Asking The Right Questions: How to Discern the Mind of Christ in Movies
By Dr. Ted Baehr
Using each element identified through ascertainment, the next stage involves comparing the media’s point of view to a Christian worldview and measuring the degree to which the message in the media agrees with the biblical standard found in God’s Word written.[i] Subjects such as honesty, courage, and patience, or witchcraft all have clear scriptural contexts to know how they affect a person’s relationship with their Heavenly Father. The term discernment goes beyond identifying “good” and “bad” to see the differences between the two elements and to involve our entire process of thinking, feeling and knowing to recognize the moral and ethical values that align our lives with God’s life map and the nurture of the likeness of his first born, the Christ.
When the premise is in agreement with the biblical worldview, but the way that premise is shown is anti-Christian, immoral or evil, then the media product is problematic viewing for Christians committed to their faith. For example if good triumphs over evil, but only by means of a magic, the method by which the premise is solved (magic) is anti-biblical. These movies are suspect for anyone who does not understand that all nominal occult magic is evil. If the magic were a literary device to overcome oppressive forces through the liberating power of mercy and grace, as in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, then there would be a redemptive aspect to the story that would make the movie more acceptable. The premise can be perfectly biblical, while the solution is not.
A worldview should square with biblical precepts. If behaviors are exhibited that Our Heavenly Father finds objectionable, for example: trickery, witchcraft, sex outside of a heterosexual life-long commitment, or unnecessary violence, those behaviors should be recognized as a cause for suffering and be viewed with some possibility of redemptive love, to introduce the hope of salvation as much as possible. If simply condoned as normative, the message is clearly deviant from the Word of God.
Concern for the poor doesn’t justify rooting for the condemnation of those who were better off, or the use of thievery to provide for the less fortunate. The Bible provides guidance for social change and compassion. Jesus talks about many who claim to have served him, to whom he’ll say, “I never knew you” (cf. Mat 7:22-24) Therefore, heroes who appear to be righteous must be examined for Christ-like characteristics of humility, mercy, and social responsibility. Biblical traits and characteristics in no way detract from entertainment experiences that can thrill our imaginations. Many of the greatest movies ever made are Bible-based stories.
For Christians and Jews the biblical view toward reality is that we live in a real world, created by the real God, wherein there are real problems, pain and suffering that we cannot ignore or wish away. For those of us who are Christians, our Creator has saved us from the real consequences of sin through the real death and resurrection of his Son, the Christ, who was really God and really man. Any other ontology, or view of the nature of being, puts the mind out of touch with reality. As in the days of Noah, life may appear to go on as normal, yet only up to the point where, ultimately, reality is revealed.
Alternative worldviews must be discerned to maintain our biblical culture. Hindus ignore the sick and hurting people around them because they believe that such sickness is only an illusion. Universalism there are alternatives to the manifestation of God’s Word made Flesh to redeem mankind. If that were the case, then it was futile for Jesus to suffer a vicious death on the cross. The worldview of Universalism makes a mockery of Jesus’ proclamation that no man comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6), making him to out to be a liar or a madman, rather than the “Way, the Truth and the Light” (as C.S. Lewis so aptly noted).
Another branch of the New Age and pagan religions accepts a myriad of spiritual concepts. Divergent views about the God of the universe and the nature of Creation is illogical and hypocritical, because it doesn’t allow for monotheism. Christians and Jews appreciate the gift of life given by one God who imparts diversity with impartiality. Through faith that God created a world according to universal laws, Christians and Jews have explored reality with confidence and thereby developed civilization, while pagans remained in a barbaric fear of the unknown and were unable to develop scientifically.
Every mass media product reflects a view or opinion about reality and the laws that govern it. HARRY POTTER posits an unpredictable and frightening world with no sure compass to use for navigation. Other media products, such as Sartre’s famous play NO EXIT, take an existentialist perspective that you cannot find answers, so life is essentially meaningless. Many media products have an evolutionary view, which means that there is no divine plan governing creation, nothing is certain and everything is ultimately pointless. Thus, you need to understand the cosmology of a media product to make discerning entertainment choices.
Heretical doctrine can most often be traced to misunderstanding the problem of evil, such as in the case of humanism. The view that man is basically good denies the impact of sin and the need for rebirth. New Age religions see evil as an illusion, eliminating any need to oppose ungodly agendas; or to accept the atonement that Christ provided on the cross. Occultism supposes that evil is as strong as, and not subject to, the authority of a higher good, namely Christ. It is critical for a Christian worldview to present evil as what it is – actually and actively real, the negation of all that is truly good, in personal rebellion against the authority of God. Only by recognition of evil can appropriate remedial actions be taken.
Additional data about an environment is received through the media’s sound-image schema. With a little practice, you can discover recurring themes and underlying principles in the media product. It may be difficult to name the most frequent sound or image, yet once identified, this information unveils any message that might be recited in the mind like an unwanted mantra. Children repeat songs from commercials such as McDonald’s advertisements; ask them to think about what the lyrics mean. Once conscious of these ideas, children will chose whether or not they want to carry them in their hearts and minds. We can help children realize that they can command unwanted images to leave.
Discernment questions address the dynamic interfaces between the readily identified elements and the philosophical and theological messages being communicated that are critical to making personal decisions about what is stored in the memory for future contemplation, or reflection.
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.
[i] God’s Word is Jesus Christ (John 1). God’s Word written is the Bible. God’s Word written was often used by the Reformers to emphasize the relation between God the Father, God the Son and His Holy Scripture.