With the new movie Black Swan receiving substantial Oscar Buzz a lot of my friends decided to hop over to RagTag and give it a watch.
However, the sexual content, violence, and atmospheric darkness is causing a lot of Christians to ask if we, as believers, can conscientiously watch this film. I am not going to answer that question first. Instead I want to ask a related question: when should Christians say no to media?
There are three primary positions most Christians take: separative, integrative, and transformative.
Separative: Separatists typically argue that the world is wicked, therefore Christians must do everything they can to separate from culture. They value purity, and suspect movies, music, and books that include any ‘questionable content,’ because it might pollute their inner holiness. This view rightly loves holiness. However, it denies the reality that we cannot escape the world. We bring it with us no matter where we go, we participate in it even in our most austere Christian activities, because we ourselves are evil.
This view also denies common grace, a principle that Christ taught (Matt. 6), which says that God’s grace is evident in the lives of all people: whether it be the non-Christian father loving his son, or our culture acknowledging the evil of rape, theft, and murder. We should commend culture when it acknowledges the fallenness of man, the beauty of love, etc.
Integrative: integrationalists argue that human culture reflects God’s character, therefore Christians must work to integrate with and learn from culture. This view rightly respects common grace, and celebrates the wonder of human creation in art. However, it does not acknowledge how sin taints not only individuals but entire cultures. Because a culture condones child-sacrifice or abortion, does not mean that Christians can. Why? We are part of a different kingdom; we have a higher authority than art and culture. Yes, there is beauty in culture, but there is also ugliness. We cannot say that simply because something is “artistic” it must be good to watch.
Transformative: Transformationalists understand both the separative argument and the integrative argument. They believe on the one hand that every culture shares in God’s common grace. Therefore, they see vocation and art as an important aspect of their Christian worship. They also understand that spreading the gospel requires cultural contextualization. On the other hand, they also acknowledge that God’s authority supersedes all authority, including culture. Therefore, they reject those beliefs which stand contrary to God’s word, and challenge assumptions in art and culture which stray from the truth of scripture. Therefore, transformationalists work to enter into culture, and transform it from the inside out. They are truly “in the world, but not of the world.”
I resonate most with the transformative view, so when it comes to culture I fall back on Paul’s words in 1 Cor 10:23: “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” We may chose to watch whatever we want, but we must ask, is this beneficial? Does this build up?
For me this means the creation of some personal rules about my media intake, certain things that I conscientiously choose to avoid: sexual content and stylized violence. Yet this is a personal rule and not necessary for all to follow. Be in the world, but not of the world. Enter in, then discuss and transform.
So, should you watch Black Swan? Perhaps. It’s portrayal of the fallen condition, humanity’s self-destructive nature, may be beneficial for those who think of humans as innately good. But maybe not; it’s graphic sexual content might tear you down more than its dark portrayal of evil build you up.