Opinion: Cultural discernment should not extend to immorality

Opinion: Cultural discernment should not extend to immorality

A couple of years ago I attended a comedy show here at Calvin, during which the performing comedian covered a wide range of subjects. There was a joke about Jesus’ resurrection, one about getting more for your money with taller women, another that I won’t repeat and more.

This is just one example of a time when I and others at Calvin were exposed to a negative, God-dishonoring part of our nation’s culture. Even though cultural discernment is something emphasized here, few in the audience, if any, were recognizing the good and the bad in the show and responding appropriately. They laughed at everything he said. There didn’t seem to be anything separating us, a Christian college, from any other crowd. That alone should suggest that something is wrong with our discernment practices.

Judging from what Calvin has taught me about cultural discernment, when I find myself in these types of situations I should decide for myself what I am capable of exposing myself to and then biblically discern what is good and bad. But if biblical discernment is worthwhile, then a life characterized by practicing it ought to lead to the realization that things like that comedian’s performance should be avoided. Too often, however, we leave the show or movie repeating the funniest jokes, not meditating on any spiritual truth portrayed.

I do not want to reject the idea of cultural discernment. Interaction with culture is inevitable, and not all of what it has to offer is evil. And I realize that effective cultural discernment is practiced here on campus on a regular basis. But is it working? That comedy show is evidence that something might need to change. And perhaps equally important, is it always worth it? Is going to a movie and perhaps finding a biblical truth here and there worth all the trashy, blasphemous language and sexual content you’re exposed to  —scenes you might never forget? Do the majority of Christians really go to the theater or a Lady Gaga concert for the primary purpose of discerning which themes or lyrics they can profit from and which they should disregard?

Because we will inevitably interact with the world, we need to start a habit of saying “no” to certain things, which can be hard. The world is appealing; it can suck us in so easily. In “Serving God Globally,” Calvin professor Roland Hoksbergen writes that “reformed Christians, for all their talk about transforming the whole world, all too often end up being transformed themselves by the world around them.”

I’m no exception. I watch movies far too often simply for the sake of entertainment, even though I know there might be a lot of junk in them. And I’m not saying that the people who laughed at the comedian’s jokes aren’t real Christians. But I wish we would see the danger in what we’re doing. I wish we would imagine telling those jokes to Jesus or having him sit next to us while we laughed.

The Bible is not silent about this. In Psalm 101:3 the writer says, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” Second Corinthians 6:14-16 says, “[What] communion has light with darkness? … Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” We need to avoid the things that we know are going to make us less sensitive to evil, make us trivialize the topic of sex to the point where we can laugh at jokes about it or make us live for the things of this life more than those of the next.

The Bible doesn’t say that Christians should avoid the world (or entertainment) entirely. And that’s not what I’m advocating either. If we did that, how could we witness to others or benefit society? There is, however, a difference between positively impacting the world and participating in its activities (or being negatively impacted by them). We’re not doing much good if we simply watch the movie or attend the concert and then go home. It has to be followed by the proper action, like avoiding a movie that you know contains profane and vulgar language or overtly sexual images. Besides, you’re probably not missing out on any truth that you couldn’t learn in a better environment.

As Charles Spurgeon said, “You must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Walk worthy of your high calling and dignity. Remember, Christian, that you are a [child] of the King of kings. Therefore, keep yourself unspotted from the world.”