“Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see.”
This line from a popular children’s hymn was an anthem of my childhood. Paired alongside this simple repetitive melody was an admonition to abstain from the media of the world and its tendency to corrupt the fragile minds of Christian youth. While there is truth and wisdom behind this mindset, it can be a detriment to the Christian witness and a missed opportunity to experience God’s goodness and beauty.
Scripture is clear that discernment is crucial
regarding engagement with culture.
We are called to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely, and not to love the things of the world. Jesus instructs us to tear out what causes us to sin (although only Christ can heal the true source of sin: our hearts). But as we mature in Christ, we are able to overcome temptation through the power of the Holy Spirit. A complete indictment of all “worldly” media is unnecessary, and can even be harmful.
Paul discusses the topic of passing judgment on one another extensively in Romans 14. The people of the church in Rome were prone to heated debates over eating meat, drinking alcohol, and celebrating festivals. Paul commended those who had sufficient resolve to partake in these activities without sinning, but he also exhorted those same people not to cause other believers around them stumble.
Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats . . . Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. | Romans 14: 20,22
The unfortunate side effect of excessive asceticism is that it prevents Christians from engaging well with the world. Condemnation of all secular media can lead to the formation of “Christian bubbles” or the laughable Christian movie industry.
True followers of Jesus engage
with the world, just as Christ did;
in the good, the bad, and ugly of it all.
“Those who are in Christ but not in the world are not persecuted, because they do not come into contact and therefore into collision with their potential persecutors.” | John Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy
For example, the primary theme of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is friendship—specifically, the idea that seemingly impossible goals can only be achieved through teamwork and emotional support, and that isolation and fear will result in failure. There are multiple times throughout the series where Harry attempts to face Voldemort on his own, only to realize that the strength of his friends behind him is the only force that can help him achieve victory over darkness. This theme is echoed multiple times in Scripture, particularly in the following verse:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! | Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, C.S. Lewis wrote the following:
“…if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant’. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” | C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis became a follower of Jesus because J.R.R. Tolkien communicated the concepts of the gospel through secular literature. Lewis saw the profound nature of sacrifice in myth and realized that
Christ was the ultimate sacrifice,
and all other stories were
a reflection of God’s story.
All artists and curators of media are image-bearers of God, just as they are deeply flawed by sin (yes, even the Christian ones). Those who create have the ability to reflect God’s truth, goodness, and beauty in a world of despair. In light of this, media consumption can be a double-edged sword; while it has the potential to lead Christians away from focusing on God, it can also be redeemed as a way to understand the human condition, to seek justice and truth in the world, to understand the story of the gospel, or to illustrate the mission of God to those who don’t believe.