Are There Any Movies or TV Shows Christians Shouldn't Watch?

The first things many Christians focus on when they watch movies is any explicit content. Many Christians want to know how much profanity, violence, and sex and nudity are in a movie or TV show, or they want to know what a movie “believes” before they will watch it. Much of this concern stems from a desire to “guard” our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and to “be holy” (1 Peter 1:15). Much of this concern over explicit content also stems from a desire to protect our children from things they are too immature to handle. We recognize that movies are very skilled at making us feel things. In both cases, we are trying to moderate our feelings or the feelings of those in our care lest we be incited to sin or emotionally disturbed by what we see and hear in movies.

Movies are certainly emotionally evocative. Much of my work is built on the belief that cinema is capable of stirring up thoughts and emotions in the audience. Filmmakers make movies for this purpose.

However, it is important to understand that movies don’t create emotions. They provoke what’s already there. Movies and TV shows can show us what someone unlike us feels, but unless we recognize ourselves and our stories in the characters and their stories, that knowledge is purely factual. When we go a step further and identify with the characters—seeing ourselves in them—that’s when our emotions are stirred. The emotions were already ours. Any temptation to sin that accompanies those stirred emotions was already ours too. The TV show just made us aware of it.

Regarding protecting ourselves and our children from harmful content – yes, we should be careful what we watch. We have to be aware of our own emotional capacities and the capacities of the people for whom we are responsible. But we should also be growing in our abilities to understand our emotions as guides toward proper love of our neighbors and worship of God. Movies and TV shows provide this opportunity to grow in this way.

We should be careful what we watch... but we should also be growing in our abilities to understand our emotions as guides toward proper love of our neighbors and worship of God.

This way of responding to explicit content in movies is a further outworking of placing hospitality at the core of our watching ethic. If we are merely being entertained by movies and consuming them, of course we want to be careful about what we ingest. But if we are watching movies and TV shows to encounter what matters in life, we’ll interact with them very differently. We will be more forgiving and more gracious. We will not approve of everything we hear or see, but just as we wouldn’t write a person off simply because they use coarse speech, we won’t write off a movie simply because its manners aren’t as refined as ours. And just because a movie uses profanity or violence or sexually explicit images doesn’t mean God isn’t able to use that movie to speak to you, just as God is still at work in the lives of people who cuss and tell “dirty” jokes.

Movies and TV shows are the work of people asking questions about the world and God and humanity’s relationship with both. Our neighbors and friends who are watching those movies were doing so in large part because they too have questions about the world and God and their relationship to both. Christ wants us to love those people, to be in relationship with them, and to talk with them about the questions they have. As Paul wrote, “In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from [any law] but rather from the faithfulness of Christ” (Philippians 3:9). We don’t have to maintain our righteousness by avoiding sex scenes in movies. Our righteousness is maintained by Christ.

A little later in Philippians, Paul writes this, which has become one of my guiding texts for interacting with media of all kinds:

“Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Free from the fear that what we hear or see is going to corrupt us and happily secure in the Lord, we are able to interact with movies with a gentle spirit absent of anxiety or hostility. When something bothers us, we should pray that Christ will guard our hearts and minds as he has promised. Happily resting in God’s care for us brings such peace.

Ultimately, your ethic of interacting with explicit content in movies is up to you. No one will or can force you to see or hear anything you don’t want to see or hear. Whatever your decision on this subject, do what you do with a clear conscience and secure in the knowledge that “the Lord is near… and the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”

If you want to learn more, consider:

This is an excerpt from How to Talk to a Movie, my how-to guide for how Christians can make movie-watching a part of their spiritual lives. The book is available in all formats and for as little as $10.

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