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Horror and Philippians 4:8

Should Christians avoid the horrors of horror?
| Jan 27, 2015 | 29 comments |

It isn’t uncommon, especially if the subject is horror stories by Christians, for someone in a discussion to quote the following verse to conclude why Christians should avoid writing and reading anything that might focus on evil, death, or gore.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Phil 4:8)

Presented out of context, it would appear to be a Biblical command to avoid thinking about the formerly mentioned concepts. The following are five reasons why the use of this verse to denounce the darker elements of fiction is a misapplication of its contextual meaning.

1. This verse is a general principle, not a command.

In the context Paul is applying this verse, he is exhorting his listeners on how they should conduct themselves. It is obvious this is a general principle and not a command for the simple reason if we followed it as an absolute command to not think on its opposites, none of us would pay our bills, disciple our children, or take out the trash.

2. The converse of the verse is not necessarily true.

Notice Paul does not say, “Don’t think on these things: death, evil, ugly stuff, violence . . .“ He is rightly suggesting that we should think of these virtuous things. He is not saying we shouldn’t ever think on anything else. To do so is putting words in his mouth he didn’t say.

3. The Bible itself would violate this “commandment.”

The Bible has a healthy dose of focusing on evil and sin. People are brutally killed. Evil kings reign over God’s chosen people for years. Even the central focus of the Gospel involves deceit, scourgings, mockery, and violent deaths—not only Jesus Christ’s on the cross, but even depicting the death of Judas as him falling into a field and his bowels falling out. (Acts 1:18)

To apply this verse consistently to fiction, as some do, would require throwing away the Bible as well.

4. As an absolute “commandment,” it would prevent Christians from ministering and addressing the many evil circumstances most all experience in this life.

Indeed, if this was a commandment to not think about evil, it would result in ignoring the vast suffering caused by sin so we could retreat into our idealistic bubble . . . hey, wait a minute, a lot of Christians do do that!

The Good SamaritanOkay, just note it prevents us from fulfilling Jesus’ commands to love one another as He has loved us. We become the priest, the Pharisee, and the scribe who pass by the bleeding Samaritan on the side of the road.

5. You can’t know the good without knowing the bad.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is called that for a reason. The two go together. A focus on one highlights the other. That is why Stephen King, in his book Danse Macabre, said of horror:

Horror movies do not love death, as some have suggested; they love life. They do not celebrate deformity, but by dwelling on deformity they sing of health and energy. By showing us the miseries of the damned they help us rediscover the smaller joys of our own lives. They are the barber’s leeches of the psyche, drawing not bad blood but anxiety . . . for a little while anyway.

The deeper the darkness, the more brightly the light shines.

Balance is the issue.

Certainly it would be bad for anyone to only focus on the bad and evil without thinking about the good and the virtues. Likewise, without focusing and thinking about evil regularly, we become like Adam and Eve, who having taken God’s bountiful goodness for granted, coveted what they didn’t have. Because they couldn’t appreciate the evil, they couldn’t appreciate the good. Not until they lost it.

I’m not advocating that we gorge ourselves on evil, gore, and horror. I’m not suggesting that any one person is wrong if they’ve decided to avoid certain fictional horrors. I am suggesting Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:8 is about balance, not an either/or scenario, and that people who refuse to stare evil in the face also tend to not think about the good as often.

Ironically, making this verse out to be a commandment to not think about the horrors of evil end up leading those same people to violate the true intent of the verse: to spend time thinking on those good things of God.

The next time someone whips that verse out to prove Christians shouldn’t partake or write such material, point them here. Maybe they’ll buy a clue.

Okay, choir, did I miss any key points?

As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.

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Greg - AKA Tiribulus

Do you really believe Paul would qualify that whole passage going back to chapter 3 by telling the Philippians that what we call horror today is something he actually approves of?  Anybody who thinks he would promote any of the garbage we call “art” and “entertainment” today is outta their mind.

This is pure 21st century American rationalization in the name of justifying carnality because we like it. Anybody can make the scriptures say literally anything if they want them to badly enough. I’m working on a response to Rebecca’s piece at her place.

I’ll Post it here too when I’m done.  You know you may be surprised to learn that there was a time when I would have been firmly on your guy’s side about all this.  There is however a vast foundational difference between facing and living life in a fallen world and intentionally producing and consuming “horror” for amusement, or even worse, calling it ministry. Real life doesn’t have enough horror for you? There’s some folks you should meet.

One thing I don’t understand. Barely a day goes by and SOMEBODY is writing a piece like this somewhere.

“SEE!!! The church has been wrong for centuries!! All this stuff is ok after all!! Isn’t it wonderful??!?!?!?! Now I get to feel better!”

Most of today’s American church has the spiritual discernment of a turnip and gorges herself with the world already. Who are you trying to convince? Just do what you want already. I’m worn out and probably need a break by now, but I honestly intend no sarcasm when I say that no serious student of the bible and history is going to be convinced by yet another piece explaining away Phil. 4:8. Or all the rest of the biblical principles that stand squarely against today’s spiraling moral downgrade in Christendom. Especially in the areas of art and entertainment.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus

You quote Stephen King as an authority. Consider the following please.
” I believe that one reason why the Church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the Church. Nowadays, we hear Nonconformists pleading that they may do this, and they may do that,—things which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, “Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog’s meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage!

Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children, you would loathe the very thought of the world’s evil joys, and your question would not be, ‘How far may we be like the world?’ but your one cry would be, ‘How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out from it?’ Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe, and ultra-Puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, ‘How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?”‘

Brethren, the use of the Church in the world is that it should be like salt in the midst of putrefaction; but if the salt has lost its savour, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to putrefy, it could but be an increase and a heightening of the general putridity. The worst day the world ever saw was when the sons of God were joined with the daughters of men. Then came the flood; for the only barrier against a flood of vengeance on this world is the separation of the saint from the sinner. Your duty as a Christian is to stand fast in your own place, and to stand out for God, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, resolving like one of old that, let others do as they will, as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord.”
And  again
“Avoid the appearance of evil. “But we must not be too rigid,” says one. There is no fear of that in these days. You will never go too far in holiness, nor become too like your Lord Jesus. If anybody accuses you of being too strict and precise, do not grieve but try to deserve the charge. I cannot suppose that at the last great day our Lord Jesus Christ will say to anyone, “You were not worldly enough. You were too jealous over your conduct, and did not sufficiently conform to the world.” No, my brethren, such a wrong is impossible. He Who said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” has set before you a standard beyond which you can never go.”
The prince of preachers and great champion of Calvinism, Charles Haddon Spurgeon from sermons preached in the 19TH CENTURY. He would fall on his face and weep bitterly.  Aghast and crushed if he were to see what is condoned today. Dear Lord Jesus rescue your church!!! Oh how far we have fallen.

D. M. Dutcher

That kind of stern, world-denying Calvinist puritanism was impossible to live by even in his time, and the drive to perfection winds up bringing back a works-righteousness to what was supposed to be a gift of grace. You blame yourself for not being perfect enough, not hating the world enough, and for having the normal human desire to consume art and play sport.

It’s a horrible thing to deal with, and I think no few Christians have fallen away because of that. You get a long-faced Christ who frowns at you because you dared, dared see a play or watch a movie, and people rebel against that false conception of Him.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus

I’m sorry sir, but this is an utter falsehood. No Christian has EVER fallen away. That’s number one. Also, you assume a strawman further than even Spurgeon would have gone. (Spurgeon had a moderate love for cigars for instance) Finally, you’ll just have to forgive me if I give him more credibility than I give you or anyone else here on topics like, worldliness, sanctification and living the mind of Christ.

He’s absolutely right. <strong>”Things which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated”</strong> are for those calling themselves “reformed” today, now simply normative indulgences. Lived with in peace under the flag of a completely reworked notion of <i>”liberty”</i> built from the gross manipulation of scripture that teaches no such thing.

What he describes, when taken properly IS Christian morality. Anything less is compromise at very best.


Mr Copple, would you clarify something for me please?   Perhaps I am reading what you were saying incorrectly.    It seems to me that you have left us with the implication in your statement # 5 above that it was a good and necessary thing that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:


“5. You can’t know the good without knowing the bad.


The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is called that for a reason. The two go together. A focus on one highlights the other…….”


Are you really meaning to imply that Adam and Eve could not have known what good was until they ate of that one tree?   That they had to disobey the only recorded commandment of God that they had at that time in order for them to be able to know good?


Do we as God’s children today really need to consume imaginary horror in order to know that it is evil?   In order to know that God’s ways are right and good?   Is seeing the real life horror that goes on around us all of the time not enough to know that this world is an evil place?  We must have horror in fictional form in order to REALLY convince us of that?

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Rick, I was going to stop by and mention the same post Greg apparently has a problem with. In my own study—not something I think any commentators have said—I’ve considered that Philippians 4:4-9 might actually be responding to what Paul said regarding the two women in the church who weren’t getting along: that the way to live in harmony is to rejoice in the Lord, be gentle in our speech, be anxious for nothing, to set our minds on the excellent things. If we think in reverse—things that aren’t true, aren’t honorable, aren’t right, aren’t pure, aren’t lovely, aren’t of good repute—it’s easy to see how, if directed at a brother or sister in Christ, we’d have disharmony. The next verse then says the God of peace will be with us if we listen and learn from what Paul says.

My point in bringing it up here is that I think we believers get into trouble when we yank Scripture from its context and apply it in places God didn’t specify. So when we are looking for a guideline about what kind of books to read, coming to this verse seems to me to be not handling God’s word aright. There are other passages about what we intake. I don’t think this one belongs to that set. But I could be wrong.

Certainly, dwelling on the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute is never wrong! And if someone feels under God’s conviction to measure reading and viewing by those standards, that’s something I would never try to talk them out of. But at the same time, I don’t think that passage can be used in a legalistic way to bludgeon others over the head about their own choices.

Unfortunately it’s this use of the verse in a legalistic way that has done harm, I think. One piece of harm is for those who see how exploring a Presidential candidate’s record, for example, immediately moves us out of the “dwelling on excellence” category, and then induces them to throw the verse away as impractical or for another time or some other excuse for not actually applying it.

Anyway, if you’re interested in reading my post, I’ll bring it up in Comment Luv so you’ll have the link.

I appreciate your thoughts here, Rick.


E. Stephen Burnett

I think we believers get into trouble when we yank Scripture from its context and apply it in places God didn’t specify. So when we are looking for a guideline about what kind of books to read, coming to this verse seems to me to be not handling God’s word aright. There are other passages about what we intake. I don’t think this one belongs to that set.


Tyrean Martinson

The Bible certainly has several chapters that could be considered “horror” by today’s standards. The book of Judges has several examples of material that most people would mark with a giant X if these stories were made into movies.

Reading the Bible as the whole Word of God is always preferable to reading just one verse and attempting to make that verse fit every situation.

I think we need to encourage each other to read the whole Bible. I think we also need to treat each other with love and kindness. If I’m going to take verses and throw them out into a discussion like this one, I think I’ll stick with these:
Matthew 22:36-40New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Whether we agree with each other on the tiny details or not, we need to remember Jesus’ words in these discussions.


Tyrean Martinson says “tiny details”

See, that’s just the problem. Modern Americans see things like this as “tiny details.” Points of liberty and individual choice. Men like Spurgeon and the whole of reformed orthodoxy before him, saw them as the spiritually crippling, morally corrosive, power draining carnality that they are.

Let’s get this straight. (if one more person says this to me 😉 )God’s divine prerogative of historical reportage for purposes sufficient unto Himself, does not translate into a license for His creatures to freely indulge their fantasies. Certainly not the way it is many times advanced today. Which is not to say that story telling is wrong in itself. Of course not.

My goal in comments like the ones on this page is not to be a legalistic joykill who thinks having fun or enjoying life is unspiritual. People who know me in real life would snicker at such a characterization.  I am tired up to here with watching the church of Jesus Christ inflict new and novel and post modern relativistic morality upon God’s word and thereby making the cross of Christ of none effect. Yes, that is exactly what is happening as Spurgeon most accurately pointed out even in HIS day.

Rebecca, your article is not idiotic. I wouldn’t expect that from you. While displaying some plausibility, it is nonetheless incorrect. The response I’m working on is respectful and gracious.

Scott Appleton

Horror really is a touchy subject in spec fiction and I think rightly so. It needs to remain that way. As Born Again Christians we need to consider this. The purpose of Horror is seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears” according to one definition. But in truth the vast majority of Horror does not just play off of horrifying acts, it Dwells on them and Glorifies them. I will point out that I have seen a couple of exceptions, but I am not a proponent of Horror fiction because I always see that evil acts are glorified in that genre with every piece I have ever seen.

 It is true that there are horrifying things in the Bible, but those acts are never dwelled upon and the eternal consequence of those deeds is clearly shown and the light exceeds the darkness. I have yet to see a piece of Horror where the light overcomes the darkness. It seems an inherent flaw with the genre.

In your article you say “…if we followed it as an absolute command to not think on its opposites, none of us would pay our bills, disciple our children, or take out the trash.”
I must disagree for the clear reason that there is Virtue in all of those things. They line up with the clear teaching of Scripture. It is right and good to pay our bills, disciple our children, and to take out the trash.

I am not convinced that Horror should be accepted by Christians as a positive thing, and I am convinced that everything we spend our time on should be for our spiritual profit.

But I am glad that this is being discussed because all things (including horror) need to be out in the open to be evaluated on their merits. And I am convinced that includes the merits of Phillipians 4:8.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus

Scott quite rightly says: ” It is true that there are horrifying things in the Bible, but those acts are never dwelt upon and the eternal consequence of those deeds is clearly shown and the light exceeds the darkness.”
They are also recorded historical reality and the inspired inscripturated word of almighty God. Not stories about brain eating zombies or blood sucking vampires. The two are in no way analogous. I am not even necessarily against fantasy or Sci-fi for instance, but what is this constantly creeping content envelope among many Christians today?

Scott quotes RLC as saying: “In your article you say “…if we followed it as an absolute command to not think on its opposites, none of us would pay our bills, disciple our children, or take out the trash.”
And then responds with
“I must disagree for the clear reason that there is Virtue in all of those things. They line up with the clear teaching of Scripture. It is right and good to pay our bills, disciple our children, and to take out the trash.”
This is also absolutely correct. In places other than America people are forced into real life horror on a regular basis by circumstances entirely beyond their control. THAT is the perfect time for Phil. 4:8 to see you through. The remembrance of Paul’s gospel and the truth that for a Christian to live is Christ and to die is gain. for example.

To think on the eternal reward for withstanding such horror in the name of Jesus.

Finally Scott says: “I am convinced that everything we spend our time on should be for our spiritual profit.”
You and I just may get along friend. The question I ask myself about everything in life is whether the decision I’m about to make will enhance my equipment for service in the army of the Lord. If not then why would I do it? Although I’ve seen some truly innovative ways that folks can convince themselves that all manner of unspeakable wickedness (when properly contextualized of course) is enhancing their walk with Jesus. All bets are off it seems today.

A perty dern good comment here Scott.


I saw a show on Netflix that was about the evolution of Horror Films. Did you know that a lot of Horror screen writers wrote their horror books/shows in protest of a social ill? Did you know that Freddy Kruger represented President Bush in that the sins of the adults would trickle down to the children and the children would pay for it? Stephen King’s Shining represented King and his alcoholism and how it almost destroyed him.  Halloween represented: The film set in motion the Puritanical, psycho-pathological principle that one’s survival was directly proportional to one’s sexual experience. It also asserted the allegorical idea that sexual awakening often meant the literal ‘death’ of innocence (or oneself). With the title character Laurie (Curtis) a virgin, she is able to escape mostly unscathed (as does the asexual Dr. Loomis and the young pre-teen Tommy Doyle), but others who are more promiscuous and sexually-charged are less fortunate and suffer deadly consequences as victims. In this film, murders often occur after sexual encounters when victims are distracted and off-guard.http://www.filmsite.org/hall.html   

Hostel shows us the horrors of the Sex Trade. The Conjuring showed the power of God against evil. My lovely publisher, Ellen Maze wrote Rabbit, Chasing Beth Rider in that the vampire represent the sin that sucks the life out of people.  Almost every horror film out there has a philosophical thread running through them. And no, I’m not a fan of horror. Suspense? Yes. Blood and gore? Yuck!!

I teeter on the edge of horror, but my horror represents Satan and how evil he really is and how Good God is. I use the spooky stuff as a sort of Autobiography of my spiritual walk with God these past 27 years and there were some rough spots, let me tell you. So I bring that out in my book, the second book really gets into what I went through years ago when Satan used me like a volley ball. And it was tough. But God got me through it.

My books are dark, dark, dark. But I made them dark b/c Satan is dark and God is light. I showed what Satan does to the unbeliever and the believer and what God does in response.

I have no problem with using horror to represent something bad in society and in the church and it is almost art. But to use horror to scare someone? PFFFFTTT. Don’t waste my time.  I love it when a writer slips in his stance in the guise of something else. It can be powerful. So yeah, I’m all for horror as long as it has a message. I might not agree, but I admire anyone who takes a stance.

As for those who don’t want to read my book, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure.


D. M. Dutcher

link to your website and book please?


My book will be out in the Fall and it’s called Hidden Secrets the first book in a series of three by Little Roni Publishers. Here’s my blog, but I haven’t kept up with it. I don’t have a website as I had one and the hackers killed it so I refuse to have one now. Too much $$$. Here’s my blog https://kimdkus.wordpress.com/  I lost everything from the last blog and I”m now rebuilding it. OH well. live and learn.


OH and you can read the first chapter there too.


Oh let me also add, I had a woman at my job read my novel to edit it for me and she is a wiccan. She loved my book and wants to read the completed work. Now I can reach folks you all can’t. I can reach the unreachable with my novel in that it is a spiritual autobiography that uses horror without the preaching. And isn’t that what matters? Reaching the lost? Or are we going to argue over religious dos and don’ts? I don’t care if every christian hates my books, but every unsaved person loves them and comes closer to Jesus. That’s all that matters to me.

D. M. Dutcher

I agree with R.L.’s points. Secular horror is difficult though because it often relies on gore to make its points, and it does come loaded with a nihilistic message. The points are perfect as a  general guide to evaluate reading works, but the specific example is a little rough.