In the world but not of it . . .
I've been reading through Mere Comments, the blog of Touchstone Magazine and they've got a fascinating dialogue going on about Christians and movies. This discussion bleeds over into larger discussions about Christians involvement in the wider culture. The discussion centers around whether or not Christians should be viewing movies and involved in moviemaking. To most Christians, me included, the answer is an obvious yes - Christians ought to be involved in these things for the purpose of redeeming them. And, for the most part the Touchstone writers affirm this.
However, in a couple of particularly good posts the Touchstone writers remind us of the flip side of this involvement. Anthony Esolen reminds us of Augustine's friend Alypius who went to the gladiatorial games and was disgusted by them initially, yet the spectacle itslef drew him in and hooked him. And, Samuel Hutchens reminds us of Lot, who was ostensibly a redemptive presence in Sodom. In both cases, the entertainments shaped the "redeemers" more than vice versa.
For some time now I have been wrestling with what I would call a naive fundamentalist attitude toward arts and entertainments. For the first half of my Christian life I was too much of a separatist, thinking that, if I could just avoid worldly entertainments, then I could avoid sin. I have had to face the hard reality that the sin within is greater than the sin without. And, I have come to understand that merely portraying sin in art is not always in and of itself sinful. After all, some of the most graphic descriptions of sinful activity in all of art and literature are in the bible. But the bible gives us these descriptions in a context of judgment and redemption. Thus, these portrayals don't titilate, they educate.
This can happen in the movies and in other arts and literature. If a movie or a book portrays a bank robber, the simple fact that I am watching a man rob a bank on the big screen will probably not cause me to want to rob a bank. And, if the story itself displays the bank robber receiving some type of mercy or judgment, then the story is commensurate with reality and a biblical worldview and there is no problem with it. The portrayal of sin in art is not always sinful. And, there can be elements of redemption even in stories where particular sinful acts are not dealt with in a biblical manner.
But what the Mere Comments writers are wrestling with is the dilemma of Alypius and Lot. Often we go into a situation seeking to be a "redemptive presence," and not only do we not redeem anything but the situations reshape us. And I am simply saying that some humility is in order here. We are not as strong as we think we are. As I move away from my fundamentalist separatism I am tempted to think that I can handle most anything. The truth is I can't. I don't know where the line is for you, and sometimes I don't know where the line is for me. But we do need to remember that there are some very real Sodom's out there, and they are to be fled.