The Reformed Gamers answers if Christians can watch Horror Movies

Can Christians Watch Horror Movies?

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.

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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.

That’s it.

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.

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Can Christians watch low-budget found-footage horror films?

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!

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“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!

7 thoughts on “Can Christians Watch Horror Movies?

  1. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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    1. 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.

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  3. 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.

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    1. 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!

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