This website is maintained by Jerry Haughton (ThM., DMin), who taught Bible, Philosophy, Ethics, Psychology, Marriage and Family for fifteen years in a Christian liberal arts college in Memphis. He also pastored Southern Baptists, Evangelical and Presbyterian churches (presently)over the past 40 years. He has 22 ebooks on Kindle. Two are novels and the others are theological, ethical, and philosophical. They are available on computers, iPads, iPhones with a Kindle app. His wife has taught Latin, Humanities in high school for 48 years. They have two sons who are grown and married, and one grand-daughter and grand-son. Dietrich, is a faithful dog companion and an emissary of the animal kingdom.
Rationale for watching significant moviesBefore we get into the serious reasons as to why Christians should watch movies that both express and shape our culture, I offer several paragraphs of humor by Calvin Miller (prof at Beeson Divinity School and author of 12 books) describing why he quit attending movies as a young Baptist convert.
"Where do we get this odd doctrine of quitting? This erroneous view came early in my life because of the perennial revivals that came to our church and community. Brother Flame (and he went by many names) came to us twice a year with two-week revivals. He exhorted the lost to be saved, and , of course, they were. That alone brought joy to the church. The motivation, however, with which he challenged the lost, was neurotic napalm. Fire fell (and a good bit of brimstone) in every sermon, and at least one of the community's worst villains would cry out and come out of his sin, and in time wind up the chief of severe deacons. For all the melodrama of their art, I sometimes miss these flaming country heralds.
But one function of their preachment was always the call to quit. 'Quit drinking--give up your godless whisky and come and put it on the altar,' was a typical plea. 'If God had wanted you to smoke, he'd have put a smokestack on your head,' cried one such evangelist in our church. Some went forward and laid their cigarettes on the altar. We all could see that these chimney-heads were cleaning their lungs and perfecting their faith. Some vowed that never again woud they be guilty of 'having a dancing foot and a praying knee on the same leg.' Some gave up cards and quit canasta for the glory of God forever. Some, however, went back to their card-playing to the delight of the demons.
I was young, and I loved Jesus more than might be imagined. I wanted to 'quit stuff' like everybody else. But I usually felt guilty that I had so little I could quit. I wanted to know that devoted, neurotic spirituality that comes from quitting drinking or dancing or smoking. Alas, I was thwarted by a major absence of real sin in my life. I was playing life pretty straight for a nine-year-old.
Then my pastor, noticing that I was sinless and pretty smug about it, began to condemn movies. Thank God! At last I had something I could quit. I adored westerns. Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, and Gene Autry were among my favorite characters. Alas, they were not God's favorites: they were movie stars. God liked Christians but not movie stars. He despised these vile seducers of the heart, I was told. Further, if God and I ever got together, I must confess my worldly affection for them. A pox on Hoppy, Lash, and Gene! This infernal trinity of damnable heroes, I could quit. So I did--I gave up movies.
Now at last I was a first-class Christian. I could hardly wait till Sunday to announce my new asceticism to the church. Only gradually did Sunday come. But when it finally did, my spiritual delirium was at its zenith. At altar time, while our little congregation 'just-as-I-ammed,' I walked to the front of the church. I visualized myself laying Hoppy, Lash, and Gene on the altar for Jesus. Heaven stood at attention over my glorious new self-denial. The angels wept. The wicked Hollywood demons fled, totally expunged from my life. I was free. Now when my pastor said, 'Do you want to be in a godless movie house when Jesus comes again?' I could cry, 'No, for I have separated myself from the world and put behind me the unclean thing.'
I was from time to time puzzled about the supposed depth of degradation in the '40s western. But I accepted the judgment of those evangelists, knowing that I was neither as old nor wise as they. I knew their walk with Jesus allowed them to measure the unseen corruption I did not immediately see. So when the rivival was over, without the godless Hollywood cowboys, I was living the deeper liife as I understood it. My unsanctified friends tried to lure me back to sin, saying, 'Want to go and see Riders of the Purple Sage?' I at first answered, 'No, thank you, I've quit all that!' "Still, the cinema sin was alluring. I couldn't hold out! I usually went back to the movies soon after the rivival closed. I fell from my large professions as often as I clung to them. But on and on they went, till I lapsed and went back to the old ways. My strong intentions were as dry as the old crusted wads of spearmint gum stuck to the undersides of those hearthen theater seats. I couldn't really enjoy the movies, because, after all, Jesus might come again, and there I would be, 'riding the purple sage' into the abyss--where all unfaithful backsliders perished because they didn't keep their rivival commitments. Alas, I had fallen, and there was nothing to be done except wait for the next revival--then maybe I could purge my soul and quit once again before I lapsed once again, before I quit once again. So it was years before I realized that I rarely focused on Jesus, but rather on all the things I needed to quit." (INTO THE DEPTHS OF GOD, pgs.25-27)
Movies are a major art form in our culture, and for that reason Christians ought to understand them rather than just be entertained by them. Hollywood is one of the key symbol-centers of the world. Its influence is immense and pervasive, transcending differences in language, age, creed, nationality. Someone rightly said, "Hollywood threatens the colonization of the world by American culture because of the influence it has on the masses." People do not immigrate to America because they desire to worship with us, rather they come because of the life portrayed in our films.
Who decides which movies will be made? Those who finance and produce them, but most of all, those who view them. The movie makers are in many ways compelled to feed a popular diet to a public which is in firm possession of deplorable tastes which are much older than Hollywood. The very success of Hollywood lies in the skill with which it REFLECTS the assumptions, fallacies, and dreams of the majority culture. The movie producers, directors, writers, and actors work with the stereotypes which are current in society--for they themselves are part of the society and have absorbed its worldview. But Hollywood, through the movies and Tv, REINFORCES popular typologies on an enormous scale and with overpowering repetitiveness. Whether the movies imitate culture or whether culture imitates movies, no one can sort that out. Put any questionable behavior in a movie or sitcom in a favorable light and within six months most Americans will accept it as a normal way of life.
As Francis Schaeffer (the philosopher/theologian living in Switzerland who taught at L'Abri for 30 years) pointed out, we can become knowledgeable of the worldviews of our generation through the arts. I first heard Dr.Schaeffer in St.Louis in the fall of 1968. His lectures were drawn from his new book, ESCAPE FROM REASON. Those lectures and that book changed the course of my life and ministry. It opened a window so that I could make sense of the intellectual and cultural world and how the Gospel relates to it. I had grown up in a fundamentalist church under a very sincere and kind pastor. When the church gave him and his wife a trip to Europe for his ten years of ministry, he came back disgusted with "the nude paintings and statues" he had seen. He had grown up in the Ozark mountains and was reared in a poor family, which meant that he was not sophisticated enough to appreciate and critique the great works of art he had seen.
Immediately after my conversion at sixteen, I traveled with a Gospel team associated with Bob Jones University. This just compounded my fundamentalist mindset against movies. When I went away to college and went to see Sparticus at a local thearter, I came back to my dormitory room feeling guilty. It took several more trips to the movies before I broke free from legalism. So, it was a breath of free air to hear someone who understood that some movies reflect the worldviews of our time, and are not just escapist entertainment. I attended the L'Abri Jubilee Conference in St.Louis (3/13/05) where I heard many of the leading evangelical thinkers of today who were directly influenced by Schaeffer. These were men that I have been reading for 30 years. What a time of affirmation and renewal in my life! Dr.Schaeffer taught that movies (and all art forms) can serve as common ground between Christians and non-Christians. Since the arts (good films) often portray the lostness of man, we can take that as a starting point and lead up to the answers given in Scripture, as the apostle Paul did in Athens(Acts 17). "Cultural apologetics" as Schaeffer called it, is necessary because our society no longer regards Scripture as an authoritative word from God. Some films are culturally significant because they are more than entertainment, that is, they capture the philosophy of the present generation. When we know where non-Christians are in their thinking, then we can become more effective is presenting the gospel to them.
An excellent example of cultural apologetics is given by Charles Colson when he tells about having dinner with a media personality and trying to talk with him about Christianity. Colson told him how he had come to Christ. "Obviously Jesus worked for you," his friend replied, but went on to tell him about someone he knew whose life had been truned around by New Age spirituality. "Crystals, channeling--it worked for her. Just like your Jesus." Colson tried to explain the difference, but got nowhere. He raised the issue of death and the afterlife, but his friend did not believe in Heaven or Hell and was not particularly boathered by the prospect of dying. Colson explained what the Bible said, but his friend did not believe in the Bible or any other spiritual authority. Finally, Colson mentioned a Woody Allen movie, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, about a husband who kills his mistress to keep her from telling his wife about their adulterous relationship (i.e. survival of the fittest?) The friend became thoughtful. Colson followed with examples from Tolstoy and C.S.Lewis on the reality of the moral law. The friend was following him. Then Colson cited the epistle of Roman on human inability to keep the law. His friend then paid close attention to the message of Christ's atoning work on the corss. Although the friend did not become a Chrisian, Colson felt that he finally had broken through at least some of his defenses. The difficulty was in finding a common frame of reference. Because of his friend's mind-set, the usual evangelistic approaches did not work. "My experience," says Colson, "is a sobering illustration of how resistant the modern mind has become to the Christian message. And it raises serious questions about the effectiveness of traditonal evangelistic methods in our age. POSTMODERN TIMES, by Gene Veith.
Nancy Pearcey, in her book TOTAL TRUTH, continues the work of Dr.Schaeffer. She writes, "Artists are often the barometers of society, and by analyzing the worldviews embedded in their works we can learn a great deal about how to address the modern mind effectively. Yet many Christians critique culture one dimensionally, from a moral perspective alone, and as a result they come across as negative and condemning. At a Christian college, I once took an English course from a professor whose idea of critiquing classic works of literature was to tabulate how many times the characters used bad language or engaged in illicit sexual relations. He seemed blind to the books' literary quality--whether or not they were good as literature. Nor did he teach us how to detect the worldviews expressed there...When the only form of cultural commentary Christians offer is moral condemnation, no wonder we come across to non-believers as angry and scolding. Our first response to the great works of human culture should be to celebrate them as reflections of God's own creativity. And even when we analyze where they go wrong, it should be in a spirit of love.. Today on religious radio or in ministry funded letters, it is common for Christian activists to attack Hollywood or television in tones of aggrieved anger, berating their immoral content or mocking the pretensions of postmodern political correctness. But Schaeffer would have none of that. Even when raising serious criticisms, he expressed burning compassion for people caught in the trap of false worldviews. When describing the pessimism and nihilism expressed in so many movies, paintings, and popular songs, he demonstrated profound empathy for those actually living in despair. These works of art "are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness," he wrote. "Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expression in their art" The men and women who produce these things "are dying while they live, yet where is our compassion for them?" Pg.57.
Harold O.J. Brown, a leading Christian philosopher wrote in his book, THE SENSATE CULTURE, "The arts [movies] reflect the fundamental orientation of society as well as the particular views and behavior patterns of its members; at the same time, they spread and reinforce such views and patterns. All of the arts in the West, including popular art and its extreme forms, are becoming increasingly chaotic and disoriented...Thus modern Western society...is increasingly schizophrenic, using one hand to grasp out for licentiousness, obscenity, and crudeness without limits, while using the other to stifle expressions of piety and reverence and to tear down symbols of traditional values...Sensate art (appealing only to the senses) has abandoned the idea that there are any transcendent values to be reflected; ultimately it rejects the idea that there is anything noble or praiseworthy at all. It has turned away from the concept that art should serve the function of lifting the heart and mind of the viewer to what is eternal; instead it seeks to bind the viewer to the present, to personal experience, to the control of the senses...Sensate art aims to stimulate, to excite, to attract...Divorced from religion, morals, and other values, and with no educational or edifying intent, it really does become art for art's sake...Because its purpose is entertainment [only], and because people are more easily amused by the comical and ridiculous than by the noble or edifying, sensate art readily resorts to comedy, farce, satire, and ridicule. In order to avoid boring the viewer or hearer, it constantly changes, always looking for something new and exciting. Art [movies] will gain a following if and only if what it represents and says corresponds to what its audience believes, senses, or feels. The arts reflect not only the fashions and tastes of a culture...but also what its fundamental view of reality, what it thinks about truth and what things it thinks to be true. The art of culture is inevitably related to its system of truth...We are in the era of postmodernism, where reality is fluid and truth depends entirely on the beholder...This gives rise to a skepticism that denies truth exists at all, or, if it does exist, that it can be known--or, even if it can be known, that it can be expressed and communicated...A variation of this radical skepticism, which denies that anything is really true, is the new fashion of multiculturalism, which in effect pretends that everything is true, depending on the time, place, and circumstances...[Since there is no universally reliable standard of truth, it becomes only a question of] taste, preference, even mood". There it is, the best expanation of why movies are the way they are. Ninety percent of them appeal only to the senses and not reason. The smash hits are the action films that require no thought; just sit there and be stimulated. Check the movie page any day of the week and notice the box office hits.
Fundamentalist Christians regard novels and movies as "vain imaginations" and avoid them. True, there are many novels and films that are a waste of time or promote ungodliness, but I have come to realize that we as Christians can learn much about the world in an indirect manner that will help us speak intelligently to unbelievers. Flannery O'Connor said, "The theologian is interested specifically in the modern novel because there he sees reflected the man of our time, the unbeliever, who is nevertheless grappling in a desperate and usually honest way with intense problems of the spirit." I would certainly agree with Flannery, and add that culturally significant movies do the same.
My wife, JoAnn, and I attend art galleries, museums, and live theater as often as possible. We recently traveled to Crystal Bridges at Bentonville, Arkansas, which is world class. We have also been to those in New York, Chicago and Atlanta. She taught the history of Western culture in High School and University for 20 years, as well as having traveled in England and Europe to see the great works of art. Even though we both grew up in a rural setting and attended a denominational college, we have endeavored to learn about the larger and broader world in order to be able to speak intelligently to cultured unbelievers. Ironically we have lived among and worked with people who have little understanding of or no appreciation for the arts. Their view of life is provincial.
In regard to movies, seldom, if ever, do we view one (average one film a week) for entertainment. We choose movies for the worldview presented rather than the public response or the media hype they receive. Typically, movies which make a strong statement about reality do not do well at the box office. As T.S. Eliot said, "The public cannot handle very much of reality." Most people seem to regard movies as only escapist entertainment. It should not be so among Christians.
Why should we as Christians follow the rating system of Hollywood regarding films (G,PG-13,R, etc.)? They are concerned only with violence, sex, and vulgar language. What about the worldview of the movie as it compares with reality? A so-called family film might not have violence, sex or filthy language, but the worldview is directly opposed to reality and the view of life given in Scripture. I suggest that Christians begin rating movies according to the philosophical content. (G)ood rating for one that presents reality (American Beauty accurately portrays life in California) and (B)ad rating for one that distorts the truth (Sound of Music romanticized a horrible time and experience of the Von Trapp family). This will turn upside down the rationale for viewing or avoiding certain movies. Even bad films, mostly action flicks which are top box office draws, should occasionally be seen just to stay informed about what the masses think is worth seeing (e.g. the Terminator trilogy).
Another aspect of movies which is frequently over-looked is the sentimental factor, often mistaken for spirituality. Sentimentality is disarming for most because it offers powerful emotional satisfactions abstracted from the ethical complexities of real life. Christians are often focused on avoiding films with sex/violence/vulgar language, but they view films that exude a yucky, artificial "niceness" radically at odds with the biblical worldview. Sentimentalism is a blind spot that is the entry point where the world inflitrates the church. For example, is there a fourteen year old girl in any evangelical church who did not gush over the love scenes in TITANIC? Maybe we should add an (S) rating so that Christians will be on their guard against fuzzy emotionalism.
My list of most important films available on video/DVD is found on pages 2 through 7. Why should a Christian watch these films? Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Since it is easy for us to live in a pollyanna world, we can avoid escaping reality by watching movies that present reality. Not everyone is ready to view the movies I suggest, and I hope they will not. It is a biblical principle that one should not offend his own conscience. There are some movies out there that I cannot watch. Of course, it goes without saying that, parents should protect their children from movies classied as 'doubtful things' (see film discussion groups on page 5).