GoT holiness?

Note to self: There are some things in life you simply cannot question–the supremacy of SEC football, the vile depravity of the NE Patriots, and the suitability of a Christian’s entertainment.

Enter Kevin DeYoung’s  seemingly innocuous admission that he didn’t understand why so many conservative Christians devote themselves to Game of Thrones (GoT) when the series has so much explicit sexual content:

It seems to me sensuality–of a very graphic nature–is a major part of the series. And still, a good number of conservative Christians treat the series as must-see TV.

I don’t get it.

Tweeting the link to that post brought on a small flurry of comments on Facebook, most of them critical . . . of DeYoung. I must admit to being a little stunned and that was before I was directed to the comments section for the original post. I thought I had stumbled into bizarro world.

Having recovered from my stupefaction I’d like to offer a measured response to critics of the article. My modest objective is to show that DeYoung’s implied question (i.e. Why would a conservative Christian watch GoT?) is not pharisaical sin-sniffing but well within the bounds of what should be normal self-examination. I’ll proceed in two stages. First, I’ll volunteer some clarification on what the article did/didn’t say. Second, I’d like to address some of the early responses to the article.

One more thing and this is crucial. I’m going to assume that any Christian reading this post would at least agree that the graphic sexual content in GoT is sinful even if we don’t agree on the appropriate response. So if, as a Christian, you don’t believe this kind of material stands against the biblical imperatives concerning holiness and immorality, then we’ll just be talking past each other.

What the article didn’t say

(1) Real Christians don’t watch GoT. Some of the reactions to the post made it seem as if DeYoung had taken it upon himself to separate the sheep from the GoaTs.™ Far from it. As he stated from the outset: “I’m always amazed that a number of people I respect–smart people, serious Christians, good conservative thinkers–are obviously watching (and loving) the series” [emphasis added]. If DeYoung’s position were that no real Christian would watch GoT he wouldn’t be so perplexed.

(2) It is forbidden for real Christians to watch GoT. No doubt DeYoung would advise Christians to steer clear of the series but that’s a far cry from anathematizing the series and all who would watch it.

A rejoinder to the early responses

(1) What about holiness? Strange that with so many readers dismissing DeYoung’s concerns I never saw anyone deny his basic premise that “sensuality–of a very graphic nature–is a major part of [GoT].” I actually find the whole thing a bit discouraging–not the criticisms so much as the belligerent indifference.

Where is the longing for purity and its reward (Mat 5:8)? Who considers that we’re in a war for our souls (1Pet 2:11)? What does the pursuit of sanctification look like when I’m parked in front of a TV (Heb 12:14)? Responding to these questions with charges of legalism sounds more like deflection than reflection.

(2) Sin is deceitful and never satisfied. I don’t know that I could improve on this classic statement from John Owen. I’m a fool to think that I can safely manage my lusts as I indulge them.

(3) ‘Live and let live’ isn’t a Christian mantra. Christian community is in a state of disrepair when mutual accountability is held in suspicion. No doubt the Christian life holds some truths in tension. On the one hand, I am not the judge of a fellow servant (Rom 14:4; James 4:12); on the other hand, I’m not to passively watch my brother drift away (Heb 3:13; Jam 5:19-20; Jude 23). No man is an island, least of all the man in Christ.

(4) On the power of the remote. An experienced remote manager can save himself a lot of trouble so long as he remains alert and conscientious. Our remote has been used as a censoring device on numerous occasions while streaming TV shows and movies so I’m well aware that a simple flick of the finger can negate the baring of much flesh. Self-filtering is obviously better than taking it all in.

But two caveats are in order. First, as my wife & I were recently reminded when we tried to watch the first season of Homeland, sexual content often appears without warning. We simply can’t anticipate every sexcapade an episode has in store and, considering the amount of sexually explicit content in GoT, we’re practically guaranteed to see the baring of flesh despite our best efforts. Second, even if we could eliminate every objectionable scene, no one assumes that that’s what all Christians are doing while they’re watching the show–as it airs.

(5) On criticizing a show you haven’t watched. Living in the information age means we don’t always have to watch something to know what’s in it. Yes, if I want to critique the cinematography or the acting or the story I need to watch the show. But it should go without saying that I don’t need to watch soft porn in order to find it objectionable, so it’s hard to understand how not watching GoT due to the sexual content diminishes a man’s concern over said content–especially when we all agree it’s there.

All of that to simply say this: Watch what you will knowing that we all must give an account, but please don’t act as if it doesn’t matter what you watch.

Throwing out the (dirty) baby with the bath water [pt 1]

In their November (Web-only) issue, Christianity Today ran a four-part, multi-author book review of The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. I haven’t read the book but a recently renewed interest in the doctrine of sanctification drew me to check out the discussion anyway.

I expected differing levels of agreement (or disagreement) from the reviewers but I didn’t expect a rebuttal of “the self-conscious pursuit of holiness.” Mark Galli, editor of CT, opens his review by pulling the rug out from our feet when he says:

The Hole in Our Holiness is a fine book that makes a good argument that all devout Christians should read and inwardly digest. And then, as soon as possible, we should forget about it.

Why should a fine book with a good argument be forgotten as soon as possible? According to Galli it’s because a conscious pursuit of holiness will inevitably lead to despair (since we will continue to sin) or self-righteousness (since any “success” will breed pride). So striving for sanctification leads to sin unless you just don’t think about sanctification in which case you will become holy. Uh huh.

In fairness, Galli acknowledges that there “is some deliberate effort involved” in our call to holiness although he also opines “that a conscious and purposeful pursuit of holiness is about the worst way to go about [becoming holy].” We ought to be aware of the dangers that accompany a pursuit of holiness–despair and/or pride–and I don’t deny that Scripture warns against such traps. But Galli’s requisite prescription for avoiding these self-centered ills amounts to throwing out the baby with the bath water except that in this case we wouldn’t even bother to see the baby cleaned first.

What follows are key statements from Galli’s argument (in bold italics) followed by my thoughts in response:

1) The case for holiness is not hard to make, as the Bible is full of injunctions to that end. Set aside the self-defeating endeavor of admitting that “the Bible is full of injunctions” to holiness while simultaneously dissuading the reader from thinking too much about them. Galli speaks of Ephesians 1:4 and 2:10 as definitive statements on practical holiness in relation to which “every other biblical admonition to holy living seems like mere commentary.” With all due respect, such an approach is too short-sighted. Consider just four other passages:

Matthew 5:48  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
1 Thessalonians 4:3  For this is the will of God, your sanctification…
Hebrews 12:14  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
1 Peter 1:14-16  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Galli doesn’t even reference such explicit commands. Furthermore, Galli’s  approach glosses over the fact that the Bible communicates the holiness imperative both directly and indirectly. That is, passages which never actually use the word “holiness” or “sanctification” (or their respective cognates) can nevertheless speak to the biblical concept of sanctification. An informal sampling of the New Testament yields such honorable mentions as  Acts 26:20; Rom 6:12-14; 12:1-2; 1Cor 6:20; 2Cor 3:18; 5:9; Gal 5:16ff; Eph 4:17-24; 5:1; Phil 2:12; 3:12ff; Col 1:10; 3:5ff; 1Thess 4:1; 2Thess 2:13; 1Tim 4:7-8; 2Tim 1:9; 2:19, 22; Titus 2:14; Heb 13:21; James 1:21; 2Pet 1:10; 3:11; and 1Jn 3:3.

The point is that Galli’s cursory admission of the biblical call to holiness comes across as self-serving to say the least. I suspect that a more even-handed acknowledgement of the robustness of Scripture’s call would undercut the author’s thesis from the start since the notion that two Ephesian verses adequately represent Scriptures’ expectation of Christian holiness fails to appreciate the full weight of practical holiness as a component of salvation. The biblical injunctions are too many and too varied for us to not think about the pursuit of holiness.

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