Worthwhile Watching: A Christian Critic’s Take on the Movies

Mixed Media
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As a movie critic who is also a Christian, I’m frequently asked how believers can reconcile their faith with their viewing habits. To an extent, this is something I still wrestle with, film by film. As part of that ongoing conversation, here are a few possible—though by no means exhaustive—answers to the more common questions I’ve heard.

Why should Christians bother with movies? First, because they’re art. Movies are one way humans use God’s gift of creativity to explore their place in his world. Second, because film is one of the dominant cultural forces of our time. To say Christians can ignore movies is akin to saying we can ignore language.

What should I look for in a movie? The short answer: nothing. Don’t go to a movie with an agenda but with curiosity and humility. Too often Christians approach films as judges, ready to declare them good or bad based on morality. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us in The Cost of Discipleship, this is not our calling: “Discipleship does not afford us a point of vantage from which to attack others; we come to them with an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single-mindedness of the love of Jesus.”

Should Christians watch films with explicit sexuality? They can. After all, some movies acknowledge sexuality as the good, God-created, Christ-affirmed gift it is, while even those that depict distorted sexuality often do so in the spirit of lament. What’s more, to decry on-screen sexuality rather than, say, violence, creates a hypocritical hierarchy of sin. Why do we so often object to the sexual content in movies, but passively devour films chock-full of murder?

Should some movies be off-limits to Christians? No, with the caveat that this doesn’t mean all Christians should watch all movies. If the subject matter of any film—be it sexuality or alcohol—is a source of temptation or a stumbling block for someone’s faith, that person has every right to avoid the movie.

What about Philippians 4:8? Shouldn’t Paul’s exhortation that we think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” also be a guide for the movies we watch?

Yes, as long as we hang onto the “true” part. Movies speak truth, often in ways that are difficult to bear (much like certain psalms and prophets). The best films are true to the human experience, to the universal urge to know why we are here, how we should live, and what we should desire. As Christians, it’s our calling to listen in love to these questions before we offer our answers.

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