Holiness, world culture, and its arts

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Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
I was carefully considering the various points of view in the recent (now locked down) “http://www.puritanboard.com/f24/evils-drama-30417/” thread, and thought I would recast the issues in a different form: Holiness, world culture, and its art, and their places in our lives. Of course this will not be comprehensive, but only a brief sketch.

I want first to comment on the article by Prof. Hanko that Bert Mulder posted a link to in post #76 of the aforementioned thread – “THE CHRISTIAN AND THE FILM ARTS” – which I just finished reading. I had initially intended to dispute it in parts (having read a portion of it earlier), but now I will just make some brief remarks as I continue to ponder it, seeing it as more weighty than I first thought.

Prof. Hanko said, “Drama is, by definition, the presentation of the life of another person, whether real or fictitious, by the assumption of that person's personality for purposes of entertainment.” I question, is it always entertainment? May it not be edification? Is the purpose of art but entertainment, or something more profound? Can film dramas qualify as art within the biblical worldview?

The Prof. also said, “The assumption here is that all that the world produces is evil.” He bases this on the Biblical teaching of what we term “total depravity” (or “total inability – of the natural man to please God, or do good in His sight”). And he said that in relation to the idea of defending some films as having merit.

Clearly the question of “common grace” is at issue here. And this is a significant matter as the “film arts” are so pervasive in our lives. Even though I don’t have a TV that is hooked up – and I don’t miss it at all! (without cable or a dish most all we would get are Greek soaps) – we still watch a DVD once in a while, and the principle that all movies are sinful would have a great impact on many of our lives. No one likes to have a law laid down on them unless it is indisputably from the Lord.

I am also pondering what he said about it being sin to assume another’s personality in dramatic presentations. What Hanko says about taking on the personality (with actions and words) of a sinful person is thought-provoking. I note that he did not elaborate on the taking on the “personalities” of fictitious characters. I hear there is going to be a new Star Wars movie, but it will be in animation. What of that? Any actors on PB who can give an account of maintaining personal integrity in such areas being discussed? Or any with insightful views maintaining the moral validity of acting?

I assume this “sinfulness” would include the ancient Greek classics, Shakespeare, all drama.

As I ponder Hanko’s views, I keep in my mind the film trilogy, Lord of the Rings, taken from the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. I note Hanko didn’t say anything about books, fiction or otherwise (if he has, I would like someone to please bring it to my attention).

I will not write Hanko off out-of-hand as I know him to be an astute theologian, a man of God to be reckoned with. Although I do not agree with everything the PRC holds, I do with much. These are godly no-nonsense people.

I am writing this not primarily as one who ministers the Gospel (those familiar with me know that although a Ruling Elder I function as a Teaching Elder in a mission church on a foreign mission-field), but as a serious artist (poet and writer), which craft I have labored in over 40 years (I am 66).


When I was in NYC recently I was with a good friend with whom I discussed the fantasy genres of art – primarily in film (including TV) and comics – with which he is well acquainted, and my own genre, “visionary adventure, nonfiction”. One could replace ‘visionary’ with ‘spiritual’, though I prefer the broader term. From some earlier thoughts of mine on this, addressed to Christian writers:

The story that must be told can be no fiction, no mythic realm entered through a wardrobe or found in a region called Middle Earth, nor yet again in a school for young sorcerers, and their respective adventures against an encroaching evil.

The heroes and heroines will not be those of the imagination, for our plight is not in that realm, but in this world we now inhabit, under the very sun and moon that shine upon us as we wake and sleep each day. Do you not understand? You, the women and men who are in Christ’s command are the heroines and heroes of this age and the ages to come! You, His artists, are the ones who will rend the veils of blindness by your visionary seeing, others seeing through your eyes those things that are.

About this “seeing.” Again I say, no clairvoyance or psychic powers are ours, but that which is immeasurably mightier and truer: the vision that sees by faith, that walks and moves and lives by faith! By faith I stand in the presence of the Lord Christ — and seek from His heart that which I need of His Spirit; by faith I worship our great Father and am strengthened by His life, braced by His love, encouraged by His perfect care and providence.

The time of vaunted Imagination is over; we are almost overrun by the enemies of our souls. Invisibility-cloaked they ravage the land, discerned only by seers of the High King, and even we are in disarray, at odds amongst ourselves; on the earth, we are as in the days of old before the time of legendary Arthur, battle-chiefs and lords within the kingdom at each other’s throats.

Have we no true stories to tell? In these days one cannot live in the imagination. Wonderful as the stories of “Rowling, Tolkien, Lewis, et al” may be, they will not avail us in our time of need. Yes, the wonderful fantasies of this and earlier centuries may well be vessels from which we drink courage, hope, vision, joy, and even love, yet we must always return to the actual and face the facts. Why not vision and adventure in the facts of real life? It is here the strength of faith is best put to use.

It is through our lives of faith others will see; as it is written in the Book of Light, “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

It is in the creation of these visionary adventure nonfiction stories that the spiritual vitality and balance of an artist will be seen. In the post-Imaginative genres one cannot write what one does not live. It does not mean there is no use of the imagination, it just does not supplant the actual.

An art to re-present the actual in realms of spiritual reality. Here is adventure enough; loyalty, endurance, valor against great odds, trust, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, ignominious failure, cleansing and renewal, friendship, community, courage, hope, and unfailing love. If our communities fail, cannot the artists among us lift up a standard? Next to shepherds of sheep, I say poets and singers are among the highest callings.

Remember, that which is high is low, and to be great is to serve. A great heart is a servant’s heart, which the Lord shall honor when we enter His presence in our resurrection bodies. Among men we are lambs, among the adversary-predators, lions.

Have we no writers who live in “the powers of the world to come”?

According to the vision of reality we have in the Spirit and word of Christ, the culture of the world in which we live is peopled by the living dead, they having been impregnated and possessed by horrors far worse than the Aliens in Sigourney’s films, while yet retaining the ancient and glorious skin-coverings given them before they were stricken with the dread Sting of Death. A race captured en mass by alien predators and en route to destruction in regions of unending terror, some of us actually have been rescued from this condition by the largesse of the King of Heaven. The people of the world-darkness, oblivious to their state, project out into book and film the horror that is truly their own: the zombie, and its offspring, vampire and werewolf. The horror genres tell the human condition more truly than our psychologists and seers, for these latter are blinded by the prince of the aliens.

Although no fan of his, I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words,

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that even the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. . . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. (The Weight of Glory)

And these things are not fiction, the horror-world of make-believe beauty and delusional goodness, of “civilization” and its supposed progress, and what purports to be “human decency” — all of which loathe the holy Creator and Redeemer. In Monster-World one dare not rock the fragile boat of illusion, lest the darkness at its core and the core of its denizens’ hearts lash out in rage to undo whoever would shine light to expose the actual horror of it all.



I look out these bloodless eyes
— not that I have no blood,
it is just so thin
to see where I might feed
for my life is constantly failing
and I gain strength
from the pulse of others.

I am not like my brother the wolf
but can be delicate,
the gentle-man
or woman.
What I hate most
is to be exposed by those
the robust living

I would kill them all
if I could
either that
or become one of them
for they pour forth life
in such abundance
I choke!



I don’t have much to say;
my forte is my rage;
I use my words to tear
and eat
the hearts of those I get.

I love the taste
of sweet flesh (the soul in it,
for I am not a cannibal,
only a monster).
My rage gives me strength to prevail.

I cannot devour the souls
of the robust living,
their strength is not natural.
It is easier to kill them
if one will not join them.​

Why do we play with fiction when such are realities we are in?

My NYC friend said it will not grab the interest of the world to write of such things, one must first dress it up in the garb of its accepted fictions and forms; after all, the world has already defined what vampires, werewolves, and zombies are about, and one cannot deviate from its standards if one wants to be received. I said, What if one wants simply to tell the truth of such things, to show what vampires and such really are, where they come from, and how we have a great interest – to put it most mildly! – in understanding these things?


So we come to the matter of Art; what is it? Or perhaps put more properly, In the Kingdom of God (in which we are, right?), what there is considered genuine art? Can that be art which is oblivious to reality, to the actual situation we are in? Or enables us to continually escape this reality? Hanko does not seem far-fetched from this vantage.

Can something be said for entering into the world of a story, a fictitious world, as a means to rest one’s mind from its labor? Or to find interesting vision and knowledge? I will not speak against it. Rather, I will promote the genre which is in accord with my own heart. And better yet, labor to write in that genre.

And what is holiness? One of the dangers entered into in the “Evils of drama?” thread was the setting up of standards by some that other devout believers disagreed with.

As an artist, one who on occasion writes in the horror genres (the human condition from a Christian perspective), I have liberally explored the various authors and films who touch upon my subject matter. Sometimes I have been repulsed by the violence, or the sexuality, and have closed the book or walked out on the film. Often I have asked the Lord to cleanse me from defilement I have experienced in these ventures into the arts.

As one who seeks to address the culture, I like to know what the culture has been impacted and influenced by. I like to know what my audience thinks and feels. I do not believe in that view of common grace which says (in Hanko’s words) “the ungodly world is capable of producing good movies because of the general operation of the Spirit in the hearts of the ungodly by which sin is restrained and the world enabled to do good.” But is it legitimate to seek to know whom I would address with my art?

When I am told, “You may not watch this or that, or read this or that, for the Scripture prohibits it,” I need to be thoroughly convinced that this is so, especially if such alleged prohibitions are not clearly stated. Increased vehemence will only alienate me, for what I want is light, not heat.

On the one hand, I have some telling me I must immerse myself in the culture (yet remaining unspotted by its sin), and others that I must abstain from it, as from a leprous contagion.

There is plenty of violence in the Old Testament accounts of God’s people vanquishing adversaries, and that against great odds. Are modern movies (or books – though I know the two mediums are quite different) analogous in their “good-against-evil” themes? And sexuality, there are accounts of it – even illicit relations – in the OT; if in the modern genres it is not vaunted or graphically depicted, but merely noted or shown in its destructive aspects, is that to be shunned? I will turn my head and look away if it is of-a-sudden graphically depicted in a film.

Walking the streets in this Europe-influenced country, one sees nudity in advertising on billboards and in shops, and one learns to control one’s eyes, and avail oneself of continual cleansing. Cursing I hear everywhere. In the states, working on a landscaping crew with rough guys, I once told them “I hear the Lord’s name here more than in a prayer meeting. When you curse I will use the ‘equal-time’ standards [which were big in the politics of the ‘80s] and bless in His name.” The foreman only said to me, “Rafalsky, can you shovel and talk at the same time?”

I am still considering Hanko’s view that acting per se is an ungodly activity (the negating of our own God-given personhood in lieu of assuming another’s, or a fictitious one). Is such an occupation but a device of the world with no validity in God’s kingdom? I am not sure.

Driving in my foreign city the other morning en route to getting our church bulletins printed, the spirit of Professor Hanko’s worldview (drunk deeply through his above article) seemed true to my Scripture-informed spiritual perception. It is a radical stance when considered in light of the typical “evangelical” (P & R included!) attitude to culture and our lives in it. The antithesis between the realm under the sway of the prince of demonic aliens (the world) and that of the King of saints (the church) is fierce, were it to be seen in its actuality! A hatred of God and His holy Kingdom permeates the world and all of it. And there is a holy hatred in God of sin and the spirit of rebellion which ravages His world and savages His blood-bought people, seeking to crush or defile the church.

Have we been seduced into a cozy tolerance of the world, in the name of “the Gospel of God’s grace”? Has the fierce enmity between the holiness of God and the unholiness of the world been obscured by our friendship with the latter? There are churches that teach we do have a friendship with the world based on both we and them having in common the Spirit of grace (albeit He is not savingly in them), so that there is good in the world and its cultures and we may join them in their “good” activities, but not in their evil.

So these my thoughts on this business of holiness and the arts, and the culture(s) we are in. I am not concluding anything at this point. Sort of thinking out loud. I attach a story in PDF from the genre I speak of.


Puritan Board Junior
Thank you, Steve.

I know this is not an easy subject. As I said (which was the impetus for someone starting that thread), I have only recently come to my conviction on drama.

And it has not been without struggle, let me tell you that...

And as I have a family with 4 teenagers (besides 3 young ones), it is not without conflict in our home.

But it definetely simplifies our TV watching and DVD watching...


Puritan Board Doctor
I read the Hanko article also. He did not back up his views with scripture, but just asserted many things. Like, taking on a persons personality is the same as taking on their nature. I don't think you take on a persons nature just by mimicking them. If mimicking them causes you to commit actual sins in the process, that is wrong and you are sinning. The end doesn't justify the means.

He also asserts that, "we do violence to our person when we push it aside in order to assume the personality of another." I don't think you can push aside your person like that. He has to demonstrate or show how this supposedly happens. I don't see it.

I am restricting my movie diet based on subject matter not the medium. Images are very powerful, the movies themselves prove that. Why else are they such a draw. I just think Christian prudence demands that we shun sin and all depictions of it as a positive thing. Watch things that praise what is good and denounce what is bad. The Scriptures condemn those that would call good evil and evil good. :2cents:
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