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There is nothing gray about whether a follower of Christ should see 50 Shades of Grey. This is a black and white issue. Don’t go. Don’t watch it. Don’t read it. Don’t rent it.

I don’t even want to talk about it. Another blogger and I went back and forth for several weeks about how we could write a satirical review panning the movie and skewering those who think they need to see it in order to be relevant. We couldn’t do it. There was no way to make the humor weighty enough to sufficiently condemn such a vile film.

And no, I haven’t seen the movie. I haven’t watched the trailer either. I haven’t read a single page from the book. Reading about the premise from Wikipedia and the IMDb for two minutes convinced me I didn’t need to know any more. Sex is a wonderful gift from God, but like all God’s gifts it can be opened in the wrong context and repackaged in ugly wrapping.  Violence against women is not acceptable just because she’s open to the suggestion, and sex is not open to all permutations, even in an adult relationship. Mutual consent does not a moral philosophy make.

Sex is a private matter to be shared in the privacy and sanctity of the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). Sex, as God designed it, is not meant for actors who pretend (or not) that they are making “love.” The act of conjugal union is what married couples do behind closed doors, not what disciples of Jesus Christ pay money to watch on a screen the size of your house.

As I’ve said before, we have to take a hard look at what we put in front of our eyes as men and women seated in the heavenly places (Col. 3:1-2). If 50 Shades is a problem, by what standard do we give ourselves a pass on the rest of the sensuality we freely consume? To be sure, awareness of sin is not by itself the problem. The Bible is full of rank immorality. It would be simplistic and morally untenable—even unbiblical—to suggest you cannot watch sin or read about sin without sinning yourself. But the Bible never titil­lates with its description of sin. It never paints vice with virtue’s colors. It does not entertain with evil (unless to mock it). The Bible does not dull the conscience by making sin look normal and righteousness look strange.

Christians shouldn’t try to “redeem” 50 Shades of Grey. We should not get cutesy and advertize a new sermon series on “50 Shades of Grace.” We should not give both art and holiness a bad name by thinking that somehow something as dark as 50 Shades is worth viewing or worth reviewing. According to Paul’s logic, it is possible to expose sin and keep it hidden at the same time (Eph. 5:11-12). “A good man is ashamed to speak that which many people are not ashamed to act” (Matthew Henry).

Some movies do not deserve sophisticated analysis. They deserve sober repudiation. If the church cannot extend grace to sexual sinners, we’ve lost the heart of the gospel. And if we cannot tell people to stay away from 50 Shades of Grey, we’ve lost our minds.


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93 thoughts on “No Grey Area”

  1. Elaine says:

    Warning people about something is not same as preventing them from going. They still have a choice to pollute their brain and soul or not. I recently started reading “Gone Girl” after someone gave me the book. I wish I someone had warned me about it. The bad language and explicit sex made me throw the book away. To quote an old saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” Let’s learn from the wisdom of God instead from bad experiments. It was slowly that the “frog” got used to the hot water before it killed him.

  2. penelope says:

    Wow, panties in a wad there. Doesn’t the church recognize that Christians have brains and don’t need to be constantly scolded and infantilized? We’re exposed to plenty of garbage regularly, and we’re able to live normal lives without our pants falling off every other minute and our minds staying intact because as adults we are able to make good choices for ourselves. Those good choices don’t have to be force fed to us with a side helping of righteous indignation.

  3. JohnM says:

    “as adults we are able to make good choices for ourselves.”. If that were true of all then none would be arguing the point here.

  4. penelope says:

    i suppose independent, capable, mentally responsible adults only exist outside the church, then. That’s the only way i can logically account for the constant moral tantrums coming from those who want to project their own struggles on everyone else.

  5. Linda says:

    ‘Christians’ ? Define please.

  6. Cody says:

    “Projecting”? “Righteous indignation”? How about you assuming that the only reason this blogger would harshly criticize this movie’s fans is that he struggles with pornographic fantasies?
    Some people!

  7. JohnM says:

    True, independent, capable, mentally responsible adults aren’t the kind who need to be told, but those aren’t the kind who object to the point being made here either.

  8. Amy K says:

    I think it’s important that we represent a Christian viewpoint in the whole debate. We can’t just be opposed to it, we need to have something to present that engages those hoodwinked by the original 50 shades enough to show them that Christianity has a valid (better) alternative.
    I’ve talked to people til I’m blue in the face about the movie and domestic violence and respect etc etc but it’s hard to make them listen. I did though find a Christian fiction alternative that is mirrored on the story but presents God’s love not the fake and manipulative 50 shades love. I’ve found a few of my secular friends have said, oh okay if you’re just giving me a novel I’ll read it whereas they wouldn’t have engaged in a full blown debate over it.
    Two of those friends have now started to (periodically) attend church. One said to me ‘I didn’t know you had a bigger love until I read that book.’
    Drawback is it’s only on kindle though

  9. Elaine Smith says:

    Very often, Christians don’t extend grace to sexual sinners. We scream at the young woman entering an abortion clinic instead of asking if she has a roof over her head. We turn a blind eye to the respected elder beating his wife and sexually abusing his children and tell his wife to be more submissive or that the child must have asked for it. No wonder no one listens, when they see our actions and lack of compassion or integrity.

  10. JohnM says:

    @Elaine Smith
    In your elder/abuser scenario, exactly who are you identifying as the sinner to whom we should extend grace? The elder? Surely not the wife or the child? Also, do you have a particular case in mind, or is that scenario (elder, wife-beater, child abuser, and church turning a blind eye, which implies the church knew everything) merely hypothetical? If you have a particular case in mind you should say as much, so as not to present before the world an overgeneralized, and thus misleading (and quite harsh), charge against The Church.

  11. Jude B says:

    Penelope sounds more ‘righteously indignant’ than anyone else here.

  12. Jude B says:

    Amen, Linda!!!!!!

  13. Elaine Smith says:

    I am thinking of many specific cases I am aware of in my involvement with a local advocacy center for crime victims.
    I am not trying to charge the church as a whole, but there are still congregations where this happens. I wish it did not, and Christians would act more Christ-like. In every case I spoke of, the issue was swept under the rug in the name of preserving the family and preventing divorce.

  14. Cody says:

    I do not wish to be rude Elaine but I think because you are overgeneralizing about Christians because of your experiences. If someone was the victim of dishonest salespeople who all happened to be Jewish and that victim said stuff like “Jews are so dishonest! They’re disgusting!” wouldn’t that make you uncomfortable?

  15. Mark says:

    I am no fan of this movie. But how can you condemn a movie as being “vile” when you admit you “haven’t seen the movie,” “haven’t watched the trailer,” and “haven’t read a single page from the book”? I don’t understand. Oh… you read a “premise from Wikipedia.” My bad….

  16. Cody says:

    Well can you prove Wikipedia is wrong about the premise?

  17. Mark says:

    The issue isn’t the accuracy of Wikipedia (which is laughable in and of itself because Wikipedia is known to be an unreliable and inaccurate source of info – you will fail a grad school paper if you cite Wikipedia as a source). The issue is whether it is apprpopriate to condemn something without first adequately familiarizing yourself with it. The answer is “No.” If an unbeliever condemnned the Bible while simultaneously admitting he not read a single page of it, Christians would rightly denounce him. It is irresponsible to blast something as “vile” and unworthy of our eyes based solely on hearsay. If Mr. DeYoung wants to write a blog about a movie, he needs to watch it first, and then offer thoughtful criticism. I wonder if Mr. DeYoung gets his sermon material from Wikipedia. I hope not. Hopefully he actually “reads the book” (i.e., the Bible) when he does that.

  18. Mark says:

    The issue isn’t the accuracy of Wikipedia (which is laughable in and of itself insofar as Wikipedia is known to be an inaccurate source of information — if you cite Wikipedia as a source in a grad school paper you will fail). The issue is whether it is appropriate to condemn something without first adequately familiarizing yourself with it. The answer is, “No.” If an unbeliever condemned the Bible while admitting he had never read a single page of it, Christians would rightly denounce him. It is irresponsible for anyone to blast anything as “vile” and unworthy of watching if he hasn’t seen it himself. Keep in mind, DeYoung didn’t deounce over-sexualized films in general; he denouned a specific movie. If he is going to denounce a specific film, he needs to watch it first, then offer specific, pointed criticism. But to condemn a movie based solely on hearsay is irresponsible. I wonder if Mr DeYoung gets his information about Jesus from Wikipedia. I bet he actually “reads the book” when it comes to that. Or at least I hope he does. You never know though.

  19. Jude B says:

    Sorry, Mark, but we can easily condemn something we haven’t seen. Like the horrific beheadings in the Middle East.

  20. Mark says:

    Well, actually we HAVE seen the atrocious beheadings in the middle east. It’s been on the news for weeks. But that’s beside the point. The point I am making is that it is very easy to lash out and start condemning things based on hearsay and anecdotal “evidence” rather than first-hand information. There’s a reason the Mosaic Law required testimony of two or three witnesses before someone could be convicted of a capital crime. It’s because their testimony was considered reliable. But the testimony of those who didn’t witness anything is inherently unreliable. If someone is going to offer criticism of something, he needs to know what he is talking about first.

  21. Jude B says:

    Mark, I would totally agree with you if someone were on trial for a crime. But that is a very different situation than trying to make a decision about what kind of books or movies to take in. We do need to rely on someone’s review

  22. Jude B says:

    at some point but it doesn’t mean we have to take in a movie before we can urge people to see it or not. Especially if the content is questionable. I personally have not seen a single beheading nor could I stand to do so, but I can certainly make a decision about whether or not that is something I should take in or something I should condemn.

  23. Cody says:

    Again. Was Wikipedia wrong? How exactly is the premise of the book different from what DeYoung believes?

  24. I don’t have to read the book or see the movie, Fifty Shades. I took a 2 hour training seminar for Contining Education Units to retain my license. It is about BDSM, Bondage, Dominance, Sadoism, Masocism. I don’t need to know more, anymore than I have to see porn to know porn is a problem. The book is called “mommy porn” for a reason.

  25. Mark says:

    These are all good points. My point is this. DeYoung’s post isn’t discussing overly sexual movies in general or porn in general. He is critiquing a specific movie of which he admits he has not even seen a trailer. If he simply said, “I have heard this movie is vile and disgusting, and therefore I do not recommend it,” that would be perfectly fine. But he doesn’t say that. He to having no personal knowledge of the movie’s contents, then he rips it. I just don’t think this is a good model for cultural critique. Again, if someone said, “I have never read a page of the Bible, but I know it is full of lies,” we would all be justifiably outraged, and we would tell the person he or she has no credibility, having not actually read the Bible. If we as Christians are going to be taken seriously as social and cultural critics, we have to make sure we are credible when we speak out. That is all I am saying. Thanks for the comments.

  26. Rebecca says:

    I agree with Mark. DeYoung has no business reviewing a movie/book he has not seen/read. It does not take a sophisticated reviewer to criticize the movie/book for an unhealthy view of sex. I would think he’d want to expound on the messages sent about the other themes of the book which could have been an awesome sermon on the modern view of a woman’s rights, self esteem, young adults views if a healthy relationship, etc. It’s like saying that Twighlight is bad because it is about vampires. Ignorance is bred by not reading but making suppositions based on book jacket reviews.

  27. Linda says:

    A TRUE Christian would not see this movie. Period. Anyone can call themselves a Christian. But that doesn’t make you one. A true follower of Christ tries their very best to follow Christ’s example. As far as the author commenting on a movie he had not seen, can we have some honesty here? Do you have to step in cow manure to know that it is cow manure?

  28. Cody says:

    I’m just going to assume that Wikipedia is correct and therefore so was Kevin DeYoung since no one has given evidence otherwise.

  29. Mark says:

    Linda: You do not have to “step” in cow manure to know it’s there. But you do have to “see” it to know it’s there. You should not just assume there’s cow manure there, especially when the person who told you admits he has not seen it himself….

  30. Mark says:

    Cody: Your comments about Wikipedia prove my point. The only way to know Wikipedia is true or not it to (1) read the Wikipedia article, and (2) watch the movie. Since I have not read the article or watched the movie, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the article. You are free to assume whatever you want. I choose to do my homework before drawing conclusions….

  31. Linda says:

    Mark, do you seriously think that i,not having seen the movie, can’t make an accurate assumption concerning this movie? Especially considering the TV trailers, the talk on Facebook, book reviews, movie reviews. just can’t be honest. You think that since the author did not watch the movie that his opinion is negligible; even incorrect. You know better. And if I step in cow manure, I’ll know it without having to SEE it. Just like this movie. WREAKS!

  32. Sam says:

    The problem with us is that we have an exaggerated perspective on our ability to withstand that which is evil. For most of us, it’s a magnet. Witness the number of us that are attracted/addicted to pornography, including pastors. Sex is certainly a magnet. But this incredible gift from the Lord, like all His gifts, is a double edged sword. Use it the way He intended, fantastic glue in the relationship. Misuse His gift, and disaster occurs at some point. That’s why He graciously warns us. He also warned Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that he should not eat of it or he would surely die. And this was before He created Eve. The problem here is not that Adam did not believe in God; he just didn’t believe God. Disaster resulted for the whole human race. And so we think we can ignore God’s demand that we be pure on the sexual front, and thus just have a look at this film to see if it’s as bad as some Christians think it is, and if it is then at least we know and we can warn others, who, being of the same mindset, will also need to check it out. And on and on. I guess we assume that God will protect us from harm because He knows we are just “checking it out.” I don’t think that’s how it works.

  33. Cody says:

    No one has given any evidence that Wikipedia was wrong. Count the number the of comments agreeing with Kevin DeYoung’s stance but disagreeing with his not doing more careful research. If further digging will not change his mind, why should he look on what disgusts him?

  34. Jonathan says:

    How typical

    you bash men and critique them for watching porn

    nut take a general view when dealing with female porn…

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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