Evangelicals and Hollywood Muck by TREVIN WAX

I 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.


A line MUST be drawn

A line MUST be drawn
I often wondered how Sodom and Gomorrah became Sodom and Gomorrah.In America, it has come slowly and yet quickly.

The book “The Great Evangelical Disaster” is perhaps the most influential book in my lifetime other than the Bible for its view of history both past and its looking ahead.  The level of passion and concern communicated throughout this life-changing book is striking.

Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote in 1984It must be understood that the new humanism and the new theology have no concept of true truth – absolute truth.  Relativism has triumphed in the church as well as in the university and in society.  The true Christian, however, is called upon not to teach truth, but to practice truth in the midst of such relativism.  And if we are ever to practice truth, it certainly must be in a day such as ours.

This means, among other things, that after we have done all we can on a personal level, if the liberals in the church persist in their liberalism, they should come under discipline.  As I have shown at length in The Church Before the Watching World, the church must remain the faithful bride of Christ.  And, as I explained there in detail, the liberals are not faithful to the God of the Bible, the God who is there.  Historic Christianity, biblical Christianity, believes that Christianity is not just doctrinal truth, but flaming truth – true to what is there, true to the great final environment, the infinite-personal God.  Liberalism, on the other hand, is unfaithfulness; it is spiritual adultery toward the divine Bridegroom.   We are involved, therefore, in a matter of loyalty – loyalty not only to the creeds, but to the Scripture, and beyond that to the divine Bridegroom – the infinite-personal divine Bridegroom who is there in an absolute antithesis to his not being there. 

We not only believe in the existence of truth, but we believe we have the truth – a truth that has content and can be verbalized (and then can be lived) – a truth we can share with the twentieth-century[twenty-first  century world].  Christ and the Bible have given us this truth.  Do you think our contemporaries will take us seriously if we do not practice truth?  [Taken from The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway Books, 1984]

Dr. Schaeffer made a plea for those practicing liberalism to come under discipline.   Sadly and predictably, that didn’t happen.  Liberalism has roared on like an out of control forest fire.  Again, liberalism:  spiritual adultery, unfaithfulness toward the divine Bridegroom.

Schaeffer:  If truth is indeed truth, it stands in antithesis to nontruth.  This must be practiced in both teaching and practical action.  A line must be drawn.

When I first became a Christian (in my early twenties), as I read the Bible, I was struck by this line that God laid out – including the Ten Commandments, but far beyond that.

Being caught up into pornography at the time, Scripture drew a needed line for me –  as it does for all true believers.   For all have fallen short of the glory of God.  All have sinned.  That’s what the Bible makes clear throughout its 66 books.

Here are a few “line in the sand” verses that helped and help me today. 

“I will place no wicked thing before mine eyes.”  Psalm 101:3a

I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testingyou may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:1,2

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? II Corinthians 6:14

A line must be drawn.  We need those lines marking the difference between what is right and what is wrong.  And, then, we need those lines to be taught, upheld, protected, preached and drawn again and again.

And if they are not, then comes the falling away.  To uphold the lines with clarity, with passion, with vigor, and caring is vital.

The truth is increasingly not taught because there is a decline in love for the Truth Giver. Truth gets tossed aside.  Absolute truth has been replaced with moral relativism.

When truth is overwhelmed by counter messages, by untruth, false religions, liberalism, entertainment, sports, lesser things, ultimately, a household, a school, a university, a church, a society will pay a great price.

We are paying a great price.

A few questions and my answers:

Q:  First, how can you discipline liberalism (spiritual adultery, disloyalty to God and His word) within the church – in denominations outside your own?

Answer:  There lies a significant problem.  The prophets of old didn’t have much success either. Hearing they do not hear.  Seeing they do not see. 

Q: Aren’t you over reacting?  Are things really that bad?

Answer:  This question concerns me as it indicates the accommodations that people make which contributes to the slippery slope.

One of the main gauges of a society that is sliding rapidly down the slippery slope is the gauge of public opinion.  President Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion, pro-homosexual President in our nation’s history.  Yet, this nation after living under his bully pulpit radical left measures –  pressing abortion on demand, same sex marriage, voted this man back into the highest office in the land.  And, in recent weeks his approval rating has reached new heights at 53%.

Q:  What is the essence of America’s slippage?

Answer:    Perhaps the oft-quoted verse from the Beatitudes says it best.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

Here are but a few evidences.  The lines that once helped point us back to God and His loving standard are being cast aside.

Disloyalty to the living God and His Holy Word, i.e.:

A. Christian marrying a non-Christian.  In the Old Testament, God passionately warned the Israelites not to intermarry with godless, pagan nations.  His concern was that godlessness would permeate the home and the nation.   Case in point: When is the last time you heard a sermon regarding this vitally important Biblical principle?

B.  Abandoning any concept of right or wrong in divorce and any pretext of dealing with divorce according to the boundaries established in the Scriptures.  God hates divorce.

There are Biblical grounds for divorce.  The divorce rate for those within the church is similar to that of the world.

C.  Not teaching and disciplining the body of Christ regarding Biblical manhood and womanhood.  As a result there has been significant ignorance regarding the beauty and wonder of the role differences that God has for men and women.  This has fostered a breeding ground for marital breakdown and role confusion, i.e. the feminist movement, homosexuality, the ordination of women further stirring the pot of confusion and its failure to uphold the clear teaching of God’s Word.

D. Recognizing homosexual marriage as legitimate.  Turning Scripture on its head to make it say what liberals want it to say rather than what God in His Word says.

E.  Rampant worldliness, a failure to live in obedience to the full inerrant authority of the Bible in the crucial moral and social issues of the day just as much as in the area of doctrine. And the failure of the evangelical world to take a clear and distinctively biblical stand on the crucial issues of the day can only be seen as a failure to live under the full authority of God’s Word in the full spectrum of life.

In conclusion, many of us are heart-sick that this nation (our nation) would re-elect an individual so thoroughly anti-Christian  (I say this in the context of much documentation including the recent removal  of an invitation to Pastor Louie Giglio to pray the Inaugural benediction because Giglio had preached a sermon back in the 1990s suggesting that there was a sinful element to homosexual behavior.

We have gotten this man as our president not because he is so affable, charismatic and such a strong leader, but because the “chickens have come home to roost.”

It is time to re-double our efforts within our households.  See:  “New Beginnings.”  There are no easy answers.