August 15, 2012

Your Angel and the Movies

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

On a recent international flight I noticed that the guy sitting next to me (and hogging the armrest) was watching one of the Twilight movies. I hadn’t seen any of the Twilight Saga—nor had I the least inclination to do so. But as an Adventist university professor, I’d heard quite a few students buzzing about it, including some students I wouldn’t have expected.

At one point during the flight I decided to turn from my own movie—which of course I deemed acceptable—to take a peek at the Twilight film and see what it was really like. The story line of Twilight (PG-13) is about a young woman who can’t resist falling in love with a vampire. Sure enough, the particular scene I viewed showed the woman lying there dead, with the handsome but conflicted young vampire biting on her leg. The scenes that followed were more graphic and disturbing than I’d even expected. When I looked over again a few minutes later, the woman appeared to have been fully resuscitated and ready to carry on the romance in time for the next film.

2012 1523 page30When I returned to my classroom, I talked with my students about what I’d seen. “I have an honest question for you,” I said. “And I mean every one of these words literally. Why in hell would you want to watch something like that? Do you not think it affects you?”

A couple generations ago Adventist kids were warned that if they entered a movie theater, their guardian angel would wait outside. To encourage good choices—as the stories go—some Adventist colleges and academies even positioned employees at the doors of theaters to watch for straying Adventist youth.

How times have changed. No longer do our guardian angels stand waiting at the doors of movie theaters. Now they sit right there with us, munching popcorn.

So how did we tip from one extreme to the other? Here’s one scenario:

In the days of “Don’t go to a theater,” many Adventist youth wondered why it was OK to watch the exact same movie (Chariots of Fire, The Sound of Music, A Cry in the Dark) a few years later in a school gymnasium or church fellowship hall. If a film was clean, uplifting, even spiritual, why was viewing it in a theater any different? (For the most part, it wasn’t—though one can make a pretty good argument about the theater environment, and certainly about previews of less-desirable films.)

When young people realized that the theater could, in fact, show a decent movie, they said, “Well, that’s dumb!” and threw caution to the wind. Anxious to distance themselves from the silly restrictions of their own youth (“They’re so legalistic!”), this generation (“We’re saved by grace alone!”) raised a generation of kids ill-equipped to discern a good film from a bad one. That’s why my college students line up on Saturday night to watch Twilight and The Hunger Games.

And that’s why the greatest threat to most Adventist young people today is not legalism; it’s secularism. The pendulum swings back and forth, and right now it’s swung hard to the secular. What many young people most need—and in their hearts, most want—is an old-fashioned prophetic call (see Ezra/Nehemiah) to a life of holiness, not in order to be saved but in order to enjoy the fullness of life in Christ.

Some films tell stories worth seeing (wherever we see them). Most don’t. With one simple, respectful question, let’s call our young people to a high standard in all their life choices: Is this really good enough for you?

Andy Nash is a professor and pastor who leads family-friendly tours to Israel. He can be reached at [email protected] This article was published August 16, 2012.