moviegoers to make discerning choices about films through timely coverage, insightful reviews and interviews, educated opinion, and relevant news—all from a biblical worldview,” I can see they have indeed taken on something of that responsibility for themselves.

    As far as how well the SATC review accomplished CT‘s self-created goal? I’d probably give them a B-, because while the review fulfilled the “informing Christian moviegoers to make discerning choices about films through timely coverage” it didn’t do much to help viewers equip themselves to deal with the film’s content.

    Personally, if I were CT, I’d probably excise the “equipping” part from their stated goal (despite how hip “equipping” sounds), simply because in order to properly equip potential viewers, each review would require a length comparable to this comment thread in order to properly engage the questions.

    Also, each review would contain a ton of overlap with other reviews, since every time a film features materialism, you’d have to include a discussion on how a Christian ought to respond to materialism, and each time a film features the nation of Israel, you’d need to include a lengthy, highly debateable section on the Christian view of Israel and how we should respond to political arguments about the nation, et cetera. In short, I don’t think “equipping” is actually within the scope of the publication’s ability—at least not equipping in any satisfactory way. I mean, your barber would need a whole lot more equipping than a paragraph or two on why the superficial, open-sex society perpetrated by the SATC protagonists is an inappropriate model for believers. She’s got deeper groundwork that must be laid and for a publication to take on the goal of equipping with any degree of rigour would take a lot of work. Or, I suppose it depends on their audience.

    The Danes last blog post..20080612


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X