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!