"The world exists, not for what it means but for what it is. The purpose of mushrooms is to be mushrooms; wine is in order to be wine: Things are precious before they are contributory."
Below is a list of 20 "moments of tension" that I include in chapter six, "A Brief History of Christians and Movies," of Gray Matters. It's not an exhaustive list of all the films that provoked the wrath and boycotts of Christians, but it gives a general sense of the narrative, going back to the earliest decades of film history
Gray Matters is the culmination of ideas I've long contemplated—perhaps dating back to high school when I first starting really getting into movies and "secular" music. How and why should Christians enjoy art and culture? Is our consumption of culture simply a "diversion" with no meaningful bearing on our faith? Or should our faith inform, deepen, and open up new layers of enjoyment in our consumption of culture? And how does a Christian evaluate and interact with the thornier areas of culture? Is it better to just flee from anything potentially hazardous and consume only the safe, sanitized or "Christian" cultural items? Or does Christian liberty (e.g. Romans 14) make it possible for us to consume anything and everything as it pleases us, without worrying about it?
There’s a lot of talk these days about “cultural engagement” and how it’s important for Christians to be culture-makers, culture-watchers and culture-advocates. Umpteen books, blogs and conferences have been developed around these themes. And rightfully so. This is an area in which evangelical Christianity has been notoriously apathetic for far too long. But what does it actually look like to be a “cultured Christian”? And by “cultured,” I don’t mean fashionable, well-heeled aristocrats who frequent the opera and attend gallery openings. I simply mean people who take culture seriously and love it enough to approach it with nuance, intentionality and an open mind. What does it look like to do this Christianly?
Christians have had a decidedly love/hate relationship with alcohol. The infamous “drink” has been regarded by Christians at various times with awe, horror, religious devotion, fear, obsession, prohibition, addiction, and temperance. It has been one of the most divisive issues within modern American evangelicalism, creating rifts within churches, within families, within Christian institutions.
How are Christians set apart or distinct from the unbelieving world? When push comes to shove, would any observer be able to pick today’s edgy/authentic/real/raw/not-your-grandmother’s Christian out of the proverbial crowd? In what ways are we embodying the call to be salt and light, a city on a hill (Matt. 5:13–16), and a “royal priesthood” called out of darkness and into light (1 Peter 2:9)?
scriptural silence about the particularities of 21st century media habits is no reason to just throw up one’s hands and indulge in an “anything goes” free-for-all. Rather, it’s an invitation to think about the gray areas more deeply, to wrestle with them based on what Scripture does say and what we’ve come to know about the calling of Christians in this world. The gray areas matter.