wolf-of-wall-street-poster2-610x903-1I grew up in a fundamentalist environment. The church I was baptized in believed it was inappropriate for Christians to go to a movie theater. To this day, my grandparents maintain this standard as a bulwark against worldliness.

The library at my Christian school had a variety of books for children, sanitized for Christian consumption. Encyclopedia Brown made the cut, but all the “goshes” and “gee whizzes” were marked out with a heavy black pen. No second-hand cursing allowed.

Films without anything objectionable were allowed at school, but looking back, I see how this analysis was applied simplistically. I still remember watching an old version of The Secret Garden - a movie with no cursing, thank goodness, but with a pseudo-pantheistic worldview that healing power is pulsating through all living things.

As a teenager, I discovered the work of Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer, and C. S. Lewis. These men had a different perspective on art and its merits. I began to see artistic analysis differently. I realized Disney movies weren’t safe just because they were “clean,” and PG-13 movies weren’t bad just because they had language or violence. It was possible to watch a movie with a critical eye for the underlying worldview.

I never subscribed to the fundamentalist vision that saw holiness in terms of cultural retreat or worldliness as anything that smacked of cultural engagement. I don’t subscribe to that position today.

But sometimes I wonder if evangelicals have swung the pendulum too far to the other side, to the point where all sorts of entertainment choices are validated in the name of cultural engagement.

Generally speaking, I enjoy the movie reviews I read in Christianity Today and World magazine. They go beyond counting cuss words or flagging objectionable content and offer substantive analysis of a movie’s overall message. But in recent years, I’ve begun to wonder if we’re more open than we should be to whatever Hollywood puts out.

Take, for example, Christianity Today’s recent review of The Wolf of Wall Street. Alyssa Wilkinson devotes nearly half of her review to the graphic depictions of immorality, yet still gives the film 3.5 stars out of 4. Another review counts 22 sex scenes, but can’t be sure since it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins.

My question is this: at what point do we consider a film irredeemable, or at least unwatchable? At what point do we say it is wrong to participate in certain forms of entertainment?

I understand there are complexities to this issue. Some Christians disagreed with the praise showered on the recent Les Miserables film. I am among the number who thought Les Mis showcased the glory of redemption. It was a movie in which the sordid elements only served to accentuate the beauty of grace and the dehumanizing nature of sin.

Les Miserables is not unlike the accounts we read in our Bibles. Sexual immorality, rape, and violence are part and parcel of the Scriptural narrative. If a movie version of the book of Genesis were made, it wouldn’t be for minors. It seems silly to cross out cuss words from Encyclopedia Brown when first-graders can discover some pretty adult-themed events in their Adventure Bibles.

So, please don’t hear me advocating for a simplistic denunciation of Hollywood films. I am not. But I am concerned that many evangelicals may be expending more energy in avoiding the appearance of being “holier-than-thou” than we do in avoiding evil itself.

Yes, Paul used a popular poet of his day in order to make a point in his gospel presentation. Cultural engagement is important and necessary. But church history shows us that for every culture-engager there’s also a Gregory of Nyssa type who saw the entertainment mindset as decadent and deserving of judgment.

Is there justification for viewing gratuitous violence or sexual content?

At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?

I find it hard to imagine the ancient Israelites admiring the artwork on the Asherah poles they were called to tear down. I find it hard to picture the early church fathers attending the games at the Roman coliseum, praising the artistic merits of the arena even as they provide caveats against violence.

Yet now in the 21st century, we are expected to find redeemable qualities in what would only be described by people throughout church history as “filth.”

What’s the point in decrying the exploitation of women in strip clubs and mourning the enslavement of men to pornography when we unashamedly watch films that exploit and enslave?

I do not claim to have this all figured out. But one thing I know: our pursuit of holiness must be the mark against which our pursuit of cultural engagement is measured.

If, like me, you’re conflicted about this issue, maybe it’s because we should be.

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177 thoughts on “Evangelicals and Hollywood Muck”

  1. Stuart Leeds says:

    A thought-provoking article and challenging. Especially as I had just read this in Jerry Bridges book, The Pursuit of Holiness, on page 116/7

    “As Christians we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; I Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out to our actions. This being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important.

    The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues true? Are they pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?”

    1. David says:

      Two thumbs way, way up for this comment, Mr. Leeds. I totally agree.

      Phillipians 4:8 is the standard for what we should be feeding our minds. Is it necessarily “wrong” to watch these movies? Well, compare what you watch with Phillipians 4:8 and ask the question if it meets the standard.

      Instead of spending time watching television and movies, why not use the time to be alone studying the Word and in prayer. Do we really think that we can’t be “culturally engaged” (whatever that means) if we were to make better use of our time with God ?

      1. adam says:

        David, I just wanted to say that your last paragraph is wonderful and convicting. The Spirit used it to stir me a bit, and I thought I’d let you know. Thank you.

      2. Haxsaw says:

        I see so many, many homosexuals on T.V. variety programs in the Pacific Island area. It is it makes me shut off the set and read a book! Being open minded as I am, I agree with movies that show religion in a good light. I agree with movies, as few as there are, not revealing cheating couples, lined with drug use and crime lord activity from the main actors. I appreciate what few Hollywood movies that show good as good and evil as evil. Unfortunately, there is a mere handful of decent movies, world wide. The bulk of the mind altering rubbish is simply unfit for families to see, under any condition.

      3. Rich Essman says:

        Or spending time actually engaging culture… like our unsaved neighbors and co-workers.

    2. Wayne Wilson says:

      Thank you, Stuart, for immediately bringing to bear something the article doesn’t do at all — Scripture. It’s incredible that Trevin does not even think to engage with the Scripture on holiness, offering instead silly comparisons between “Gee whiz” in Encyclopedia Brown and paying people to disrobe and act out sex for entertainment purposes. He seems to be completely unaware of what the church fathers said about Roman theater. We have fallen far indeed.

  2. Remington says:

    The sex scenes in Wolf of Wall Street aren’t considered pornography by today’s industry standard. But I don’t see how a Christian couldn’t classify them as pornography.

    How can we justify watching pornography? That Christians think it’s okay to view something like this shows how much the sexual madness of the culture has infected the church.

    1. Strictly speaking, pornography is the graphic depiction of sexual acts with the intent to cause arousal. I haven’t seen the movie, but knowing Scorcese’s skill as a storyteller, I doubt his main intent is to arouse his audience.

      There is a middle ground, as Trevin says. Calling everything either pornographic or non-pornographic is simplistic.

      1. John Botkin says:

        “Strictly speaking, pornography is the graphic depiction of sexual acts with the intent to cause arousal.”

        Says who?

        1. From the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

          Pornography:

          1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

          2. material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

          3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction

          1. John Botkin says:

            So if we just had this:

            1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing)

            2. material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior

            3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so

            … it wouldn’t be porn and would be okay?

          2. Remington says:

            Vagabond,

            Within a language group there are other language communities. For instance, Christianity arguably represents a language group within the English language speaking community. An obvious example would be the word “faith” as understood by popular culture and “faith” as understood by a Reformed Christian community. The understandings of those words may have some overlap, but will not exactly correspond.

            So contemporary culture may have a definition of pornography that doesn’t match up exactly with the Christian community. The Christian community doesn’t merely follow the popular culture in it’s understanding of or use of language. For the Christian community, our language is also (primarily, even) informed by Scripture.

            Given that, I stand by my statement that this movie is pornographic, even *if* it’s not intended to sexually arouse the audience.

            But I find it highly unlikely that the gratuitous depictions of sex in this movie are not intended to sexually arouse the audience. Given the media’s general reliance upon women sexuality to market and draw an audience, it would take a certain credulity to think the sexuality in this movie was conducted without any intent to titillate the audience.

            There may be a middle ground, but that middle ground certainly doesn’t encompass pornography, which is what this movie contains. I’ve provided an argument in my other comment.

      2. Roger Patterson says:

        How can you reconcile that comment in light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4-5?

        If it is shameful even to speak of those things they do in secret (or in plain view, these days), why is it OK to entertain ourselves with it?

        I think this is the real question in my mind.

        I think I fail in that area too many times.

      3. Simon says:

        Strictly speaking (not by some English dictionary but by the Bible, the actual standard), pornography is anything outside of marriage that should be inside marriage – marriage is the only sanctioned place for any sexual activity.

        Flee sexual immorality. That’s what the Bible says, flee it. Like any sin. Flee.

        Watching a naked person who is not my wife on a 30 foot screen sounds like something I shouldn’t be doing. The lady getting naked in front of a film crew sounds like something she shouldn’t be doing.

        1. Simon, we speak English, not Greek. The definitions of words matter, even if you don’t like them. You can’t make up a new definition of a word.

          There is a huge difference between media that depicts sex outside of marriage and media that depicts graphic acts intended to arouse. Just because it’s inappropriate, that doesn’t make it pornography. By attempting to equate a Martin Scorcese movie with a porn flick, we render the word meaningless.

        2. David says:

          By that kind of logic isn’t the intimacy of Song of Solomon off limits? Reading the intimate sexual thoughts of two people obviously in love would by your very definition be pornography?

          What about the story of David and Bathsheba? The very image that’s conjured in your head is that of a married man lusting after a naked women who isn’t his wife? The Bible is full of stories that if put on that 30 foot screen would be R-rated?

          This is why discernment is necessary. Not all of us are capable of not sinning during the Wolf of Wall Street so we should probably avoid it. Those who are should be utilized to help those who may stumble avoid the sin. It’s pretty simple logic.

          1. Wayne Wilson says:

            It’s also pretty simple logic that any Christian who would call himself a man would be horrified and grieved to participate in seeing a young woman paid to be stripped and handled sexually.

            And no, reading the very brief account of David and Bathsheba does not create images in the mind in any way like filming it does.

      4. Melody says:

        How about we define it on how we would feel if the one or two people were to act like that in our living room in front of us?

        For some reason if it is happening in the black box then we think we aren’t participating but it is still in our home.

        1. Simon says:

          Yes, that’s a good thought, what if instead of TV we were a little more affluent and could pay the actors to come and play it out in front of us. Would that be OK? I think not!

  3. Remington says:

    Here’s an idea that I haven’t pursued to much. I’ll just throw it out there, maybe it’s a good criterion and maybe it isn’t:

    If you couldn’t watch these events that are depicted on the screen occur in real life, then you shouldn’t be watching it on a screen either. If you couldn’t go into a couple’s bedroom and watch them have sex so long as certain bits were obscured by sheets, why think you can watch it on a screen?

    What is the relevant difference that makes watching it on a screen acceptable?

    That’s an honest question, since I haven’t thought through this much (and don’t have time now since I have to head off to work). But I don’t think it will be good enough to say “Well then what about these violent movies?” Violence appears to me to be fundamentally different than sex. The impropriety of violence doesn’t arise from seeing it, per se, the way viewing sex (as a third party) does. One can view many violent acts and not be guilty of sin. One can’t view any sex act as a third party and not be guilty of sin. This is due to the nature of the proper expression of sex–which is a private act between two married people. The impropriety of violence is often unrelated to, as far as I can see, an audience. Now some forms of extreme violence it would be inappropriate to not turn away from. In that case, I would say it is inappropriate to depict them and view them on a screen.

    1. Denita Ruhnow says:

      Honestly, this is one of the best guidelines for viewing anything I’ve ever seen. I ask my kids this question all the time when it comes to watching things. Even without television, we watch a lot of movies and shows on Amazon Prime or DVD. My parents–both unbelievers–have looked at us askance for refusing to watch certain movies simply because a sex scene was portrayed off-screen but implied. My question to them is this: “Exactly why did it even need to be there at all, why do my children need to see this at all, if the couple in question aren’t married why do I want my kids to experience this, and if they were why do my kids need to know about this?!”

      1. Yep, I also contend that it is sin to produce nudity and sex in movies and that my being in the room while these people are stark naked during filming would be a violation of my marriage covenant. How is my viewing it afterward any different?

        Try THIS
        I couldn’t possibly agree with Piper more.

        At bottom this all comes down to a degraded deficient view of God Himself and his Christ glorifying covenant of marriage. NO person in whom dwells the spirit of the living God can be at peace with uncovering the nakedness of ANYone not their spouse.

        1. Denita Ruhnow says:

          Ohhhh yes, I’m actually familiar with that one. Eric (my husband) and I listen to Ask Pastor John on a very frequent basis. Both of us strongly agree with Bro. Piper on these principles.

    2. lisa says:

      Well put, Remington. We have always maintained that viewing violence is different from viewing sex, for precisely the reasons you cited.

    3. Kathleen says:

      This is an excellent point, and I have not seen it brought up nearly enough. I don’t think gratuitous violence or bad language is edifying, but it’s not sin in and of itself. But for my husband to look at a naked woman other than me, or me to look at a naked man other than him, is sin (excepting medical or emergency situations, which we all understand well).

  4. Phil Brown says:

    I think these are good thoughts. I think it all comes down to what we promote. I don’t really have time to watch a lot of movies, but when I do, I am selective as to what I put in my mind. I don’t have to know the latest pop-culture buzz to witness to another person in this culture. I don’t even have to look or dress like them or be of the same race. In a strange way, most people just want honesty and authenticity. “Are you what you claim to be?” Paul was a Jew in Athens seeking to witness to pagan Greeks(Acts 17). He knew some of their culture, and it probably was helpful. However, was it necessary? I don’t know. When I look at the content of what Paul shared when it came to Greek Philosophy and the Unknown God, I don’t really see that Paul spent much time musing in the stories of Greek Philosophy and Mythology. What I see is a means to an end. Paul was like the Greeks in the sense that he was a man and that he was familiar with a few facets of their culture. However, he showed them something better. The Gospel.

  5. Brian says:

    As someone who grew up in a fundamentalist environment and had a similar journey toward broader evangelicalism, I think this issue remains a huge blind spot for the Christian community at large.

    Strange as it may seem, many fundamentalists have come to embrace the freedom to uncritically consume television and film’s standard fare. Perhaps this should be no surprise, since mere law cannot change the heart, and fundamentalism is a dying movement.

    Similarly, if TGC and/or the New Calvinism wish to leave a footprint beyond this century, they will need to demonstrate and articulate how a gospel-centered theology impacts all of life (including the remote control and box office), all the while avoiding history’s pitfalls of cultural disengagement or legalism. Proper theology informs proper practice. But a lack of community and personal holiness has the potential to undermine even the greatest of theological movements.

    Meanwhile, for Christians who want to shed the old clothes of fundamentalism, could there be more irony in a movement that champions justice and decries social ills, only to subtly promote the opposite in the name of Christian freedom? Let’s please not be so ignorant as to laud a movie for its redemptive themes, knowing full well that the average movie-goer will never find the redemptive thread under the piles of sludge they pay to watch.

    1. Chris Zmuda says:

      “…the average movie-goer will never find the redemptive thread under the piles of sludge they pay to watch.”

      Excellent.

    2. Kathleen says:

      Excellent. Also, how can we laud the redemptive themes when the actors/actresses are being treated, whether voluntarily or not, as sexual objects. Those are real people.

  6. I have witnessed this as a growing issue in Evangelicalism as well. I think a good barometer to use, as always, is the Word of God. In 1 Thessalonians 4 we read that the will of God is our sanctification and that we are to abstain from sexual immorality…for God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. I interpret this to be a command for myself personally to abstain physically, myself from sexual immoral, in addition to watching someone else essentially fornicate (which is the raw truth what is occurring). I enjoy the arts, listening to musicians, and watching talented people, don’t get me wrong, but why should Christians partake in watching entertainment that we know isn’t going to further conform us into more Christ-likeness.

  7. Joel says:

    Good word. Thanks for putting this struggle into words.

  8. John Botkin says:

    Good post, Trevin. There is one thing I would push back on, though. You say the sex scenes in Les Mes (and I assume, other movies) are okay because there similar scenes in the Bible which would be in a movie version. In my opinion, that’s an argument that starts in the wrong place. There’s a reason God didn’t give us a movie as revelation. He gave us a book. And as a book, the Bible presents scenes of rape and sex without salacious or graphic comment. They are depicted it the most flat, straight-forward way possible. Movies, by the nature of their visual medium, cannot do that. Could I justify viewing a sex scene by looking through my neighbor’s window? No. So, why do we do it in so-called art and film? I’ve yet to read a convincing biblical argument for this. Blessings.

    1. I have been greatly encouraged by the responses here so far, but John Botkin, you sir have nailed it HARD my dear brother. I mean EVERY syllable. You also shamelessly ripped me off LOL!! That was and is going to be one of my primary weapons, but bless God I am more than happy to see you or anybody else so very clearly grasp this family of points. I salute you sir and do indeed magnify the Lord for the work He is clearly doing in you. See my website link please.

      I have been immersed in research along these lines for several months and am very grateful that brother Trevin has seen fit to put it on the table. To any who may have any doubts? Trust me. This last horrific movie is just the tip of the iceberg and this permissive “artistic” view of film is only symptom.

      Hopefully I’ll have more time later after some more comments.

    2. If the Bible was compiled during a time when movies were a major form of communication, then I think you’d have a point. But saying that books are God’s intended form of communication is like saying that paintings are better than photography because Michelangelo never used a camera.

      For that matter, if you’re going to argue that the medium matters, then you’d have to say that oral storytelling trumps books, because for centuries the events depicted in the Bible were passed on orally. We cannot know what details Rabbis gave regarding sexual events – perhaps the version of the Bathsheba story in the Bible is less graphic than the one ancient Hebrews were familiar with – but given human nature and variety of ways we tell stories, odds are there was quite bit of variation detail-wise.

      1. John Botkin says:

        I can’t be sure but your view of the Bible seems to be different from mine, which leads me to find your arguments non-persuasive. God is the ultimate author of his Word. This means that he chose when the Scriptures would be given, which means he chose to give us a book. That isn’t chance. And, yes, I would argue (along this and other lines) that communication forms do vary in helpfulness. I think the written word is a superior form than the visual. Finally, you’re right to say that we cannot know what details the Rabbis gave regarding any events. But we can know what details God gave in his word. This should be all that’s given because this is what he wants us to know. Blessings.

        1. HChris says:

          I would tend to agree that God is purposeful with regard to how and when he acts. However, I think we might be overreaching to definitively say that the reason God revealed Himself when He did was so that it could be written in a book not in a movie(or collection of books).

          Also, God didn’t author anything. He acted in the world and humans wrote down the events. Some books were written only after a long history of oral tradition. Could there have been someone then who objected to writing those events down because the mechanism by which it was originally spread was verbal, not written?

          On the subject at hand, I would go even further than most. How can I justify spending $10 per person to see ANY movie for pure entertainment when there are people dying from malnutrition?

          Ezekiel 16:49-50
          “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

          If this indictment doesn’t pertain to our culture, then I don’t know what does. I think that understanding that certain movies are worth subjecting yourself to while others are not is the first step to understanding that no movie is worth subjecting yourself to. I would argue that the real harm of movie-going isn’t whether what we watch is suitable for a Christian, but rather that going to the movies highlights how much more concern we have for our own entertainment than we do for the plight of those, many of whom are our fellow Christians, are suffering.

          How much more joy will you have knowing that the money you would have spent on a 2.5 hour movie will help improve the quality of life for a person who is suffering? We engage our culture not by participating in it, but by offering a model that is so radically different and infinitely better!

          A few posts above someone cited Philippians. I would also cite from that book, but a different passage:

          Philippians 2:4. “Look not to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”

          Do not think I am judging anyone, I speak only for myself. The Spirit works in all of us in different ways and at different times. But perhaps take this as a gentle nudge.

          1. Scott says:

            Are you suggesting that all Scripture is NOT God breathed?

          2. John Botkin says:

            Just at a glance, I think 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:16-21 contradict your understanding of Scriptures.

          3. HChris says:

            I really wasn’t.

            I was suggesting that at some point, not all scripture was script, and therefore couldn’t have been authored (in the strictest sense of the word) by God. Some scripture was only written down after a period of oral tradition. My point being that it is a stretch to definitively say that God revealed Himself when He did for the express purpose of being recorded in writing.

            But what if I had? What would your response have been? You’ve piqued my curiosity.

            What do you mean by ‘God breathed?’ Or, more importantly, what did Paul mean by ‘God breathed?’

            Take the book of Esther. Why is it in the canon? There’s no mention of God at all in the book. It is never quoted in the New Testament. Even first century Jews were unsure of its legitimacy. Yes, we can take lessons from the book, but I can take lessons from the Lord of the Rings, that doesn’t mean I think it should be canonized. It is entirely plausible that when Paul wrote that all scripture is God breathed he wasn’t referring to Esther because it might not have been part of the Jewish (or Christian) canon at the time.

            The Bible says Jesus is the Word of God. I agree. The Bible says that if you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father. Yet Psalm 137:9 says that God will bless whoever dashes Babylonian children against rocks. If when you say scripture is God breathed you mean everything written is a truthful statement about who God is, or as coming from the mouth of God how do you reconcile these scriptures? Jesus taught loving one’s enemies, the psalmist encourages infanticide. I reconcile the two by taking the view that the psalmist is writing from his passions. He is frustrated at being captive in Babylon and writes some nasty things born from his frustrations. God isn’t really going to bless someone for infanticide, but we, like the psalmist, can be raw with God in our despair and that’s ok.

            Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”

            I believe that. I believe that all scripture is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. I do not believe that it is all a true reflection of God’s nature. Only Jesus is a true reflection of God’s nature.

          4. John K says:

            To your comment about the Bible/Scripture not being a reflection of Jesus, I disagree. I believe that all of Scripture taken in context is a reflection of God’s nature. Certainly not every Biblical statement in isolation would appear this way, but when put with the rest of Scripture it does. Take the babies being dashed against rocks passage. This is a cry for vengeance, as no doubt this was done to Hebrew children. It reflects righteous anger. God did say vengeance is mine, I will repay, so vengeance is not a bad thing if left to God. This passage reflects the fact that God is a holy, just, wrathful God who will “break the teeth of the wicked. At the same time, God is someone who is “slow to anger, abounding in love . . .” and the command to love your enemies reflects that. Reconciling the tension between those two is not easy, but that doesn’t mean they’re both true. Babylon did receive vengeance from God, though much later, and apparently the king who took the Southern Kingdom into exile became a person of faith (Nebuchadnezzar–sp?), and probably others in Babylon, so there was mercy and justice/vengeance.

          5. HChris says:

            If I take your view of that passage I must also believe that God brought the Babylonian captivity as judgement/vengeance upon Israel, so it was God who brought about the deaths of the Hebrew children dashed upon rocks.

            The logic looks like this:

            God caused Babylonian children to be dashed upon rocks to avenge the Hebrew children who were dashed upon rocks…which God caused to happen because of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

            On top of that, we are attributing behavior to God which God directly rebukes. We are saying God punishes a person for crimes they didn’t commit. Why would the children of Babylon be punished for sins they didn’t commit? God rebukes this thinking in Ezekiel 18:25-29.

            In Chapter 3 of C.S. Lewis’ “Reflections on the Psalms” Lewis addresses the “Cursing Psalms.”

            “At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain them away or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both squarely. The hatred is there – festering, gloating, undisguised – and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves. Only after these two admission shave been made can we safely proceed.”

            These Psalms reveal more about the writers of the Psalms than about the nature of God. Though they do reveal something about God. Lewis again:

            “For we can still see, in the worst of their maledictions, how these old poets were, in a sense, near to God. Though hideously distorted by the human instrument, something of the Divine voice can be heard in these passages. Not, of course, that God looks upon their enemies as they do: He “desireth not the death of a sinner”. but doubtless He has for the sin of those enemies just the implacable hostility which the poets express. Implacable? Yes, not to the sinner but to the sin. It will not be tolerated nor condoned, no treaty will be made with it. That tooth must come out, that right hand must be amputated, if the man is to be saved….the ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not the perpetrators) is hateful to God. In that way, however dangerous the human distortion may be, His word sound through these passages too.”

            Again, Jesus is the perfect and complete incarnation and revelation of God. That much is made clear in the New Testament. To attribute evil to God in the guise of “justice” is the epitome of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

          6. HChris says:

            Apologies, I cited the wrong verses from Ezekiel.

            Ezekiel 18:20 is the correct verse.

  9. Les says:

    Thank you for posting this article. I get frustrated with Christian movie reviewers who attempt to put a “Christian” spin on some movies. Christians have been negatively caricatured as hateful, Bible-thumping bigots in so many movies that some have gone in the opposite direction in trying to not appear like these caricatures. The thinking goes, “Don’t criticize a movie, it’s intolerant” rather find something “redemptive” whatever that is. Reviewers blather on about the nuances of a performance, the lighting, directing while ignoring profanity and raunch. I stopped watching movies and television as much when I realized how much time I spent mentally imbibing that crap and how little time I spent reading the Bible or praying then wondering at why I’m not spiritually minded.

  10. My dad said “When in doubt, leave it out”. So to me at least, the question is “Why go to the movie?”

    Movies are for entertainment. That is inherently self-serving. So we must ask ourselves whether our heart’s desire is to (A) Live in the world as much like Christ as we can, or (B) Live in Christ as much like the world as we can.

    Someone also pointed out that “Romeo & Juliet” is a great love story, and as such needs no bedroom scenes, profanity, or anything explicit.

    1. Isn’t suicide pretty explicit?

      1. Clint says:

        Vagabond, With your defensiveness to this subject, maybe you should consider whether this is an area to which you need seek God on–whether or not your perspective and participation is pleasing to God.

  11. Virtuous says:

    Excellent article! I had a similar cultural journey, but only since I became a Christian in my teens. I don’t think I saw a current movie for about 4 years after my conversion, and then the first one I went to was the original Superman, with Christopher Reeve. I was very selective! I did start branching out somewhat in my 20s and found that attending the latest acclaimed film usually meant seeing some sex scenes, and in hindsight I realize how foolish it was for Christians in a dating relationship to go to these movies and then seek to maintain purity standards. I agree that violence in movies (i.e., war violence that is simply realistic, not gratuitous torture scenes) does not seem so harmful: after my husband and I saw Gladiator, we thought it was OK for our early-teen boys though it was rated R. Something like Titanic, rated PG-13 but with the sex-outside-marriage-fine-as-long-as-you’re-in-love theme, we found to be more harmful and did not have in our home. BTW, I also thought the redemptive theme of Les Miserables was outstanding.

  12. John says:

    Ask yourself: Can they play this movie in heaven?

  13. Meredith B. says:

    I was reading in John Piper’s A Godward Life this morning. One selection talked about how deceitful our hearts can be in tempting our minds to justify sin. I think we always need to be mindful of this fact. This is why we are told to renew our minds. I think we cannot make blanket judgments about TV or movies which would tend toward legalism, BUT that means we must all individually be taking the admonition in 1 Peter very seriously – “Be holy for I am holy.” For me this has meant having to judge each movie or TV show separately as to how it might or might not tempt me to sin. I could not go see Les Mis after reading about the content. For me it would tempt me to sin. I cannot judge another brother or sister as to how it would tempt them but each of us must be wise and not naïve as to how sin desires to tempt us.

    1. Try THIS

      I couldn’t possibly agree with Piper more. Oh how we so carelessly forget about the unbelievers dead in sin who are making and defiling themselves (AND more importantly, God’s covenant of marriage), by “performing” in this “art”. People we are SUPPOSED to be salt and light to. WE certainly would never “perform” like that, but we’ll watch them.

  14. Perhaps we need to reverse the process, along the lines of the Augustine-attributed concept, “Love God and do what you will.”

    Rather than agonize or parse over which movies we should watch, re-focus on communing with the Lord through His Word and prayer, spending the TIME with Him that’s conducive to walking by His Spirit.

    “And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

    Preaching to myself here :)

  15. Trevin says: I find it hard to imagine the ancient Israelites admiring the artwork on the Asherah poles they were called to tear down. I find it hard to picture the early church fathers attending the games at the Roman coliseum, praising the artistic merits of the arena even as they provide caveats against violence.
    Of course I agree and I JUST made this argument last night on my Facebook page.
    ——————————————————————————————————–
    “Can you imagine Paul telling Timothy: “Be ready at 7 my son. I’ll be by to pick you up so we can go watch the orgies at the temple of Diana. There’s some very artistic and valuable lessons about sin these pagans can teach you.”
    ——————————————————————————————————–
    I must be honest. I then have a hard time imagining Paul saying this:
    Les Mis showcased the glory of redemption.
    Can you really imagine that? Which redemption? Redemption in Christ? IS there another kind that should matter to Christians? The broad question is, where is the biblical permission, to say nothing of mandate, that we intentionally view avoidable sin, portrayed BY sinners, in order to learn from it? That is a calm and honest question.

    1. Truth Unites... And Divides says:

      Greg, I learn from the sins, and the consequences to sin as written in the Bible. Very instructive.

      1. Man TUAD you n I sure are runnin into each other alot lately.
        Also from my Facebook page last night:
        —————————————————–
        “These people act like the creator God was crippled in His ability to communicate until his sinful creatures helped Him out by inventing moving pictures. The faithful giants of the kingdom in CENTURIES past had a faaaaaaaaar firmer and more accurate grasp of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the blinding holiness of almighty God than these Cabernet Sauvignon sipping snobs will ever dream of.

        There is NOTHING a godless Hollywood movie can teach me that I am unable to learn without ingesting their filth.
        ——————————————————
        John Botkin says: “God is the ultimate author of his Word. This means that he chose when the Scriptures would be given,
        OHHHHH my Jesus! LOL!!!! Now yer scaring me John. Boys n girls John Botkin has sneaked into my mind when I wasn’t lookin. This WAS EXACTLY my next point. This Vagabond fella is demonstrating what happens when one falls prey to an overly “narrative” view of scripture and revelation at the expense of systematics. I’ve previously looked at his blog.(I’ve seen him before) Take a peek. It is most telling.

        Yes, the God who works all things according to the counsel of His own will chose the exact era for His revelation to be “INSCRIPTURATED” in written form. Not “inmoviated” or whatever the very appropriately fictitious term may be.

  16. Sandy Hartzler says:

    Agree with your assessment that the pendulum has swung too far. Since I have an “artsy” brain, I DO have to be careful what images I allow my eyes to see. Hence my husband and I rarely go to the theatre where images can surprise you and it’s harder to ‘walk out’…especially since you pay so much to see a film. We need to have a recommendation by someone we trust who has seen the movie. So that is why we prefer to watch DVD’s at home…we use the fast forward button A LOT, as there may be redeemable things to watch at the end of the movie. But there are times that we just say, “this is not edifying at all” and push the off button. Just concerned that too many of us have been the frogs in the pot with the water slowly heating up so we don’t recognize the harm. What do you think??? Sandy

  17. Truth Unites... And Divides says:

    “Take, for example, Christianity Today’s recent review of The Wolf of Wall Street. Alyssa Wilkinson devotes nearly half of her review to the graphic depictions of immorality, yet still gives the film 3.5 stars out of 4.”

    Says more about Christianity Today and their numbing down or desensitizing the discernment and lack of holiness among Christians.

    I have read comments renaming Christianity Today as Christianity Astray. Trevin’s post lends some credence to that argument.

  18. Jermaine says:

    Thanks Trevin.

    I too enjoy watching films, and looking for those “echoes of Eden” as Jerram Barrs put it. There’s a lot of great movies and TV shows being made that exemplify themes like redemption, forgiveness, perseverance, the suffering servant, the unlikely hero, etc.

    On Saturday, my wife and I went to watch the Wolf of Wallstreet. Given that Dicaprio is a great actor (he put out some gems in the last 3 years), we didn’t read any reviews before going. Big mistake. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, there was more cussing, sex, and overall crassness than I’ve ever seen in my life.

    My wife simply couldn’t stay in the theater anymore, so we left and got our money back. (Side note: we ended up watching the Secret Life of Walter Mitty instead, and it was a great movie, FYI).

    What was shocking to me was how full the theater was and how much people were loving it. The Wolf of Wallstreet isn’t a movie that tries to accurately depicts the darkness of wall street, but rather is a movie that almost glorifies and promotes the sin that exists behind the scenes.

    The pendulum has indeed swung too far. That movie ought to be rated 0 out 4 by all Bible-believing Christians, simply because of how vulgar and crass it was. It wasn’t the fact that there was drugs and sex involved, but the fact that they were glorifying those things.

    1. Jermaine says:

      *My wife and I, I meant to say :P

  19. Charlie says:

    While it is up to each person’s conscience on how much their maturity can handle in light of Phil. 4:8, here’s a question: How can we Christians entertain and amuse ourselves with sins such as homosexuality, abortion, drugs and so forth and then go out and preach and campaign against it the next day?

    1. Charlie says: “While it is up to each person’s conscience on how much their maturity can handle in light of Phil. 4:8,”
      Where in scripture do we find the measure of maturity being how much sin we can consume?

      Charlie asks: “How can we Christians entertain and amuse ourselves with sins such as homosexuality, abortion, drugs and so forth and then go out and preach and campaign against it the next day?”
      You’ve missed the point sir. Christians don’t amuse and entertain themselves with these things ya see. They take a discerning Christian eye to the viewing of persons not their spouse (and maybe somebody else’s), nude and or in sex scenes being filmed for others for entertainment purposes in a room full of people also not their spouse?

      This is a godly and as you say, “MATURE” activity. It teaches otherwise inaccessible and unlearnable lessons in sin and redemption. This is clearly spelled out for us in the Word of God and in Church history for the purpose of making us better ambassador’s of Christ in the earth. I’m just waiting for somebody to show me where.

      1. While it doesn’t go so far as to say that we can measure one’s maturity by their ability to resist sin they are exposed to, Romans 14 does say that something that is a stumbling block for one person isn’t necessarily a stumbling block for another person. Paul’ prescription for such situations is to avoid the stumbling block while the easily tempted person is with you, but you don’t have to avoid it when they’re not.

        1. Charlie says:

          Thank you, Christian, Romans 14 is what I mean by “maturity.”

        2. Christian Vagabond: While it doesn’t go so far as to say that we can measure one’s maturity by their ability to resist sin they are exposed to, Romans 14 does say that something that is a stumbling block for one person isn’t necessarily a stumbling block for another person. Paul’ prescription for such situations is to avoid the stumbling block while the easily tempted person is with you, but you don’t have to avoid it when they’re not.
          This is a typical libertine post modern butchery of Romans 14. Romans 14 is SPECIFICALLY addressing FOODS and FEASTS and such things as are in themselves morally neutral. Many of whch were once actually binding Levitical statutes.

          The attempt to extend Romans 14 to the consumption of sexual debauchery in modern day media is an outrageous abuse of scripture that fits quite nicely with the rest of the degenerate emergent heresy all over you website Vagabond. Do you really wanna have this debate? This is an easy one friend. It’ll take me 5 minutes in Jesus name to thoroughly disintegrate this tiresome and grotesque perversion of the holy Word of God.

          Pick a religion that doesn’t have these pesky scriptures impeding your pursuit of perversion. The bible teaches a very strict morality with with SOME neutral areas of individual liberty. This imaginary broad and wide freedom where just about ANYthing is up to the individual, like God blessed homosexuality and everything else on your blog, was unheard of before the 20th century.

          1. Simon says:

            Well said Greg. There are people who say either we can’t judge and what they really mean is that we ought not to express an opinion on any moral matter. There are people who say that what is ok for some is not ok for others, when it is clearly sin.

            These people are simply misguided and reading the scriptures through a filter, rather than seeing what is actually there.

  20. Mark says:

    Thank you for this, Trevin — great article. Very balanced, and challenges each of us readers to consider carefully.

  21. David says: “Instead of spending time watching television and movies, why not use the time to be alone studying the Word and in prayer. Do we really think that we can’t be “culturally engaged” (whatever that means) if we were to make better use of our time with God?
    Indeed, by today’s general definition/s/s/s in the church, I again see no biblical evidence of it being part of God’s will for his people. Not a trace. Anywhere. Not even by implication. It is a purely modern contrivance used by people who like this stuff.

    I’m not saying it’s sin to ever go see any movie ever, but can we drop the ridiculous pretense of “cultural engagement in Jesus name” and just admit that we partake because we like movies please? And you are right on about time too. I BET a years pay that most in this thread who own a TV spend more time with IT (and hence the world) than they do with God and His word. (Tell me I’m wrong folks)

    Am I telling everybody to throw out their TV’s and never see a movie or they’re going to hell? No, but ask yourself what kind of reaction you’d have inside if I did. It’s like asking you to cut off your arm. Isn’t it? People can go days or even weeks OR months without opening their bibles outside of church. To say NOTHING of an hour of actual prayer for God’s sake, but when is the last time anybody went a whole day in their home without the TV POURING the world into them.

    I believe with all my heart that visual media entertainment is a first rate bondage. An addiction that is so universal and pervasive that the very suggestion that it is one brings instantaneous and instinctive chuckles of scorn, even in the church. Visual media technology IS NOT evil. Movies and TV are not necessarily evil. but oh how we find ways to talk ourselves into thinking God doesn’t really mind if we put a little sin before our eyes and into our hearts, because after all. We’re doing it for Him.

    1. P Collander says:

      BIN-GO.

    2. Susan says:

      I agree. I’ve been doing fine without cable or satellite for the past 20 years, and have seen only 4 movies that I can think of, in the last 13 years (3 of those were Lord of the Rings, btw). Visual images stick with me and get into my dreams, so I’m very careful about books and magazines, even.

      Nonbelievers seem to think I’m crazy, anyway, so why should I bother trying to act like them? They’re not going to be impressed.

  22. Nate says:

    Very disappointed with the CT review :-(

    1. Nate laments: Very disappointed with the CT review :-(

      Would you like some more? This is admittedly an all time low, but there’s plenty more where that came from. If we throw in the ones done by CT reviewers not necessarily at the CT site as well, I’ll literally have you reading for hours. If we also throw in the ones done by DIRECT associates of CT reviewers as well, all of these claiming to be Christian reviews, you’ll need a week’s fast, alone with the Holy Ghost to purge the rot from your soul. I kid you not.

  23. Sid Garland says:

    Thanks Trevin for this needed caution. Francis Schaeffer (don’t ask me where) used to say that if you watch a movie you should spend the same amount of time analyzing it afterwards. That would cut down a lot of the evangelical movie watching that has become acceptable. We would choose more carefully what to watch and who should watch it and who will take a lead afterwards to help us discuss what we have watched in a way that will appreciate the good but also counteract the lies we have just been watching.

  24. Timothy says:

    My wife and I love to rent and watch a good movie. I always check to see the reviews on PluggedIn, and more often than not decide not to rent or watch films based on the review. I haven’t always done this, and in fact, only within the last few years have I really been thinking more about holiness in this area of my life. At present though, if the Lord’s name is taken in vain that is always one of the deciding factors for me since the Lord hates that so much – so that rules out quite a few movies(even some PG)for us. However, my wife bought me (us) a ClearPlay DVD player for Christmas which allows you to censor movies based on filters the company has created. While I was excited to be able to filter through a bunch of muck and blasphemy, I’ve been wrestling with the concept of whether it’s even ok to still watch some of these movies and/or even have them in the house. I’m currently reading through Deuteronomy, and I really began to process as I came across Deut. 7:26 which says, “And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house…you shall utterly detest and abhor it.” As I pondered God’s holiness and also His heart for His chosen people and His desire for them to “utterly detest and abhor” the idolatrous items from the nations around them, I wondered how this concept may relate to these films. I know that not everyone will share the same convictions I do, but there are a few factors I’ve been pondering.

    As the priest of my home – I’m responsible for what stuff is permissible in my home and I will be judged accordingly. While I know my wife and I can handle hearing some of the crudeness that may remain after filtering(as campus ministers we often do), I also know that (as the first comment/Jerry Bridges quote from Stuart Leeds talks about) – what goes into our minds affects our thoughts – “The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues ‘true? Are they pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?'”

    That was a super helpful comment in determining whether or not the particular remaining worldview (after ClearPlay filtering), underlying messages, etc. are worthy of giving time and attention to as it relates to the renewal of our minds. As Stuart Leeds also reminded us (from Bridges), “As Christians we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; I Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out to our actions. This being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important.”

    Along these lines, I also think of the C.S. Lewis quote from the weight of glory (I think!) where he talks about thinking of other believers as they will be revealed in glory one day.I want to present my wife holy and blameless to the Lord (Ephesians 5:25-28). Could some of the movies I permit us to watch affect her growth in holiness? In addition to that, could some of the movies I permit into my house (that would only be intended for viewing with our ClearPlay DVD player) potentially become a stumbling block for my two children (now 2 and 4) later on down the road?

    I can also see myself pretty much wasting several hours of precious time (Psalm 90:12) on movies each week (just because I have to pay the $7.99 monthly fee) instead of spending more time at the feet of Jesus. The Gospel Transformation Study Bible notes have been a bit convicting along these lines – one quote from the notes on Deut 10:12-22 says, “If we truly love God, then we will love what and whom he loves.” Watching movies isn’t a bad thing, but is it the best thing (Luke 10:38-42)?

    As I’ve thought about it, currently I think it would be ok to evaluate these movies in light of Phil. 4:8 to determine whether or not something is “worthless” to put before my eyes (Psalm 101:3) and/or the eyes of my family. However, I am cautious since I know that every time I watch anything Christ is present. Lord, please give us wisdom for what is best and I pray that we will treasure you more than anything else. Also, (from Valley of Vision, p. 23)”…all our happiness consists in loving thee, and being holy as thou art holy. O may [we] never fall into the tempers and vanities, the sensuality and folly of the present world!”

  25. Tom says:

    Is it appropriate to show the cover art of The Wolf of Wall Street on this website? There are some very inappropriate things in this cover art. Could just the name of the movie be referenced without showing it? Thanks!

  26. I am going to sleep a like a baby tonight. God ALWAYS has his 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

    Timothy, you’re a one man revival. The thrice holy Lord of creation WILL be faithful to a heart such as yours. He is guiding you even now. There have been some fantastic comments here in my view, but yours has personally drawn me to Him like no other. I’m about to dance around this room and have me a hallelujah shoutin good time LOL!!!! Very very good indeed sir.

  27. Reed says:

    I’m a Christian who has seen Wolf and loved it. The film was in fact one of the few instances where I felt that the various sins clearly on display could be forgiven, has they were each clearly indicted by the filmmakers. Unfortunately, some people just don’t see this, as Mr. Scorsese never hands us the answers on a platter. I think this is a wonderful thing, as it forces us as christians to clearly evaluate and determine for ourselves whether or not the activities on display are appropriate. (I can also safely say that this film is far from pornographic; it’s a terrifying vision of what can happen when we become so focused on ourselves and not others.)
    This is why I think it’s dangerous intake of objectionable material. We should be strong enough Christians to view something/read something and evaluate it on terms of our own Christian morality, not on the desires of our flesh.

    1. Nate B says:

      Reed—-
      1. why did you love it? Do you love it because it shows how selfish we are? I understand a movie being a form of realism or a reflection of selfish American society, but I think multiple sex scenes are an attempt at sensationalism rather than a “mirror’ for reality.

      2. I typically read the ‘Parental Guidelines’ on IMDB.com before I watch a movie. Two days ago I read these guidelines which gives the exact details of what sexual events happen in a movie. I sort of regret reading them, because even a description was graphic.

      3. In your last paragraph you say that it is a dangerous intake of objectionable material. But then you say we should be strong enough to watch it without allowing it to tempt us? Please clarify this.

      Generally, I think that Mr. Tevin Brown could have completely cut his own personal background of being raised in a hyper conservative school. Rather I would like to hear a more engaged analysis of the Christianity Today article. Could you take one more edit on this article and explain to us why the CT article accepts a semi-pornographic movie?

      Personally I think scenes with people having sex in them sell in America. Movie makers want to make money. So they put sex in it. I don’t see how 22 sex scenes can be used other than to glorify the acts. Is it not the glorification of sex as the highest American experience? And so movie makers can $$?

    2. Jonathan says:

      Reed,

      They could have done the same thing without 22+ scenes. They could have done the same thing without showing so much flesh in the scenes. The Bible describes stories with gross immorality in many instances, but not with the kind of description that I read in mere reviews of this film. The actual film itself, being visual, must be 100x worse. I would say the Bible sets the ideal for portraying sin and its results, and it finds a way to do so without bringing temptation to the audience. There is no way this movie manages to do so.

  28. Tim Mullet says:

    If you’ll permit me to come galloping in with some clarity… :)
    The New Testament speaks of presentable parts and unpresentable parts. The law tells us to not uncover the nakedness of non-spouses…

    I’m not sure the question of whether or not to watch the movie is all that difficult for non-doctors…

  29. Mark says:

    Good article! Here’s my take: Hollywood makes a lot of movies, many of which, in one way or another, try to include a “moral to the story” by the end of the film. I’ll make a very general statement in saying that the degree to which a film makes its point about morality (A) convincing, (B) universal, and (C) appreciating the subtleties and complexities of human nature, then the more critical acclaim that film will receive and the more it will resonate with thoughtful viewers. “Friday the 13th” has a message about morality, but it’s a lot more basic and unrefined than what you’d find in many Scorsese films.

    Many films with a message set up their morality tale by first showing us the consequences of immoral (or amoral) actions and worldviews. They show us sex, violence, war, greed, and various forms of egotism and selfishness so that, in the end, we’ll be able to see the contrast between good and evil, and we’ll be able to examine our own lives. Really good directors are willing to show this to us in ways that reveal the subtleties of our souls, that draw us in and say “what you’re seeing looks fun/ right/ the lesser of two evils, but in the end it leads to death.”

    But as we all know, we’re becoming more and more immune to extreme depictions of sex and violence. So, when filmmakers tell their story, they often “up the ante” in what they show because they feel the need for more and more extreme depictions of bad behavior to get our attention (and to sell tickets).

    All this to say that it’s not the fact that sex and violence are placed in a film to begin with… For me, I look for a well-told story (and one I want to see), and then consider the role sex, violence, etc. play in the story. When I seek out films, I look for those that the critics tell me have something to say and are able to say it in ways that are new and subtle, without having to hit me over the head with extreme sex and violence. When directors promise to treat me like an adult and assume I’m smart enough to appreciate the subtleties they’ve placed in their film, I’ll buy a ticket. When they renege on that promise, I tell my friends to go see something else.

    And when a story is well-told and feels “real,” it’s a great topic for conversation about what we believe and what (and Who) the hope of our souls really is.

  30. Aaron Kunce says:

    You wrote: “I find it hard to imagine the ancient Israelites admiring the artwork on the Asherah poles they were called to tear down. I find it hard to picture the early church fathers attending the games at the Roman coliseum, praising the artistic merits of the arena even as they provide caveats against violence.” Trevin, I respect you greatly and have for years. All the way back to when I first read a post from you on Wrightsaid back in 2004(?) but my goodness, followers of Jesus aren’t ancient Israelites and watching a movie is not comparable to watching real violence in the coliseum. You have a decent post here… but I wish you hadn’t included that. Because Trevin you’re right… we do need wisdom here. We need discernment. We also need outstanding reviewers like the ones at CT. I am so grateful for them.

  31. Mark says:

    Some real talk here. I too grew up in a very media-defensive home where audio sanitizer was given on the regular to destroy the germs and bacteria of swear words and worldly influences.

    We can have a whole set new of discussions, within your own personal dialogue, or with friends, or read numerous books on the matter.

    I just know from my own experience, for little that its worth, that its deceptive, so why not inquire the Lord on this matter? Our hearts fall natural prey to our own fleshly desires and we neglect to fight the good fight with certain forms of entertainment.

    I like movies for what they are…they’re inspiring, both visually and in their narratives, but they are not life changing. They’re two-hour forms of entertainment and art, but the Word of the Lord is eternal.

  32. lindsay says:

    I wonder if maybe this conversation misses the point of why Christians should engage in culture, including cinema.

    Is our goal to edify ourselves? If so, there’s a pretty solid case to be made for why “no Christian should ever watch x”. But I’d submit that’s not the point of engaging in culture. We do not simply seek to carry the spoils out of Egypt, but we also seek to understand a world that Christ has called us to serve. How can we serve it if we don’t understand it? How can we counsel a young person who finds himself in a string of dead end sexual relationships if we don’t understand why he’s seeking them?

    Obviously, there are things we can understand without witnessing. I’d submit that line is something that only an individual believer and the Holy Spirit can discern, though. My husband and I are both firm followers of Christ who have dedicated our lives to His service – and yet, we have different levels of sensitivity to different types of content. Narratives, images, and such affect us differently, and we respect that about each other and seek to help each other make wise choices.

    My point is not that this conversation is not appropriate, but that maybe this is an oversimplified treatment of a conversation that is far too serious to take lightly. We have freedom in Christ; we are called to guard our hearts. We are to be in the world; we must not be of it. Those tensions are difficult to maintain, and they should be. It’s serious work.

  33. Cain says:

    This review doesn’t surprise me at all, Christianity Today is the “People” magazine of the causal Christian culture. Look for their review of Joel’s newest book in an upcoming issue.

    BTW… will you be taking your wife along to see The Wolf of Wall Street, or will you be renting the DVD? ^_^

  34. Martha Brady says:

    sara, i come from a very similar background to yours. i have friends that seem to not be bothered by anything they see. i think we need to live in the tension! i think it is appropriate at times to see the depths of human depravity…not to justify porn at all, but seeing the story of someone trapped in human slavery for example.

    but not everyone is able to watch or be unaffected. we can’t make a rule that works across the board for everyone.

    i’ve also noticed that the books/movies that leave out all bad language and compromising situations do not have much depth to their characters. it has prompted me to want to write about why there are so few really good characters in christian fiction. after seeing some of the restrictions on writers, i now know some of the reasons, but in order to not “make mistakes” in terms of behavior and language, we often seem to err in terms of having rather flat personalities…at least where the public sees them.

    just a personal observation!

    1. Wayne Wilson says:

      Martha, it is a matter of talent, not “leaving out” bad language and “compromising situations.” Ever see Ben-Hur, for example? Hollywood for 30 years lived under a strict self-imposed censorship system and made many of the greatest movies ever made. They had loads of talent — great writers, actors, and directors…many unsurpassed still. And that balance of depth and respect for the audience’s decency exists today, as well, if you know where to look for it. Check out The Book Thief — great characters, tragic situations, deep themes — and tasteful as can be. Hollywood can do it, and would do a lot more of it, if believers didn’t hold up the garbage with their dollars.

  35. James Pruch says:

    There is so much that can be said here. There’s a place for stories–even “R” rated ones (let’s be honest, life is often “R” rated)–because all stories point in some way to the True Story. Yet, at the same time, we must be careful what we take in, particularly visually. We Christians would do well, no doubt, to take in more Bible and conversation with others and a thought-provoking book than media (i.e. TV and movies).

    This whole discussion reminds me that Christians must create and tell stories that describe the depth and horror of sin (without glorifying it) and point to the necessity and sweetness of redemption. For me, this is what separates, for example, Les Mis and The Wolf of Wall Street.

  36. GMC3MOM says:

    As a Christian and a performer, this has always been a problem for me. As my faith grew, so did my convictions about not only what kind of scenes I would perform… but also what I would watch. I remember seeking counsel of another, at the time, stronger actress and Christian. I knew that she had been cast in a role as a prostitute and I wanted to know how she reconciled taking the role with her faith. One of the things she taught me was that she asked herself a series of questions about the content. If it passed the “test” she’d take the role, if not she wouldn’t. I use those same questions 15 years later when I consider a role… and even when I turn on the TV or walk in to a movie theater. The questions are 1) Is this a true story? If it is a true story, and we are being true to the vocabulary and attitude of the times, then I am portraying a person (or viewing a person) exactly as who they are. Not a false version of themselves. Some true stories, need to be told exactly how it happened. 2)Is there a redeeming thread to the story? Meaning, is the character’s foul language or vulgar behavior part of their story of change? Or, is it important in regards to how another character changes? Or, is it important to see that their lack of change led to their downfall. If language and behavior are purely gratuitous, and there is nothing redeeming about it…it doesn’t pass.

    She reminded me…even in a movie about The Bible… someone has to play the bad guy, the thief, the prostitute, the murderer, the drunk, the adulterer, etc. We can play it accurately without being gratuitous. And I think the same can be said for how we view it. If it has a point, a purpose, a reason to be in there… it may be permissible.

    Recently, after reading a blog about the movie featured in the picture (The Wolf of Wall Street) I am also starting to ask myself WHO. Who is profiting off this story? If I don’t like the answer, that is going to affect my viewing of the movie.

    Behind the making of The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the actual criminals involved. I can’t support a person making more money off of their crimes. The daughter of one of the men involved in the scam, wrote it. She was a victim as much as their clients, and has spent a life time trying to fix it & detach herself from him and his deeds. The money from this doesn’t go to the victims to pay them back to the money they lost, it goes into the pockets of one of the criminals. That is just as much of a reason to not watch a movie as curse words and sex scenes.

  37. ES McGorlick says:

    Philippians 4:8 is ‘the’ standard. Why does this little verse hardly ever get a mention? I used to justify watching all sorts of things on the basis of engagement with culture, but when I sobered up and got serious about my Christian living I decided I’d try a year of faithfulness to the requirements in Philippians 4:8. I haven’t looked back. Amazing how much more time I devoted to spiritual things once cheap and meaningless forms of fruitless entertainment were extinguished from my life.

  38. Dan.da.man says:

    I agree with the primary concern of the author. I would simply add it is not the seeing or witnessing of the sinful act itself that is wrong- otherwise we might fault even God for seeing all evil things at once- but the motive behind viewing it and the reaction it inspires.
    If we are speaking about watching movies simply for entertainment then it is true that some movies necessarily preclude themselves from being entertaining because their content rightfully deserve only our hatred and scorn. But some movies INTEND to produce this effect in us: they portray and represent sin as bad. Movies like Schindler’s list I would include as a movie that handles sin well. however when a movie does not handle sin appropriately then I think you cannot and should not enjoy or be entertained by it. Further you might have reason not to see it at all. Nonetheless you might still watch that movie if for no other reason to be discerning, to understand what is being presented as truth so as to rebut it.
    Of course there is a huge danger in this that people may excuse themselves “I’m just watching this to be informed” when in fact they are not. And also I think in some cases the content may be so corrupting and so bad (particularly with sexual content) that it is impossible to honestly watch with a clean conscience therefore that movie would be “unwatchable” by any means.

  39. Tyler says:

    This is a sensible and sensitive post, but it doesn’t acknowledge a key factor when approaching film, or any art. That factor is context. We can’t merely assess whether or not a film features adult content, we must ask ourselves why it is featured. And, yes, it is entirely possible that a film includes said content in order to arouse or titillate, but that is not always the case. In the case of a thoughtful artist (like Martin Scorsese), language, violence, drug use, or sexuality are all tools with which he can better tell a story. If the story doesn’t call for it, he won’t shoehorn it in (one need only look at 2011’s HUGO for proof of that).
    In THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, for example, there is indeed tremendous amounts of drug use, sexuality, and language. Why is it there? Because Scorsese is telling the story of an excessive man. He has millions of dollars and can, in his own eyes, do anything he wants. And so he does. He lives a life of decadence and depravity, and it exacts a very specific price on his soul. By the end, he is practically an animal, physically abusing his wife and endangering his daughter.
    It would be hard to truly examine a life of constant excess through stylistic moderation. To do so would be to look at the character from afar, condemning his actions from the outside (while also maybe harboring a desire to partake in them). What I think is a more effective choice is to throw us right into the middle of the chaos, to the point where we the audience don’t even want to be there anymore. Sure, we may find ourselves excited to be in the midst of it all at the beginning, but by the end, we’re not only exhausted but disgusted. As I watched the film, I found myself not wanting to see the nudity, precisely because the main character wanted it so much. That’s the context that Scorsese provides. That visceral and emotional reaction just wouldn’t be possible with a guarded approach to the material.
    So, we are left with a very graphic film that actually extolls the Biblical virtues of self control and moderation, and does so in a profound way. If one were to make a film of “The Prodigal Son”, I feel like the sequence in which the ungrateful son’s orgies and depravity would look a lot like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and it should.
    Obviously, there are some movies out there that exploit sexuality and nudity to simply sell tickets. These movies have nothing to say and have no desire to edify. That’s why it’s important to research a movie before seeing it, and not merely the type of content it contains, but its attitude about that content. The reason that I saw THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was because Martin Scorsese has shown himself- for me, anyway- to be trustworthy and an artist devoted to exploring the darker side of humanity and its consequences (and there are always consequences, either practically or spiritually). However, there are some films that I’ve chosen not to see, because I’ve heard some people mention that the graphic content seemed exploitative and unnecessary. In those instances, it’s not merely the performers that are exploited, but my fleshly desire to see that. So I opt not to watch those movies or TV shows.
    But, of course, it’s different for everybody. There are things that don’t bother me that may bother other people, and vice versa. I hope I haven’t sounded too condemning of the above article. As I said, I think he’s asking good questions, and ones that I often need to remember to ask myself.

    1. Wayne Wilson says:

      Tyler, I can assure you that all the sex scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street will end up on pornographic web sites. When I worked in the film industry in the old days, every nude scene in any film (of whatever quality or artistic pretensions) was sliced out of prints for personal collections. Today, of course, it ALL ends up on line for purely salacious purposes.

  40. Andrew Barber says:

    This is a well-written article and a question we need to keep asking ourselves. That being said, I am frustrated that the first time I see mention of the CT review staff anywhere other than CT, it is to hold them up for critique. I actually decided not to go see WoWS based on CT’s review! They consistently do tremendous work and model C.S. Lewis’ “Experiment in Criticism” very well; the reviews are actually teaching us, in a way, how to be responsible readers. Maybe WoWS does cross the line. Maybe, even, CT shouldn’t have given it 3.5 stars. But I would love for us to show them the grace to write a review like that every now and then while also praising them for the good work they are doing.

  41. Keith Kraska says:

    The difference between reading about sexual sin, as in the Bible, and seeing it acted out is a chasm. I know this from experience, and Scripture recognizes the visual component of sexual sin.
    “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you,” Jesus said; and further in the sermon, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.”
    Another point: Nowhere does Scripture tell us to be “strong” enough to expose our eyes to sexual wickedness (was David, the author of that psalm, just not strong enough?); its consistent solution to temptation is to flee it.

  42. Darren Blair says:

    My question is this: at what point do we consider a film irredeemable, or at least unwatchable? At what point do we say it is wrong to participate in certain forms of entertainment?

    I’m a professional movie reviewer, and so it’s my job to do just this: determine if individual movies are watchable or not.

    In the past quarter (October – now), I’ve seen four R-rated movies as part of my job.

    I went nuclear on “Bad Grandpa” (3 / 10) and “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” (2 / 10) due to the fact that neither film has anything really redeemable. Both films exist simply for shock value. The former actually has the actors break the law repeatedly in the name of co-called “pranks”, and the latter dabbles in out-and-out racism.

    But I gave “Escape Plan” a 7 / 10 and noted that it would have rated far higher if the script had gone through another round of editing. Why? The human element. Stallone’s character, Ray Breslin, used to be a top prosecutor… until a man he sent to jail escaped and murdered his family; his grief is so great that he gave up everything he had in order to spend the rest of his life ensuring that no one could ever escape from another prison. Schwarzenegger’s character, Rottmeyer, *is* a criminal, but he is being held under inhumane conditions and is willing to put all of his trust in Breslin if it means getting out and seeing his daughter again. If the two are to escape and expose the corruption within the prison, they must overcome their own faults and learn to trust their fellow inmates. Tighter editing could have given the film a PG-13 rating while focusing more on the attempts of both men to move beyond their lot in life.

    And I gave “The Best Man Holiday” a 6.5 / 10. Had the writers allowed the film to be a straight-forward drama, we would have had an excellent character study in how stress can cause individuals and social circles to break down… followed up by a case study in how prayer can change lives and how individuals can rally in the face of a crisis. Most of the characters are facing down their own personal “dark night of the soul”; they need to band together in order to resolve their own personal problems, but they aren’t thinking straight due to what they’re going through and so are lost. Sadly, the writers tried to force the film into becoming a crude comedy feature; most of the “comedy” could have safely been excised without detracting from the film, and in the process the film would have gotten a PG-13 as well.

    Human beings have the power to discern for themselves what is and isn’t good. The issue, however, is in drawing the line in an appropriate place.

    1. Darren Blair says: I’m a professional movie reviewer, and so it’s my job to do just this: determine if individual movies are watchable or not.
      This gives you the very least moral credibility with me of anybody on this page.

    2. Darren Blair says:

      If anyone’s still reading this, you can safely add “Lone Survivor” to the list of movies to skip.

      Rather than focusing on Mark Luttrell’s escaping and evading the Taliban, the film instead focuses on the violence; of the 121 minutes of run time, 60+ is devoted to gun battles and graphic violence. In the process, the Afghanis who helped him are treated as almost an afterthought even though an entire village turned out to help him and one man risked his life to let the military know where Luttrell was.

  43. RDB says:

    “At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?” – a useful question! I think this encapsulates very much how I feel about the whole question – Hollywood muck as you call it might reveal some useful things to us. In your case, you found Les Mis to be worthy of watching while others would not. We need to 1) ask the question of ourselves first, not others, then 2) share our answers and compare ourselves with scripture and with the wisdom available from Christian community and then 3) ask ourselves the question again, and perhaps revise our answer according to what we’ve learned and so on. If we start by asking the question of others’ practice, then we get off on the wrong foot.

    “Cultural engagement” can be code language for “imbibing whatever I feel like from the culture around me and dressing up the bones in Christian clothing afterward”. Better define what we mean by “engagement” and see if there’s anything scriptural about it before we start doing it.

  44. Tyler says: “This is a sensible and sensitive post, but it doesn’t acknowledge a key factor when approaching film, or any art. That factor is context.
    As a Christian I would argue that SCRIPTURE is the one and only context that matters. Like most of you libertines, your comment features almost NO references to scripture as always.
    Tyler says: “We can’t merely assess whether or not a film features adult content,
    Yes we can and we should. All that matters to Christians is “what saith the Lord?” The viewing of the nakedness of any real life person of the opposite sex not your spouse in photographic/cinematic realism is to challenge God in His provision of sacrificial and permanent animal coverings of the public nakedness of man and woman after the entrance of sin into His world. It is sin in every deliberate instance barring the medical preservation of life and limb. I know you guys by now though. You probably don’t believe there really was an Adam and Eve either.

    Tyler says: “we must ask ourselves why it is featured.
    SCRIPTURE for that please?

    Tyler says: “In THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, for example, there is indeed tremendous amounts of drug use, sexuality, and language. Why is it there? Because Scorsese is telling the story of an excessive man.
    Where do we find in SCRIPTURE that sinful fallen men are called upon to strip naked and use dozens of other fallen sinful men and women… husbands wives, sons and daughters, to be viewed by millions of strangers on a 3 story movie screen? Where do we find in SCRIPTURE the mandate to tell these stories in graphic detail at all? Even as one believer to another to say nothing of letting pagans do this for us?

    Tyler says: “He has millions of dollars and can, in his own eyes, do anything he wants. And so he does. He lives a life of decadence and depravity, and it exacts a very specific price on his soul. By the end, he is practically an animal, physically abusing his wife and endangering his daughter.
    Where in SCRIPTURE do we find permission to produce a 3 hour cinematic grotesquely graphic portrayal of this life? You wouldn’t have known this was wrong without the defilement of countless human beings by a God hating movie maker?

    Tyler says: “It would be hard to truly examine a life of constant excess through stylistic moderation. To do so would be to look at the character from afar, condemning his actions from the outside.
    According to… hang on… SCRIPTURE… staying as far away from sin as possible AND condemning it from the outside is EXACTLY what we are commanded to do. I know how little weight that carries for people like you, but that’s SCRIPTURE see?

    Tyler says: “What I think”
    Here’s a tip from SCRIPTURE. God doesn’t care what you think. (He doesn’t care what I think either). The day He consults with you about ANYthing, do please invite me over. I want in on that.

    Tyler says: “a more effective choice is to throw us right into the middle of the chaos,
    How bout a little SCRIPTURE where we are told to be in the middle of sinful chaos?

    Tyler says: “to the point where we the audience don’t even want to be there anymore.
    Yeah because the last thing men want to see is “dozens of young and beautiful fully nude smooth skinned women with shaved privates” according to one of the IMBD reviewers. “Privates” that were made private by God Himself in the 3rd of Genesis.

    Tyler says: “Sure, we may find ourselves excited to be in the midst of it all at the beginning, but by the end, we’re not only exhausted but disgusted.
    Could I prevail upon you sir to point us to one syllable of SCRIPTURE wherein we are to allow unregenerate corrupted men to take us on this kind of fully immersed spiritual ride through the the rotting depths of human depravity? Please? I beg of thee.

    Tyler says: “As I watched the film, I found myself not wanting to see the nudity, precisely because the main character wanted it so much.
    The devil is havin a field day with you Tyler. Right now he is rolling on his back crying hysterically in side splitting laughter. Yes ladies and gentleman. This level of self delusion IS the sad result of the “engagement of culture” defined as it is defined today. Which is just an “high brow” (to quote Trevin) way of presenting and justifying “the love of the world”.

    Tyler says: “That’s the context that Scorsese provides. That visceral and emotional reaction just wouldn’t be possible with a guarded approach to the material.
    Do I really have to ask it again?

    Tyler says: “So, we are left with a very graphic film that actually extolls the Biblical virtues of self control and moderation, and does so in a profound way.
    The devil is havin a field day with you Tyler. Right now he is rolling on his back crying hysterically in side splitting laughter. Yes ladies and gentleman. This level of self delusion IS the sad result of the “engagement of culture” defined as it is defined today. Which is just an “high brow” (to quote Trevin) way of presenting and justifying “the love of the world”.
    Even some of this man’s fellow degenerates are going to balk at this one. We have a 3 hour explicitly graphic orgy of truly Sodomite proportions that extols biblical virtues. LOLOLOLOL!!!! This is a gold medal championship ACHIEVEMENT in self deception. If the devil’s artwork also counts as something we should be admiring then here’s your chance. Trevin dear Brother, I hope yer payin attention.

    Tyler says: “If one were to make a film of “The Prodigal Son”, I feel like the sequence in which the ungrateful son’s orgies and depravity would look a lot like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and it should.
    WAIT A MINUTE!!! You know this WITHOUT seeing it graphically portrayed right in your face on a giant movie screen? Of course you do. I rest God’s case.

    Tyler says: “The reason that I saw THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was because Martin Scorsese has shown himself- for me, anyway- to be trustworthy and an artist devoted to exploring the darker side of humanity and its consequences.
    The reason you saw this movie is because you have no BIBLICALLY informed sensibilities or instincts whatsoever as evinced by your loooooong exposition containing one thin reference to SCRIPTURE which actually testifies against you. I don’t mean to sound harsh friend, but that IS screaming from your own words. This has nothing to do with God or His gospel. Those are found in SCRIPTURE. It is all about you going to spectacular intellectual and emotional lengths to call good a sinful activity that YOU love, but which God clearly declares as evil, if SCRIPTURE is the standard.

    Tyler says: “However, there are some films that I’ve chosen not to see, because I’ve heard some people mention that the graphic content seemed exploitative and unnecessary. In those instances, it’s not merely the performers that are exploited, but my fleshly desire to see that.
    Lemme make sure I got this. YOUR fleshly desire is dictated and governed, not by SCRIPTURE, but by the consciences of unregenerate movie producers? Nude women and graphic illicit sexuality on a screen appear differently to you depending on the intent of a non Christian movie producer? Again folks. Do you see what is goin on here?

    Tyler says: “But, of course, it’s different for everybody.
    No. It is NOT different for everybody if SCRIPTURE is the guide. Which for you and all your relativistic friends it clearly is not. There ARE crystal clear, unmistakable, universally applicable principles in SCRIPTURE that teach us us the uniquely precious place that sexuality holds in the heart of God. Ephesians 5, where women are clearly freed from Eve’s Old Testament degradation btw, the PRIVATE one flesh relationship of a man with his wife is declared by the apostle as the singularly exalted earthly illustration of the risen Christ with His precious and glorious church bride. It requires a conscience utterly untutored in SCRIPTURE to find ANY virtue whatsoever in the paying of numerous fellow fallen and yet unredeemed children of Father Adam to defile that covenant in true to life living color.

    Tyler says: “I hope I haven’t sounded too condemning of the above article.”
    Oh no sir. It’s not the article you’re condemning. It is SCRIPTURE you are condemning.

    David asks: “By that kind of logic isn’t the intimacy of Song of Solomon off limits?
    Are you saying that hiring real life anti-christian people to graphically depict the contents of that divinely inspired book on a movie screen would be the same as reading it’s overtly euphemistic language and therefore blessed by God? To this day I have never gotten an answer to that question no matter how many modernistic libertines I ask.

    David asks: “Reading the intimate sexual thoughts of two people obviously in love would by your very definition be pornography?”
    God inspired the SoS in almost excessively tasteful, euphemistic, literary, non visual form. I would actually have no problem reading such work from Godly men either. Because it’s biblical. IF done the way its done there.

    David asks: “What about the story of David and Bathsheba? The very image that’s conjured in your head is that of a married man lusting after a naked women who isn’t his wife? The Bible is full of stories that if put on that 30 foot screen would be R-rated?
    And therein lies the point. They are NOT, in God’s hands, portrayed visually AT ALL. Please find me in SCRIPTURE where we are authorized by God to ingest and give credibility to the sinfully produced interpretations of sin by sinners in ANY form. Nevermind in full color cinematic realism.

    David asks: “This is why discernment is necessary. Not all of us are capable of not sinning during the Wolf of Wall Street so we should probably avoid it. Those who are should be utilized to help those who may stumble avoid the sin. It’s pretty simple logic.”
    Being present anywhere “The Wolf of Wall Street” is playing IS sin independently of anyone’s reaction to it. The people involved in producing sex and nudity in movies are in sin for so doing and anyone who consumes their product participates in that sin. What if it were YOUR wife or daughter or mother or sister being groped and polluted in a room full of strangers so millions of other strangers could watch on that 3 story movie screen? Another question these libertine hypocrites NEVER have an answer for. It IS pretty simple logic. Isn’t it?

    1. B says:

      What a hateful person you seem to be, showing not the love and grace of Jesus, but a legalistic approach which turns people away from the cross every day. During your hate escapade, you referenced two passages of scripture. This seems to be counterintuitive seeing that the inclusion of scripture was the basis for your entire reply. Who are you to say that a stumbling block for you is a stumbling block for all? Is the act of looking upon nudity in its own right a sin? Of course not. It is what happens in the heart of the adulterer. A buffet should be avoided by a glutton much like a nude woman should be avoided by an adulterer. Do you feel yourself having impure thoughts and desires when you see such things on a screen? If your answer is yes, I would encourage you to steer clear of something so enticing to you. There is a certainly level of maturity it takes to endure certain art– a child might snicker at a nude sculpture crafted by Michelangelo himself. If an art form such as this is something that you cannot handle, there is no shame in that. In fact, there is admiration in admittance. One must remember, the sin comes not from the action, but from the heart.

      1. B opines: “There is a certainly level of maturity it takes to endure certain art”
        These people are really sumthin else. And we find this where in scripture exactly?
        (click my name above please)

      2. Thank you so much B for your impressive exegesis and exposition of the relevant passages of scripture advancing your modernist libertine views. I don’t how I could ever have doubted you.

  45. Karen Hampton says:

    A great analysis! Thank you, Trevin, for outlining the boundaries of our culture in the light of Scripture. There was no skirting around the issue of immorality in the Bible and, yet, no justification for mindlessly exposing ourselves to anything and everything in movies and literature today as a cultural response.

    You explored holiness and discounted simply retreating from “anything that smacked of cultural engagement” while wondering if we’re going too far today by validating any kind of entertainment simply to engage in our culture, or could we say to “keep up with the times.”

    The pendulum swing has always been a vital part of our walk with our Lord. Do everything in moderation. But to vicariously engage in activities that are clearly sinful through the TV, theater, or literature just for the sake of entertainment is probably not the path we want to take if we can think it through, and you help to do that. Neither should we discount the kinds of issues you raise in the Bible just because they’re there. Ah, there’s that pendulum swing again!

    I know for me personally, when I begin to take on thought patterns or personality traits that are clearly ungodly then it’s time to focus more on what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy. It’s time to spend more time reading what God has breathed out to us in His Word, and to walk with Him through it.

    Thank you for your exhortation.
    In Christ’s Name, Karen Hampton

  46. Karen Hampton says: I know for me personally, when I begin to take on thought patterns or personality traits that are clearly ungodly then it’s time to focus more on what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy.
    I’m on way out the door, but I have to ask this dear sister. WHY would you every start down that path in the first place? Don’t people see how dangerous this is? Sin so easily besets us and yet we dabble in it and coyly flirt with it hoping that we’ll always catch ourselves before it becomes a stronghold. As has been magnificently set forth by others on this very page. We are told abhor and flee from sin and hate it like God hates it.

    Please Karen. Don’t see a self righteous finger in your face. I fight the Romans 7 war every single minute of every single day, but that’s the point. How am I to win those battles if I’m unnecessarily fraternizing with the enemy?

    1 John 2
    “15-Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16-For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17-And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

    Somebody needs to make me understand how “world” (κόσμος) is not practically synonymous with what is being discussed here as “culture”.

  47. Heather says:

    Complete transparency: I’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street. I also thought it was an excellent film.

    My biggest problem with the perspective outlined above involves it’s selective emphasis on worldview.
    As someone who attends a college from the CRC tradition, I’ve encountered the concept of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation quite a bit. However, I believe it is naïve, and perhaps even wrong, for Christians to expect redemption to be present in their entertainment.

    Breaking things down a bit, Wolf of Wall Street fundamentally is a cultural artifact. Culture, fundamentally is what we believe, what we make, and what we do. Therefore we can deduce that all cultural artifacts– whether they be film, theatre, television, novels, or art– fundamentally serve one purpose: a crafted examination of the human experience.

    While some might find the implications of this perspective a bit too phenomenological to reconcile with their spiritual convictions, I still posit that it is any film’s duty as a cultural artifact to examine the human experience– whether it be the redemptive work of Christ present in humanity, or the depth of human depravity resulting from the fall. Wolf of Wall Street obviously is the latter.

    Also obviously (or at least hopefully obviously), remains the fact that no cultural artifact strips its audience of independent thought. Therefore, I think it’s perfectly possible for a Christian to attend a film of any rating, and still emerge with their faith in tact. While some may feel more susceptible to the sin portrayed, and consequently opt out of the viewing experience, that does not give them the prerogative of judging other sisters and brothers and Christ who decide to attend the film without fearing that it will alter their spiritual convictions.

  48. Isaac A. says:

    Hey,

    Great article! Love what you have to say on this subject, and would love to pass it on via Facebook, Twitter and such, however, the featured image of this post is pretty awful – any chance this could be changed for the sake of those who want to share with family and friends without seeing that in their newsfeed?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I cropped the image from the poster so it’s not quite as awful.

  49. cherylu says:

    Heather, finding themes of redemption in some of these movies is the reason that some folks have found to justify seeing them. You are saying that you believe it is naive or perhaps even wrong for a Christian to expect such a theme to be a part of their entertainment.

    So let me ask you this, why do you think it is all right for a Christian to find themselves entertained by what the Lord calls sin and tells us to flee from and take no part in? Should we be entertaining ourselves with what grieves the heart of our Lord?

    I also wonder why we find it necessary as Christians to pay money for a movie and sit through an hour and a half or longer of watching a cultural artifact that examines the human experience in all of it’s depravity in full color and sound. Do we really need to put ourselves through that in order to know that people can stoop to great sin and evil? If we want to know how evil people are, a good reading of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, will provide us with plenty of information on the subject and without subjecting ourselves to watching and hearing it in graphic detail.

    Remember it says in the Bible, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Ephesians 5:11-12 Since it is a shame to even speak of these things, how can we possibly justify sitting and soaking them in for an extended period of time and see no problem with doing so?

    And lastly, let me remind you that sin is extremely deceitful. Also our ability to deceive ourselves and be deceived by sin is something that runs very deeply in human nature. You may think you are not being influenced by soaking yourself in this type of thing while in reality you are. Please remember the command in Philippians 4:8-9 that tells us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Now ask yourself the question, “Am I being obedient to this Scriptural command when sitting through a showing of a film like “The Wolf of Wall Street?”

    1. The problem I see is that far too many Christians interpret the Philippians passage to mean that we shouldn’t expose ourselves to anything above a PG rating (and even that might be too risqué.) There should be room for movies and stories that tackle complex stories in a mature fashion.

      So let’s put Wolf of Wall Street throughout the Philippians lens.

      Is WoWS true? Yes, it is.

      Is it honorable? That’s debatable. It attempts to uphold honor by scrutinizing dishonorable people, but there’s some disagreement beyond the Christian bubble about how effective it is.

      Is it just? Not sure about that, although sometimes you can say a lot more about justice by focusing on injustice. The documentary Blackfish focuses on injustice towards whales, but showing a tragic problem did more to motivate people towards justice than a happy ending would have.

      Is it pure or lovely? No, but most of the stories of the Bible aren’t pure or lovely, either. By definition all stories must contain sin, otherwise there is no conflict and therefore no story.

      Is it excellent or worthy of praise? Absolutely. It’s getting rave reviews and being discussed as a candidate for Best Picture.

      So in the end, I think WoWS comes down to how one reacts to it rather than its inherent qualities. Obviously some people will see it and not understand that it’s criticizing the behavior it shows. For people who can’t see that or people who might be tempted by the sins it reveals, then it’s probably not good. But for other people it certainly can be.

      1. cherylu says:

        “Is it excellent or worthy of praise? Absolutely. It’s getting rave reviews and being discussed as a candidate for Best Picture.”

        That is perhaps the biggest example of totally missing the point that I have ever seen. :)

        It seems like just about anything in this world can get rave reviews these days.

        What is not at all praiseworthy is the terribly sinful behavior that is depicted throughout this movie. That terribly sinful behavior that is being graphically presented in living color and sound and that is soaking itself into people’s minds as they sit there.

        1. cherylu, are you saying that movies should never depict sinful behavior?

          1. cherylu says:

            Christian,

            The secular movie industry can and will produce whatever they want.

            What I am saying is that as Christians, we have to be very careful what we consume of all of that stuff that they produce.

            At the moment, I am contending that watching a movie like “Wolf” that evidently depicts sin including sex and graphic nudity pretty much non stop from start to finish is a gross violation of the Scriptural principles I listed above. To think on, meditate on, and enjoy as entertainment a non stop graphic depiction of what grieves the heart of God goes against the very principle of His new and holy life within us. A Life that is supposed to be controlling us as Christians and conforming us more and more to His nature.

            Do you truly believe the Spirit of the Holy God who indwells each true child of His is happy if we sit and soak ourselves in what He has pronounced as evil like “Wolf” depicts for three hours? And for the sake of entertainment? Or because it is a part of our culture and we think we are therefore duty bound to watch it?

            And why do we as Christians think that because “culture” offers something we therefore must participate in it? We are called to holiness. We are called to be separate from the wicked and their ways of thinking and doing things. We are called to be in the world but not of it.

          2. cherylu says:

            For those of you that have watched this movie and are defending it, I have just one more question to ask you. Do you really believe that you can sit for three hours watching the bombardment of sexual content and nudity portrayed in this film without it any way affecting you? Can you guarantee that watching something like this is not going to cause lustful feelings or any sexual arousal within you? Are you sure?? Remember, Jesus equated lusting after a woman in your heart to adultery itself. Are these issues to be taken lightly? No, this is playing with fire. Immersing yourself in fire for three hours and expecting to not be burned.

            For anyone that is still unsure about how bad this movie is in this respect, take a few minutes to read this parental guide that talks about the level of sex and nudity in this movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0993846/parentalguide?ref_=tt_stry_pg

          3. Tim Mullet says:

            Cherylu,

            I appreciate your comments, however I would also add that the issue is not simply an issue of lust. You’re asking the question, “can you honestly say that you can watch graphic nudity without lusting?” The Bible also very directly declares that there are body parts which are unpresentable.

            1Co_12:23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,

            As a result, this is not simply an issue of judging the heart.

            It is obvious to the apostle Paul that we should be modest. Why is it obvious? In the Old Testament God already instructed Israel to not uncover the nakedness of non-spouses. There is a reason why Adam and Eve wore fig leaves. There is a reason why Ham is cursed.

            As a result, if there is such a thing as an unpresentable body part, and there are reasons why we wear clothes, one needs a very good reason to uncover those parts which REQUIRE greater modesty.

            At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you think you can look at someone’s unpresentable parts without lusting. They are described as unpresentable for a reason. They are unpresentable because you shouldn’t be looking at them. It is immodest to expose them. Exposing them for the purpose of the entertainment is the exact opposite of modesty.

            This isn’t simply a heart issue!

            Grace and Peace,

            Tim

          4. cherylu says:

            Tim,

            Thank you so much for adding that. And I could not agree with you more!

          5. Tim Mullet says:

            Cherylu,

            Glad to help! I really do believe that a sense of ownership needs to be brought into this sort of conversation. It’s wrong to look at the unpresentable parts of others, because they do not belong to me, they are not my nakedness to uncover (I understand this is a euphemism, but euphemisms exist for a reason). My eyes do not belong to me either, they are my wife’s and more fundamentally the Lord’s. As a result, I do not think we can address the issue purely from the standpoint of autonomy. We are relational. It’s not simply about what is helpful to me, it’s about stealing.

            Hope that’s clear!

            Tim

      2. Vagabond you shouldn’t be allowed in the same zip code with a bible. I wasn’t going to say anything (I’m still seeking the Lord on Heather’s) because your above post is a so manifestly preposterous reading of Paul, I figured just letting it sit there so people could see it would be sufficient. McCracken makes the same argument btw, only he manages to make unbelievably bad exposition appear a bit more convincing than you do. Which doesn’t take much.
        I MUST ask though.

        By your stated view of Philippians 4:8, WHAT WOULD that command forbid? Is there ANYthing that NO Christian should view and meditate on? Anything? Despite my disrespectful snark, that’s an honest question.

        1. Saying that no Christian should view something is a bit extreme. After all, Christian reviewers wouldn’t be able to warn believers away from the movie if they hadn’t seen it. So clearly our Christian culture is set up to rely upon trusted believers who can brave that “bad” stuff for them. We wouldn’t nurture this system if we didn’t already believe that it is useful. So consciously or not, our Christian culture already assumes Romans 14 applies to watching movies; our culture assumes that some Christians are better at maintaining a discerning mindset when viewing depraved movies than others are, and those who are do a good service by watching them.

          I would also say that there is nothing that Christians shouldn’t meditate on. You’re already meditating on this subject, and even if I disagree with you, you’re clearly able to do so without wallowing in sin. To say that we shouldn’t ever meditate on certain subjects is to discourage education and intellectual growth.

          That said, of course there are movies that fail all parts of the Phillippians test, like Friday The 13th movies. And I’ll give you a very popular Christian movie that fails the Philippians test: Fireproof.

          Let’s put Fireproof through the test:

          Is Fireproof true? Yes, it is, for the same reason WoWS is: the movie depicts the human condition.

          Is it honorable? That’s debatable. It tries to be, but the behavior of the characters is loathsome even after the “happy” ending. Unlike WoWS, Fireproof want us to praise very disturbing behavior.

          Is it just? Absolutely not. The movie depicts a woman who is married to an abusive husband and implies that her only justifiable choice is to remain in an unhealthy relationship. The abusive husband never stops being abusive; he just finds new ways to control her. The movie wants us to believe that she needs to change even though she wasn’t at fault for his behavior in the first place.

          Is it pure or lovely? No, for the same reason WoWS isn’t pure: it depicts sin. Almost every story will fail this category.

          Is it excellent or worthy of praise? Absolutely not. It fails on every artistic level as a movie: it’s poorly acted, poorly directed, etc.

          But the thing is, almost every story – whether it’s nonfiction, a book, a movie, or current events – will fail the Phillippians test. So ultimately we all decided how to apply it for our own lives.. There will always be millions of Christians who think that you’re too permissive in your choices. There will always be Christians who think that I’m too strict.

          1. Please click my name above this comment Vagabond

  50. Jason says:

    Greg/Tiribulus: Your views and comments remind me a lot of Job’s friends. They have a certain sense of assumed spiritual authority, but they’re just way way off. In the end, it’s just a lot of unhelpful noise.

    It would be a great service to the other Christians here if you might try to be more considerate and less combative. These aren’t your enemies.

  51. Trevin,

    Thank you for the wonderful article. It is as intriguing as insightful. As you clearly mentioned, we are trying to brush away that image of ‘Being Holy’, its happening in churches all over the world. Am from India and this ideology is as rampant here as it is in the US.
    I am reminded of God asking the Israelites to be holy since He is holy in Deuteronomy. Holiness involves ourselves to be set apart, trying not to contaminate with filth. But sadly, in trying to reach out to everyone to make them part of God’s kingdom, we tend to compromise. We tend to compromise with the very attribute that God requires from us, to be holy.

  52. Rich Essman says:

    I didn’t get to read all the comments, so this might have already been said, but, doesn’t the difference lie in our motive? The scriptures speak directly to our motives, not our actions, being judged.

    I agree that often our motive for engaging culture is purely entertainment. But there is a difference between engaging for entertainment vs. engaging for education.

    1. Tim Mullet says:

      It’s not either our actions will be judged or our motives.

      Heb_13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

      Adultery is adultery regardless of motive.

      See also
      1Co 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

      We cannot ignore clear commands by saying that we had good intentions. The road to hell is paved in good intentions.

      1. Rich Essman says:

        I agree actions can be sinful, but pure motives will not lead to sinful actions. The reason we commit sinful acts is because our motives are based on self.

        Jesus did not un-condemn adultery, but He took the matter to the motives of the heart and also condemned lust… and hate.

        Augustine (rightly, I believe) said, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

        If we approach Hollywood, or whatever the cultural issue is, with the desire to please the God that loved us and saved us, then what we do will not go against what (or whom) we love.

        1. Tim Mullet says:

          And if I love my wife I will not look at other women naked…
          If I say I love my wife, i.e. motives are pure, then I will not look at other women naked. The action reveals the motive.

        2. cherylu says:

          Rich,

          I am trying to clarify what you have been saying.

          Do you believe that you can watch a movie like “Wolf” with pure motives and therefore not be in any danger of sinning by doing so?

        3. Rich Essman says:

          Cherylu, thanks for asking.

          I am not much of a movie goer, and I have no idea what this movie is about or contains in it. I was simply thinking through the cultural engagement contention when I commented.

          I do believe that many Christians claim “cultural relevancy” simply because they find something entertaining. And that they are not truly trying to engage anything other than a good time, thereby justifying their worldliness.

          But I also believe that certain movies, music, books, magazines, TV shows, and so on can teach us about how the people that we are trying to reach think and believe. Many of these offer us a glimpse into the cultural idols that are being worshiped. Knowing where people are at helps us to better engage them and show how Jesus is better than what they are currently believing in and worshiping. All that to say, that I do believe someone can approach a song with wrong motives, to be entertained, but that someone can approach that same song to learn and their motives be pure. Similarly to how someone can do something good like(give money or pray or fast) and do it with the wrong motives. Now, obviously, there is a line not to be crossed and that can sometimes be difficult to see where the line is – I believe that is what the author was getting at in the article – so we need to be careful.

          Tim, if you love your wife not only will you not look at another women that is naked, but you will also not look at other women lustfully. You can sinful motives with no one seeing the actions manifested.

          1. cherylu says:

            Thanks for clarifying Rich.

  53. Charlie says:

    I am pretty sure we don’t need movies like “Wolf” to tell us about the destructive nature of sin. We already have God’s Word to tell us, and those we are trying to reach, about that. Do we really want to spend 2 hours of our God-give time filling our head full of images of sins that we would speak out against if they occurred in front of us live. Ezekiel 33 is a good passage to consider on this topic.

  54. Steve Forsey says:

    Amen! As both a follower of Christ and a pastor, it continually grieves me to hear about the choices believers are making in their entertainment. Things the Scriptures call us to avoid as sin that sent Christ to the cross is embraced as being “realistic”. I applaud your point about pornography and the exploitation of women being seen as great problems in our society yet apparently just fine in our entertainment. But worse yet (and I am trying to avoid a legalistic approach here), is the misuse of God’s name and the name of Jesus that is so glibly tolerated by believers in what they watch… it must break the heart of God to see those who claim to be His embracing as entertainment the blasphemous use of the name above every name … “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Ex. 20:7).

  55. WORDS, and the ability to speak them are precious and sacred. Regardless of the exact theological implications upon the ordo salutis, confession is made with the mouth unto salvation. (Romans 10:9-10) God created by the command of His WORD(Genesis 1:3, Hebrews 11:3 and John 1:2). Jesus Christ is the living WORD of almighty God. (John 1:1-14) Spoken communication is a major component of the Imago Dei whereby we bear His very image. (Genesis 1:3 and 1:27) That is why he commands in Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Should we intentionally pay God’s money to hear unbelievers thoughtlessly and many times blasphemously speak that which we are commanded never to say ourselves?

    And to anyone who may call legalism here, do please hear the incarnate WORD of God: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

    Every careless word (ESV). Is the consumption of such “culture” conducive to transformation from the world by the renewing of one’s mind or conformity to it? (Romans 12:1-2) If we are not supposed to blaspheme, take the Lord’s name in vain or let ANY corrupting talk come out of our mouths, then why pray tell would we pay sinners to do it for us?

  56. cherylu says:

    Steve and Greg,

    Thanks to both of you guys for bringing this issue into this discussion. The heart of our Lord must indeed be grieved when His people are seemingly willing to take in just about any form of “corrupting talk,” including blasphemy of His holy name, for the sake of “entertainment.” May God have mercy.

  57. Rosie says:

    Thank you for sharing what an encouraging article to read. We are called to trust and obey our Heavenly Father. That means saying no to things, even when it’s something that is very appealing. “Holiness” is a great word in your article above.

  58. Ken says:

    I appreciate the call here for discernment and a serious pursuit of personal holiness, but as an aside I find myself wondering why the term “Fundamentalist” must always be used as a pejorative – not only by the world – but even by fellow Christians. I wish that you could speak of Fundamentalism with the same degree of nuance that you approach entertainment. For example, what place could be more Fundamentalist than Bob Jones University; but have you ever seen their art gallery? Have you ever read their white paper on dealing with objectionable elements in literature and the arts? Do you know that they were among the pioneers in the fields of Christian radio broadcasting and Christian film making? Well, you get the point.

  59. Ash says:

    You are too confused on this matter to be giving a valid and Biblical opinion about it. You are leading others astray into thinking movies with objectionable content are okay to watch. They are not, period. I will leave you with this, the Bible has a verse that basically says this, “The end does not justify the means.”

  60. Pat Stevenson says:

    I am embarrassed to admit that I went to see this movie. My husband, son, daughter-in-law, son-in-law & daughter were with me. WE ALL WALKED OUT! Because the critics are now so afraid of being “prudes” we had no idea how disgusting this movie would be. It’s bad enough that there are people who WANT to see this trash AND that there are people who will create it for them; but it’s completely unfair to blindside those of us who prefer to avoid it. After seeing (at least part) the movie, the commercials I have seen are nothing but deception. God forgive me and cleanse my spirit.

  61. Michael Snow says:

    It is about time that an evangelical commentator was conflicted on this subject

  62. Tresha says:

    bottom line: WOULD YOU WATCH IT WITH JESUS IN THE ROOM SITTING NEXT TO YOU? Well you are.

  63. Daniel Lyle says:

    Yep. Hell in a handbasket.

  64. Richard S. says:

    The eyes are the gateway to the soul. What you feed your eyes and ears will come out in your life and affect your walk in Christ. The question comes down to how much sin can a Christian devour yet be left unaffected. The Bible makes it clear, none. What place does light have with darkness. If what you’re entertained by doesn’t glorify God then your partaking in sin. How can you praise God on Sunday after filling your mind with filth the night before. I’m reminded of Romans 1:32

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  66. Kurt says:

    James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: ….. to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    1) I don’t have to stick my head in the sewer to understand pollution
    2) I can’t stick my head in the sewer without it contaminating me.

    If the #1 object of Christ-like conduct is to reflect God’s character as best I can (with the Holy Spirit’s help), and if God’s character is holiness, and if I am God’s temple, then why do I need to be sampling the world’s sewer water?

  67. MaryAnn Games says:

    Your last sentence says it all for me, if something is making me uncomfortable, it’s probably because I should feel uncomfortable.

  68. Nathan says:

    I have four concerns with this thoughtful and timely essay.

    1) The analogies Leeds draws between Asherah poles and the Roman coliseum with contemporary film are problematic. In terms of the latter, there is a substantial and important difference between watching films that depict violence and actually watching human beings really kill other human beings or animals. As for the former analogy, Leeds never clearly explains how the Asherah poles relate to films like The Wolf of Walstreet. Consider one option and why it is a disanalogy. If Leeds means to suggest that The Wolf of Walstreet glorifies sexuality, he is mistaken. The move does capture how often human beings treat one another as merely sexual organs, sexual objects to conquer, etc. As it does so, it points to the wrongness and shallowness of this behavior and understanding of sexuality. Note, for example, that the only love scene in the film between a husband and wife comes right before the Wolf’s second wife says that she is divorcing him. In fact, the wife had made it clear before they were together that she did not want to be with him because he had turned into a monster. The point, I take it, is that people like the Wolf have such messed up sex lives and pursue sex in such debauched ways that they cannot/do not enjoy it where it should be enjoyed. That is, they do have access to a lot of shallow sex, but they do not enjoy the joys of marital sexual relations. This idea is not something that Asherah poles tried to communicate. We would do not to ignore such a point when we make analogies.

    2) Leeds often uses rhetorical devices instead of argumentation. For example, he asks numerous rhetorical questions without giving us a well supported answer. Similarly, he says things such as “maybe we it’s because we should” without actually establishing that we should. Given the confusion that Leeds himself identifies, I do not think it is wise to use rhetorical devices like leading questions or implied ideas. Doing so usually causes people to come uncritically to conclusions, particularly ones that are grounded in their own intuitions rather than Scripture. Let us be as clear as possible when we instruct Christians on ethical matters. Let us use good argumentation, not rhetorical devices.

    3) Leeds needs to help us think about the differences between written and visual presentations of sexual relations. There is a difference between reading about sex and witnessing sex. Indeed, the human mind responds to words on a page differently than it does to visual enactments. So why, for example, is it okay for Christians to read about sexual relations in the Song of Songs (I assume that the allegorical interpretation of this text is wrong), but perhaps inappropriate for them to watch films of husbands and wives making love? Does the Bible give us an answer? If so, what is it? If not, how can we wisely think about such questions? Note that I am not using rhetorical devices or rhetorical questions. Rather, I am asking a straight forward question and admitting that I am not sure how to answer it. Furthermore, I am calling on my fellow Christians to provide thoughtful, biblical, and godly answers to such questions. The Church desperately needs it.

    4)Leeds needs to exercise great caution when he talks about the history of how Christians have thought about art. In short, that history is messy, complicated, and unclear. I propose that a more helpful approach would be to select representative figures and explain their views and why they held them. This course of action would allow Christians to engage with the ideas and arguments rather than a brief references to figures such as C.S. Lewis and Gregory of Nyssa.

    1. Who is “Leeds” and what does he have to with anything here? I honestly have no idea where this came from.

    2. Wayne Wilson says:

      Nathan you bring up some fair criticisms of an article that could have been written better by Mr. Wax…much better. You are correct, the proper comparison should have been with the Roman theater, which was universally condemned for its sensuality and immodesty by the church fathers (not one exception I’m aware of).

      On the Song of Solomon, it is not an explicit portrayal of sexual relations at all. The “details” such as they are, are cloaked in metaphors…we could say clothed with poetry, so the uninitiated are left scratching their heads about what is being described. In fact, commentators whose profession is Hebrew translation are not agreed on what the metaphors are referring to. If it was done in pictures, or on film, there would be no doubt. And if real people were used to portray such a scene, it would be an offense against decency of the highest order.

      Nakedness outside of marriage is regarded throughout Scripture as a shameful condition. Ham’s son was cursed because he found his father’s nakedness entertaining, his brothers would not even look, but with eyes guarded covered him. So do all godly people. The first thing on Job’s list of great and noble virtues for which he was known was the “covenant” he made with his eyes to not “gaze at a maiden.” To peep through the keyhole, if you will, at even a married couple expressing themselves sexually would be a sin. To pay people to disrobe and act of sexual behavior cannot in any way be regarded as “art” acceptable to a child of God. It is a perversion of art. It is exploitation in the very act of “artistic” creation, before the camera’s roll.

      And Nathan, I’m curious about your comment that Christianity and art is a messy history. Can you name even one Christian leader down through the ages before the 1970s who approved of people stripping or acting out sexual things in a theatrical environment?

      1. Amen Wayne.
        You are of course absolutely correct sir if the SCRIPTURES are allowed into this conversation. Your points are unassailable and ones I have made on this very page and elsewhere for several months now in discussions on this set of topics. The notion of the righteous viewing of the nakedness of others not your spouse and their immoral behavior, to say NOTHING of being thereby edified in the Holy Spirit, would have been an unthinkable perversion in protestant orthodoxy before the 1960’s when this culture we’re so eager to consume started eating itself alive in debauchery. It is so crystal clear a symptom of the spirit of the age that it’s own deception is required not to see it. It is NOT liberty. It is an abomination.

        I can send you to some prominent alleged “Christian” film reviewers who have THIS movie on their best of 2013 list. That’s a serious statement.

        If you are so inclined, I would encourage you to leave me a message or drop me an email. I would be honored to know you sir.

  69. Susan says:

    In “Lord Foulgrin’s Letters” there is line something like this…They watch for entertainment what the Lord calls an abomination.”

  70. Joel says:

    Movies like “Wolfe of Wallstreet” are created by filthy minds FOR filthy minds.

  71. I’m not conflicted. It sounds like filth.

  72. Derek Ross says:

    I agree and it is a hard issue to address.

    I have often wondered this- We don’t watch porn or R rated movies because Jesus said when you look at a woman and lust you have already committed adultery. So, we don’t even allow a hint of sexual immorality into our thoughts.

    But I haven’t often heard of a pastor or believer saying they refused to watch a movie with violent crimes involving murder, because Jesus said anger = murder. To which someone would respond “well I am not watching a film with murder because I want to murder someone.” Or “I am not watching a movie with super sexy love scenes because I want to have sex, and besides, isn’t there sex in the bible?”

    I can already here the comments….

    Would someone really say “I don’t want to murder someone after watching a murder movie…. I just like to watch someone else do the murdering” Really?….

    I have wrestled with all of these thoughts myself when asking my children to turn off a movie we were watching which had questionable scenes.

    But I would ask “what is the intent of the bible stories with sex scenes and what is the intent of the movie with sex scenes?”

    We obviously find murder scenes in the bible including the book of John chapter 19 but those things were written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we may have life in His name.

    It’s seems like a lame argument to put any movie violence and sex scenes parallel to a book written by God. But we don’t have to go to the movies to see sex scenes. At least not in our city. I live in Manila a city of 20 million people. Dan Browns book Inferno has a character, Brook who comments that Manila is the gates of hell. But you can come to Manila and be the judge.

    I think we could all watch a little less sex and violence. But I think we might also focus on the welfare of the people of the Babylons that we all live in. The young people who become movie stars and write movies. Because when their lives get better, it might be God’s plan that our lives would change as well.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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