Pornographic Art and Pop Culture…How Should A Christian Think?

Art, movies, billboards, television, internet…we live in a culture of images. In fact we are constantly barraged by images everywhere we go. And many of these images are sensual by design.

How should a Christian think about these things? Are they just characteristics of our culture that we should try to appreciate for the redemptive value that we can find in them? Are they spiritual dangers which drive us to isolation? Are they a tool by which we can evangelize others? This is a very important issue for Christians since we are those who are called to be distinct from the world while we live in the world. I have a concern that many Christians are confused by these questions and because of this, some are way overexposed to illicit aspects of our culture. Sometimes this “cultural openness” is in the name of Christian liberty and other times this is in the name of evangelistic approachability.  

Check out this excellent post by William VanDoodewaard from Reformation 21. He helpfully shows some of the wrong-headed thinking that the church has fallen into in this regard and points to a better and more biblical way. He says,

These reflections connected to a lecture on art that I attended last spring. The speaker was a thoughtful Christian scholar. In her lecture she commented that Christian art should not be opposed to “nakedness” but rather to “nudity”. She argued that there was a distinction between tasteful nakedness in art and an objectifying nudity, referencing several examples of classical and Renaissance art in relation to the former, and pornography to the latter–a stance similar to H.R. Rookmaker’s. [2]  This fine distinction left me and many of my college students dubious; I remembered all too well my own teenage struggles with lust, and the fact that classical and Renaissance art of naked women had not been helpful in the pursuit of purity. But was that just me? Was I overly sensitive, or perverse beyond the ancients and my contemporaries?  Was I somehow missing a “redemptive understanding” of nakedness or nudity in art or film? These questions forced me to examine what Scripture has to say on nakedness and redemption and what a history of nakedness in art might reveal.

His answer to this question includes a consideration of what Scripture says about nakedness.

Where God displays His redemptive activity in contexts of extra-marital nakedness He clothes His people. Ezekiel 16 exemplifies this pattern in Scripture: God graciously redeems and clothes His bride, covering her nakedness and making her beautiful.  Her God-given covering is not a denial of beauty, but rather a redemptive rescue and restoration to appropriate, glorious, public beauty, after she had been an object of abandoned, uncovered shame. The bride, however, turns to play the whore, prostituting herself, taking off her beautiful clothes, giving her naked beauty, now rebel, distorted and cheap, to any passer-by. Her disrobing outside of marriage is an outward expression of her inner rejection of God’s redemption. She calls men to join her in violating God’s perfect law.

After explaining some of the historical issues involved in how a culture views nakedness, VanDoodewaard begins to conclude this way:

21st century, Europe and North America have an increasingly pornographic art, film and pop culture. But this is as old as pagan fertility cults, technology added. The new twist comes from the church where some argue that wherever there is a glimmer of created order or common grace, there is potential for finding “redemptive value”. This is rationale for not only engagement, but also participation. People, of course, qualify such a break from Scripture and church history: “these are complex issues, this is the domain of the mature and wise.”  They seem to fail to notice, however, that their argument is ironically similar to that of the “adult” billboards along our freeways.

 Scripture and history indicate that nudity in art (and now film) is not actually the domain of the mature, the wise, or those engaged in “redemptive activity.”  Rather: “we dress because we sin… [it is] a reminder that man is an unholy fugitive, in hiding from God and from his own fellows” [8] and a picture of the need for bloody atonement for sin, and clothing by the righteousness of Christ.  As such, “whether it be in a nudist colony, at an orgy, in primitive society, or in the nursery, public nudity is only possible for those unconscious or aggressively heedless of their sinfulness.” [9]  It is far more likely that the attitude of the acceptability of nudity for “the mature” in art, film, and pop culture is contributing to the rising tide of infidelity and divorce in the church.

 

The whole article is worth reading.

For another resource that I have found helpful in this regard, you might want to check out Jeff Pollard’s book, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America. This provides and interesting historical commentary on how our own cultural understanding has developed. It also spends a little more time attempting to think through more of the biblical teaching on purity, nakedness and culture. You may not agree with everything he says, but I think you will be helpfully challenged and instructed.

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2 responses to “Pornographic Art and Pop Culture…How Should A Christian Think?

  1. Thanks for posting this, Billy. I found it to be interesting and helpful!

  2. tractsandtreatises

    You’re welcome Rachel!

    Billy

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