If previous generations of Christians returned and lived with us for one week, they might be surprised by two things: how little we pray and how much we enjoy being entertained by sin. They would be shocked that an award-winning, evangelical book on godliness contained a detailed discussion of a sexually explicit scene from an R-rated movie. The author included the story to warn readers to avoid the misplaced desires of the lead character, but his lengthy reference also implicitly suggests that Christian virtue is unaffected by our choices of entertainment. His students get the point: they may view movies filled with violence, profanity, and sexual immorality as long as they watch with “discernment”—which often is code for “watch whatever you want as long as you spot the Christ figure or the tortured soul yearning for redemption.”
The question of entertainment is particularly pressing for parents who must nurture their children’s vulnerable hearts and minds. Forms of entertainment come and go, yet our concerns remain the same. My parents monitored what my brothers and I watched on television. Now I monitor what my children do online and whether they are spending too much time there. No matter the form of entertainment that we are consuming, finding biblical wisdom for our entertainment age must involve answering two questions: when and how to engage.
when to engage
Regularly: Our heavenly Father wants His children to enjoy life. Even when God urges us to sacrificially share our wealth with others, He reminds us that He “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Enjoyment invariably involves entertainment, and Scripture approves of many of its forms. Psalm 45 celebrates exquisite poetry, fragrant perfumes, and harp music wafting through ivory palaces. Jewish weddings, including the ones Jesus attended, were weeklong feasts with wine and dancing. King Solomon discovered that such earthly pleasures cannot provide ultimate satisfaction, yet he also attests that they are appropriate in their place (Eccl. 2:1–11, 24–25). And the Apostle Paul, whose single-minded mission was to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, had attended enough athletic contests to use running and boxing as metaphors for the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24–27).
Christians are not masochists. Even poor and persecuted Christians enjoy a festive party, a well-told tale, and a hard-fought game that goes into overtime. We don’t shrink from suffering, though neither do we search for it. All things being equal, we seek wholesome pleasures whenever and wherever they appear. We may consume explicitly Christian music, movies, and books, and we also are free in Christ to unwind with secular or less explicitly Christian music, novels, or films. Jesus is the Creator of all things, and His common grace enables unbelievers to produce—and Christians to enjoy—non-religious forms of good entertainment (Col. 1:15–20).
Selectively: But we must consume wisely. As Paul told the Corinthians, not everything that is lawful for me is helpful or liberating (1 Cor. 6:12). When it comes down to it, life is essentially a series of moments. We may dream about the future, yet we live moment by moment. If we fritter away each moment staring at a screen, we are gathering our priceless lives and investing them in what is fleeting.
A friend spent every evening glued to the television for hours on end. When we learned he had leukemia, we feared for his life but hoped he might awaken to use his time more productively. God answered our prayers and healed him, yet he squandered his new lease on life by promptly resuming his regular viewing schedule. What a waste.
Leisure is a quick way to discover our highest values, for what we do on evenings and weekends we tend to do for its own sake rather than for something else. What we do when we don’t have to do anything reveals something about what we’re really living for. We should invest some free time in entertainment—because life should be enjoyed—but we must not become merely passive consumers of other people’s work. Jesus does not intend for us to be lazy (Matt. 25:30).
Besides the amount of time spent on entertainment, we must also consider its location. Solomon says there is “a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,” and so on (Eccl. 3:1–8). There is a time to create and a time to consume what was created. Let’s not give our most creative moments to passively consuming entertainment. I am most productive in the mornings, and I guard that time from videos, websites, and even books that don’t require my best. I try to devote my peak periods to creating content—I’m writing this sentence in the morning—rather than consuming what someone else has produced.
When are you most fresh? Protect this time, and its regular structure will supply space for your creativity to flourish. Use this time to produce things and to serve people for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. Create until you run out of steam, then refresh yourself with a song, story, or other creation that someone else has produced.