HOLLYWOOD AND HOLINESS CO-EXIST?
I like movies. I like plays. And I like television. I
admit this, not because it is a virtue, but because it is a fact. I
appreciate a heroic war story. I like a good laugh. I enjoy following the
clues with a detective as he tries to solve a tough case. I can even
tolerate getting teary-eyed over a Jane Austen or Hallmark "chick flick."
Frankly, I enjoy escaping from reality for an hour or two.
The problem is this: I love the Lord. And at times my
enjoyment of movies and television programs directly conflicts with my
enjoyment of and obedience to God. All too often, Hollywood and holiness are
mutually exclusive. All too often, my identity as a believer and my role as
an audience are impossible to reconcile. Thus, I need to re-evaluate the
content and importance of entertainment in my life. I need to raise the bar
concerning what constitutes acceptable entertainment for me and my family;
and, I suspect that the same is true throughout professing Christianity, for
both evangelicals and fundamentalists. In his book, Set Apart, R. Kent
Hughes laments that "the statistics reveal that the viewing habits of
Christians are generally the same as the rest of culture" (55, emphasis
his). Something is amiss, and the problem lies more in the hearts of
Christians than in the hearts of entertainers. Spurgeon made the following
statement in his day: "I believe that one reason why the church of God at
this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the
world has so much influence over the church" (The Soul Winner, 261-262).
Spurgeon's words apply to us today as well. We are worldly, and our
entertainment choices prove it. "We," as in "we fundamentalists," are
Now, my personal position regarding the theater puts me
in the minority among fundamentalist brethren. Although I do not frequent the
theater, I am concerned with what we watch, not so much with where we watch
it. When I heard of a professing Christian who enjoyed the blasphemous movie
Bruce Almighty, my question was "Why?" not "Where?" Fundamentalism has
always erected a large "No Trespassing" sign at the theater door.
Evangelicalism, on the other hand, removed the sign in the name of
"Christian liberty," but it did so without providing any teaching regarding
Christian discernment and biblical standards. The results have been tragic,
as evidenced by an increasingly worldly church. The portions of
evangelicalism which once lacked the will to discern right from wrong now
seem to lack the ability to do so.
Checking for Beams
Yet, we fundamentalists need to check our own eyes for
beams even as we justly criticize evangelicals. The problem for
fundamentalists is that, while we have largely stayed out of theaters,
movies have refused to stay in them. Televisions, VCRs, and DVD players are
now more common in homes than refrigerators. Hollywood entertainment has
never been more accessible, and many see that as a blessing. Now, those of
us who would never darken the door of a theater, even to see The Adventures
of Winnie the Pooh, are able to enjoy the latest box office hits in the
comfort of our own living rooms—in surround-sound, no less! Though
fundamentalists have generally eschewed the theater, most have had no qualms
about the video store, or WalMart, or the library, or the mailbox, or
airplanes. Many fundamentalists are watching the same things as their
unsaved neighbors, albeit a few months later (which must count for
something!). I have to wonder, "is that success?" Is it new movies that are
worldly? Is it the sticky theater floor? Are movies somehow sanctified by
being in a home where Joshua 24:15 graces the walls rather than movie
posters? I suggest that the battle is no longer a matter of location, but of
I fear that we have failed in much the same way as the
evangelicals. We have failed to teach our people how to discern what is
biblically acceptable and what is not. I am not urging fundamentalists to
begin frequenting theaters, nor am I suggesting that our entertainment
standards be lowered. Quite the contrary, I believe that our standards of
entertainment must be significantly raised and taught to our people with an
open Bible. I suggest that we replace (or at least supplement) our singing
of "Oh be careful little feet where you go," with "Oh be careful little
eyes, what you see...and ears, what you hear...and mind, what you
think...and heart, what you love."
Although you won't find the words "Hollywood" or "DVD" in
your concordance, Scripture says much about these matters. It says more than
most of us think. There is no shortage of passages that address the
Christian's behavior and thinking. Though many texts might be cited here, I
am going to focus on Ephesians 5:1-12, and I encourage you to meditate on
this passage in private.
What We SEE
Ephesians 5:3 says that a life that is "becoming" or
appropriate for saints must be devoid of fornication and all sorts of
impurity. What we watch is not specifically mentioned, but it does not need
to be. Scripture says that sensual things are not even to be named among
God’s people. They should not be part of our reputation or conversation;
they certainly should not be part of our recreational viewing! Verse 12
makes the same point: it is shameful even to speak of such things. In this
area, as in others, God desires our absolute purity and holiness. The
passages which address what we see and think are generally well known (e.g.
Job 31:1, Proverbs 6:25, Matthew 5:28). For the sake of space, I will not
spend time exegeting them. However, I do believe that such passages are
known better than they are obeyed, and I will address that issue briefly.
Few Bible-believers would argue that nudity is
acceptable. Scripture is exceedingly clear on this point. Thus, much of
Hollywood's entertainment is obviously off limits for the believer. Yet,
even Christians who oppose blatant nudity somehow excuse partial nudity,
immodesty, and fornication (whether shown or implied) when they are being
entertained. Both on the big screen and the small, programs commonly contain
so-called "tasteful nudity" and carefully planned immodesty, which is
sometimes even more provocative. Which is more harmful: an R-rated movie
like Striptease, or a PG-13, Academy Award winning movie like Titanic, which
contains both nudity and fornication? Even families who reject partial
nudity regularly view bedroom scenes or actresses in lingerie, low-cut
blouses, wet and clingy outfits, or strategically placed bed-sheets. They
rationalize that it is harmless. After all, "it didn't show anything." Thus,
their consciences are salved, even as their characters are sullied.
Tragically, once such perverse images enter the mind, they are there to
stay. Such things have no places in our lives. It is time to raise the bar.
What We HEAR
Verse 4 of Ephesians 5 continues to list practices which
have no place in the believer's life. Whereas verse 3 focuses on immorality
and greed, verse 4 lists sins of the tongue. These sins abound in typical
Hollywood fare—filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting. Does
Hollywood contain filthy, obscene language? It specializes in it. Yet,
Christians routinely endure the basest of language and the blaspheming of
God's name in order to take in a good story. Does Hollywood contain foolish
talking and perverse joking? You would be hard pressed to find a recent
comedy that didn't get cheap laughs from perverse jokes and double entendre.
Sexual innuendoes are "must see TV." Crass humor is commonplace. The problem
this poses for Christians is that such programs are often genuinely funny.
Notice, however, what Ephesians 5 says about such humor. It is inappropriate
for the Christian (v. 4). It is irreconcilable with worship (v. 4). It is
typical of those who are lost and outside of the kingdom of God (v. 5). It
is one of the reasons why the wrath of God is coming on the unsaved (v. 6)!
In other words, God is not laughing, nor should we be. It is time to raise
What We THINK
Movies have the power to change the way we think. That
profound message was recently delivered to a vast audience. The speaker was
not a fundamental preacher. Rather, he was a Hollywood director, and he was
televised as he addressed a room filled with the rich and famous from the
movie and television industries. The occasion was the 2006 Golden Globe
Awards. The Golden Globes, given annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press
Association, are esteemed and coveted awards that are intended "to recognize
outstanding achievements by conferring annual Awards of Merit...and to focus
wide public attention upon the best in motion pictures and television" (www.hfpa.org).
So what were "the best in motion pictures" for 2005?
Foxnews.com offers the following synopsis:
As expected, it was a triumphant night for films
dealing with homosexuality and transsexuality. Along with the victories
for Brokeback Mountain [which the article previously referred to as the
"gay cowboy movie" and which won four awards, including Best Picture],
acting honors went to Felicity Huffman in a gender-bending role as a man
preparing for sex-change surgery in Transamerica and Philip Seymour
Hoffman as gay author Truman Capote in Capote.
So what was "the best in television" for 2005?
Predictably, the award-winners in the television genre were no more
family-friendly. Desperate Housewives, a program even more perverse than its
title suggests, was awarded top comedy for the 2nd consecutive year. A
newcomer won the award for the best actress in a comedy. Mary-Louise Parker
was recognized for her role as a marijuana-selling mother in Weeds.
Thankfully, the HFPA has yet to create a "Best Raunchy Reality Show"
category. Stay tuned. Or, better yet, don't.
Tragically, we are no longer shocked by movies and
programs which celebrate perversity. However, the fact that these shows are
no longer on the bottom shelf of the industry, but are instead the very
programs which are lauded as "the best in motion pictures and television"
says much about the entertainment industry—and much about the society which
both feeds it and feeds on it. Perhaps the most telling comment of the
evening was the one made by Ang Lee in his acceptance speech for the Best
Director award for Brokeback Mountain: "I want to give my first thanks to my
fellow filmmakers for strengthening my faith in movies—and the power of
movies to change the way we're thinking." Although I would disagree with
everything which Mr. Lee stands for, I wholeheartedly agree with his
assessment of his industry's influence. It has "the power...to change the
way we're thinking." It exercises that power with great skill and success.
Hollywood is about more than entertainment. It is about
indoctrination and adaptation. Hollywood is a master of calling evil good
and good evil. It makes homosexuality fun (a la Will and Grace). It makes
immorality hip (a la Friends). It makes teen virginity an embarrassment (a
la That 70's Show). It makes adultery adventurous (a la Desperate
Housewives). It makes tolerance the highest virtue and Christian conviction
the lowest vice (a la ER). It makes witchcraft cute (a la Sabrina, the
Teenage Witch). It makes death a door to a godless paradise (a la Titanic).
It makes deception and revenge satisfying (a la every soap opera ever made).
Hollywood is more than a seductress or blasphemer: it is a false teacher.
And, as Wayne Wilson explains, audiences are "in no mood for critical
analysis," and thus, "are ripe for propagandizing" (Worldly Amusements, 76).
Hollywood Sells the World
I fear that this is the biggest blind spot for the
average Christian. If we judge a film or program at all, we do so only on
the basis of content: how much skin and profanity does it have? And even if
we reject films with blatant homosexual or anti-God agendas, we are
amazingly naive regarding the messages being taught by even so-called family
movies and programs. As Hughes writes, "Perhaps the most subtle of
television's evils is the promotion of worldviews that are sub-Christian and
spiritually destructive" (Set Apart, 55). Hollywood children (and mermaids)
teach our children that parents and teachers are unreasonable and
out-of-touch and that rebellion is justified. There is usually a
tear-jerking conclusion in which the unreasonable father comes to his senses
and apologizes. Hollywood heroes (from Superman, to Batman, to James Bond)
teach us that the ability to seduce a stranger is heroic and noble.
Hollywood heroines teach ladies a view of love that is sentimental at best,
and more often is downright sensual. The message is clear that love does
whatever it takes to get one's man, that there is power in sexuality, and
that lust is irresistible. And we worry about the effects of sensual
entertainment on young men!
Ephesians 5:6 warns us not to be deceived by vain words.
Perhaps this is the most dangerous aspect of Hollywood's product. It
deceives. Whether Christian consumers are cognizant of it or not, what we
watch alters our beliefs and shapes our consciences and sympathies. When
looking for a biblical injunction against the vast majority of such
entertainments, one need only consider the warnings against false teachers
that pepper the New Testament. As Paul tells Timothy in I Timothy 4:7,
godliness cannot co-exist with worldly and worthless fables. Reject them!
Our text is equally clear. Rather than partaking with the darkened world, we
must walk as children of light (Ephesians 5:7-8). Rather than participating
in their evil deeds, we must reprove them (Ephesians 5:11).
Am I calling for total abstinence from the film and
television genres? Not necessarily, though for some it may be prudent. I
have no argument with those who simply abstain from the theater, but I am
arguing that such abstinence does not completely settle the problem in 2006.
I am calling for biblical discernment and obedience. I am calling for a
conscientious re-examination of what we put before ourselves and our
children for amusement, along with a re-examination of how prominent a place
even legitimate recreational viewing should have in our lives. Such a study
would be greatly aided by Wayne A. Wilson's book, Worldly Amusements. I
commend it to you. Above all, I am calling for our viewing habits to be
brought under the lordship of Christ. It is time to raise the bar.
What We LOVE
I conclude with this life-changing truth. Our obedience
or disobedience in this crucial matter is more than a test of our wills. It
is a test of our love. William Wilberforce, commenting on Christians
partaking of the theater of his day, states this point forcefully: "Let it
be sufficient to remark, that the controversy would be short indeed, if the
question were to be tried by this criterion of love to the Supreme Being"
(quoted in Wilson, 38). For many, the refusal to put off worldly
entertainment arises from the fact that we love the world itself. We love
that which God hates. Thus, many pastors are oddly silent on the issue,
because they are as engaged in worldly entertainment as their flocks. As
Ephesians 5:11 teaches, they can give no reproof of corruption because they
are actively participating in it themselves. Similarly, many fathers say
nothing of their teenager's foul viewing lest they should have to change
their own. The point is this: Our problem is not just our eyes. It is our
hearts! Our hatred of evil is lacking because our love of the Lord is
lacking (Palm 97:10). We struggle to obey Christ because He is rivaled in
our affections (John 14:15). We genuinely believe that there is more
satisfaction in a 17-inch box than in the God who created and redeemed us!
I make no pretense of being blameless in this area.
Unfortunately, I have seen much that I regret. I have sometimes made
watching even decent movies a too common form of recreation, thus wasting
time which should have been redeemed (Ephesians 5:16). Yet, I desire
sanctification here as elsewhere. My standards must be raised. My beliefs
must be applied to my habits. My affection for Christ must outweigh my
enjoyment of ease. My entertainment choices must be submitted to the
lordship of my Savior.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I enjoy movies,
plays, and television programs. Some of them are fine. But, I love the Lord.
Thus, my relationship with Him must take precedence and dominion over my
viewing. It is as simple as that. But it is no sacrifice, for what I am
losing is nothing compared to what I am gaining. In the words of Ephesians,
I am privileged to walk worthy of my high calling (4:1). I am privileged to
be an imitator of my holy Father (5:1). I am privileged to walk in love,
following the sacrificial example of Jesus Christ, who gave all for me. I am
privileged to do so as a sweet-smelling offering to God (5:2). I am
privileged to exemplify the fruit of the Spirit (5:9). I am privileged to
discern and do what is acceptable to the Lord (5:10). So raising my viewing
standards is not a matter of legalism or joyless asceticism. It is a matter
of love and loyalty to the Triune God.
Chris Anderson is a member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship
and is Pastor of Tri-County Bible Church, Madison, Ohio. He is a graduate of
Bob Jones University, with both bachelors and masters degrees. He and his
wife, Lori, are parents of four daughters.
The preceding article was originally published in The
Ohio Bible Fellowship Visitor (January 2006). Information regarding the
Visitor is available at http://www.obf.net/~visitor.
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