Discernment And Culture

In a week or so Disney is set to release the movie Beauty And The Beast. Recently the news broke that one of the characters is gay and that a scene occurs in the movie that makes this fact clear. Talk has begun among some Christians that it’s time to “give up on Disney.”

In response, I wrote a post today at Speculative Faith that said, in essence, we need to realize that sinful acts take place in most, if not all, secular entertainment. We need to stop putting one sin on the top as if it’s the unpardonable sin, we need to open our eyes and see the sin in all the stories we read or watch, and we need to think about how those stories agree or disagree with what the Bible says.

On one hand people can take what I wrote about Beauty And The Beast and think I am being charitable toward a movie made by a secular company for a secular audience with a decidedly secular agenda as part of the story. In contrast, I raised more questions about The Shack, a movie written from a book by a professing Christian about a man who finds relationship with God, despite the great tragedy in his life.

So what’s with that? Are my expectations higher for a movie about God?

Maybe. But my cry is and has been for us to read and view stories with discernment. Discernment is even one of the topics under which I file my posts. In one older article I defined discernment and took great pains to explain what I believe about it and its importance.

I can summarize all that more succinctly here: discernment is the ability to spot truth and error. As a Christian I believe the only way to spot truth and error is by holding up God’s word, which is Truth, and using it as the standard.

So when discussing the two movies in question, I have to know first if the Bible says anything about the issues that the movies raise. In regard to Beauty And The Beast, the central issue is the nature of love. Does the Bible deal with the nature of love? It does in deed: parental love, God’s love, love between friends, love for an enemy, love for a spouse, love for a neighbor. Yes, the Bible speaks to the nature of love, so it certainly would provide a standard by which Beauty And The Beast can be compared.

And what if the movie agrees with the Bible’s standard for the most part but has errors in one minor relationship? This is where discernment comes in. My contention is that Beauty And The Beast deserves the same treatment as other books or stories or movies: we Christians recognize what is sinful, call it sin, expose it as behavior that is not desirable or godly, and weigh that fact along with the rest of the story. In some cases and for some people, the sin revealed outweighs any benefit. For others, it may not.

I’ll give a for instance. When I was in college I had to read Emile Zola’s Germinal for a history class. It was not a pretty story, but I learned more about how someone who is hopeless thinks and feels and looks at life than I could have ever learned apart from going through such an experience myself. For me, I could identify the sin and grieve over it for those poor lost people—fictional characters who nevertheless represented real people. Would I recommend that book to everyone? No. It’s sort of like staring at a head on collision on the freeway. Some of us look away because the images will stay with us in an unhealthy way. (I saw enough of those crashes in Driver’s Ed to last my lifetime).

But back to the two movies in question. The second, The Shack, deals with the relationship of man with God. That’s the whole story really. In the midst of pain and suffering, where is God and does He matter?

Clearly the Bible has a LOT to say about a relationship with God. We have examples (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and more). We have prayers and answers to prayer. We have prophets reporting what God says, what His judgments are, and why. We have Jesus, God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, the one who told His disciples they knew the Father because they knew the Son.

So, yes, we can hold the Bible up as the standard by which we can measure a story about a relationship with God.

Again, discernment is in order. First, we need some working knowledge of the Bible if it is to be our standard. Just because something touches us on the emotional level does not make it true! I was so happy for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she fell in love with . . . the John she’s spent a week with! It was a true Prince Charming story because he rescued her out of prostitution. After he used her as a prostitute for a week! I mean, really? Is that true love? But it was heart warming and had such a happy ending. Didn’t that make it all an example of what true love looks like? NO!

So one of the important things, maybe one of the hardest things, in discernment is to recognize that an emotional response does not validate the truth or the error depicted in the story. What validates truth is the solid rock of God’s word. So how does The Shack measure up to the truth about God revealed in Scripture. And I don’t mean the peripheral things—the metaphorical representation of the trinity, for instance. I’m thinking more about what the movie says about Jesus Christ and His payment of the debt each of us owes because of our sin.

I haven’t seen the movie yet (and may or may not see it), but the book seemed to be more about God’s acceptance rather than about reconciliation with Him because of what Jesus did at the cross. That’s the key I’d look for. Does the story tell the truth about the means to our relationship with God. Is Jesus central to the story of grace?

Can the movie get most of it right but miss on a few points and still be worthwhile? Again, that’s an issue for each person to decide. What I hope is that when either movie misses, Christians will speak up and point out the ways the movie achieves something true and the ways in which it falls into error.

If we close our minds and go with our heart, we’ll potentially fall for all kinds of deception. Better if we watch with eyes wide open and our minds filled with the truth of Scripture.

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Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (15)  
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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good post. Most Chritian movies miss on a few points but get many things right so, overall, they are not all bad.

    You mentioned a most critical word here a few times and that should not be overlooked. Discernment is a gift from God that we should all use whenever we analyze something that came from culture.

    I have always wondered what people who are so quick to point out the evils of a gay character in a movie would rather have as alternative? Would they rather live in a world where absolutely nothing is counter to biblical beliefs? What kind of boring world would that be?

    Like

    • Well, I wouldn’t mind that kind of boring. I think Heaven will be without the evils we see here on a regular basis, and I’m confident it won’t be boring. 😀

      I believe we can judge a movie on its aesthetics and even on our emotional response to it. But whether it’s fun to watch, whether we enjoy it, has nothing to do with whether it is truthful. And Truth needs to be at the heart of our evaluations of the worthwhile nature of a piece of pop culture.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This entire article is an exercise in the total absence of biblical discernment.

    I’m not even going to try to get into why.

    Like

  3. I would object to Christians not looking a little bit into culture (i.e. seeing a few secular movies) simply because we need a way to relate God’s message to a broken world. And, in modern times, most people respond to media very strongly. So we need to be able to see things from their eyes so we can challenge misconceptions and show what God offers that is better. Otherwise we just look like a self-righteous bunch quick to point our fingers at people, and that is not Christ’s way.

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    • lovelifeandgod, I don’t think we can ever say what other Christians should or should not do when it isn’t spelled out in Scripture. I had a friend who basically said Christians should read horror—pretty much for the same reason you give here. I don’t think it’s necessary to read horror or go to see secular movies to know what the culture is like. Unless we live in a cloister and shut our eyes when we come outside, we can know a lot about our culture just by rubbing shoulders with people in our neighborhood or at the store or ballpark.

      It’s clear that Jesus purposefully left us in the world rather than taking us out, and I think we should not try to do what Jesus left undone.

      That being said, I don’t think that means we need to be a party to all that unbelievers do. We ought not engage in sin, for any reason. Will that make us look self-righteous?

      That’s really not our concern. We answer to God, and He sees our heart. If we are self-righteous and therefore obey His commandments, God will know that. If we are submissive to His will and obey His commandments, God will know that as well.

      Those looking at us won’t know the difference, but God will, and that’s what matters: our submission, and trusting God to handle any criticism that we get because of what we do.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sorry, I probably came off a bit too firm. I was mostly thinking of Christians who refuse to look at things in our culture at all unless it’s with complete judgment. I meant seeing a movie or two as a suggestion, but I don’t genuinely think that Christians have to do that or that it’s absolutely necessary. We just need to have some way to relate to peopkr by finding a little bit of common ground upon which we can build our declaration of Christ as Savior. If no common ground can be found then we simply must remain at odds, but usually there is a little truth to be found everywhere and all we have to do is correct the misconceptions and incorrect teachings.

        Also, I didn’t mean that we should engage in sin to not be seen as self-righteous. Obviously we are not allowed to nor would it be helpful in order to reach out to people, and of course only God’s opinion matters. Not being self-righteous does not mean that we lower ourselves to the world’s standards in order to relate to people, it simply means pointing people to God and His Way, which is Truth, rather than pointing fingers at people. God wants us to be firm about right and wrong, but not to condemn people.

        I think we’re on the same page honestly, but my wording can be awkward and hasty sometimes, so I apologize. 🙂

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        • No worries. I agree with your point. Jesus left us in the world but told us not to be of the world. So we have to perform a kind of juggling act. We can see the two extremes and know if we cloister ourselves away we won’t actually be IN the world, but if we engage in the same behavior as our unsaved friends, then we will be OF the world. So the key, I believe is prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and discernment based on God’s Word.

          Yep, on the same page, I believe.

          Becky

          Liked by 1 person

  4. ^^^^ This is exactly what God says in 1st Corinthians 1 that he does NOT do.

    It may be time for a break from the internet. Maybe. I can’t watch this stuff anymore.

    Like

  5. This was a balanced treatment. I often ask myself if I have become habituated to things which are offensive to God. I especially liked your comment about not elevating one sin over another.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert, I think you’re asking a great question—one I want to start asking of myself, too. When I was in Guatemala on a short term mission, I went all year without watching TV. When I came back, I was horrified at some of the things I saw. When we’re around it all the time, it’s easy to get used to it and no longer see it as offensive to God. So it’s good to check regularly, I think, to see if that’s happening.

      Becky

      Liked by 2 people

      • This was the comment I meant to like.

        “So it’s good to check regularly, I think, to see if that’s happening.”

        I’m not going to nag you Rebecca, but don’t you see that it’s exactly by being around it all the time that cripples one’s ability to do the very thing you just said? 😦

        I speak, yes, from firsthand experience myself.

        Turn all this stuff off for a several months again and then see again if you’ve been desensitized to watching people do and say what is offensive to God, but somehow by being on a movie or TV filming set, it’s now “art” and therefore ok.

        I promise you I’m not yelling. I’m pleading. No form of human communication is more powerful than moving picture technology. We take it upon ourselves to assume a bunch of things from that that are simply not biblical.

        Like

        • Greg, I won’t argue with you. But I also don’t want you to mis-characterize what I’ve said. I NEVER said these films were “OK” or that the act of making art somehow sanitizes a film or a book or a picture. Rather, I say, sin is pretty much in everything that comes from unbelievers. How could it not be?

          Our job as Christians is to expose evil:

          we need to open our eyes and see the sin in all the stories we read or watch, and we need to think about how those stories agree or disagree with what the Bible says.

          And then this:

          What I hope is that when either movie misses, Christians will speak up and point out the ways the movie achieves something true and the ways in which it falls into error.

          In other words, we need to work at discernment. It’s not discerning to just stop participating in culture. It IS discerning to know what Scripture says about homosexuality, but also about adultery and other forms of illicit sex. It’s not discerning to praise every aspect of The Shack because it makes you feel accepted by God. Whether or not you feel accepted by God, doesn’t have one thing to do with whether or not you ARE accepted by God.

          In short, we are unwise if we give blanket disapproval or blanket approval without examining a work in light of Scripture.

          Becky

          Like

  6. I think your point regarding the PURPOSE of the movie and the overall theme being the deciding factor in whether to watch is a solid one. I think that’s why I have been wrestling this very issue. I had ZERO temptation to see “the Shack” because the bits I’d read of it looked as if the author tried to make God palatable to a modern readership. I don’t think God needs us to do that. He’s managed just fine without our “help” in this way for millennia.

    However, while I am concerned about the fact that this movie is designed to appeal to children (and I particularly don’t like the constant push to make things like this normative), I didn’t have the same problem and I wondered why.

    I think you’ve explained it well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Chautona. I think your point about making God palatable is well taken. I read an interview with the other and he stress over and over the need for relationship with God. Somehow in his upbringing as a missionary kid, he missed that. And it sounds like he thinks most Christians who believe the Bible have missed that. But God as a relational Being who loves His people is throughout Scripture. We don’t need to make God’s word more palatable by taking out the parts about our sin nature and God’s judgment. Those facts actually make His love greater, not less. So in “helping” people to understand God, I think The Shack actually waters down the Truth. But if it pushes people to study Scripture themselves to see if these things are so, that would be a good thing! 😉

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person


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