Movies and television are by far the most popular form of entertainment today, and last night The Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out its Golden Globes for entertainment excellence. The HFPA is currently facing justified scrutiny for lack of diversity among its membership, and the show last night reflected this need for change, as presenters and recipients called for action over these concerns. As Christians we must always remember that what is merely popular should not be our standard for entertainment, and we do not enjoy the luxury of merely enjoying entertainment without examining the greater cultural impacts. In fact the first standard for entertainment as a Christian should always be to think about what we are engaging with our thoughts and emotions. Webster’s dictionary defines two postures toward entertainment: one is “diversion” and the other is “engagement.” As one Pastor has said, “Arguing that ‘It’s just entertaining’ is not an acceptable answer to ‘Why do you like this?’ ‘It’s just entertaining’ is a euphemism for not thinking about what is influencing out lives. So what should be entertaining to a Christian? Is it about diversion or engagement, or both?
“The first standard for entertainment as a Christian should always be to think about what we are engaging with our thoughts and emotions” When we see examples of Christians railing against the popular culture including media and film projects it is often due to moral objections. Christians often lament the excess sex and violence that is glorified in many popular films. But using morality alone as a standard for what material should be engaged would exclude a large portion of the Bible from being read by Christians. Have you read the book of Genesis lately?
“We should not retreat from examples of depravity in popular culture” As John Ortberg observes in his book, Everybody’s normal till you get to know them, “Have you ever noticed how many messed up families there are in Genesis? Cain is jealous of Abel and kills him. Lamech introduces polygamy to the world. Noah-the most righteous man of his generation-gets drunk and curses his own grandson…” And that is just the first few chapters, the examples of human depravity in Genesis get worse in the remaining chapters of this first book of the Bible. Should Christians be reading this kind of material? The answer is of course, “yes!” In the same way we should not retreat from examples of depravity in popular culture, on a moralistic basis alone. The narratives of Scripture serve to teach us that ultimately it is not “good” people that are rewarded with Heaven, and “bad” people who are punished in Hell, but rather forgiven people receive eternal life, on the basis of Christ’s atoning work alone. How is this gospel message different from the messages movies and popular entertainment teach?
“We are not called to retreat from the culture but to engage it” To those who would object “It’s just a movie!” I would remind you that movies like all art and literature is “upstream” from how we live our lives. This popular culture serves as the soundtrack to our lives, and when we do not critically engage its message we end up singing along. The challenge for Christians is to think about what we are watching, and to always do so in a redeeming way. We are not called to retreat from the culture but to engage it, sometimes by creating culture and by always finding an opportunity to speak the truth in a world of subtle deception.
So as you reflect on your entertainment choices, and perhaps pick some new ones, based upon the awards that were collected at The Golden Globes, think about the meaning behind the movies and televisions series awarded. What are the overt and subtle themes that could serve as a determent or an asset to proclaiming the Gospel to a culture that is highly influenced by this form of expression?
Ultimately we are called to be missionaries speaking the truth of the Gospel to a skeptical culture. We are called to communicate that Jesus is the only reality who can provide life. He is the one who spoke into existence all of creation, He came once to redeem us from the curse of sin and death, and will soon return to restore all of creation to the praise of His glory alone. This isn’t the stuff of entertainment but the truth of enlightenment.