A Theology of Entertainment (Nov-Dec 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
November – December, 2002

“Recreation is not the highest kind of enjoyment; but in its time and place it is quite as proper as prayer.” – Irenaeus (ca.130-ca.200), Bishop of Lyons

There is a place for play, entertainment, and fun in every well-adjusted life. “All work and no play” not only makes Jack or Jill a “dull” human being but an unnatural, underdeveloped, and imbalanced one as well. The things we do to re-create ourselves may range from doing nothing to walking to music, from praying to reading to journaling, from pleasant conversation to theater to movies

Neither Jesus (John 2:1ff; cf. Matt.11:19) nor Paul (1 Tim.6:17-19) embraced an ascetic lifestyle. Scripture, in fact, consistently celebrates God as a giver and provider of blessings – and, by implication it seems, calls us to enjoy his gifts (Psa.104:14-15).

God doesn’t sound like a prune-faced stick-in-the-mud, does he? And there is no good evidence that our being that way would honor him! Entertainment can relax the mind, rest the body, and invigorate the spirit. My wife revels in the outdoors, and I enjoy a good movie

Having said all these things in defense of leisure events in one’s life, there are also some cautions to be sounded. The Bible nowhere commands “Have fun!” but everywhere instructs us “Be holy!” So it doesn’t take a Solomon to figure out that the place for God’s people to be is somewhere between the extremes of asceticism and indulgence. Entertainment that is consistent with life’s true and meaningful end (i.e., the glory of God) are legitimate to choose; those which are inconsistent with holiness are counterproductive and ought to be avoided.

So what would a theology of entertainment look like for a Christian? Surely the most germane term here is “discernment” – discernment that is a fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God. Christians will not always come to identical conclusions about what is appropriate and must avoid judging one another (cf. Rom.14:1ff), but here are a few guidelines that all of us would likely affirm as proper to keep in mind.

    1. A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if it is known to damage one’s own body, mind, or spiritual sensitivity. By this rubric, not only promiscuity and drugs would be ruled out but overeating and obesity; they harm the body. Internet, print, or movie pornography damages spiritual sensitivity; so may some TV shows and movies without R- or X-ratings.


  • A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if it dehumanizes others or diminishes their personhood. So what about superfluous violence? Saving Private Ryan had some gruesome scenes in its story line, but a whole genre of kick-butt movies has no justification for violence except for its ability to fascinate.



  • A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if it glorifies things outside the explicit will of God. From TV soaps to steamy romance novels, seduction, betrayal, casual sex, and the like are stock in trade. Our hearts are supposed to feast on things honorable and pure, excellent and virtuous (Phil.4:8). So where do these plot lines belong in our entertainment? Should we laugh at them on Friends or tolerate them in NYPD Blue?



  • A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if it becomes addictive and takes control of one’s life. Forget drugs or gambling or pornography now, and think of hunting, fishing, football, or other sports. Have you heard the country song I’m Gonna Miss Her? (She gave him an ultimatum between the lake and her, and he chose the lake.) It’s funny! But it’s not.



  • A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if it brings out the worst in one’s personality. Competition is fine. Anger, cursing, and fights over a game in the Church Softball League isn’t.



  • A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if my participation in it diminishes my influence as a follower of Christ. Isn’t that why Paul wouldn’t eat meat in some settings? If our first concern is a relationship with Christ, it may means forgoing something equally innocent in some situations.



  • A pleasure, entertainment, or amusement is inappropriate for a Christian if it diverts too great a percentage of our income or causes us to neglect life’s essentials. The month’s rent or house payment comes before a new set of clubs. But you’ve know people who can’t keep that obvious priority in view when it came to their obsession, right? And an obsession is not a legitimate leisure activity.


These ideas are not meant to be a legalistic inventory. They are guidelines. They are prompts to self-evaluation. If they surface a conscience-tickler with you, try forgoing that activity for thirty days. If you can’t, it has probably passed from legitimate to addictive in your life and needs to be scaled back significantly – if not eliminated altogether.

The line believers never want to cross is the one that would class us as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim.3:4b).New Wineskins

Rubel Shelly

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.


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