How much is too much?

Thanks to Trey for pointing out a very important typo…here’s version two…

I said that today I would comment some on last weeks question of how much (if any) "questionable" material a Christian should allow themselves to be exposed to…even for the sake of connecting with culture or growing as a cultural exegete is one that got everyone hot and bothered last week.

1. What is questionable material? Using movie ratings given by the secular Motion Picture Association is
somewhat arbitrary…if not hypocritical…if one holds that Hollywood
is generally a morally bankrupt institution. I’m actually going to suggest that "questionable" is something that varies depending on the person. We recognize when we decide what is/is not appropriate for someone of a certain age. Cultural influences that injure rather than grow one’s faith should be avoided. However, the assumption that watching or listening to all things not rated G are harmful doesn’t work for me.

I’m confident that all would not endorse viewing the worst of the worst (i.e. pornography, etc.,) and that all would endorse watching, listening and reading the best of the best. So, it’s the "mid-level" stuff that’s at issue.

My view is that is neither possible or desirable to live a life in which one experiences little of that which is ugly but happens in the world. It is probably obvious why I would say that it isn’t possible: everyone experiences the world’s sinfulness at profound levels. This is one way in which music, film, theater, etc., is helpful to the church–in helping us interpret and see how others interpret what happens in the world.

Take the scene from Crash that got so much discussion last week. That scene isn’t about sex, it’s about the abuse of power, and the later scenes involving the various characters deliver a profound truth in a way that few other films have–we’re all a little good, and a little bad. Few movies have ever shown the real complexities of race issues, class issues, and societal issues as Crash did. That’s a large part of why it won Best Picture. I feel as though Crash grew my faith.

Another case in point: the musical that won all the awards this year was Sweet Awakening. I saw it the night after the Tony Awards on Broadway. It was crass at points, and it’s perspectives were theologically way, way, off the mark. But, it’s message was presented so passionately and vividly that it helped me understand the way a lot of today’s teens think…and how Christians are viewed by those who don’t understand the church’s view of sexuality. I could have read it in a book…and never gotten it. Only theater could have done it that powerfully.

I believe that I grew as a Christian that night…as I did in watching Crash. There are others who wouldn’t have. So, if they decide they don’t want to go there…I respect that. However, I do feel like part of Christianity’s inability to reach culture has to do with our unwillingness to hear it’s voice…in part because that voice is critical of–even hostile toward Christianity.

If Christians would engage the arts more, they would begin to produce their own cultural communication pieces. As it is…much (though, not all) of the Christians arts scene strikes me as a bit cheesy and poor. The arts are in part beyond our understanding…though this is changing–praise the Lord.

Here are some other thoughts:

1. There is much questionable material in Scripture itself. Why is it there? It’s probably included to show us how the Evil One can do harm to human lives, to be sure…but, if we teach these stories to kids in Bible classes…why can’t we agree that something can be learned from such stories…as they happen today?

2. How in the world can we connect to a culture that we don’t listen to? While the arts are not the only voice of culture…they are an extremely significant one.

3. Brad’s point about actually engaging people is a good one…but I would add that if we can’t handle culture’s movies and music…we may not be able to handle it’s people either.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply to Tim Cancel reply

5 thoughts on “How much is too much?

  1. I just don’t think the message of Christ needs any help. It is strong enough to convict whether the messenger is culturally savvy or not. I just don’t think positives outweigh the negatives.
    But I really wish Paul hadn’t thrown out his “all things to all people” statement. That hurts my argument!

  2. Well said and communicated, Tim. And nice thoughts from everyone, this post and last. I enjoy the bantering conversation. Just a couple of observations from my divergent view:
    1. The rejection of the “controversial arts” by some is not a rejection of the arts, as some seem to be saying.
    2. The rejection of the “controversial arts” by some is not the rejection of a culture that needs Christ. It is not being afraid of them. It is not hiding out from them. It is not viewing culture as a threat. It is not “not being able to handle culture’s people”. In fact, the insinuation by some that it is insults scores of people in our churches, both liberal and conservative, modern or post-modern, large or small, who could care less about movies and music but who are up to their necks in missional living.
    3. The rejection of the “controversial arts” is not the reason for the fortress mentality of many churches today.
    Thanks for the challenging post, Tim. Keep up your good work at HOCC.

  3. Dwayne…thanks for the comment. The conversation began with the post reviewing Dick Staub’s “The Culturally Savvy Christian.” You can find it in the right column.

  4. Dwayne…thanks for the comment. The conversation began with the post reviewing Dick Staub’s “The Culturally Savvy Christian.” You can find it in the right column.

  5. I guess I’m catching up a bit on the conversation. By and large, I believe our churches are depleted of the arts in any meaningful way, and I wonder if part of the conversation thus far reflects that in some way. Churches of Christ are known for their objective, cognitive approach to God, and I wonder how much the arts seem drastically opposed to that which is knowable. In many ways, our heritage has shied away from God as a “mystery” and the arts, I believe, are often subjugated into a category of things that are subjective and interpretive.
    Another quick thought…I wonder how the conversation would shift if we were to view ourselves as missional people who serve as an “outpost” to the lost rather than as a “fortress” that must be guarded and protected? Purity is certainly a facet of discipleship, but to approach culture as a constant threat seems to negate the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.