I once had a mentor remark that we should, at some point in our spiritual development, form a theology of every part of life. A theology of thinking, a theology of work, a theology of eating, a theology of fellowship. You get the idea. If we are to give our lives fully to God, we are to base our thoughts and actions in every aspect of life on our Christian faith and our ideas about God. We are not to be compartmentalists, in which our faith occupies just one part of our lives. Rather, it should inform - nay, reform - every facet of our being.

To this end, one question we should ask ourselves is, "As Christians, what role do art, entertainment, and leisure have in our lives?" This has been an important question for those who fear God throughout history. But it seems especially significant today. I haven't done any great study on the free time of humanity throughout history, but I suspect we enjoy more of it now than in any other point in history. And because it occupies so much of our time and thought, we had better have a clear understanding of how it should be used to glorify God and edify his people.

I think you'll agree that in many ways our culture's obsession with leisure and entertainment has done some serious damage, and the church has not been spared. There are many instances in which some form of entertainment or way of life has entered into the church without much thought given to it, almost as if it entered through some form of osmosis. The walls of the church ought not be so permeable. Instead we should be vigilant about what makes its way into our lives, lest temptation and sin find yet another foothold. At the same time, we should not shut out all entertainment from our lives. I believe it can be beneficial, and that good entertainment can bring us towards God in a way that simply putting our nose to the grindstone every day can't.

Before we continue, I should mention two things. the first is that I won't spend any time discussing the definitions of art, entertainment, and leisure. The semantic issues don't interesting me, and I trust you have somewhat of an understanding of what the words "art," "entertainment," and "leisure" mean. There are some who may paint one of these in a positive light and another in a negative light in order to make a point, but I'm fine with lumping them all together for the sake of simplicity. Secondly - and this should be pretty obvious - this blog post certainly won't be the final answer on the subject. I'm sure many books could be written on the subject of our theology of entertainment. I only want to get us thinking about it, and to realize the importance of thinking about it.

Now, to answer the question "what role do art, entertainment, and leisure have in our lives?" we first have to answer a few other questions. What is the purpose of entertainment? Is it of any profit? Should we instead just work, study, and serve all day every day?

Entertainment in part gives us a break from the rigors of life. Long work days and many responsibilities are often draining. The right entertainment can also be immensely edifying. On more than one occasion, after a particularly amazing classical music concert, I have heard another Christian remark that such amazing music so wonderfully played in some hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it  way gives one a glimpse or vision of heaven, in a way that much of current worship music fails to.

As Christians, we can sometimes feel guilty about entertainment, and that need not be the case. We need rest. Even God took the time to rest after creation, and Jesus had times of rest as well. And entertainment can be a form of rest. Furthermore, entertainment has the ability to fill us with joy and laughter, and even bring us closer to God. Good entertainment doesn't avoid the deep questions. Instead it demands deep introspection. It should drive us towards greater godliness, to deeper relationships, to excellence in all that we do.

Entertainment is not a vacation from being a follower of Christ. I think that has been the downfall of many a Christian. The definite principles that guide how we live as Christians at work, in the marketplace of ideas, as friends and family, as the body of Christ, are all still in play. So what are those principles? Here are a few:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 ESV]
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [I Corinthians 10:31 ESV]
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 ESV]
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
    “Awake, O sleeper,        and arise from the dead,    and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [Ephesians 5:1-17 ESV]
No doubt you're familiar with these passages. And there are others that come to mind as well (the second half of 1 Peter 1, pretty much all of I Corinthians 10). I really like the list in Philippians 4:8. There is so much in art and entertainment that is lovely and excellent and commendable and noble. Even if it does not give praise to God in so many words, it nonetheless can give him praise through all those great qualities. I think it falls under common grace.

While it isn't my favorite series, I really enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books. In them, you find many noble characters with many kind qualities. You find sinister characters that may succeed in doing evil, but ultimately find a just end. There are many good lessons to be learned in the books. And there are a few gems like this: "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."[1] As Christianity Today put it, the books are a modern-day book of virtues with a per-pubescent funny bone.

And do any of us not love great music? There is so much music I find inspiring, encouraging, comforting, thrilling, intriguing...the list could go on seemingly forever. I am convinced that any great peace of music is in some way a reflection of our Creator. He came up with the whole idea of sound waves, after all.

Yes, I even think there are great movies. I think all of us have had the experience of leaving the movie theater wanting to be a better person because of the movie just saw. Now, often those movies will have a message of hope that falls short. Nonetheless, as Christians, we can still be inspired by such movies, for we know the real source of all hope and joy and love, and we are aware that those movies fall short but are pointing towards that which the movie cannot see yet we can.

Obviously most entertainment was not made with the motivation of glorifying God. It may still reflect some of his qualities, but that was not the reason it was made. But for us as Christians, our primary motive in creating and enjoying entertainment is to glorify God, as Paul explains in I Corinthians 10:31. Does it have to explicitly praise him? Of course not. That doesn't even make sense on the face of it. We're also to glorify God by the way we eat; but how do you say "praise God!" while chewing steak without spewing it everywhere? Similarly, our praise of God in entertainment comes by the way we go about it. But feel free to explicitly glorify God through entertainment as well! Bach was amazing at doing both. He set the gospels to some breathtaking music, and he wrote a prolific amount of instrumental music that remains among the best ever written. When listening through Robert Greenberg's Great Courses series on classical music, I was amazed to hear him say that Bach's faith and artistry were so intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable. This is coming from someone who is, as far as I know, not a believer. Talk about an amazing witness!

In short, there is a tremendous amount in entertainment that is worth pursuing. That being said, with the principles in Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 5 in mind, there is a lot we should avoid. And Paul puts those things in no uncertain terms. I don't think I need to elaborate. But it's not just what sort of things we do to entertainment ourselves that is important, it's the purpose of our seeking that entertainment and the amount of time we spend with that entertainment.

If we're seeking some form of entertainment in order to shirk a responsibility we have, even if that entertainment is entirely wholesome, we do disservice to our calling. Our motive in seeking entertainment is important. The amount of time we spend is also important. Netflix binge-ing is almost worn as a badge of honor these days. But sinking an entire weekend just to watch an entire season of a show isn't a terribly good use of time.

Now everything I have said up to this point is fairly clear. Avoid sinful entertainment, pursue praiseworthy entertainment. And for most situations, these principles clearly divide the beneficial from the harmful. But invariably we run into situations in which it isn't entirely clear whether some piece of entertainment is permissible. Say some film has a very solid central message about truth or loyalty, but is pretty heavy-handed with its depiction of violence. Should we subject ourselves to that violence for the sake of the central message of the movie or not? That is not an easy question. And this I think is where a lot of Christians trip up.

Thankfully, the Bible itself provides an example to follow. In it, there is adultery, incest, murder, torture, persecution, lying, thievery, slander, and a ton of other really awful stuff. It doesn't avoid these issues. But it also never, ever praises them. They are there as a warning. They are also there so we can see how God is sovereign over everything, and can work through even the most tragic events towards his good.

And there are yet more principles in the Bible we can turn to, when it comes to what we see as morally grey areas. Consider this passage:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. [I Corinthians 6:12]
Paul here exposes a common mistake when a Christian finds freedom from the law through Christ. This freedom does not give us license to throw away prudence, discernment, and wisdom. We are still to obey, not as a means of attaining salvation, but because we are saved through Christ.

Here's a fairly all-encompassing passage:
For whatever does not proceed from faith is a sin. [Romans 14:23]
I suspect that deep down, with some entertainment we muzzle the Holy Spirit - perhaps not consciously - by justifying or rationalizing the entertainment. "Yes, this show does have a fair amount of sexual content. Well really there's a ton. But the plot is so good. And there are several characters that are very noble." I've noticed in such a situation, the Christian sometimes takes on a air of spiritual maturity. "Perhaps for these weaker Christians this may be harmful, or to the more simple-minded Christians it may be objectionable, but I in my maturity will certainly not be ensnared by whatever evil I find in this entertainment." That is a good clue that we've gotten off track. There comes a point where we need to realize that we are trying to justify something that isn't justifiable.

I hope you're not getting the idea we should avoid entertainment that has any negativity in it. To teach any moral lesson, we have to show the consequences of wrong-doing. For example, I think you could make a case that a torture scene in a movie is not inappropriate. As long as that scene doesn't glory in torture. If we see a character persevering in the face of such adversity, I think we can find real inspiration in that. One of my favorite films is The Scarlet and the Black. It depicts the life of Hugh O'Flaherty - and Irish-born Roman Catholic priest - during the Nazi occupation of Rome. He and others rescued thousands of Jews and POWs from the clutches of the Nazis, and they faced intimidation, assassination attempts, blackmail, and even torture and death as a result. It is a simply gripping film.

I have two more thoughts before finishing up. Invariably we will run into situations in which one Christian will be perfectly fine with a piece of entertainment, while another will object. Even after really thinking through all these issues in arriving at a theology of entertainment, we will have disagreement. My recommendation is to yield to the person who has an objection, even if you disagree. Better that than to cause a sister or brother to stumble, or to create unnecessary division.

One last piece of advice: when in doubt, flee. Better to embarrass yourself in front of friends - believers or unbelievers - or waste money on a ticket than to risk poisoning your soul.

Much of this is pretty difficult to think about. Memories that now bring regret have flitted through my mind while writing it. And I find all this as difficult to follow as anyone. This post has barely scratched the surface of the subject. Even now there are verses and words of great Christians that I'd like to write about, but this post is already immense. I hope nonetheless it provides you with a good start in forming a theology of entertainment.


1. Technically that quote is from the movie. The rendering in the book is a bit different, and was in a context I didn't feel like spending a lot of time explaining [spoiler: Cedric Diggory dies].
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