For as long as the church has existed, Christians have embraced the arts as a poignant and effective method for telling the story of the Bible. From visual displays to music to literature, no organization has been more responsible than the church for commissioning and appreciating artists and their craft. Ironically, no organization has been more responsible than the church for suppressing (and even persecuting) artists and art forms it deems inappropriate.
Few experiences have been more universal to American culture than a trip to the movies. Most of us can recall the excitement of sitting down in front of that big screen, popcorn in hand, waiting for the lights to dim and the music to begin. However, just a generation ago, it seemed as though Hollywood and the church were facing off like feuding neighbors, each eying the other warily across a common fence.
But consider that God is the original creator of beauty and truth. Researchers at Baylor University released a study looking into Americans' different views of God. They uncovered four distinct views of God's personality and interaction with the world: the Authoritarian God, the Benevolent God, the Critical God, and the Distant God. But none of the four represent the first glimpse we get of God in the Bible: the Creative God.
As followers of God, Christians are called to reflect his beauty and truth to the world. Consider Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus 35:30-35. They were dedicated followers of God who had been specifically gifted "with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts." These gifts came from the Spirit of God—the same Spirit who blesses others with the gifts of evangelism, prophecy, hospitality, and so on.
That being the case, it is clear that Christians should not abandon artistic expression. In fact, it's surprising that very few Western church groups and denominations place an emphasis on worshiping God through the creation and appreciation of art.
However, as followers of God, Christians must avoid being contaminated by the world. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of New York City to mourn the sudden death of silent film star Rudolph Valentino in 1926. Several women even attempted suicide. At first, this is difficult to understand (or even believe) for modern moviegoers. However, it becomes easier when we think about the amount of time and money that millions of Americans spend every day to keep track of a host of celebrities.
Even beyond the lure of the rich and famous, movies themselves are extremely powerful forms of artistic expression. What is more memorable than a poignant scene from a favorite film? What is more shocking than a distasteful scene from a bad one? A movie's ability to instantly captivate is far greater than art forms from other centuries. Therefore, whether we are watching or producing them, powerful art forms (like movies) have the potential to seriously damage our character, integrity, and walk with God. Exercising caution is a must. The Christian needs to honestly search their hearts as to what is helping their faith and what is hurting it. That should be the determining factor in what you watch.
If the past 100 years are any indication, there is little chance that Hollywood will disappear from culture any time soon. Therefore, Christians and churches will need to learn how to effectively engage the secular culture of Hollywood without conforming to its values. This mirrors Jesus' command to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves," to be in the world but not of the world.
As followers of Christ, we have been given the tools to follow these commands: the fruit of the Spirit. As we grow in patience, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control, we can work to engage an art form, an industry, and a culture with the good news of Jesus Christ.
At some point in the next week, think of a movie that you would describe as good art—one that inspired and uplifted you, one that is good and noble and pure and true. Rent that movie and watch it. Keep an eye out for chances to apprehend beauty and truth wherever you can find them. Allow yourself to participate in the art of the film, and see if you can direct your appreciation of the experience into a time of meaningful worship.
Then, with that experience fresh in your mind, go through your personal movie collection. Figure out what you like and what you don't. Also, figure out what you shouldn't like (even if you do). Consider getting rid of any movies or TV show collections that fall short.
Sam O'Neal is a LifeWay editor.
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