Despite their reputation as joyless and dour sticks-in-the-mud, the Puritans did not reject all forms of recreation. They simply sought to engage in recreation and entertainment in a God-honoring way. And, in the 16th and 17th centuries, that primarily meant music, art, sports, and reading books.
In order to be conscientious about what he read and to help others do the same, Puritan pastor Richard Baxter asked four questions to help guide his reading. With a few minor adjustments, these questions can help us be more discerning about the movies and shows that we choose to watch.
1. Could I spend this time no better?
This is an excellent first question to ask. Is there something more important and productive that you ought to be doing? If so, put down the remote and go do that. The average adult spends 33 hours staring at the TV set each week. It would be difficult to argue that this is in keeping with Ephesians 5:16, which tells us to “redeem the time.”
But does that mean we should never sit back and relax while watching Netflix? Not at all. However, we should strive to do all things on purpose – even watching TV.
There can be a valuable purpose in relaxing with a good show or movie. A movie night with your spouse or the kids can be a lot of fun. Like any good story, shows and movies can carry a profound message that helps you to consider the important questions of life.
Even so, the first question to ask is whether there is something more important that demands your attention. If you’ve determined that sitting back and watching something is a good use of your time, there are three more questions to ask to help you decide what to watch.
2. Are there better [shows and movies] that would edify me more?
Don’t let the list of most popular shows and movies dictate what you’re going to spend your time viewing. Just because it is popular doesn’t mean it’s good.
We cannot pretend that what we give our attention to does not impact us. Just as we need to watch what we consume in order to stay physically fit, we should be mindful of the entertainment we consume in order to stay spiritually fit.
It is not a mark of spiritual maturity to be able to watch acts of murder, nudity, sexual situations, graphic violence, or other immorality without having your conscience pricked. As Tim Challies recently observed:
It was not too long ago that many Christians considered all movies and television off-bounds. That was fundamentalism at its most legalistic and it is good that we have corrected this. Yet today I fear we’ve massively overcorrected so that almost nothing is off-bounds. In fact, we’ve gone so far as to consider it virtuous to be able to watch nearly anything.
This is a sad, and I believe accurate, indictment of the modern Christian’s engagement with entertainment. But it should not be the case. As John MacArthur has said, “We should not be entertained by the sins for which Christ died.”
Be discerning about what you choose to watch. There is an almost endless amount of shows and movies to choose from. You don’t have to watch shows that glorify things which do not glorify God.
3. Are the lovers of such [shows] as this the greatest lover of the Book of God and of a holy life?
As Christians, we should gravitate towards expressions of art, creativity, and imagination that point us towards God, not away from Him.
Does this mean that we should only watch Christian movies? Mercifully, no. While we can be thankful that more and more Christian films are coming out (many that are actually watchable), we don’t have to limit ourselves to movies that have a Casting Crowns song on the soundtrack.
That being said, consider the worldview that is being appealed to by the show that you are watching. Is the content such that it draws the attention of those whose hearts are inclined towards God or does it primarily appeal to those whose hearts are focused on the things of this world?
If you would hesitate to tell a fellow Christian that you are a fan of a certain show – or would hesitate to tell a fellow fan that you are a Christian – you need to rethink your entertainment choices.
4. Does this [movie] increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?
Remember that this world is not our home. The fact that we are forgiven sinners, purchased by Christ and bound for heaven should impact every aspect of our lives.
Additionally, we know from Scripture that we have an adversary who is determined to take Christ’s soldiers out of the fight. What soldier would spend time in activities that weaken his armor?
Be critical of the choices you have when deciding what to watch. Does this movie help you to better appreciate the truths expressed in Scripture, or is it void of redemptive elements? Does this show encourage you to snuff out sin in your life, or does it entice you to see how close you can get to the flame without getting burned? Does this film make you long for God’s kingdom, or does it merely increase your desire for the things of earth?
While we can and should ask these four questions before we pick up a book, as Baxter intended, we should also ask them before we pick up the remote.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainment. We are free in Christ to take part in such things. But remember: “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Yes, we have freedom in Christ to watch Netflix. Let’s choose to watch movies that are helpful and build us up rather than hinder our progress and tear down our efforts to follow Christ.