Last week R. L. Copple posted an interesting review of the Christian film God Is Not Dead. Part of his critique concerned how atheists or non-Christians generally would receive the movie (not well).
It left me thinking about how we, as Christians, should receive criticism from the world. How much does it matter? Should we care how they react to our films and books? Do they care how we react to theirs? I don’t recall any atheists or agnostics worrying about how Christians took Noah or The Da Vinci Code.
Because the secular world is culturally dominant, especially in movies and television, Christians are more likely to hear and be affected by their critiques. And our evangelistic mission gives us a reason to look outward.
The Apostle Paul, who became all things to all men, certainly showed regard for what unbelievers think. While laying down regulations for the church service to the Corinthians, he wrote, “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and … some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” He commanded the Romans, and all Christians, to “do what is right in the eyes of everybody”. He even required that elders have a good reputation with outsiders.
In all these cases, the apostle is addressing what unbelievers think of our conduct, which is infinitely more important than what they think of our art. But he still establishes a principle of caring about the opinions of unbelievers.
Another reason to pay attention to the criticism of the world is that it will, on occasion, be right. C. S. Lewis once warned that a group “can create around it a vacuum across which no voice will carry. … Whatever faults the circle has – and no circle is without them – thus become incurable.” The Christian community must avoid what Lewis, in that same passage, calls “the wholesale deafness which is arrogant and inhuman”.
But on balance, we must retain the “partial deafness which is noble and necessary”. If we cared too much about the opinions of the world we wouldn’t be Christians. The world is not on God’s side. If, by God’s grace, we are, they’re not on our side, either. Paul puts the divide starkly: “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?”
Christians are often biased in their judgments of art. But so are non-Christians. It’s a human thing. Nobody really enjoys it when a book or film promulgates a viewpoint, political or religious, they disagree with; often people ignore it, but nobody enjoys it.
Beyond this, fundamentally opposed worldviews means a different understanding of reality. In many things, it won’t matter much. A person’s metaphysical beliefs will not much affect his views of what makes for a pleasing writing style or a well-paced film. But the deeper you go, the more apparent the divide will become. If we think we’ve found the pearl of great price, and they think we’ve found cheap imitation pearls, any talk about the matter will run into a wall or, at the least, a mist.
Christians should not shut out the criticism of the world. But neither should we give it more weight than it deserves. We must not look to the world for our validation – not for our lives, our faith, or even (in a kind of cultural cringe) for our art. That’s not the praise we were meant to seek.