Horror, thriller, comedy, romance, action, drama — which one do you choose to watch? Perhaps you might spend a night inhaling as many Rachel McAdams chick flicks as possible or maybe block out a weekend to revisit a nearly 20-hour long Harry Potter marathon.
Many Christians like to tear apart the horror category. The genre has been on a steady incline to becoming more and more disturbing, but so have most other genres. Many of us may have just been too desensitized to realize it.
Even the ideas in romance films and seemingly innocent PG-13 action movies may have more effect than we realize.
Like a frog adapting to boiling water, audience members have slowly become oblivious to the themes that have infiltrated American films and modern value systems. As Christians, we need to maintain spiritual sensitivity when it comes to these films, taking care to exercise discernment but also being aware of where there can be value in watching them. 1 Corinthians 10:23 says that while all things can be “lawful,” that doesn’t make it all beneficial.
Katie Kelley, assistant professor of psychology, said that watching something over and over again strengthens neurological patterns in people’s brains. As a result, repeated activities make certain thoughts more accessible in one’s brain.
Whatever we are consuming regularly fills our thoughts. Spiritual discernment requires us to continuously dress our mind and, as Colossians 3:2 says, to set it on the Kingdom above and not on earthly things.
Through those continued patterns, themes like divorce, infidelity, sexual immorality, violence or pride are normalized. While sin is a common part of life, blatant acceptance without convicted repentance can diminish how we perceive the weight of our sins in light of the Cross.
“I struggle to understand how you can imagine the Christian life without spiritual sensitivity,” Nicholas Kerton-Johnson, lead pastor at Kingdom Life Church and associate professor of international relations, said. “It seems to me that the spirit is absolutely essential to the Christian life.”
Kerton-Johnson acknowledged that beauty and creativity can flow from film. However, sometimes creative expressions can harness and glorify evil.
That doesn’t mean Christians should just stop watching movies. May Young, associate professor of biblical studies and program director for biblical studies, said that God gives us the freedom to make those decisions ourselves and to discern, through Scripture, our own values.
“I think it’s important that we’re in the world but not of it,” Young said. “We don’t want to cloister ourselves off (such) that we don’t even know what's happening in the world either (or to the point) that we’re so disengaged.”
Many movies can still be used to provoke thought and start conversations about our faith and values. They can be a bridge and tool made redeemable for the Kingdom.
What it boils down to is how Christians prioritize God, Young said. If someone is using more of his or her time to consume movies than to spend time with the Lord, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. Constantly putting God first means a consistent renewal of the mind and, in turn, a more in-tuned discernment of the Spirit.
Not every Christian is on the same page in that discernment. It is important to remember that we can make choices within the freedom of Christ. We shouldn’t impose our walk onto everybody else’s.
In our own walks, we should make ourselves more sensitive to the films we consume, whatever that may look like for each of us. And yet, that sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean fully closing ourselves off to a tool that can still be redeemable.