Trevin Wax raises some excellent points and, frankly, I can see the arguments on a couple of different sides – the side that says we shouldn’t be filling our minds with such things as well as the side of Christian liberty and engaging the culture. On one hand, we’re told to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise” (see Philippians 4:8 ESV) and we could argue that there is nothing coming out of Hollywood that fits that description. On the other hand, Jesus ate with “sinners” in their homes and while He certainly didn’t sin, He did very likely talk about things that his hosts and their friends were talking about. On that same hand is the Christian liberty Paul discussed in Romans 14.
Again, I can see both of those arguments and not have a problem with either of them. However, it’s easy to go to extremes: the first argument can lead to legalism and (as I’ve heard some argue, and as even one denomination explicitly teaches) the “Christians shouldn’t participate in any kind of secular entertainment” attitude (based on the Old Testament passage Paul quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:17 ESV, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you”); the second can lead to licentiousness (lacking moral discipline or restraint). Where’s the balance?
I asked “Where’s the balance?” but I wonder if we should even be seeking the balance between the two extremes. Should we not always seek to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV)? Jesus left us in the world to do the work that He gave the Church to do. On one hand, how can we engage the world if we are so separated from it that we have almost no contact with it? On the other hand, is it appropriate for Christians to fill their minds with the kinds of entertainment the world produces?
Contextualization is a concept in Christian missions where we seek to communicate the gospel in the context of the culture in which the gospel is being communicated. The Apostle Paul was a master at contextualization and we see it in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 (ESV), “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” We see it also in the way some missionaries have worked in a cross-cultural environment. Hudson Taylor, for example, dressed like the local Chinese people to whom he was sent, ate what they ate, etc.
However, we must be careful that contextualization doesn’t turn into syncretism (bringing elements of the world into the Church, such as the mixing of pagan practices with Roman Catholicism in Latin America or the adoption of science and psychology in the American Church) – maybe another way to say it would be sincretism because very often what we bring into the Church is sin (e.g. the way many young people in the Church today think sex outside of marriage is not sin or the way we recognize remarriages after divorce instead of calling them the adultery that Jesus called them).
Should Christians be watching secular movies? Are secular movies okay as long as they don’t have a rating higher than, say, G or PG? (Note that just because the rating is G or PG doesn’t mean that the content of the movie, especially the message being portrayed, is appropriate for Christians). We might abhor the violence in the latest action adventure, but when was the last time we thought about the violence in the cartoons we allow our young children to watch (e.g. Tom and Jerry, the Roadrunner, the Transformers)? We might not think it’s appropriate to watch that R-rated love story at the cinema, but how many of the ladies in our churches are sitting at home during the day watching the steamy romances in soap operas or reading Harlequin romances (which a Navy senior chief I worked with often called “sleazy slut novels”)?
When it comes to secular entertainment, I tend to take a Romans 14 view. However, I also think that we must exercise caution and to be consistently discerning. If watching violence in the latest action adventure is wrong, then so is watching it on the evening news or in cartoons. If steamy romances in R-rated films are wrong, then they’re wrong in the soap operas and in the books we read. We have to be consistent or we’re hypocrites!
Again, Trevin Wax raises some excellent points in the linked article. It’s good food for thought.