Should Christians Enjoy “Secular” Art and Entertainment?

My formative years as a Christian were heavily influenced by strict fundamentalism (of the independent Baptist variety). I was taught that anything in entertainment that wasn’t expressly Christian wasn’t OK for a “godly” Christian to watch, listen to, read, look at, do. “Separation” from the world is one of the (if not the) chief marks of a holy life. The most godly Christian life is defined as the one that is the most refrained from indulging in anything “worldly.”

“Worldly” is defined really broadly in legalistic circles. Mostly, it was applied to things pertaining to art and entertainment. Movies, music, books, magazines – anything that wasn’t clearly Christian was not acceptable – to God. In fact, if it wasn’t Christian enough, it wasn’t acceptable.

So, for example, not only was secular music not acceptable, but even most Christian music was out of the question. Especially contemporary music. So, not only was everything from U2 to John Denver “worldly” and corrupting, even Michael W. Smith and Steve Green were to be abstained from, not to mention Petra or Third Day! Why? Well, because their music was “worldly.”

You can see that with “standards” like that, that attending a movie (especially in the theater!) was even worse than listening to ungodly music. Movies were too full of worldly ideas, sinful acts, vulgar words, and ungodly attitudes. Especially movies made in color! (Of course no John Wayne movie with all it’s whiskey drinking, killing, and occasional cursing was ever really condemned, since he portrayed the kind of strong masculine toughness, unapologetic maverick individualism, and Wild West cowboy justice that fundamentalists thrive on and esteem. Plus, everybody loves John Wayne!)

Needless to say, non-Christain literature was avoided just as well, and for the same reasons. It would have been frowned upon to be known to be reading a book other than by an acceptable Christian author – someone who largely agreed with fundamentalism’s core tenants. Even if there were “good” books out there (even the classics), they are a waste of time. They just don’t fill your mind with holy thoughts and can lead you into sinful ways of thinking and living.

For now, I’ll spare you the details of my break with this kind of mentality. But I will give you some of the contributing factors. The first was a Biblical understanding of grace: that I cannot make my self MORE acceptable to God than I already am in Christ by His sheer grace – justifying grace. And that I therefore cannot do MORE righteous acts to gain more of God’s favor – I already have His full favor in Christ. The massive effect this reality has is that it frees you from performance-based spirituality – from legalism. And grace becomes a thing of sheer awe.

Once you begin to realize how you were bound by man-made rules of measuring your spirituality, you begin to question everything in your life. What you do and don’t do and why. And, germane to the question I’ve raised, what entertainment and art you can and can’t enjoy.

My thinking on this began to shift when I added another thing of awe: God’s work in creation. Yes, we live in a fallen universe. But the vestiges of God’s beauty and glory are still on bright display. And not just in the sun and stars and oceans and forests and mountains and birds and fish and animals. But also in people. Even lost people.

God made us in His image. And although due to our sin we have lost some of the reflection of God’s image in our beings, we did not loose it all. All is not lost! God’s handiwork in human beings is magnificent! And not just in our physical bodies (eyes, organs, limbs, etc.), but also in our natures and in our work.

God is creative. Oh, is He ever! Who can tell it sufficiently? Just look at the varieties of shapes sizes and colors of fishes, birds, flowers, trees, even people! Look at the color and hue of the sky. It’s breathtaking! Isn’t it amazing how much beauty and creativity and variety He has built into His creation? He didn’t just make one kind of flower and He didn’t just make them all one color. The same goes for all the rest of His hand-made flora, fauna, creatures, and heavenly bodies.

And He put this same creative urge in man. Not just saved men either. All men. God made us to be creative – to produce and enjoy things of beauty. Some of us are better than others at this, no doubt. But all of us are this way.

John Calvin wrote, “The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator.”

So, why can’t we enjoy the creative expressions of God’s hand-made people? A flower painted by a Christian is not by definition necessarily more beautiful and therefore worthy of enjoyment than the very same flower painted by a non-Christian. A creative and interesting story or book isn’t necessarily better just because a Christian wrote it. The same is true of a song or a movie.

We are allowed to enjoy God’s beauty, even if from the hearts and minds of ungodly men. Classical music is an easy example of that statement. But it doesn’t stop there. Is a song that tells a compelling story, but doesn’t mention God, or isn’t told from a Christian perspective, or a song that expresses deep emotions or even humor, somehow unworthy of being enjoyed by a Christian? Can we not enjoy the story or feel the emotion or laugh out loud? Are we only allowed to do this when Christians are the singers or movie makers or authors or artists?

No. We should delight in the beauty and joy of God’s creation wherever we find it. To do less is to ignore Him in it. Yes, I am saying that I can enjoy God by looking at art painted by an unbeliever. I can learn valuable lessons from books and even movies written and acted by unbelievers. I can even experience common human emotions like sorrow and joy in a song or piece of music not created by a Christian. To do any less would be an insult to God and His goodness in the gifts of creation.

Again John Calvin said it so well: “If we reflect that the Spirit of God [or Christians] is the only fountain of truth [or beauty], we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.”

God is good and His good gifts are to be enjoyed. Not without discernment, not without thought, lest we partake of forbidden fruit. But we shouldn’t never eat this fruit just because there are some bad apples on the trees. More on that later. Any thoughts?

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15 Responses to Should Christians Enjoy “Secular” Art and Entertainment?

  1. maxdaddy says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. As a professional musician- as well as a church musician, I have had to have this conversation many times! Legalism is alive and well in the Church. People are often very selective as to what they determine to be “Of the devil.” I usually ask them something like, “If God has gifted you to drive buses, may you only drive CHURCH buses?” As you correctly stated, God created a beautiful world, with all forms of art, and they can all glorify Him. We cannot rightly engage and win the world all huddled up inside a church building. Discernment is the key. Thanks for your post. This is a sore subject for me. Derrick L. Williams

  2. Derrick says:

    Great post. I agree with just about everything being said here. I make one minor disctinction having to do with the difference between “enjoying” and “encountering.” As Kenny Rodgers once sang, “You got’s to know when to hold’em and know when to fold ’em.” Art should be encountered and reasoned with for those who are led to do so. However, it is equally true that one should flee if the art one is encountering might cause that person to stumble. Our consciences have a lot of play in this issue. As a fine artists i often encounter secular art that is very uplifting and intellectually challenging. Some art I encounter can also be quite blasphemous. For instance, I might encounter Serrano’s “Piss Christ” but I certainly am not inclined to enjoy it (though I might think long and hard about what might drive someone to make such an image and pray that God send His spirit to work with such a fellow, leading him ultimately to the cross and repentance).

    There are always going to be certain communities in the faith that read a hard-core separation from the world into their understanding of of scripture. This view would be similar to that you descibed above. Yet, Paul makes it clear from the text of his letter to the Corinthians that we, the followers of Christ, should have relations to the world and the people in it. Ultimatley I can read this as an integration without capitulation with our earthly home and all that implies. I listen to secular music, take in secular art, read secular literature and usually enjoy doing so without guilt. Yet, I do have to draw the line when my encounters with the same start to draw me away from the cross and back toward old thoughts and habits.

  3. balm says:

    interesting thoughts. glad that these coversations are coming up. how about mentioning living and interacting where we are not removed, but with people and culture. some culture might offend, but as J. Durham pionted out he might have to really think about “Piss Christ”. there is of course the recent “My Sweet Lord” chocolate sculpture that also created many to think, and some to respond without thinking. i appreciated that you pointed out that any artists work is not better than anothers because of a title or faith they may or may not posses. creativeness is given to all, love is given to all. God is given to all. some are just not yet convinced.

  4. Just a thought says:

    It never ceases to intrigue me how Christians will look down so much at so-called “secular” entertaiment and art as being morally reprehensible. I say that because many Biblical characters that a lot of Christians revere today have comitted many morally reprehensible acts. I compiled a short lits that should make people really critically think, especially the last one.

    Adam: Blamed Eve for his sinning, trying to avoid responsibility himself.

    Moses: A man who murdered many people and was never brought to justice for his crimes while living.

    Joshua: Stoned Achan to death along with his family and took his possessions.

    Abraham: Got his concubine slave pregnant when he learned his wife Sarah couldn’t conceive. Also convinced the Pharaoh Sara was his sister and let him have sex with her.

    Esther: Become queen of Persia and kept the Jews from being annihilated because she knew she was hot and Xerxes wanted her as his wife. She basically whored herself out for the sake of her people.

    Lott: Had drunken sex with his two daughters and got both of them pregnant. Also offered them up to the residents of Sodom.

    David: Seduced (possibly by coerison) another man’s wife and then killed that man. He had quite a few wives as well as concubines and frequented prostitutes. There are unsubstantiated rumors that he could have had male lovers as well, depending on how you read the Scriptures. David has also killed many men himself and ordered the deaths of many more.

    Amnon: One of David’s sons who rapes his sister by deceiving David. Clearly he should be held responsible for his own actions, but it makes you wonder where he learned his “I can have any woman I want” attitude from.

    Solomon: No pimp, player, mac, or lady’s man can hold a candle to this temple-buliding man-whore. The Bible states he had 700 wives, 300 concubines, and God knows how many casual lovers. At one point he turned his back on God to worship the false gods that his girlfriends were into. He for sure outdid his father David in his decadence and debauchery.

    Paul: Killed early Christians before his conversion. Also rumored to be a repressed gay man.

    Many more prominent Biblical characters were poligamist womanizers who treated the women in their life like crap, murdered at will, stole possessions, held people as slaves, and made material wealth their personal god.

    Jesus: Nothing bad can be said about the Good Man at all because He lived a blameless life. Still, He wore garments that very much resemble modern day dresses, had long hair, a beard, wore sandals, forgave even some of the most outcast of sinners, and preached things like love your neighbor, the perils of making material wealth the center of your life, help the poor, and treat others how you want to be treated among many other lessons. If He appeared today as He did two milennia ago and preach now what He preached then, He would probably be decried as a effeminate peace-loving socialist hippie and probably killed by the fundamentalist Christians who claim to follow God’s ways. It would be much how the saudicies and pharisees, who also claimed to follow God’s ways, killed Jesus back in the day.

  5. Me says:

    You must be a satanist. You will rot in hell if you don’t repent.

  6. mutantlord says:

    grace = luck

  7. John says:

    Dear Just A Thought,
    Being sinless Jesus couldn’t have had long hair because it’s against the Jewish law of Moses. He made a whip and drove thousands of money changers out of a several acre temple once and another time said that he came to cast fire upon the earth and wished it was already burning. It would be a dire mistake to consider him effeminate. Though I have to admit that he would have bold words for the fundamentalists because in his day the pharisees were the ones that agreed with him the most and also the once he verbally blasted the most. All depends on how you define fundamentalist.

  8. John says:

    By the way, Just A Thought I also think some of the crimes of Bible figures you mentioned were unduly exaggerated or baseless but that’s beside the point. Most of them are unquestionably right on. Don’t forget that Jacob’s two sons slaughtered the Shechemites after vowing to intermarry with them and that another son of Jacob slept with one of his father’s wives. The latter got no more punishment than a small curse on his descendants by Jacob.

  9. Terry says:

    True. But I also feel this posting displays half or is short of the full picture. I too am a musician. Lover of Jazz, classical music, classic literature, movies and so on.

    My walk with God has never been so amazing but God had to show me the very things that hindered my walk with him and it WAS the things of this world.

    It is one thing to recieve a gift from God, but the Glory must go back to God.

    It is not by yours or my standard by which you should live but by God’s. What I’m saying is, we are born with a wicked heart with an opinion that is not trustworthy therefore you must ALAWAYS refer back to the scriptures.

    To be honest, when you run after God, you no longer desire these things. You become a new creature. You become in tune with God.

    So, what better way to tune out with God than to enjoy something that does not praise, teach or acknowledge him therefore, are you asking the right questions? Like…

    What does the holyspirit tell you?
    What does scripture say?
    What propmted you to post this?
    Could your posting carelessly mislead other believers who are young in thier walk?
    Why are you asking for people’s thoughts when in our own minds we are easily decieved?

    I pass no judgement here bothers and sisters in Christ but I do urge you to be careful. You must consult God in all matters big or small, not man’s thoughts or opinion. Man’s opinion and personal beliefs put Jesus on the cross. How’s that for reliable.

    Read scripture on the nature and wickedness of man
    Read scripture on the power of the tongue (before you continue singing them lyrics “Who runs the world – Ummmmmm……God!)
    Read scripture on how you become a new creature when saved

    Consult God in prayer

  10. Abigail says:

    Just a Thought, are you saying that the Bible is not against evil and immoral practices? The Bible makes it clear in many cases (such as the case of David and Bathsheba) by saying that this was wrong. Just because the Bible records it, that doesn’t mean that is implying that it is right. The Bible even records the words of satin, the evil one. When people are punished, sometimes violently, if the punishment is commanded by God it is always just. However, not all Biblical characters listened to the Lord, and thus often did what He told them elsewhere not to do.
    About Jesus: the clothing, if that is what he did wear was just the norm in the day. Artists have pictured Him with long brown hair, and often white skin. However, He was a Jew, and so probably not white, and would probably not have had long hair.
    To finish, if the Bible does not say that “this was wrong” then look at it more closely; Is this practice approved in the law? If not, maybe the we are meant to know that it is so wrong. After all, we do have a conscience. These stories show us how depraved and helpless we humans are, and convicts us of our need for a Savior. Only one Man kept that law; and He was the Son of God, come in human form, to save all us dead little rotters from the punishment we deserve. That’s pretty amazing, right? Would you give yourself up someone you knew would kill you?

  11. Eleyn says:

    Very nicely put! Thank you for this! I googled “is it ok for Christians to read secular books” and this was on top. Thank you!

  12. Diana says:

    Great post. This is exactly what I am learning right know. Thank you. We can enjoy things from unbelievers as long as we are wise in all we do. I have met some really awesome people who do not believe in God, God made them that wonderful and so I can enjoy who they are as people and not label them as “bad”. My life has been so much more enjoyable because I am not hindering myself from enjoying God’s creations and all the different things he has made for us whether it is secular or not.

  13. N says:

    Thank you for enlightening me 🙂

  14. I agree with you to some extent. What about worldly music with curse words? You wouldn’t try and listen to that, would you?

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