How Should Christians Watch Movies and TV Shows?
Learn to Listen First and Then Respond
Too often, we Christians are too eager to speak about and against movies and TV shows without watching them. Sometimes we do this without even seeing them first, much less seeking to understand what they might be saying.
We forget what James teaches. He writes, “Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them” (1:14, emphasis mine). The temptations come from within us, not from without. When we watch a movie or TV show and feel desire for evil things begin to grow within us, it’s because like the characters on-screen, we too are inclined toward sin. The moral choices the characters face, we face, though usually in much less intense circumstances. Lust, despair, violence, greed, cruelty, malice, callousness, selfishness, and overindulgence are facts of the characters’ worlds just as they are facts of ours. What matters is how they and we respond to those vices.
Once you learn how to watch, I think you’ll be surprised to discover that most movies and TV shows support the kind of moral framework for life that Christianity supports. Most are on the side of good, or at least they want to be. When they are on the side of good, we can credit that goodness to God and thank God for it. As James also writes, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all” (1:17).
We have to learn to first watch and listen before we respond. James helps us again. He isn’t writing about movies, of course, but he is writing about how Christians ought to interact with the world. He writes, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you – the very word that is able to save you” (1:19-21).
We are supposed to listen first and listen well, then speak, and seldom become angry, because anger isn’t helpful. Then, after we have listened, we are supposed to humbly push aside what is bad and welcome what is good – the word of God already in us. When we watch a TV show, we need to listen to it, temper any anger, humbly set aside what is bad in it, and embrace what is good, listening to our own hearts to hear the good placed in us by Christ reverberating at the good we hear in the movie.
When we watch a movie or TV show, we need to listen to it, temper any anger, humbly set aside what is bad in it, and embrace what is good, listening to our own hearts to hear the good placed in us by Christ reverberating at the good we hear in the movie.
We’re not done yet though. It is not enough to simply cheer the good we discover in movies. We are not called to be merely lovers of good. James tells us to put it into action. He continues:
“You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do” (1:22-25).
We have to take what we learn and put it into practice in our lives, and we have to continue to do this. It’s not a one-time shot. Watching movies and TV shows with an ear to what God might be stirring inside you is a spiritual discipline, a way of attuning yourself to the good work the Holy Spirit is already doing in your life and participating in that work by being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s direction after you leave the theater or turn off the TV.
If you want to learn more, consider: