To Watch or Not to Watch

Christian film critic Denis Haack once deliberately decided to watch what many believers would consider to be a really bad movie. Why did he put himself through such an ordeal? He noticed that the kids in his church were talking excitedly about a film they’d seen called Reality Bites. So Haack decided to go see the movie himself—just so he’d know what influences were at work on the kids. Haack didn’t like much of what he saw. Reality Bites portrays a group of college graduates trying to make sense of their lives in the postmodern world. Searching for love, they move from one sexual relationship to another. Immorality is sometimes depicted in a way that makes sin appear attractive, even compelling. Bad film, like bad literature, encourages viewers to identify with evil characters and draws them into a vicarious experience of sexual fantasies, dreams of wealth and power, or dark obsessions with violence. Certainly, reveling in vicarious sin has no place in a Christian’s life. But as Haack’s story illustrates, there may be good reasons for going to see films that we would normally avoid. As Haack puts it, "watching Reality Bites helped me understand more clearly some of the pressures young believers face as part of a generation being molded by pop culture." After viewing the film, Haack could help teens understand how Reality Bites stacks up against biblical reality. He discussed with them the nature of sin and the true results of immoral behavior. The results of this discussion was wonderful. The teens discussed how they could share their new insights with their unsaved friends who had also seen Reality Bites. Haack routinely watches teen films simply because the kids he works with watch them. There’s a biblical precedent for what he is doing. When the apostle Paul traveled to Athens to witness to the Greeks he quoted pagan Greek poets. What’s interesting is that Paul quoted these poets approvingly; he applied what they said to God. Yet, as historian E. M. Blaiklock points out, these poets were not referring to the God of Scripture, they were referring to the Greek god, Zeus. In effect, Paul made use of the "pop culture" of the ancient world-Greek poetry-as a means of explaining the gospel to his Athenian audience. And that’s what you and I may sometimes be called to do. Of course, we would normally prefer to keep clear of movies that offer positive—and sometimes graphic—portrayals of sin. But as Denis Haack says, "the question we should ask is this: Will this film help me understand something about life and culture that will allow me to live more faithfully as a follower of Christ?" For better or for worse, movies are part of our culture. But if we have the proper tools, we can take even films that portray a nonbiblical worldview and use them to glorify Christ.    


Chuck Colson


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