You Might Be Surprised
Editor’s Note: Super excited to have Melvin write a guest post for the TRG. We’ve enjoyed several collaborations with Cinematic Doctrine such as discussing the Resident Evil movies, Train to Busan, and the unforgettable Super Mario Bros movie. Which, I would argue, is a horror movie in several ways. Be sure to check out Cinematic Doctrine for more discussions on where faith meets film.
I think this is a question a lot of Christians ask or outright disregard. They ask it because they are curious. They ignore it because they believe its sinful. During this spooky season we call October, I thought I’d venture from my hometown of Cinematic Doctrine and visit you folk at The Reformed Gamers to share some biblical insight on engaging challenging film material.
As Christians, we recognize our initial sinful rejection of God (Romans 1:31, 3:23), our necessary need for Jesus’ atonement in death (Romans 3:25), have been resurrected with Jesus and enjoy new life (Romans 6:3-4), and await his return with watchful eyes (Matthew 24:42-44). Therefore, it is paramount for us to see what the Lord wants from us, as this will help us grow in discerning what is God-honoring.
I like to say that the Lord has 3 goals for the Christian. These goals provide bumpers to help guide us in our decision making. First, His goal for the Christian is to redeem them to Himself (see above paragraph). Second, that the Lord’s will for the Christian is their sanctification (1st Thessalonians 4:3). And lastly, that the Christian embark on what’s called ‘The Great Commission’, which is demanded by Jesus to the believer in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”.
Scripture often talks about how the Christian is sanctified in Christ, that we are already one with Christ (Acts 26:18; 1 Corinthians 6:11), yet still going through the process of sanctification, that we are becoming more like Christ (2nd Corinthians 4:6). How is this done practically? Look no further than John 17:17 wherein Jesus prays to the Father, “Sanctify [the Christian] by the truth; your word is truth.” In other words, Jesus clarifies that the Christian cannot grow more like Christ without biblical engagement and discernment: without reading their Bible and meditating on the word of God.
Now, before we move on to ‘The Great Commission’, let’s briefly define what makes up a horror movie, and then survey what makes them a ‘no-no’ genre for so many Christians.
In short, horror movies are thrillers with more blood.
Sometimes that blood comes from monsters (A Quiet Place, The Thing), and sometimes without (Green Room, Saw). Sometimes, there’s very little blood (She Dies Tomorrow, Eyes Without A Face). Frankly, things like fear, dread, cruelty, and malice are present in all narratives. Antagonists and complicating incidents are founded on disrupting the status quo and therefore are not unique to horror movies. Since this is true, I would then argue this distaste comes from how the genre has been exploited.
Unfortunately, many directors have used horror to degrade the value of humanity’s image-baring nature (Genesis 1:27). Typically, this means a film has ultra-violence or nudity. Now, violence in film is typically fake and offers value in its meta-textual use, save for a few films in which the violence is too graphic, or in the worst case, real violence is used against people or animals; a sinful, hateful act that does not appropriately respect the Creation Mandate (Genesis 1:28). But an actor’s nakedness being exposed is 100% an act of sin. No matter the meta-textual context, an actor being paid to bare themselves on set, which is always outside of marital intimacy (Song of Songs) or medical aid, is simply wrong (Genesis 3:10, 9:21-23). Furthermore, the director is inviting an audience to partake in witnessing an actor’s nakedness which is deeply corrupt.
Notice, then, that neither of those two qualities are exclusive to horror films. Thus, breaking down horror to its genre standard – that it is a thriller with more blood – horror is no more sinfully restricted by its own genre characteristics than any other genre.
…unless that Christian would be doing so against their own or their fellow Christian’s conscience (1 Corinthians 8; Romans 14). To specifically draw from Romans 14, in which Paul writes about Christians who quarrel over what food is God-honoring to eat within a local, cultural setting, let’s input horror films where applicable: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of [watching horror movies]. [The art medium of film] is clean, but it is wrong for a person to [watch] anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to [watch horror movies] or [bloody thrillers] or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”
A Christian’s witness is not only for the unbeliever, but for the believer as well!
And this is where we get into ‘The Great Commission’. A Christian’s witness is not only for the unbeliever, but for the believer as well! If horror movies, or any genre of film could lead a brother to sin, cut it off! You do not need it! Remember, although Christians are sanctified, Christians are still being sanctified!
Furthermore, if a friend had suffered divorce, you would not suggest they watch Marriage Story! If another had suffered workplace sexual assault, you would not suggest they watch The Assistant! Even if these movies have nothing sinful in terms of real or ultra-violence and exposed nakedness, that does not mean they are free-reign films to watch at any given moment! Be discerning!
“But, Melvin, can Christians watch horror movies?”
Paul makes it clear that Christians can eat meat sacrificed to idols under the stipulation it does not cause a brother to stumble or sin, which implies that the act itself, first, does not lead the individual committing the act to stumble or sin. In this case, so long as the film does not cause the initiator to stumble or sin, then it seems ok.
But a fair warning to you, dear reader: We are constantly learning of new sins we have committed each and every day. Are we so confident to embrace media of any kind and simply say, “I’ll be okay!” and not sin? I urge again: be discerning! Grow in sanctification! Learn that this age is not one of boundless access but killing the joy we find in sin by any means necessary (Matthew 5:29-30). The joy you may experience by watching a great horror film cannot compare to the joy you will experience with God the Father. Do not lose sight of your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-24).
What bout you, Deer Reader? What are your thoughts? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below!
9 thoughts on “Can Christians Watch Horror Movies?”
The Conjuring Universe movies are ‘R’ rated but contain no sex or profanity. The movies are for older teens or adults due to their subject matter, but there is nothing gratuitous about the movies themselves.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Neither does the movie Sinister (which we actually recently covered over on the Cinematic Doctrine podcast). However, the real thing comes down to two things imo: the effects of and the cultivation of our Christian walk (i.e. the process of our sanctification) paired alongside our witness (respecting and loving the sensibilities of others both within and without the church).
With that in mind, although we know the Conjuring films are mostly good (as even the first was TRYING for a PG-13 rating but was deemed too much for the MPAA, thus the R-Rating), they may still contain content that leaves our brothers and sisters, as well as those sensitive to the content within, very uncomfortable. In that case, then it would be VERY inappropriate for a Christian to invite or venture someone into those films.
I honestly don’t watch horror movies, but I do like a horror anime called Attack on Titan. I could go on forever about it but I’ll try to make this brief. I honestly don’t mind to much blood or tense situations, for me its more about, who is the hero, Is it a crazy chainsaw guy, or good people trying to survive horrible situations. Also AOT contains almost no sexual content, so that helps allot (especially in the world of anime), its pretty much the only anime a watch.
As a side note tho, there is a kinda gay female character, its a very one sided relationship tho and never goes anywhere so I can just ignore it.
It may seem surprising, but in most horror movies the ‘slasher’ or the ‘monster’ aren’t the hero, nor are they considered the hero. Surely some people watch long-running horror franchises (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Candyman) because of the killer, but even these franchise’s did not start as “Come watch a crazy person do crazy things!”. They often don’t stay that, either, even if most of them fall apart in their sequels.
What’s more accurate is that, at last in their best films, the killer is just the flavor or style of antagonist that gets people engaged, but rarely is considered the protagonist or the hero. I’m actually trying to wrack my brain for any in particular that would espouse as such. Maybe the latter Saw movies, but even then Jigsaw is clearly the bad guy.
This comment is a response to a specific statement in this article. If you want to reply to this comment elsewhere (or not reply at all), you are free to. But due to Romans 14:16, I am compelled to post this comment.
In Short — You treat ‘the sight of physical nudity’ as a wicked thing, excepting only “marital intimacy and medical aid”. You are wrong. You are adding to God’s word what he does not say.
I won’t give a full exposition on nudity here (it’s not the place), but I’ll respond to the few reasonings you gave the readers.
For one, why is medical aid an exception? No scripture affirms this. You are right, but just know: you’re using extra-biblical reasoning to except that situation. And if you do this, how can you dismiss others’ conclusions as wrong when they also have extra-biblical reasoning for their use of nudity? You must be taught how to discern by the Spirit of Christ.
For two, Noah’s son (Ham) sinned because he intentionally exposed his father’s shame to others. The language of “uncover nakedness” in Leviticus 18 isn’t merely euphemistic for sex, but for all shame; and elsewhere it is written, “love covers all offense” (Prov. 10:12; see also 17:9, James 5:20, and 1 Pet. 4:8). Love doesn’t expose the shame of a close relative.
Don’t forget that just as the law is the pattern (the “shadow”) by which we begin to understand spiritual things (e.g. Heb. 10; Col. 2:17) …and just as marital intimacy is the earthly pattern by which we begin to understand the mystery of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32) …and just as we are called trees and sheep …so also, nakedness is the pattern by which us humans begin to understand the spiritual truths of shame. Shem and Japheth walked backwards so as to not see their father’s shame. In love, they covered his shame. Ham was cursed because he did not act in love, and even acted in hatred of his father by making entertainment of Noah’s shame. This account isn’t about a son seeing daddy’s dick. It’s about love (which forgives) and hate (which exposes shame for entertainment).
…and, as an aside, even this restriction (of not exposing shame) is constrained only to close family, though Jesus has now expanded it even to our enemies…
Finally, in Genesis 3:10, when God covered Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal, we see a prophecy of Christ. There was coming a day where death would create a covering for sins; so we, like Adam and Eve, can come to Father naked and let him clothe us; and this is not an earthly thing, but a spiritual thing. When Jesus said to “clothe the naked”, he wasn’t speaking of Hanes or Fruit of the Loom (though that can be good too). He was speaking of forgiveness. In Christ, we are clothed by his righteousness; our shame is covered forever (even washed away), and thus we’re restored to the pre-disobedience state of “naked and unashamed”. If your shame is washed away, what is exposed with nakedness?
In conclusion — When nakedness is sought after in a sexually (i.e. adulterous) manner, the sin is lust and adultery. When nakedness is sought after to make entertainment of shame, the sin is gossip. When nakedness is sought after as the highest refuge and savior above (or apart from) Christ, then the sin is idolatry. When someone is offended by nakedness and yet we seek to expose them (or expose it to them) anyway, then the sin is lovelessness in the refusal to obey God and give up our rights for the sake of harmony (Romans 14; 15:1-3; see also 1 Cor. 8 & 10). There may also be other times when expose of nakedness is a sin. But the mere exposure of nakedness is not sin in itself; in fact, it can be a powerful tool for restoring the soul (a thing God wants; e.g. Psalm 23:3) in the clothing of Christ’s righteousness. Just as you can undress someone with your eyes, you can also dress them. Adam had to expose himself to God in order to be covered; and we are called to be like Christ who was God in the flesh; and we also have his Spirit. And when I’ve experienced this exposure produce the fruits of the Spirit and permanently extinguish various temptations of the flesh, all my “Christian reasoning” crumbles under the knowledge of my Lord (see Prov. 3:5-6; YLT, or just look up the Hebrew word for “acknowledge”; it means “know”, the same as “Adam knew Eve and she conceived”). If it makes you feel better, think of this as “mental medical aid” (i.e. therapy).
You may feel very strongly about this, and you may think you have an irrefutably strong argument using scripture; but you are leaning on your own understanding and justifying the feelings of your flesh, not your spirit. Even demons quote scripture and create complex, well-reasoned philosophies founded on many scriptures. The exposure of nakedness can be used for evil and good. This calls for wisdom, and only the Spirit of Christ can bring you that.
My only real ‘yikes’ to toward this comment (for which I mostly agree with) is the comfort in claiming “You are wrong. You are adding to God’s word what he does not say.” or even equating my approach so flippantly as similar or akin to Satan’s misuse of Scripture (an application I even make mention in a completely separate post on my own blog). That’s quite the hefty and weighty charge to make in a comment thread about an author one knows little about! So much so, I wouldn’t even make the same claim myself for someone else. At least, not in this manner. That’s really all I have to say about that.
As for nudity, the real constriction in the explanation within that paragraph, frankly, is wordcount. I was requested by the editor of TRG to limit myself to 500 words. My initial draft landed at 1500. I then reread several times to trim it down, until the editor messaged me, “You can do 1000 words if you’d like”. In the end, we settled with about 1090.
For the sake of brevity and adhering to the editor, I kindly approached the task in this manner.
Obviously the passage alone is not the only passage to speak about the nuanced way one can sin against another in nudity. But, if we are to love one another and pursue one another as Christ pursues us, there is little reason apart from the loaded statements of “marital or medical” that must be defended. Including biblical references is clear in terms of seeking to answer the question “Can Christians Watch Horror Films?”, as any reference itself should include references, but the main focus of the article is more in line with caring about ones witness.
But, even as Paul encourages, if you find a brother who you feel has misinterpreted scripture, pray for him. Intercede as Christ intercedes!
(NOTE: I’m surprised to realize I haven’t logged into WordPress in almost a year. Anyway, I’m only just now seeing this reply. I don’t remember being responded to over the many years… so, thank you, for that.)
Thanks for engaging with what I wrote (for “sinking your teeth into it”).
The fact that is came across as “flippant” saddens me. It is very viscerally painful for me to disagree with people, even though it is much less so as I’ve healed (cowardice due to clinical-grade phobia is my biggest sin struggle). Because of how much pain (and often actual sweat) that I know I will have to endure, it is impossible for me to be considered “casual” or “hasty” when deliberately rebuking someone. I also say nothing if I don’t have conviction (even knowledge) in my spirit; and what I apply to you, I apply to myself first.
Like Paul, I was excellent in Greco-Roman logic and “Christian”/”Biblical” theology; and where did I learn this? From the religious elite (the pharisees) of our time; and the Greco-Roman teachers (our American school system). I was advancing beyond many my own age.
Yet I was deceived; and I didn’t know I was deceived until our Lord Jesus’ spirit appeared to me.
Now I know the Lord Jesus. Before, I relied on the method of reasoning which much of modern Christianity relies on. Now, I don’t rebuke unless I hear my Father’s voice in my spirit.
(Someone will ask, “How do you know it’s him?” Answer: “my sheep know my voice and they follow me”. Now someone will say, “You’re basing all your theology off one verse! Now we know you are untrustworthy.” But I say: I did not learn this from scripture; I learned this from the spirit, and then he opened my eyes to where he spoke about it through the Christ.)
Do you have a ‘yikes’ towards me speaking as one with authority, rather than one of the scribes? But Jesus did not come to make more scribes; he came to make sons of his Father in heaven. We can have his spirit; and just because the antichrist is in the word, that doesn’t mean that God’s Spirit is no longer spiritual. The existence of a counterfeit is not a valid reason to deny seeking the true currency.
My point is this: our US Christianity has been tainted by the leaven of the pharisees; specifically: their method of reasoning. We are not to rely on logic or interpretations that we “feel” or “think” are right (in our soul: the mind of our flesh), but on the knowledge of Christ in the Holy Spirit. No amount of references will make anyone correct. No amount of agreement among the religious teachers… no amount of history or tradition… none of these things determine truth, but only the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus. Either you (in your spirit) know the voice of your Shepherd, or you don’t; and where we don’t (or at least haven’t yet noticed), then we must run to Christ Jesus for refuge in the faith that our Father exists and will reward us with open arms and teachings.
As a fellow writer, I have sympathy for your word restrictions. As a brother, I do intercede; and not just in prayer, but directly. Furthermore, this is a public platform (even an ecclesia: a place where the elders come together to debate and judge), so I intercede for you and for those who read us both.
I am aware that this seems so off-topic. I know that questions and accusations are intense. But is it true or is it not? Are you deceived? Not everyone who speaks falsehood is a wolf. Even sheep can be led astray. To parallel your own words: as James encourages, bring them back!
Where I am wrong, then show me to be wrong. But if you yourself don’t have the confidence to speak with the authority of one who KNOWS truth in the mind of the spirit (which is born of the Spirit of Christ)… then what do you truly know? I’m not dismissing you; I am not like one who waves his hand and scoffs, “What do you know.” No, I am actually asking the question. Are you one who KNOWS what he declares as truth? …or are you know who IMAGINES to know? (1 Cor. 8:2) Do you know the difference?
Anyone who reads this, I ask you the same thing.
Are you qualified to speak about the things you write? Do you KNOW truth in the mind of the spirit? Or are you reasoning still with the soul (the mind of the flesh)? There is forgiveness for guilt. The cross allows us to ask ourselves (and each other) the most intense questions; “How severe is my error?” and “How do I know if I’m in error?”
In having an answer to the first, but not the second, I held my tongue and my fingers back for the years that I took to ask and knock and seek the Lord. And like he promises, he answered me with the revelation of himself in my spirit. I learned the difference between knowledge and imagination; between the mind of the spirit and the mind of the flesh. And with horror and sadness I see now (with my spirit) that too many pastors and speakers and writers don’t know the difference, and thereby lean on the mind of the flesh and it’s use of scripture. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6a)
Maybe you do know the difference; so train the mind of your spirit and it’s discernment!
But if you don’t know the difference, then ask and knock and seek for this intimate knowing of Christ Jesus in your spirit (which is one spirit with his)… for this this knowledge of discernment between spirit and soul… for true interpretation of scripture via the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit who lives inside you—the same Spirit who lived in Christ. Imitate me as I imitate Paul who imitates Christ.
Everything I’ve written here is worth the time to read it.
It depends on the movie. A Quiet Place. IT (1990 version), black and white Vincent Price movies et al. I think are okay. It might sound silly but a lot of traditional Christians balk at a movie with an R-rating. Movies like the Conjuring, Freddy Kruegger movies, Pet Sematary, and the Shining should not be watched. I am one of those who can’t bring themselves to watch an aptly R-rated movie. I am LDS, and our prophets have said since the 70’s to stay away from them cause they bring a bad spirit and desensitized, not to mention they are loaded with anti Christian content and behavior. People believe differently, so what I say isn’t judging or telling you what to believe. I used to watch all kinds of horror movies. For a number of years I have been really interested in Candyman, although I knew about it for since it came out on video. But I could never bring myself to watch it…I watched a rather mild R from 1987 a few years ago and haven’t been able to bring myself to watch another since. I don’t mean to ramble I feel kind of clunky as a writer. Some argue, “well, the Bible is R-rated”, but that doesn’t mean we should vividly imagine everything in it…like how there are some things we have to listen to but really shouldn’t visualize. Hope this helps. It depends on the horror movie, but when most people think of Horror movies maybe they think of R-rated ones. Do what you feel comfortable with.
Comments are closed.