SPECIAL: Secular Films | FCC 70

Should Christians watch secular films? Can we really use them to share Jesus, or should we just avoid them? In this episode of the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast, we give our answers to this important question and offer our advice on Christian discernment and what it takes to be a filter and not a sponge when it comes to engaging the culture of secular films.

For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:04:20 – Discussion on Using Secular Films to Share Jesus
  • 01:32:30 – Listener Challenge and Feedback
  • 01:46:05 – Well-mannered Frivolity
  • 01:49:35 – Lightning Round 
  • 01:50:30 – Upcoming

If it’s billed as a Christian film, the chances of a non-Christian ever viewing it are slim. The reputation of such films – that they are by Christians and for Christians – ward off any unbelievers from seeing the film. And since all good stories share elements of the Greatest Story – should any Christians films actually contain a good story – those unbelievers will miss out on those elements.

Luckily (and thankfully) for us, those very same elements can be found in secular films. A non-believer, however, will not be looking for them as Christian themes, not because they don’t know what they look like but because they are already accustomed to such material in a secular setting. After all, one doesn’t have to be a Christian to know what love is (although being a Christian certainly fortifies that understanding in a way the rest of the world can’t #SubjectiveViewpoint).

This means that the culture of secular films is just as much as a mission field as anywhere else. That, then, means that we are allowed to watch secular films – as a part of our inherited freedom by being adopted children of God; the only obligation we have to watch them, though, comes through in the form of using them to reach out to unbelievers.

This is what Paul means when he says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” If we need to become a Quentin Tarantino fan or watch Django Unchained, for example, in order to share a common ground with someone so we can plant or water the seed of the Gospel in their hearts, then we should take that opportunity.

This image is of people sitting in a movie theater shielding themselves from the screen.

But Paul also warns that, while “all things are lawful,” not all things are helpful and beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). While we are free to watch whatever we want, we have a responsibility to guard our hearts and the hearts of our friends and family, especially those of our peers who have children (I mean, if you really think your six-year-old daughter won’t be traumatized by seeing The Crow, by all means, sir, go right ahead).

The truth is that some films just aren’t appropriate for children. Because there is a difference between the romance between Westley and Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride and the explicitly and scandalously depicted affair of Lester Burnham and Angela Hayes in American Beauty, and there is a difference in the monsters and dragons found the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and the horrifically grotesque figures found in films like The Babadook and the Insidious franchise.

Children should be able to rely – whether they like it or not – on their parents as filters for what they watch; likewise, as adults, it doesn’t hurt for us to have friends that can also serve us and whom we can serve as filters and not just sponges for each other.

A sponge will let anything in and will let anything out depending on the type of pressure to which it’s exposed. A filter, on the other hand, will keep the good things in and keep the bad things out. A sponge is soft and fluid and will give way to anything, whereas a filter is solid and strong and will withstand any opposing force.

Recall on what the proverbial wise and foolish men built their houses. The same can be said of our hearts and our minds. If left unchecked, they can become too soft and irredeemable; but if they’ve been transformed by God’s kindness and love, they have the potential to stand firm against any type of aesthetic experience. From that point, all it takes is practice.

Key Texts

Proverbs 4:23 NET

Guard your heart with all vigilance,
for from it are the sources of life.

Luke 6:45 NET

The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart.

Romans 12:2 ESV

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.

Use the audio player at the top of this article to listen to the podcast, or use the links below for other convenient ways to hear FCC.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a way to use good stories to soften people's hearts.
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  • Philip Heard

    Great show guys, job well done- and thanks to all your contributors as well who chimed in.

    John’s thoughts on Plugged In are very similar to my own, I also use IMDB’s Parent’s Guide and Common Sense Media- in large part because they give you a heads up on the content without so much value judgment, as you find at Plugged In. Also, I think Plugged In is prone to including spoilers in the regular section of their reviews before you even go to the spoiler section, or just revealing too many plot points and details.
    Anime is less popular, and harder to find advanced content warnings. Here’s a link to a Christian anime site called Beneath the Tangles, where they give recommendations along with a content advisory, and where you can find the show they’re reviewing. http://beneaththetangles.com/christian-anime-recommendations/

    John’s points on violence and sex are also similar to my own. I am much more comfortable dealing with violent content versus sexual content mainly because I can see something violent and not be tempted to go repeat the act, but an explicit sex scene can stick in my head and be a source of temptation. Of course, there are probably some people who are indeed tempted to violent acts by seeing them on screen, but I think for most that is not the case, whereas sex is more easily a temptation that can lead to sin. Even if it’s just in the mind, it can still be sinful if dwelled upon. Also, things that were more of a stumbling block for me at 23 are much less so at 43, but it’s still important to have in mind their possible effect on me and those I watch it with, or recommend it to.

    You guys talked about the horror genre a bit, which I dislike generally. When I was 8 years old I saw the original Friday the 13th in theater, which was an unfortunate parenting choice, I must say. My father, God love him please, let two of my older sisters decide what to see and they picked Friday the 13th over The Shining, ouch- right? I was literally traumatized- so terrified I was unable to sleep in my room alone that night. For many years after I would check under my bed and in my closet to make sure no one was hiding there. If I came home to an empty house I’d get a steak knife from the kitchen and check all the rooms to make sure I was indeed alone and safe. I’ve gotten over that, but now when a film is trying to scare me I’m typically amused in a negative way, or annoyed. There can be real and long lasting consequences if we’re not careful what we let our kids see. I really don’t enjoy the thrill of being scared, and a verse that comes to my mind often when thinking of horror is 2 Timothy 1:7(ASV)” For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.”

    My approach with entertainment is similar to how I approach people. I expect there to be moral flaws, objectionable material, and a need for grace, patience, and understanding. I have personally found that avoiding legalism with my entertainment has helped me to be more gracious and understanding with people. We shouldn’t assume that a fellow believer’s tolerance of anything or anyone equates to tacit approval.

    When it comes to our sons(21 and 10), my wife and I have taken the approach that we’re more concerned with their attitude and heart than content. Of course we are wary of content, but take into consideration their maturity as to how they handle and respond to things. If they see someone get violently dispatched and shout “Awesome”, then post up for a high five, then we know that they’re not ready to handle that level of content. There have been times when one of our sons let us know they didn’t like something because of the content despite us thinking it would be okay. This is a proud moment for any parent, when their child shows that they are thinking for them self and exercising maturity, wisdom, and discretion- that’s what we want to teach our kids.

    Great Special Episode guys, I look forward to hearing what the next one will be about! #muhweeladgimli

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