Many American homes have an entertainment center, whether located in the living room or family room. Our task here consists of learning how Christian discipleship relates to the vast ocean of entertainment options that surround us on every hand. Should you allow it into your home through an eye dropper? A funnel? Not at all? And most important, what is the real reason for any standards you set?
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also (Matt. 23:26). Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you (Phil. 4:8-9).
As we look at our texts together, we find two very important principles. The first is that we are to love what is noble and praiseworthy. Our minds and hearts are to to turn naturally to that which is virtuous and of good report. Our lives should feel a strong gravitational pull to that which is pure.
But this is just half the story. The higher the standard, if it is handled wrongly, the worse the legalism. Jesus does not oppose the outside and inside of the cup. He says cleaning the inside cleans the outside. But cleaning the outside alone does nothing but generate dualistic hypocrisy.
WISDOM BEFORE PARTICULAR STANDARDS
Wisdom can be severe. Legalism is severe all the way through. However, it is a violation of biblical wisdom to confuse the two in any way. Yet this is done all the time. Legalism masquerades as wisdom. The wise are accused of being legalists.
Wisdom can see things in the text that cannot be seen by the immature. Legalism can see things in the text that the mature cannot see. How to tell the difference? Apart from wisdom, there is no way. “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).
On all such questions, the center of wisdom is an understanding of the inside/out dynamic. The way you grow into standards is far more important than the standards you have. Wisdom is a soil in which godly standards grow. Standards by themselves are no soil at all.
GROWING UP INTO WISDOM
The wisdom that is shown by the parents is not necessarily wisdom that is felt by the children. As parents bring up their children, there is a certain level of “outside/inness” that cannot be escaped for the time being. The parents say, “No, we don’t watch that kind of movie.” The child does not yet know why (inside), but he does know (outside) that he is not watching it.
This is perfectally all right if the parents understand the direction they are going. The imposed standards are training wheels, meant to come off. As we have emphasized in other contexts, external standards in childrearing should decrease as time goes on—but not because they are going away.
ALL THIS SAID, SOME PRINCIPLES
The perils of getting it backwards should not prevent us from eventually getting to the particulars.
Scripture is the embodied standard—our standard is not sentimental Victorianism. Neither is the standard something cooked up by unbelievers in Hollywood. What could PG-13 possibly mean in scriptural terms?
Narrative shapes us—as verse 9 in the Philippians passage shows, we are not to think about the pure, lovely, virtuous, etc. so that pleasant liquids might slosh around in the jar of our minds. Narrative results in doing. Copy cat crimes and stunts are therefore not an example of people being idiots; it is an example of people being people, but shaped by the wrong kind of narratives.
And those who say that they have the ability to “turn off” the ability of narrative to shape them are both unnatural and deluded. The stories we watch and read do not float on the surface of our lives, like leaves on a pond.
Sex and violence are not twin evils—first, they are not evils. They are good or evil, depending. The virtue or vice depends on the direct object.
Secondly, they are not twins. The propriety of showing them varies. Public sex is degrading (1 Cor. 10:7-8). Private violence is degrading (Gen. 4:8).
Language is contextual—do not focus on a list of “bad words.” At the same time, do not ignore the shaping power of language (Eph. 4:29). Jesus once wrote a short story in which the bad guy takes the name of God in vain (Luke 18:11). Language is directional, not static.
Virtue is not the absence of vice—it is active presence of something. That “something” is always distasteful to those who are uninterested in wisdom or holiness. Superficial analysis always gravitates to what the show “didn’t have.” And this kind of approach usually winds up taking out the big chunks of ungodliness, and then drinking the broth.