TLP 304: The Value of Horror Movies
Should Christians ever watch scary movies? Join AMBrewster as he opens God’s Word for the answer. All Christian parents can benefit from today’s discussion.
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I just returned from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselor’s national conference on Suicide, Self-Harm, and the Scriptures. It was amazing. It was so beneficial. I am so encouraged in how I can approach these discussions from God’s Word.
Of course, I can hear some of you potentially moaning as I say that. You’re concerned that with my already dark-focus in the month of October, it’s going to continue to be depressing and low.
Well, never fear! We schedule our seasons all at once, so after the “Parenting a Fearful Child” series, we’re going to move away from death and horror movies and stuff.
But not yet . . .
We’ve got scary movies to discuss today. I hope you’ll stick with us because this is not merely a pop-culture, current-events type of podcast. We always want to discover how God’s Word is going to equip us for life and godliness.
Horror movies are a thing in our culture. Therefore, we should be able to answer from the Scriptures whether or not they will have value in our homes.
But, before we do that, just a casual reminder that when you shop Amazon after clicking one of the links at TruthLoveParent.com, TLP earns a commission from whatever you purchase.
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Okay, let’s now ask the question, do horror movies have any value in the Christian’s life, or are they worthless?
The first thing we need to do is accept the fact that we shouldn’t just accept however we feel about horror movies. They’re designed to make us uncomfortable. So, we shouldn’t judge whether or not they should make us spiritually uncomfortable by the fact that they make us physically uncomfortable.
What I mean is, God expects us to make informed decisions based off His revealed Word.
Provers 15:14 reads, “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.”
And Proverbs 17:24 tells us, "The discerning sets his face toward wisdom.”
In our “Teach Your Children to Learn and Think” episodes we discussed The Circle of Learning. God created us to glean knowledge, understand it, and then put it into practice in our lives. And He expects all of that to be motivated by our fear of Him.
This means that it doesn’t matter what you feel about a topic. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been told other people feel about a topic. We need to know God’s mind on the topic.
Horror movies and the discussion of them are a visceral and emotional experience. But we need to clear our heads and approach Scripture to find our answers for life and parenting.
This goes for those of you who are pro-horror movies as well as those who are anti-horror movies.
Another pre-point we have to make comes from Psalm 101:3-4.
Likely, whether they know the reference or not, the anti-horror movie party has already considered the passage, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. 4 A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person.”
And that’s a great passage! It has so much value and importance in our lives.
But I mention it because — as I always say — we need to make sure our understanding of the text is what God intended, not our own ideas and values and opinions read into the text.
If we’re going to use that verse, we need to make sure we understand it and apply it correctly. First of all, the word translated “wicked” in the King James Version of that verse is a HUGE word with many, many shades of meaning.
The word can literally be translated simply as “word.” It can be a completely indefinite word that can be used to point to nothing in particular. However, it can also have a very technical usage as in Israel’s law procedures.
In fact, 242 times this same word translated here as “wicked” is used in the phrase “the word of the Lord.” It’s the word “word.”
My point is that we must not arbitrarily use verses as proof-texts for our personal soap boxes. “I don’t like scary movies because they’re wicked, and God says I shouldn’t set any wicked thing before my eyes.”
Do I believe Christians should dwell on wickedness? Well, I guess that depends on what you mean.
A. Is the thing being called wicked something that God would call wicked or something that humans would call wicked, but God doesn’t?
B. If by not setting something genuinely wicked before my eyes, you mean not to participate in said wickedness, I would agree with you.
However . . .
C. If by not setting something wicked before my eyes, you mean actually looking at something that would be considered wicked, then I can’t agree with you. That means that, biblically-speaking, I shouldn’t even be looking at you . . . or in the mirror for that matter. Humans are wicked. We have all sinned. Sin is wicked. And even if you could argue that we’re not always wicked, then I shouldn’t look at you when you’re sinning? You shouldn’t look at your kids when they’re sinning?
I think you see how this verse can be very inappropriately applied. And, I promise you, by the time we’re done today, we will correctly interpret and apply this verse . . . but not yet.
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The next thing we need to do is try to define horror movies.
Upon hearing that term, some people are going to picture movies about demonic activity.
Others are going to imagine an absolute gory blood bath.
There are those whose minds run first to vampires and werewolves.
Some have visions of slasher films with unnecessary amounts of nudity and offensive language.
And, yet others think of Alfred Hitchcock’s amazing knack for creating frightening scenarios.
To be honest, there’s no one commonly accepted definition of a horror movie because the genre is so incredibly large.
But I do believe we need to accept the fact that none of the above descriptions belong solely to the horror enterprise.
Every Christian movie worth its salt involves demonic or supernatural activity of one kind or another.
Most war movies and even a ton of sci-fi movies have a lot of bloodshed and gore.
There are plenty of vampire and werewolf characters that aren’t even remotely scary which have been infused into countless comedies. I’m thinking of Hotel Transylvania and Twilight.
If you think offensive content is just a horror movie thing, you are amazing sheltered.
Even the cinematic presence of a murderer doesn’t immediately denote a slasher film.
And suspense is technically its own category.
So, can we at least agree that whatever comes into your mind when you think horror, may not be the best definition of the genre?
I suppose the only element all horror movies have in common is that they’re scary to one degree or another.
Merriam-Webster defines horror as “painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.”
To that end, horror takes on a very personal feel. What may scare me may leave you laughing. What may intrigue me may absolutely horrify you.
This is not only different from adult to adult, it’s clearly going to be different between adults and kids.
Therefore, once again we see ourselves confronted by the fact that we can’t just compartmentalize our lives into cute little boxes . . . the same boxes — of course — into which everyone else obviously compartmentalizes their lives.
So, let’s all agree that scary movies are the focus of this episode.
We’ve discussed the fact that we’re not yet certain what the Bible means when it says not to set any wicked things before our eyes.
And we really don’t know whether the fact that a movie is inherently scary makes it sinful.
So, let’s talk about whether or not there’s anything valuable to be gleaned from this genre and wrap up the show by tying all these loose ends together.
First, let me be the first to say that the vast majority of movies in the contemporary horror genre are patently wicked because they celebrate sinful things.
Sexuality, celebration of the occult, gratuitous violence, vulgar language, and other clearly sinful content is always going to be sinful.
I think the exact same discernment and wisdom needs to be applied to all of our entertainment choices. There’s no category of our lives where we can put God’s expectations on the back burner and fly by the seat of our pants.
So, please understand that this criteria is obviously a part of this conversation.
However, as we consider whether scary movies have any value, we have to address just one reality: the Bible is purposefully petrifying.
The consequences of sin, both temporal and eternal, are exceedingly and absolutely horrifying.
I don’t care if someone has become accustomed to biblical jargon and desensitized to the Scriptural narrative. If you’re honest with yourself, you have to admit that even the very existence of the God of the Bible is a terrifying thing for an unbeliever.
Let me be clear about this: fear is not inherently bad.
Fear has value.
We should be petrified by the idea that we may displease the Lord. Unbelievers should be scared of hell. Everyone should be horrified by the very real consequences of sin. Every human being should be afraid of what will happen if they scorn the God of the universe.
Fear is not always bad.
We’re going to talk about this in far more detail in our upcoming “Parenting Fearful Children” series, but I just wanted to dispel the notion — here and now — that we need to always be guarding our kids from fear.
That’s bad parenting, and we’ll talk about more of the Scriptural reasons for that later.
But, within the context of whether or not there’s value in horror movies, we can’t simply dismiss them because they’re “scary.”
What we do know is that the God Who created fear uses it for Christ-honoring purposes. And we should seek to utilize it the way He does.
So, let’s clarify the Bible’s stance on “setting wickedness before our eyes,” what scary movies we’re talking about, and what the value may be.
In the King James Version, Psalm 101:3 reads, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.”
And we discussed the fact that the word translated “wicked” is not an easy word to translate. But I love the how the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version handle it.
Both of those passages basically read, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.”
And verse 4 says, “A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.”
First, let’s establish the fact that the Psalmist is not saying that he won’t look at worthless things or that he doesn’t know anything about evil.
What’s being said here is that the Psalmist refuses to participate in worthlessness and evil. This is Hebrew poetry, and the figurative language is consistent with the rest of the Bible.
Now, the idea of something having worth or not is the whole point of our discussion. Do horror movies have value; do they have worth?
If something has no physical and spiritual value, we obviously shouldn’t participate in it.
God hates waste. He hates all that is worthless. God wants our families to have value. We talk about that in episode 145, "How to Have a Valuable Family.”
So, I don’t care if it’s the newest “family” film or show, if it celebrates sin, it’s worthless.
So, what kind of horror movie doesn’t celebrate sin but gives a valuable understanding of reality?
I don’t want to take any time naming specific shows and movies because there are going to be differences of opinion and application.
What I want to do is lay out some principles that you will have to apply in your unique family setting.
1. Everything that God calls a sin is a sin.
There is no debating this point. I’m not supposed to lust after anyone, therefore watching nudity and sexuality is a sin because it’s designed to produce lust. That’s the point. There no point outside of that.
I’m also not supposed to be a stumbling block. If I watch material with aggressive language, and my kids see and hear it, I’m potentially putting a stumbling block in their way. If they don’t understand why talking that way doesn’t please the Lord, if I’m filling their minds with stuff they aren’t mature enough to interpret, if I’m making it easy for them to influenced and tempted by material they’re too immature to overcome . . . I’m being a bad parent.
Sin is always sin.
However . . .
2. Hearing about or viewing someone doing something wicked (within the context of a story) is not a sin.
What do I mean? Obviously watching someone murder another person and doing nothing about it, but just watching out of abject horror or a sick sense of entertainment would be wicked on my part as well as the murders. I become a complicit accomplice at that moment.
But no one is actually dying on screen. This isn’t the Roman coliseum. No one is actually murdering anyone else.
This is why I’m generally far more okay with “violence” in films than I am objectionable language because pretending to kill an attacking enemy isn’t a sin, but speaking vulgar language can be.
So, why would I say that hearing about or viewing someone doing something wicked (within the context of a story) is not a sin?
The Bible is filled from Genesis 2 through Revelation 22 with the accounts of man’s sin and lists of evil behavior.
The key is to understand why it’s there. God wants us to know Him, know ourselves, and make appropriate changes based off that information.
God wants us to see the effects and consequences of sin. Therefore, if the story draws our mind to biblical realities, that can be very valuable.
I think about I Timothy 5:20, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
God wants the body of Christ to be made aware of unrepentant sin for the express purpose of instilling fear in us that we may actually do the same. So . . .
3. Fear is not always bad.
If we have a godly fear, the Lord is pleased.
Now, please allow me to finish with one example. Despite what I said earlier, there is one movie I want to reference because I think — for me and my family — this is the perfect example of a horror movie that it pleases the Lord for us to watch.
In 2018 “A Quiet Place” was released. It’s rated PG-13, and it’s officially in the Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense, Horror genres.
The writer/director, John Krasinski, says the movies stands as a metaphor for parenting. He and his wife, Emily Blunt, are two of the main characters; so the movie is really a family affair for that couple.
“A Quiet Place” contains a lot of overtly good content. The parents are desperately in love and their whole existence is to protect their kids.
Even as Hollywood is concerned, they’re a religious family. This is shown primarily through a scene of them praying before a meal.
There is no substance abuse, there is no sexuality beyond a real-life husband and wife swaying to some music and kissing appropriately.
There is no crude or profane language.
But there are a ton of valuable lessons learned by various characters, growth, development, Christological sacrifices made, relationships restored, a very strong pro-life theme running all through-out, and an absolutely compelling illustration of the consequences of sin.
You don’t get 10 minutes into the film before you see what I believe is the absolute best cinematic object lesson of the effects of sin other than the crucifixion of Christ.
So, what makes “A Quiet Place” a PG-13 horror movie? There are really only two main things people may not like.
The first is that a ravenous alien species has taken over the planet, and as we pick up the story on day 89 of the invasion, we see that there’s not much of humanity left. Though the aliens are blind, they have insane hearing and blinding speed and are practically bullet-proof.
They can hear the smallest noises from miles away and then bring a quick, though not gory end, to whatever made the noise.
Well, this family of five has one kindergarten-aged child and two older kids.
There’s one very tense scene where the kids are playing a board game and a momentary scuffle causes a lantern to fall to the ground and break.
Yeah, life with kids is super hard when your life depends on being absolutely silent.
And the second thing that ramps up the intensity is that Emily Blunt’s character is pregnant.
Part of the struggle with the expectant mother is that — at one point in the movie — she goes into labor and delivers the baby.
Though the movie-makers handle the scene in what — I believe — is the most perfect way possible with no immodesty at all, there is an expected amount of blood and pain associated with the childbirth and of course the fact that there is a deadly alien in the house.
So, the ever present threat of the aliens and the scene where she gives birth are super nerve-racking, and the occasional death by said aliens — though not gruesome at all — can still be disturbing.
Now, I introduced the movie to my kids when they were 9 and 12. There were no nightmares. There was no inappropriate uneasiness. There was no collateral damage in my family.
On the contrary, I believe it was the perfect medium for teaching my kids some extremely important Truth. The themes of the film were sufficiently taught within the film and with my wife’s and my added commentary and subsequent discussion.
They saw it for the first time in October of 2018. It’s now October of 2019, and I’m pretty sure they’ve seen the movie 3 to 5 times since. I guarantee you they could articulate well the biblical lessons, and I think that particular movie did it in a wonderful way that other stories and object lessons could not.
Now, you may be familiar with “A Quiet Place” and be scandalized that I allowed my 9 year old to see it. But, the point of this is not to sit around judging people for the individualized and non-sinful applications each family has to make.
The point is to understand God’s expectations and allow them to inform our decision-making.
Too many people aren’t discerning enough with their entertainment, and they and their kids are viewing things that — biblically speaking — they absolutely should not be watching.
However, there’s another group of individuals who so desire to shelter their kids from any form of fear that they’re keeping them from the fear God wants them to have.
I’m not saying you have to watch scary movies in order to parent your kids well, but you are going to have to discuss genuinely scary things. You must.
And if you disagree with me on that, you’re either reading a different Bible or believe that you don’t have to use the Bible to parent your kids.
And I think I’ve done a sufficient job over 304 episodes dispelling that misconception. If not, just check out “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Parenting.”
And we also have to consider that if God wants us to glorify Him in everything we do, and if we can’t accidentally glorify God . . . then we’re going to have to be more intentional and premeditated about why we do what we do. That includes our entertainment.
For those of you who are interested, I’ll include a link in the description to Plugged-In’s review of “A Quiet Place.”
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And join us next time as we start our “Parenting Fearful Children” series.
Your kids will be afraid. They’ll be afraid for good reasons, and they’ll be afraid for bad reasons. So, let’s get together next time to discover how God would have us parent our kids through their fear.
Have a great week!
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