Entertainment and the Christian Life

James Hassell   -  

Ours is a culture that likes to be entertained. Just a glance at this morning’s Austin American-Statesmen is worth a thousand words of explanation. You can see the website here: www.statesmen.com. For instance, there is a guide to Christmas movies, information on where to locate the best Christmas lights, and a lengthy list of Austin eateries we could frequent during Advent. There are even contests to win both a stay at Kalahari Resorts and a sewing machine!

Entertainment culture can affect the church if we are not vigilant and discerning. In fact, I was asked many years ago by a church member if we could “have less Bible Sunday School.” The well-intentioned member meant to ask if the amount Bible study curricula options could be expanded, but the phraseology of the question pointed to a deeper reality among us: sometimes the amount of entertainment we receive dulls our senses to the word of God.

This is not to say that entertainment is bad, ethically wrong, and morally repugnant for the believer. Healthy forms of entertainment certainly fit into the biblically affirmed categories of rest and recreation. Entertainment through books, movies, and art can even point our minds in a Godward direction. Physical exercise is also a source of both entertainment and well-being. Yet, just like most things, entertainment can also be perverted into sinful behavior.

How then may we become more alert to those occasions when entertainment becomes harmful? Here are two principles for discernment.

  1. Beware of turning Christianity (or religion in general) into a mere search for happiness. Sometimes we equate pleasure with good and displeasure with evil. Using that kind of logic, it become easy for us to criticize or reject anything in the Bible or in church life that causes us annoyance. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t reject the cross even though he knew it would bring him displeasure?
  2. Spiritual experiences with Christ and the church should be more than feelings. Buried deep in our cultural DNA are the philosophies of people like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. They both taught out of something called “empiricism.” Empiricism is the belief that our senses and experiences are the only bases of human knowledge. In other words, for something to be true, that truth is made most evident to us through our physical senses and experiences coming to knowledge of that truth. The thinking goes something like this: the better the church service feels, then the truer the Bible must be. While we can affirm some of Locke and Hobbes’s inclinations towards individual freedom and responsibility, we have trouble lining up their notions of truth with biblical revelation. For example, Jesus spoke nothing but the truth, and yet he was still crucified and rejected for it. Just because people didn’t feel good about all that Jesus said doesn’t mean it made what he taught any less true.