I am so often amazed at how an ancient collection of books like the Bible can be so relevant and even sufficient to answer the difficult questions we face as Christians even today. For example, I was recently listening to a song by a non-Christian artist who has practiced and advocated many things that are abhorrent to God in his life, yet is so obviously gifted with incredible musical talents, and questions were going through my mind (as they often do)...
Where did he get this amazing talent? Has Satan empowered him so that he would influence people to turn away from God? If so, should I not listen to him and enjoy his talents? If I do, would I be participating in the evils of his life and how the devil is using his music for evil purposes? Or can I thank God for his talents and enjoy them, as long as I am discerning and don't let it influence me toward evil? Fortunately for me, as often as these questions come into my mind, I also think of answers that come from the Scriptures, and I can process the whole thing in a way that honors God.
What are those answers? Well, rather than "re-invent the wheel" here by writing new material, I'd like to share with you the following excerpt from my book Who Are You to Judge? Hopefully it will help you to think and choose wisely regarding this important area of our lives that we could call...
Entertainment and the Popular Arts
What kinds of movies, television, music, novels, 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?
A Matter of the Heart
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). 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).
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).
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.
What About Secular Artists?
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 okay for Christians to enjoy, but it is certainly reasonable to assume that some of it is.
[If you would like to read the rest of the chapter, which contains seven principles from Scripture that apply to our choices regarding entertainment and the popular arts, you can purchase a copy here. You can also read about those principles in a series of blog posts that begins here.]
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