Nearly every time we run a review of a film that's rated R, we get at least one comment from a reader—email, Twitter, Facebook, or on the article itself—that asks that question, the one I've come to expect: "Why is Christianity Today reviewing an R-rated film?"
Sometimes it comes in other forms—why are we "promoting" films with objectionable content, or why do we talk about films that "glorify" sin, or why do we tell Christians to watch R-rated films—but the implicit question is the same: Why should Christians even care that these films exist, let alone read about them or write about them?
It's a question that I (and a lot of people who have written and edited for Christianity Today) have thought about a lot. It's a serious question that requires a serious answer, mostly because, as plenty of people have pointed out, some Christians—in an effort to escape legalism—have swung to the other extreme and assumed that anything is fair game to watch, that it's more important to be "cool" than to be thoughtful in our movie viewing. (Our own critic Brett McCracken has written a whole book on this subject.)
So, I'm grateful for the opportunity to try to answer the question. But I've got to warn you: this is a complex issue that a lot of people have been thinking about for years, and so it's going to take a little time to answer it. I didn't want to answer too quickly, because I didn't want you to think we approach this question glibly. Even then, I'm bound to miss something. But I'll do the best I can, and if you can, stick with me.
Why do we review R-rated films? And what is the purpose of criticism ...