In Defense of Mere Entertainment (Part 3)
Editor's note: This is the third of a four-part series about what it means to make "good, Christian movies." In this part, the author examines films that are "merely" entertaining—even frivolous—and what he believes the Bible has to say about that.
As a child, I grew up in the world of missionaries—a world full of fantastic people like the indomitable Hudson Taylor, Mary Slessor the "white queen of Calabar," and my hero as a teenager, the ferocious, poetic Jim Elliot. Forfeiting home, family and the comforts of their native culture, these brave souls sacrificed their lives for the gospel of Christ. "Expendable for God!" they cried with earnest, burning hearts. Former English missionary C. T. Studd intoned what would become the confession of countless missionaries: "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." To my youthful spirit, this was edible fire: sublime and deeply satisfying.
It was serious business being a missionary. There was much to be done and too brief a life to accomplish it all. Missionaries "made the most of their time" so as not to squander a single opportunity to serve people with the love of Jesus. Fruit-bearing for the Kingdom must be a first priority, and rightly so.
Many years later, looking back on my slightly romantic view of missionaries, I wonder whether the Greats would have approved of me watching movies—lots of movies. With the harvest so dreadfully plentiful, how could I indulge in hours of Monty Python or What About Bob? Perhaps they would have tolerated The Gods Must Be Crazy, but never something so frivolous as Wayne's World. Could we imagine Mother Teresa holed up with a copy of The Pink Panther while the poor languished outside? (I can, and I think she would have invited them all in for a good, healthy guffaw.)
Needless to say, the missionary sub-culture made little room for worldly amusements. Even if you enjoyed a movie now and then, it was largely unconscionable to pursue a career making "merely" entertaining movies. How could you justify spending months of your life and millions of dollars in the production of, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which would amount to two hours of inconsequential recreation?
So my question is this: Is it ok for a Christian to enjoy, and even to create, a movie not for moral instruction (The Truman Show), not to facilitate an evangelistic encounter (The Climb), but just for mere entertainment? By that, I mean something that is not practically nor materially or religiously beneficial in any immediate sense, but rather, as it were, simply "fun for the sake of fun," in the way that going to the circus or jumping rope with sing-song rhymes is just fun.
If there is an answer, the Bible better say something about it. And, happily, it does.
The Biblical Grounds
The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it feels no need to argue for the goodness of joy; it simply assumes that we should have lots of it. Psalm 68:3, "May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful." Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always." In Esther 8 and 9the nation of Israel throws a massively joyful, two-day non-stop bash in acknowledgement of God's salvation.
In Revelation 4:4 we find that pleasure is also quite good: "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (KJV). To wit, the fruit of the Garden of Eden was not only good for food (a practical, material benefit), it was pleasant to the eye (a non-practical, non-material benefit). Jesus, knowing a pleasant thing or two about life, enjoyed a good dinner party (Matt. 11:19;John 2:1-11), where presumably he wasted a lot of time eating, drinking and laughing—"non-religious stuff."