As culture enters the second decade of this millennium, one thing is clear: things which would have been considered bold and shocking ten years ago are commonplace now. What is portrayed in film, serialized on streaming services, and commended in popular music is far beyond the line in the sand concerned Christians once drew. While the world may not be getting inherently more sinful, Western culture continually pushes to have all outward restraints on sinful behavior removed. In this day and age, the premium on discernment in media consumption has never been higher.
Most of us grew up with a lot of “oughts” about what to listen to or watch. When I interact with young people, even those who grew up in Church, it is common to hear them swap funny stories about the shows their parents wouldn’t let them see or music they weren’t allowed to download. However, while it is important to develop standards and make our own decisions when you get older, most of my generation is moving decidedly in the direction of licentiousness. We disagree with the standards we grew up with, so we throw out standards altogether.
Based on my observation, the answer is not to simply to loosen or tighten external criterion. If all you know of discerning media consumption means tallying the bad words that are used and measuring how much skin is shown, you may be surprised to find your heart still being taken captive by the world.
Let me be clear: obedience to Christ will dictate both what you allow yourself to consume, and how you consume it. First, certain films and series have such a reputation for salacious content that you truly know better than to watch them. To go against that knowledge, in most cases, is prioritizing entertainment over obedience.
Also, other popular media may not have a single item that would raise concerns on the IMDB parents' guide page. Yet it is still unwise for Christians to watch or listen to them because they are so obviously against a Christian worldview that no real benefit can be derived from them. (Notice that I am not providing examples, even though I’m tempted. We are so prone to follow what other people say is “allowed” rather than practicing discernment for ourselves) .
Still, other things are entertaining or informative, or great works of art created by people who are made in God’s creative image. There are things about them with which we disagree, but we consume them with a thoughtful mind and guarded hearts. For these types of shows, movies, songs, etc., the following guidelines are helpful:
First, Understand that stories engage sympathies. The most wonderful and powerful thing about Netflix series and sci-fi movies (and every other form of storytelling) is that characters become real to us. The cost to every well-told story, however, is that we cannot evaluate it in an emotionally detached way. There are countless examples of how stories can corrode or strengthen morality because we are so engaged by them. Don’t just ask what a movie or TV show depicts; ask what it approves of.
Second, Be suspicious of yourself. If you’re like me, nothing inflates you more than thinking you have a special artistic understanding that makes you watch movies differently. We’re tempted to say that certain content or worldviews don’t affect us because “We’re not tempted that way,” or “We just like the story.” Be careful, however: the standard of what is good and right is God’s Word, not our sense of what we can handle.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure we spend more time fostering a godly world-life view than we spend having a secular worldview portrayed to us. Most of us are far too self-confident to think that we will be taken captive, so we imbibe a teaspoon of God’s pure Word to dilute gallons of the world’s mixed messages. Self-confidence, though, is the enemy of productive Christian growth and maturity.
Thirdly, be careful what you commend. If there is doubt about a film or show and whether it is something others would feel comfortable watching, you don’t have to share it. Especially not publicly.
There are numerous Biblical reasons why we should lay down our rights for the good of our brothers. I won’t rehash them all here, but they apply to entertainment especially in our day and age. We may choose to consume certain popular media which might offend the consciences of a brother or sister. It’s just not important enough to flaunt. The liberty we enjoy in Christ is not for us to parade what we feel like we can do, but to grow together in what we should do in loving obedience. So in our Instagram top-ten lists or our conversations, it is loving to limit our recommendations to “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8).
The world will always seek to infiltrate our hearts through media. In the modern, entertainment soaked age in which we live, we cannot afford to not be vigilant.