Asking the Right Questions: 3 Things Discerning Viewers Must Understand

Asking the Right Questions: 3 Things Discerning Viewers Must Understand

By Dr. Ted Baehr

** Discerning viewers need to understand:

(1) the medium of entertainment they are consuming;

(2) their cognitive abilities; and,

(3) the values of  both the medium they are consuming and biblical values.

So equipped, the viewer will quickly perceive if the media product portrays or contradicts a biblical worldview.


Within the realm of the medium the construction or production quality of a medium such as a movie or television program includes the presentation of the story, characterization, setting, scripting, and editing.  Directors and producers make judgments about the value and quality of their product, such as the extent of the violence and/or sex that is used.  The values orientation of a particular person in this role can strongly affect their decisions in creating the film piece.

To correctly appreciate the elements of a visual story, consider the source or include its genre in the equation.  Different genres will present different conflict resolutions differently.

The semantic elements such as language, sex and violence are of great concern to parents. Language can demonstrate a character’s passion.  Profanities are strong terms, which are not as meaningful as other language and are often much less descriptive.  When a character uses profanity and blasphemies to drive a point, he or she loses the opportunity to clarify and support their argument.

Violence has found a level of acceptance in American television, subjecting children to intense and destructive images.  Children may develop a casualness about pictures that don’t scream or cry.  Action violence increases viewer anxiety level and the desire to watch for a calm conclusion.

Sexuality attracts viewers through passive means.  Sexually imbibed dialogue and licentious images heighten awareness  and cause a viewer to attend more closely to the medium.

Syntactic elements such as special effects can take an illusory image and present it as truth.  The power of a strong image, be it fearful or seductive, is very persuasive.


Children at the imagination level of cognitive development will interpret the message of a program in a manner different from their parents.  It is difficult to comprehend what a child is gleaming from the media’s messages without talking to them about what they see and what they understand.  This continual exercise will bring meaning to critical viewing and stop negative images from taking over their minds.

Knowledge gives the viewer a basis from which to accept or reject facts or stories that are changed by the production team for cinematic enhancement.  If children have a good working knowledge of history, they are less likely to be duped by a movie that revises history.

Media literacy helps viewers conceive of the ways that different media are manipulated. A primary goal of television programming is to arrest the viewer’s attention long enough to sell him a product.  Advertisers create visual commercials that slip easily into one’s memory and are hard to resist, especially for children with less cognitive maturity.

Viewers are responsible for they use the mass media of entertainment. Regulated by biblical moral principles the entertainment media can be beneficial. Parents must augment media literacy by presenting and modeling the biblical values orientation and moral character that demonstrates discernment.

The discerning viewer makes mass media of entertainment choices that are consistent with God’s Law.  When parents make such choices, they model character and integrity based on biblical principles.  If a parent chooses to turn off the television or walk out of a movie and demand his money back, he is displaying a character that is conducive and even productive for his children to emulate.


Developing discernment runs parallel to developing a Christian worldview.  Christian interpretation of philosophies and behavior is radically different from the viewpoints of non-Christians.  Any philosophy other than that which emanates from the Bible is suspect and often should be refuted, not reconciled with Christianity.

The entertainment industry depicts several conflicting worldviews in their story plots.  A character might resolve his or her conflict in a self-promoting humanist manner.  Understanding the differences between the world’s distorted and confused views and a biblical view provides valuable lessons for a discerning Christian.

Discernment would be lost without salvation.  We are unable to perceive the world’s messages without the grace of God to do the work for us.  The wisdom of the Lord is intrinsic and necessary to every meaningful action.

The viewer works to develop media awareness.  Critical viewing involves discipline, controlling and evaluating what we accept.

Editor’s Note: These articles are adapted from Dr. Ted Baehr’s THE CULTURE WISE FAMILY book. You can buy a copy from www.movieguide.org or on Amazon.