This page is mostly for personal and spiritual posts (a.k.a. non-fiction).
My fiction-only blog, about my novels and other similar examples of popular art, can be found here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #6 -- Excise Anything that Tempts You to Sin

In my previous posts I've discussed five principles, all starting with the letter E, that will help make your entertainment choices EEEasier (get it?).  For the fifth one, Edify Your Brothers and Sisters, I wrote about how we should be careful "not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister," as Paul says in Romans 14:13.  And not only do you need to make sure that you do not tempt others to sin, but you need to excise (“cut out”) any kind of entertainment that will tempt you to sin.  This surgical language comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:29-30:

"If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.

This  has been called the principle of “radical amputation,” because Jesus is clearly saying that we must sometimes take radical and even painful steps if we want to stop sinning.  In the figurative picture painted by Christ, the excising of the eye and hand will lessen the ability and opportunity to sin, and will serve as a reminder of its consequences, which will make the offender think twice before sinning again.  Likewise, we must make it harder for ourselves to sin, by eliminating opportunities and temptations that we know will lead us astray.[1]

The application of this principle to your entertainment choices should be fairly obvious:  If something that you watch, read, or listen to influences you toward evil in your heart or actions, stay far away from it.  If you find yourself consumed with a particular hobbie, to the point that it has become more important than God, get it out of your life until such a time that you could enjoy it in moderation and propriety.  It is indeed legalistic to say that no Christian should ever enjoy “worldly” forms of entertainment, as we have pointed out, but it is also reasonable to assume that some Christians should avoid some or all of them at certain times in their lives.  This is often the case with young believers, because they have not yet developed the knowledge of Scripture and the skills of discernment necessary to take in most modern entertainment without being negatively influenced by it.   Even though I believe that the teaching of the college I attended was legalistic regarding this issue, in a way I am grateful for the strict rules of the school (no TV, movies, etc.), because they forced me to step away from the modern media for a while, to learn the Word of God, and to look at the whole field of entertainment with a more perceptive and critical eye.[2]  
Romans 13:14 says, “The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand.  Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  “Make no provision” comes from a Greek verb that was used, in military parlance, for supplying the front lines in battle.  An army cannot fight and win without provisions, and our flesh cannot prevail against the Spirit unless it has material to work with.  So we need to “cut off the supply lines” to our flesh by avoiding any kind of entertainment that tempts us to sin.  And if you don’t know for sure whether something is spiritually dangerous to you, then you can apply the seventh and final principle, which will the be subject of my next post…

[1] For further consideration of this principle in Matthew 5:29-30, see Jay Adams’ book A Theology of Christian Counseling (Zondervan, 1979), Chapter 16.
[2] This dynamic is one of the reasons that legalism regarding entertainment is so prevalent, especially among young or immature believers.  Many of them probably do need to distance themselves from the entertainment of the world, or build some “fences” in their own life, until they can grow stronger spiritually.  But the problem arises when they transfer their “fences” to everyone else, and accept or promote the teaching that everyone else must live by their standards.  Likewise, the problem with my college was not the strict rules they had for the students (I can see a certain wisdom in that), but the problem was that they taught and implied that the rules were Divine standards equal to the commands of Scripture.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #5 -- Edify Your Brothers and Sisters

Exalt God, Exercise Biblical Discernment, Expose Evil Rather than Enjoying It, Economize Your Time...these are ways I discussed in previous posts that you can honor God and benefit yourself spiritually when it comes to what you do for fun and relaxation.  Here is a fifth E of Entertainment...

Edify Your Brothers and Sisters.  When we consider how we will have fun or be entertained, we should ask ourselves how we can build up others through it, because the Bible says, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26; cf. Rom. 15:2).  This principle can be stated negatively as well, in the sense that we should never do anything that causes a brother or sister to sin (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 8:13).   This is especially important in regard to the issue of entertainment, because it is such a matter of the heart, and different hearts respond in different ways to what they see and hear.  For example, you may be able to listen to a certain type of music with a clear conscience, but someone else might experience flashbacks to his sinful past when he hears that music, and be tempted to sin.  So if you crank that music up while he is riding in your car, you could become a stumbling block to your brother.

In Luke 17:1-2 Jesus says, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  The term “little ones” includes all believers, but it has special reference to children, who can be so easily influenced by the schemes of Satan.  And as someone once said, “Where we walk, our children will run.”  If you love the world too much, your children will probably love it with an unholy passion.  If you expose them to too much evil before they have developed sufficient skills of discernment, they will fall under its spell and be spiritually ruined.  So be careful that you do not hurt your brothers or sisters, especially the “little ones,” by the entertainment choices you make.  And the next principle, in my next post, will keep you from hurting yourself...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #4 -- Economize Your Time

So far in this series of posts, I have discussed the first three of seven principles for a Christian approach to entertainment:  Exalt God, Exercise Biblical Discernment, and Expose Evil Rather than Enjoying It.  Here is another E that will make your choices EEEasier...

Economize Your Time.  Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  Although it may not be sinful for you to watch TV, it certainly would not be wise for you to watch too much of it!  And that applies to any form of “entertainment.”  The modern media is so enthralling and effective at capturing your attention and affection, that you must be “careful how you walk,” lest entertainment becomes more important and time-consuming than the things that really matter.  Movies, TV, and music dominate the lives of so many people today, including Christians, that they do not even have time to think about anything spiritual, let alone to serve and worship God.  Add to those things net-surfing, computer games, sports, and other hobbies, and we have a society so saturated in entertainment that we are drowning in it!  Our souls are so constantly submerged in a sea of pleasure-seeking, that we rarely break the surface to contribute anything useful to the Lord or others.

Satan wants you to waste your time, and he is busy producing various forms of entertainment to help you do just that—in spades.  This is one way that “the days are evil,” and one reason why you must plan and work hard to “make the most of your time.”  That means, first of all, that you should set strict limits on the amount of time and money you spend on entertainment.  That part of your life should be only a footnote, whereas the main page should be filled with hard work, studying the Scriptures, worshipping God, and loving and serving others.  So often those really important things are the footnote, and our pursuit of pleasure is what preoccupies the mind, consumes the energies of the body,  and drains the checkbook.  And so we epitomize the godlessness of the last days, becoming “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4).

Another application of this principle, however, is that when we do enjoy various forms of entertainment, we should seek to find some “redemptive value” in them.  When we are told to make the most of our time, that includes the time we spend having fun.  So ask yourself, “How can this leisure time be spiritually profitable in some way?”  For example, you could choose to play sports more than watching them, so you will get exercise and build relationships with others for the sake of the gospel.  Another way is to research and find the kind of movies, music, and books that have something interesting and insightful to say about the world that God has made, or even God Himself.  What you observe in that kind of art can make you a better person (when you “take Jesus with you”), and can also help you build bridges to unbelievers, so that you can share the gospel with them.  So before you spend two plus hours watching a movie, or an hour listening to a CD, I challenge you to consider whether or not it will have any redemptive value.  Will you learn something, be inspired in any way to be a better person, or otherwise be able to thank God for those hours (Rom. 14 again)?  If not, why waste that time, when it could be used in a way that is much more profitable?[1]
If a “fun” activity has no redemptive value in itself, then you should find ways to make it more profitable.  An example of this would be a day my sons and I spent recently at an amusement park—something we don’t do very often, but we got the tickets for that day at a significant discount.  So to make the most of our time, we invited another man and his son, who needed some encouragement and discipleship in the faith.  We spent the day growing our friendship with these two brothers, and also talking about spiritual issues when the opportunity arose.    So the day was not just about having fun, although we did do that, but it was also about fulfilling the Great Commission by “making disciples.”[2]  Now this is not to say that it would have been wrong for me to go alone with my sons that day—I could have thanked God for the friendship I was building with them.  But how much more profitable it was for us to have another clearly spiritual purpose for the day, which we could pray about before and after our trip.  And that provides a good transition to the next principle…

[1] I remember renting the movie Pulp Fiction one time, because a Christian friend told me it was his favorite film ever.  I kept waiting for some kind of “redemptive value” to grace the screen, but nothing even came close.  So I vowed that I would never waste two hours of my life watching that movie again, even though it was interesting, in a sick sort of way, and funny at times.  So many movies are like that—they are slick and “well-made” by cinematic standards, but have no profit in them whatsoever.  As someone has pointed out, movie critics and fans are always commenting on whether a movie is made well, but never stop to ask why it was made in the first place!  What’s the point of a movie like that, except to be find amusement in evil and make money for the people who produce it?  Christians should learn to ask that kind of question more often.
[2] Someone once defined discipleship as “a friendship for spiritual purposes,” and I think that is a helpful definition, because it reminds us that we don’t have to be studying the Bible at every moment to be “making disciples.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #3 -- Expose Evil Rather Than Enjoying It

Ephesians 5:10 summarizes the first two principles we discussed about a Christian approach to entertainment, Exalt God and Exercise Biblical Discernment, by saying we should be “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Then verses 11-12 say, “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”  This verse gives us the principle Expose Evil Rather Than Enjoying It. 

God hates sin, and we should too.  Therefore it is wrong for us to enjoy it in any way.  Unfortunately, so much of modern entertainment is designed with that in mind—to make money by appealing to our sinful nature.  This is obviously the purpose of most sexual content, and much of the violence—especially when it is motivated by ungodly revenge and uncontrolled rage, or fixates on the gory details.  But there are other, more subtle ways in which the popular arts appeal to our sinful nature, such as covetousness (beautiful stars, rich characters, exotic locations, etc.) and pride (hero worship, humanistic themes, motivations of self-glory, etc.). 

A specific danger that is worth mentioning along these lines is the “glorification” of evil.  Sometimes the villain is portrayed in such a way that the audience is drawn into his evil behavior, to the point of vicarious enjoyment.  A classic example of this is the movie Batman, in which Jack Nicholson’s Joker has more fun than anyone else (by far), and audiences seemed to appreciate and remember this psychotic murderer much more than any of the “good guys.”  Another example, and a rather surprising one, is a Bibleman episode where the Scripture-quoting hero is basically boring compared to the villain, who gets to star in his own MTV-like music video.  After watching this show, my children could not quote any of the Bible verses, but they were dancing around singing over and over again,  “I am the prince of pride, I got an ego ten miles wide!”  So whether it is Batman or Bibleman, be careful that you do not “participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness” by enjoying sin vicariously.[1]

Perhaps the most prevalent problem with today’s popular art (and some of yesterday’s) is the way it makes light of matters that should be taken seriously.  God and religion are played for laughs, and jokes about sex have almost become synonymous with the concept of “comedy.”  But the Bible is very clear that both of those matters are not to be treated as humorous in any way.  The third commandment, says “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain,” and the hottest hell is reserved for those who mock God (see Psalm 73:8-9, 17-20).  And it may surprise you to learn that Ephesians 5:4‑6 uses similar language in regard to sexuality:

There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

So it is a sin worthy of God’s anger and condemnation to be amused by jokes about Him, and it is equally wrong to laugh at any kind of sexual immorality.  God wants His name to be treated as holy, and marital intimacy to be viewed as sacred, because it was designed as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32).  “That sounds legalistic,” you might think, “to say that we can’t laugh at any 'dirty jokes'!”  But remember that legalism is going beyond what is written, and this is something that is clearly written in the pages of Scripture.  Such things we must obey and teach, even if they contradict the culture around us, or fly in the face of our own accepted practice.
First John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”  This passage has often been quoted to support extra-biblical, universal rules of behavior like “don’t go to movies” or “don’t listen to secular music.”  Notice, however, that once again the concern in this passage is a concern about the heart.  John does not say that we cannot watch or listen to anything that comes from “worldly” artists, but he does say we are not to love the lust and pride that is in them, and is often presented by them.  So I can enjoy (and thank God) for the good things about a Shakespearean play, for instance, while making sure that I do not rejoice in any sin that is glorified, or humor that is inappropriate.  I can also “expose the evil” by explaining to my British literature students how and why it is wrong.  And to use another example of classic British literature, I can split my sides with my friends and older children as we enjoy the unique and insightful humor in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while skipping scenes like the “virgins in the castle” and the cartoon depicting God.  I can “expose” those examples of inappropriate humor by explaining to my family and others why those parts are wrong, and in doing so we can enjoy a spiritual benefit, as well as a good laugh.  We should not watch movies like that too often, however, because of the next principle, which I will discuss in my next post…

[1] Again, this does not mean that it is necessarily wrong to watch Batman, any more than it is wrong to watch Bibleman.  We just need to make sure that our hearts do not rejoice in the evil depicted.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #2 -- Exercise Biblical Discernment

The first biblical principle I shared for Christians to apply was Exalt God (1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 14:6), and the second E of Entertainment is Exercise biblical discernment.  First Thessalonians 5:21 says that we should “examine everything carefully,” and Philippians 4:8 says this: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."

How can you apply these verses to the entertainment you enjoy?  First, you need to know what the Bible says, and you need to evaluate what you see and hear based on what the Bible says.  All of it!  If you just let the modern media soak into your mind without exercising biblical discernment, your mind will be turned to mush (morally as well as intellectually).  So when you watch, read, or listen to anything, Christian or non-Christian, your brain should be in gear, not in neutral.  You need to be interacting with the material in that art form in a manner that is illustrated by the phrase “talking back to your TV.”  Talk back to your music, talk back to your books, talk back to the movie screen—not out loud (though sometimes that might be appropriate!), but in your heart and mind.  And when you see or hear something good, make note of the truth that is communicated or illustrated.  When you see or hear something bad, make note of how and why it displeases God, and think about how and why you should not believe or practice it.  This way you will be “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), rather than allowing your mind to be captured by the the deceptive and destructive ideas of the enemy.
One way that I have applied this principle in my own life is by “re-interpreting” the lyrics of secular music in a biblical fashion.  If I enjoy the sound of a certain kind of music, I can thank God for giving those musicians (even unsaved ones) the talent to produce it.  But I recognize that the words of the songs are not coming from hearts that love Christ.  So I will often intentionally hear or sing those words with a different meaning than they were intended.  For instance, songs about love and sex can often be “re-interpreted” to apply to my relationship with my wife, even though may have been written about an unmarried couple.  Likewise, single people could think of them as describing a future marriage relationship they would like to enjoy.[1]  This is a legitimate application of Philippians 4:8 above—finding what is good in the things we observe, and disciplining our minds to “dwell on these things.”  Of course there are some songs that cannot possibly be re-interpreted in a biblical fashion, even by someone as creative as myself!  Those songs I do not “dwell on” in my mind, nor do I sing them, because I can find nothing good to enjoy in their lyrics.  And this leads us to the next principle, which will be in my next post…

[1] To say that single people should never even think about love and sex would be to say that they should never read the Song of Solomon, one of the books in the Bible.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #1 -- Exalt God

In regard to the choices we make about entertainment (and in every area of our lives), each believer must “give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).  You should not judge others about their choices (Romans 14:10), unless there is a clear biblical reason for your judgment, but you must also carefully consider what is right and best for you to do (Romans 14:5).  So to help you in that process, and especially to demonstrate how the Bible addresses the all-important “matters of the heart,” here are some principles that you can apply.  These seven “Es of Entertainment” will hopefully make your entertainment choices easier!

The first E is Exalt God.  First Corinthians 10:31 says that whatever you do, you should do it “all to the glory of God.”  Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matt. 4:10, Luke 4:8).  And Romans 14:6 tells us that are actions are only acceptable when we “give thanks to God” (cf. 1 Thess. 5:18).  So a good question to ask yourself about any kind of entertainment you consider is, "Is there something about this that I can sincerely thank God for?"  When you watch or listen to some form of the arts, you need to be glorifying, worshipping, and thanking God while you are doing it.

This means that in one way or another your motive must be to please God.  It cannot be merely to please yourself, and it certainly cannot be to enjoy ungodly pleasures.  This is perhaps why the idea of avoiding all the popular arts is so popular among Christians—because many have not learned how to enjoy them in a way that brings glory to God.  In their past they have only watched movies, for instance, because they wanted to pass the time, or experience the thrill of action, romance, or a good laugh.  Or the movies have been a time that they were spending apart from God, because they were gaining enjoyment from things that He would not like.  So when a preacher or friend says to them, “Would you watch that if Jesus were sitting next to you?” (a good question to ask, by the way), they could never honestly say yes, because they’ve never “taken Jesus with them” to see a movie!  But I have watched many movies with the full awareness that Jesus is indeed with me, and I have communed with Him during the entire movie.  I do this by applying the rest of the "Es of Entertainment" principles, which I will discuss in the following posts.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Es of Entertainment -- Introduction

What kinds of movies, television, music, novels, games, etc. can a Christian enjoy, and still be honoring to God?  No other issue has been the source of more friction between Christians in our media-soaked, pleasure-worshipping society, and no other issue has given rise to as many legalistic rules in an attempt to keep us from being “contaminated by the world.”  Some Christians say we should avoid movies altogether, others say only G-rated ones are acceptable.  Some say no secular music is good to listen to, others add “Christian contemporary” as a taboo because it sounds too much like what unbelievers are producing.  On every issue in this general category, there are many examples of Christians who are far too “loose” in their practice, but on the other hand many over-react to the dangers of modern media by going “beyond what is written,” and are therefore susceptible to all the dangers described in this book.  So how can we understand this issue in a way that avoids the extremes and maintains a biblical balance?

First, we need to understand that the Bible offers very few specific rules about this issue, if any, and therefore we should not expect to find easy answers that apply to everyone.  It is mostly an individual matter of “the heart”—a term which in the Bible means our “inner man,” where we think, desire, worship, and make choices (“mind” and “will” are aspects of the heart).[1]  In Mark 7:18-21 Jesus says that “whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him,…that which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.”  He then goes on to say evil comes “from within, out of the heart.”  What we take into our eyes and ears can certainly tempt or influence us, as we will discuss, but it cannot necessarily cause us to sin.  So the response of our hearts to what we see and hear is the ultimate issue in morality.  This is very important to understand, in order to avoid legalism in this matter.  An activity that might be wrong for one person might be right for another, depending on what is happening in their hearts.

Some Christians, either in creed or merely in practice, advocate a rejection of any kind of artistic expression and enjoyment.  But that approach is clearly inconsistent with Scripture.  As T. M. Moore points out,

Anyone who reads the Bible, paying careful attention not only to the words of the text but also the forms of God’s revelation, will be struck by the widespread and varied use of the arts for communicating God’s purposes and will. The Old and New Testaments alike make abundant use of the arts: visual arts (the Tabernacle and Temple and all their decorations, the pillar of memorial stones on the banks of the Jordan); musical arts (psalms and spiritual songs); literary arts (story-telling, poetry, perhaps even drama, all kinds of metaphors and images); and a wide variety of abstract and visionary art forms (the first chapters of Ezekiel and Revelation, for example).[2]

We could add to that list the fact that the apostle Paul seems to have enjoyed reading the Greek poets, because he quoted from them in his message on Mars Hill in Acts 17:28.  And to mention a different but related issue, he also seems to have been a spectator at the Greek Olympics and other sporting events of his time, because he makes frequent reference to them in his letters (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Heb. 12:1-2).[3]

So there is nothing inherently wrong with any of the art forms that people enjoy today, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying them, even as “mere entertainment.”  This is important to discuss because some Christians point out that the Bible does not mention “entertainment,” and therefore infer that it is somehow a questionable concept.  But of course the Bible does not mention pizza or toothbrushes either, and that does not make those things bad.  And the Bible does contain the idea of entertainment, if not the word itself.  One of the themes of the book of Ecclesiastes, for instance, is that God wants you to “enjoy life” (Eccl. 9:9) when it is centered on Him.  He tells us to “eat, drink, and be merry” several times in the book (5:18, 8:15, 9:7), and says that you should “follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes” (11:9).

The reference to eating and drinking is especially helpful in understanding how God wants us to enjoy ourselves (in moderation, of course).  Some of the food and drink He has given us, and some of the eating and drinking we do, are merely for utilitarian purposes, to nourish our bodies.  But beyond that He has blessed us with enjoyable food and drink, and we partake sometimes merely for the pure pleasure of it, not simply to keep ourselves alive.  And this is according to His design—just as He has designed the arts for our enjoyment, as well as for our edification.

Most Christians will admit that modern forms of entertainment are not sinful in themselves, and that they can be used by believers for godly purposes.  But many have a problem with anything produced by unbelievers, because it almost always contains ideas that are contrary to God’s Word and depictions of behavior that God has forbidden.  Plus unbelieving artists often live very ungodly lifestyles.  We must remember, however, that unbelievers can indeed produce things that are acceptable and helpful to Christians.  This is obvious in the scientific realm, of course, because we benefit from the medical and technological skills of unbelievers all the time.  But it is also true in the realm of the arts, as evidenced by Paul’s use of the work of Greek poets, which I mentioned above.  Most Christians can appreciate the music of Mozart and Tchaikovsky, for example, even though one was a libertine and the other a homosexual.  So why can we not enjoy the good work of modern-day artists, even though they may not be godly themselves?

The book of Ecclesiastes is again helpful in this regard, because it says that to His people God “has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight” (Eccl. 2:26).  The abilities that unbelievers have, including their cinematic, musical, and literary skills, have been given to them by God so that they can produce art that can be beneficial and enjoyable to Christians.  This does not mean that all the art or entertainment produced by the world is for Christians to enjoy, but it is certainly reasonable to assume that some of it is.

Those who tell believers to stay away from various forms of “worldly entertainment,” however, often quote the Bible to support their point of view.  So it might be helpful to look at a representative example, and examine the scriptural reasoning that is frequently used by such teachers.  The following is an excerpt from Dale Kuiper’s booklet The Christian and Entertainment:

That movie attendance and television viewing are out of bounds for the Christian, are incompatible with the godly walk of those who are called to be saints, is clear beyond any dispute.  Is it not true that movies and television exalt that which is base and depraved, and debase that which is exalted and good?  Is it not true that watching the entertainment of the world, its sexual presentations, its violence and bloodshed, its blasphemies against the holy God, makes a person guilty of the sin described in Romans 1:32, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them”?  Psalm 101, which I encourage you to read right now, is a psalm of David, the man after God’s own heart.  He says, “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.  I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.  I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.”  And a little later in the psalm, “I will not know a wicked person.”  Although he may be tempted, were he alive today, David would not attend movies nor watch television![4]

First of all, it is certainly true that the popular arts are often motivated by wicked intentions and filled with sinful content.  That is why Christians need to be careful and discerning, as I will explain later in this chapter.  But do either of the passages mentioned by Kuiper demand that we abstain from all such “worldly entertainment”?  Let’s take a closer look at the two passages he quotes.

Romans 1:32.  Kuiper asks, “Is it not true that watching the entertainment of the world…makes a person guilty of the sin described in Romans 1:32?”  The answer is no—not necessarily.  Notice that verse says that we are sinning if we commit the sins described in the previous verses, or if we “have pleasure in them that do them” (or “give hearty approval to those who practice them,” as the NASB says).  It is not merely “watching” those things that is wrong, but approving of them.  And is it not possible to observe someone’s sin without approving of his sin?  Certainly it is; God Himself does it all the time!  Likewise, I can watch a movie or listen to some music that has wrong ideas in it, or wrong behavior depicted in it, without rejoicing in that evil.  In fact, I can honestly say that in most such cases I am appalled by the objectionable content and wish it was not in there!  Sometimes I end up hating the sin more when I see or hear it in the modern media—especially when I am reminded of the consequences of that sin. 

So if Romans 1:32 proves anything about the issue of godliness in entertainment, it proves that it is primarily a matter of the heart.  Whether we mimic the sin of the world, and whether we like it, is the issue according to the apostle Paul.

Psalm 101.  Does this passage indicate that David would never watch movies or television, if he was alive today?  Only a woodenly literal or biased reading of the text would yield such an idea.  I know that many Christians have quoted verse 3 (“I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes”) as a reason for avoiding the popular arts, but I am afraid they are quoting it out of context.  That statement does not mean that David would never look at anything evil, any more than “I will know no evil” in verse 4 means that he refused to learn about his enemy, or would not talk to an unsaved person.  Likewise, when David says in verse 6 that his “eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land,” he doesn’t mean that he will be literally gazing at them.  It is an expression that means he will approve of them, support them, pray for them, etc.  In the same way, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” is understood by its literary imagery and its surrounding context.  The rest of the verse says, “I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”  So David is saying that he will not look upon evil with approval or pleasurethough his words do provide a warning that pertains to what we allow ourselves to look upon.  Charles Spurgeon, in his Treasury of David, captures the sense of the verse well:

“I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.”  I will neither delight in it, aim at it, nor endure it.  If I have wickedness brought before me by others I will turn away from it, I will not gaze upon it with pleasure.  The Psalmist is very sweeping in his resolve…no wicked thing:  not only shall it not dwell in his heart, but not even before his eyes, for what fascinates the eye is very apt to gain admission into the heart, even as Eve’s apple first pleased her sight, and then prevailed over her mind and hand.[5]

So Christians are wise to be very careful about what they take in through their eyes, and discerning about the truth and error depicted in movies and television (more later on this).  But to say that we can never observe evil behavior without remaining holy is going beyond what is written in Psalm 101, or any other passage in the Scriptures.

Again, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.  Remember two of the passages we have learned about earlier in this book, both of which are related to issues like this, and both of which indicate the ultimate importance of what goes on inside of us:

One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God….So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14:5-12)

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor. 4:5)

Kuiper says in his booklet, “Every man will be judged according to his work, and according to his play.”  That is certainly true, but notice the basis of judgment mentioned in those verses:  When it comes to issues not directly addressed in the Scriptures, God will be looking primarily at the reasons and responses of the heart.  And since what goes on inside of us is the most important factor in issues like entertainment, we simply cannot make hard and fast rules that every Christian must follow.  But though the Bible lacks such precepts, it is filled with principles that can lead each individual toward greater godliness, and away from the dangers posed by the modern media.  The following posts will explain seven of the most important and helpful principles to apply to this part of our lives, which I call "the Es of Entertainment."  (If you would like to read all of them at once, see Chapter 9 of my book Who Are You to Judge?)

[1] One of my seminary professors referred to the heart as the “mission control center” of our being.  It represents the immaterial part of man, with special emphasis on the fact that it is the source of our “thoughts and intentions” (Gen. 6:5, cf. Prov. 4:23 and 23:7).
[2] T. M. Moore, “Why Art Matters,” article on the BreakPoint website, posted February 27, 2004.
[3] Most of what I say in this chapter could also be applied to a Christian’s involvement in sports, another issue that is sometimes the occasion for judging and legalism (Kuiper is an example).  If you would like to consider that issue further, I recommend an article by Dr. Lee Smith entitled “Sports—A Biblical Perspective,” which is posted on his church’s website at 
[4] Dale Kuiper, The Christian and Entertainment is posted on the web at in the articles section.  Kuiper is a minister in the Protestant Reformed Church.
[5] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume II (Peabody, MA: Hendriksen Publishers, n.d.), p. 240.