To Watch or Not to Watch: Evaluating Movies from a Christian Perspective, Part 1

*Guest post by Scott Shiffer. Scott serves as Director of Distance Education at Criswell College and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the B. H. Carroll Theological Institute.

**The original version of this article was posted at The Pop-Culture and Faith Review blog.

In the book, Through a Screen Darkly, Jeffrey Overstreet writes, “If I think that by withdrawing I can get away from sin’s influence in the world, I forget that sin is active within my own walls and within my own heart” (pp. 14-15). Specifically, Overstreet is addressing the idea that if a film has any objectionable content-including nudity, sex, violence, profanity or story lines with anti-Christian themes-it should be avoided. Overstreet encourages viewers to taste the goodness in films without focusing on things like how many times this or that word was said, and also without exposing oneself to so many negative things in films that they “diminish their ability to taste goodness” (p. 15).

Below is my philosophy of movie analysis and how to determine what films are appropriate for Christians to watch. All book quotes come from the Christianity and Pop Culture study book published by Christianity Today.

The “Why” Question

When deciding whether or not one should watch a specific movie or even movies at all, one must first ask, “Why do I want to watch this?” People watch films for several reasons:

  • Art – Some see movies as works of art.
  • Education – Some see movies as means of education (most documentary films are intended to educate).
  • Entertainment – Some see movies as a way to be entertained. I have met a number of people that only view movies in this capacity.
  • Escapism – I have met even more people, however, who view movies as a way to escape. Escapism may be one of the most appealing reasons to watch a movie, or television for that matter. When one turns on the show and stops thinking about his or her world for a while, stops worrying about his or her own troubles, and just checks out—that is escapism. People who are in school or have jobs that require a lot of critical thinking often enjoy watching films to escape and just give the mind a rest.

While it is nice to give the mind a rest from time-to-time, it is important to know that when we watch films or television, we are watching works of art created by writers who not only have a story to tell, but who have a message to “get across” as well. Turning off our minds when the television is turned on is somewhat antithetical to the purpose of watching a film, but more importantly, it is dangerous. We are all affected by culture more than we realize and when we engage culture without using our minds, that culture can slowly cause us to change our own way of thinking.

That being said, when we use our minds films can still affect our thinking but only because we are actively engaging them as art and thinking about their claims and how they stack up next to our current beliefs.

Movies as Art

When it comes to analyzing movies, I have been impacted greatly by four major works. Most of my beliefs about how Christians are to watch movies, listen to music, etc. come from these books:

  •  Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
  •  Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch
  •  Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William Romanowski,      and
  •  The Christianity Today Study – Faith and Pop Culture.

The point that these works make is that God is a creative God, and that makes him an artist. His universe, which he created from nothing, is perhaps the greatest work of art. God also created humans in his image. Since God is a creator, humans desire to create as well. When humans create art, they are bearing God’s image. Because creating art is a reflection of God in humanity, Christians should not abandon art.

“Although we are fallen, God’s image remains in us, providing the basis for our creative gifts and vision.”

What Kind of Art Should Christians Embrace?

Francis Schaeffer argues that there are four kinds of artists: artists who know God’s truth and reflect it in their work, artists who know God’s truth but who do not reflect it in their work, artists who do not know God’s truth but still reflect it in their work at least sometimes, and artists who do not know God’s truth or reflect it in their work.

If all truth is God’s truth, then whenever truth appears in art, regardless of whether or not an artist’s knows that it is God’s truth, it should be embraced and encouraged. But when art reflects God’s truth but is done poorly, then it is still not good art.

Art can be judged on a number of levels. I generally look for several things.

  • Is this art made well, is it technically excellent?
  • Does the art accurately express the artists worldview?
  • Is the message of the art clear?
  • Does the presentation fit the message?

If the artwork favorably answers these questions, then I consider it to be good art, even if I disagree with the message. However, these questions do not answer for me whether or not Christians should partake of it. Before answering this question, we need to discuss films and television in more detail, subjects which I will address in the next post in this series.

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