Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Discernment with Movies

with 2 comments

Trevin Wax (here, here, and here) and Alissa Wilkinson (here and here) have been debating the portrayal of worldliness in movies, and whether or not Christians should see them. The discussion began after Wilkinson wrote a review of The Wolf of Wall Street for Christianity Today, a new film by Martin Scorsese which depicts the lavish and immoral lifestyle of a financial tycoon. Wilkinson advises caution for viewers who see the movie. Wax wonders if Christians should see it at all. I agree with Wax, and rather than engaging in the full discussion I want to post a few additional thoughts.

Doug Wilson chimed in yesterday with a comment that hits close to home. He didn’t say whether or not Christians should see certain movies that depict immortality and sin in its grossest sense. Rather, he pointed out that when viewing such movies—movies intended to show the reality of the world, the good and the bad—we should keep in mind that actors are portraying characters who are immoral, and that the actors are not necessarily immoral themselves. He illustrates this point with death scenes. If an actor shoots a gun at another actor, neither of them die in real life, and thus we should keep in mind that the murderer isn’t necessarily sinning. It’s not real. But if, on the other hand, an actor takes off their clothes in a sex scene (which is apparently frequent and explicit in The Wolf of Wall Street), that actor is actually getting naked on camera, and displaying their body for millions of viewers to see. The ramifications of these actions are harrowing, to be sure. The actor, whose body belongs to their husband or wife if they are married and should be viewed by them alone, is committing to a much different method of acting than, say, the murderer who fake-shoots a man on film. The nude actor is actually committing sins which the Bible expressly forbids, whether they are married or not, acting or not.

This brings to mind some questions that I had to sort through in high school and college when I participated in musicals and plays. Would I be willing to do and say certain things on a stage that are clearly forbidden in scripture? Obviously, sexual acts were completely out of the question. Bear in mind that I went to a Christian college and did not have the same sort of pressure that others had at secular schools. I know some Christians who went to inner-city arts schools to be a theatre majors and the like, and for many of those schools, “anything goes” is the modus operandi on stage! Just read the summaries of plays like Metamorphosis and Equus and you will know what I mean.

I basically came to the same position that Doug Wilson articulates in his blog post. If the script called for me to commit a sin by way of acting, I would refrain from doing it. For me, this included primarily explicit dialogue. It’s one thing for the dialogue to be real-world and to portray a shady character in the most realistic sense. It’s quite another for me as a Christian to be the one speaking that dialogue every weekend that the particular show is running. I would be actually saying words that are offensive, both to my character and to God.

Similarly, for an actor to play the character of a prostitute and tell the story of a prostitute in an explicit way—i.e., in which the actor would be committing sexual acts on camera or on stage—is expressly forbidden because the actor is actually being sexual in their acting (if that is what the script calls for). This is why Hollywood actors never have successful marriages. No matter now much they try to convince themselves that they are just acting, the act of sex is still taking place, and adultery is in full force if one or both of the actors are married.

Up to this point I’ve only dealt with this question from the actor’s point of view, and I’m no longer an actor. The question that Wax, Wilkinson, and Wilson are asking is whether or not Christians should view these types of movies. I’m still sorting through that question, although from Wilkinson’s review it seems clear to me that I shouldn’t go see The Wolf of Wall Street, even if my desire might be in engaging the culture at large and the questions/answers posed in that film. I think this should be a clear choice for Christians (based on the film’s review), and I agree with Trevin when he says, “At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?” Discernment is key, and for those who are biblically and theologically minded, we should let our conscience guide us. Food sacrificed to idols may be sin for some, but not for others (1 Corinthians 8).

For other movies the question is much harder. Is it possible to depict the horrors of the holocaust without nudity (e.g. Schindler’s List)? A major historical issue like the holocaust is probably why network TV was willing to do away with their normal censorship requirements and show that entire unedited film during the primetime slot when it was released on video. I remember this well because my parents allowed their kids (most of us teenagers) to see the movie at that time. It was that important. It’s a difficult question, to be sure, and one worth pondering.


Written by Josh Philpot

January 31, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for bringing up a very useful point: whether the actor is required to sin.

    I’ve noticed that most big-name actors have failed at marriage from one to four or more times. I’m not ready to say that Christians should never view drama nor that Christians should never act, but I wonder…were the preachers of the 1700s and 1800s right to condemn drama? To what extent is the whole idea of entertainment a good thing? I don’t want to jump into legalism, but to what extent am I just catering to my own selfish pleasure when I watch a fairly clean drama on TV or at the movie theater? I’m not sure, but I suspect that I’d be healthier spiritually if I watched little-to-none–if I could keep from being proud of that and could keep from bragging to others about it.

    Jim Swindle

    February 1, 2014 at 3:02 am

  2. Итак, как я уже упомянул выше, игра Супер Корова из разряда аркадных платформеров, а попросту – обыкновенная бегалка, догонялка и прыгалка, пардон за упрощенные словоформы. Несмотря на простоту, игра завоевала популярность, как у детворы, так и у офисных трудяг (и не только менеджеров среднего звена ).


    February 24, 2014 at 11:19 am

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