In my last post I said the most important factor in determining which movies you should watch is the condition of our own heart. Now that we’ve looked inward, at ourselves, I want to give you some handles for looking at the movie itself.
You can thank the Apostle Paul for this gem:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
When this verse is used properly, it’s powerful. When it’s misused, it’s dangerous. Let me explain.
Some Christians use this verse as an “all the above” moral multiple choice question. So a movie has to be entirely true, totally noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, AND praiseworthy. Simultaneously.
But look! Paul doesn’t use the word “and.” He uses the word “or.” Excellent OR praiseworthy. This verse is a list—and not an exhaustive one, I should point out—of the kinds of things we ought to be looking for when we watch movies. It tells us what the gold looks like so we know it when we find it. And movies will never be “all the above,” awesome, but they may be “some of the above” awesome.
This is important. Let’s pick on Billy Graham for a minute. Awesome man of God, no debate there. But he used to make movies. Let’s put them to the test:
Were they true? Yes. That is, if Billy Graham’s theology was perfect.
Were they noble? Yes. Sometimes, sickeningly so. Unrealistically so.
Were they pure? Yes. No sex, no swearing, no smoking, no dancing…
Were they admirable? Uh, sure. He meant well, I guess.
Were they excellent? Nuh uh. They were painfully brutal. Pathetic acting, cliched writing, dismal production values. Embarrassing, even.
Were they praiseworthy? That depends. As a gospel tract, yes. As a work of art, don’t even go there.
See? People who insist that a movie must be “all the above” are forgetting Jesus’ parable. There’s weeds in them there wheat. Always will be.
Paul’s verse can be powerful if used the way Paul intended.
I recently watched Avengers. You probably have too.
Was it true? In parts. I especially loved Captain America’s line, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” I cheered in the theatre when that came up.
Was it noble? In parts. The heroes all put themselves in danger to save innocent lives.
Was it pure? Not so much. No sex scenes, but not exactly chaste either. It was pure fun, though.
Was it admirable? Absolutely.
Was it excellent? Beyond a doubt. Even the critics agreed.
Was it praiseworthy? I’m writing about it, aren’t I?
When you find a gold nugget, Paul says, focus on it. Celebrate it. Learn from it. If a movie’s rating is “none of the above,” or “almost none of the above,” you may want to pass.
Gold nuggets I look for
I love stories that are justice-driven. I don’t mean revenge, I mean justice. Doing the right thing, protecting the innocent, clinging to integrity. Although, there’s something gratifying about seeing bad guys getting their due.
I love stories that highlight virtues—like courage, sacrificial love, integrity, loyalty, and honesty.
I love stories that ask good questions and honestly search for answers to those questions. For example, the Green Mile asks, “What if someone was so pure and innocent that they could absorb evil and sickness into themselves and set other people free from their darkness?” Um, that’s THE question, folks.
I love stories that use parallels to biblical themes, even if those parallels weren’t put there on purpose. A parallel is a parable of sorts that helps us see ourselves in a new light.
I love stories that inspire me, convict me, or change me.
The gold, you see, is the presence of God. The voice of God. The wisdom of God. The call of God. It’s life, grace, healing, and direction. Bottom line, discernment isn’t merely an exercise in ethics, it’s a ongoing conversation with Jesus.
What about you? What gold nuggets do you look for in movies? Could you share an example of one or two?
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