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3 Questions To Ask Before Watching A Movie (Or 3 Reasons Why I'm No Longer An Evangelical)

Despite my recent departure from American Evangelicalism to becoming a Confessional Lutheran within the past several months, I still receive a few email newsletters from some "old friends" (a.k.a old Baptist-Calvinist-Evangelical-Non-Denominational-Presbyterian-Protestant-Reformed mailing lists) from time-to-time.

I'm not quite sure why I have kept myself on those lists. It's certainly not because I am somehow being seduced into going back to the life I once knew.

No, I suspect it's just so I can try to keep my finger on the pulse of what the "Old Me" would've been thinking and talking about so I can try to help others better understand why I left (and why they need to leave as soon as possible too).

With that in mind, here's Exhibit #3743, or a perfect example of why American Evangelicalism is so suffocating to us when the Biblical reality is that we are simultaneously sinners and saints (Romans 6-8).

Three Questions To Ask Before Watching A Movie

It’s never been easier to watch movies, and lots of them.

Netflix, which leads the race as the top online streaming service, provides more than 10,000 movie options for its 40 million subscribers — and it’s flanked by formidable competitors like Hulu Plus, Redbox, and Amazon Prime. Considering the sheer crowd on this track, and each one’s continued efforts to specialize its features, the movie industry doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

Add to this online surge the weekly box office numbers, and one thing is clear: a lot of us are watching a lot of movies.

And let’s face it, they’re not all good movies. In fact, many of them are bad. And I mean bad in every sense — poor storylines, debaucherous scenes, shaky acting — there are plenty of ways it could go wrong. Which means, there are plenty of ways to ruin your evening by watching a movie. Therefore, we should think carefully before devoting hours of our lives to the screen, whether at home or in a theater. So in hopes of more thoughtful entertainment, here are three questions a Christian might ask before watching a movie.

1. Should I really watch this movie?
2. Where are the true and false depictions of reality?
3. What kind of hero does this movie really need?

Well, that settles it, doesn't it? No possible way I could ever think of myself as a "true" Christian if I ever happened to watch a movie without asking myself those questions let alone if I did ask myself those questions and didn't get the answers I was "supposed to," huh?

Let me cut to the chase. There's really only one question you should ever be asking yourself when you see these types of "The Victorious Christian Life/Christian Living" discussions come up:

Does this have to do with Piety or Pietism?

You might be wondering what the difference is.

I was when I first came across these two terms.

Believe me, there is A HUGE DIFFERENCE between the two!

More importantly, a proper understanding of both lies at the very heart of a piece like this, and is one of the primary reasons why I'm no longer an Evangelical myself.

Pietism Versus Piety

How can two such closely related words mean such different things? I’ve been thinking lately about what the differences are between pietism and piety. One seems to be a good thing, the other bad. As Christians we are supposed to live pious lives in which we show love and honor to our neighbors. In order to do that, we should obey laws, be polite, respect authority, try not to use offensive language, etc. We want to try to be good members of society, for when we aren’t, it can reflect poorly on Christ and that could be a stumbling block for some people.

Piety can also be shown by using reverence in the Lord’s house, folding our hands for prayer, and by making the sign of the cross at certain times if we want to. Our life hopefully includes private and/or family devotions. It’s also good and right to be in the Word on a regular basis, and attend Divine worship and the Lord’s Supper regularly and often.

Piety looks to Jesus and what He did for us. It looks outside self to see where our hope comes. We are able to better appreciate what has been done for us, and realize how we feel about these things don’t matter! What really matters and what is most important is what Jesus willingly did for us through His suffering, death, and resurrection. For that we give thanks to God!

Pietism, on the other hand, is more focused on what we do. Pietists live their life “doing” much the same sort of things, serving the neighbor, being good citizens, etc, but they look at themselves and say, “I’ve been good today.” They look inward to what they do in order to find out whether they are really saved or not. It’s a very natural thing for all of us to do at times. It’s part of the sinner in us. We have to keep squashing that pietist that dwells in us. We can’t let the devil and our own sinful nature deceive us into thinking it’s about us. It’s not. It’s all about Him. Jesus Christ came and died for us. Because of the love He gave and gives us through His Word and Sacraments, we respond by living pious lives, lives that please Him.

When the burden of thinking what we need to do is transferred to looking to Christ and what He did for us, we know true Christian freedom. Free to be who we are created to be. Free to confess our faith to others without shame. Free to know that Christ dwells in us, and in spite of us being sinners, we by His undeserved love are also saints, made His sons and daughters by the sacrificial death of our Savior on Calvary’s cross and His resurrection from the dead! He can use even the messes we make for His will to be done.

To that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

Hebrews 12:2 “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

*- Kari Anderson, PR CLCC- March 11, 2010

There it is in a nutshell.

Now, do you think the article about questions to ask yourself before watching a movie has more to do with piety or pietism based on the above definitions? Be careful, because your answer may reveal whether you identify more with the Evangelical or the Lutheran.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that, on the surface, this type of article about our viewing habits appeals to the Old Adam within us, because pietism smells pleasant to him. Ah, but there's the rub!

Truth is, I didn't know that pietism smells like sin itself to our holy Lord and, in fact, stinks like self-righteousness. It reminds me of God's response to Israel in Isaiah 65:5 and, of course, we know what Isaiah 64:6 says too. This is why it took me a very long time to finally figure things out and to see myself for who I really was and for what I was really doing and saying.

Just to be clear, piety is a good thing. The posture of piety is a good place for us to start to begin to understand this properly I think. After all, it's been said that faith without piety can be dangerous, especially when we Lutherans should expect to see piety in its various expressions.

So, it's not necessarily piety that's dangerous. It's actually pietism that we have to be on guard against.

Again, what is pietism?

Quoting from Professor John Pless's paper "Liturgy And Evangelism In Service of The Mysteria Dei":

Piety. Pietism has perhaps clouded the fact that there is a genuine Lutheran piety. Piety is not the same as Pietism . There is nothing showy about this piety. It is the piety of the daily prayers and the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. It is a piety that flows from liturgy to vocation in the pattern of Romans 12 where the Apostle bids us to present our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God. It is a piety that prays and works. It is the piety shaped by the words of the post-communion collect which implores God to strengthen us through the salutary of gift of the Sacrament "in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another...."



A quote of Lutheran theologian Dr. Valentin Ernst Loescher, describing pietism in the eighteenth century. The quote comes from Pastor Brent Kulman's article "Oscar Feucht's Everyone a Minister: Pietismus Redivivus" in the Reformation 1999 issue of Logia. The pietism that Dr. Loescher describes hasn't gone away. Try substituting the word "vision" or "mission" for the word "piety" and its derivatives -- does that substitution reflect where some Lutherans are at today?

It is an evil in the church that arises in the context of the pursuit of piety. That is, it is a searching, striving, and demanding of piety that is ill-conceived and established in a sinful way. It creates an antithesis between (1) piety and its pursuit and (2) revealed truth and its pursuit. Moreover, it causes truth to be dependent on piety. Pietism completely absorbs truth into itself and so it nullifies the truth. By all this the church of Christ is thrown into confusion and a raft of other unholy things find their way into it. The evil of Pietism is among us as long as the pursuit of piety stirs up and sustains a conflict and sets up an antithesis between itself and even one important point of religion. It is among us as long as a person believes and teaches that piety must be pursued more strenuously than orthodoxy and given preferential treatment. Furthermore, it can come to the point that the truth and form of theology (namely the Word of God), the office of preacher, justification, matrimony, the church, and other matters are all put into a dependent relationship to piety, in which case the evil shows itself more forcefully and more clearly. Finally, it can come to the point where people think that wherever piety is not found in the form and to the degree hoped for, then no Word of God, no activity of the Holy Spirit, no light of grace, no office of teaching, no matrimony, no church can exist. Then Pietism has fully matured and come out into the open.

Though Christ's Church is at all times beset by Satan to the point where one might throw up their arms in despair at the false doctrine that always lurks, yet, like Luther, I remain hopeful: "I entertain no sorry picture of our Church, but rather that of the Church flourishing through pure and uncorrupted teaching and one increasing with excellent ministers from day to day."1 May God grant us faithful pastors who will encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.



The following quote feels a lot like where some in the LCMS leadership are attempting to position the Synod. Quoted from Brent Kuhlman's "Oscar Feucht's Everyone a Minister: Pietismus Revivivus," as quoted in Dr. John C. Wohlrabe, Jr.'s paper "Doctrinal Integrity and Outreach Within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod":

The parallels between Everyone a Minister and pietism are unmistakable. Both Spener and Feucht offer proposals for reforming the church. Both of their proposals reflect a shift in theology from God’s objective external gifts [Word and Sacrament] to the subjectivity and activism of the believer. For both Spener and Feucht the real center of the church’s life is not the divine service where Jesus delivers the benefits of his dying and rising through the preached gospel and the sacraments…For Feucht, the goal is changing the believer’s life so that he exercises his priesthood by doing his ministry of evangelism. When the believer carries out this one vocation, Christ is present, and an irrelevant church becomes a most relevant church…. The Pietism of Pia Desideria and Everyone a Minister is quite dangerous. The extra nos character of the preached gospel and the sacramental gospel are exchanged for an intra nos subjectivity and activism of the believer. This is a confusion of law and gospel that does not serve the church faithfully or well.


Perhaps now you can clearly see the benefits of piety and the problems with pietism.

Call it whatever you want to -- "Church Growth" or "Purpose Driven" (at my local LCMS Church it's called showing your "crazy love" for Jesus by living a "radical life" for Him so that you can "prove" your salvation; thanks Francis Chan and David Platt), but it's still just pietism with a different name.

That's why Scott Diekmann's question from one of the above excerpts is so appropriate and important for us to prayerfully consider: "Try substituting the word 'vision' or 'mission' for the word 'piety' and its derivatives -- does that substitution reflect where some Lutherans are at today?" Uh, yes, it most certainly does (at least, at my church anyway).

Ok, so now that we know what piety and pietism is, let's make sure we are crystal clear and issue a word of caution here so that there's no misunderstanding what I'm trying to say.


What’s a pietist?

A pietist is someone who takes all of the fun out of life in the name of religion. They believe that they are pleasing to God because they do not smoke, drink, gamble, play cards, dance, (and if they really thought about it they would probably outlaw golf – did I tell you about the time I spent $300 on a round of golf?).

Jesus was often accused of licentiousness by the pietists of his day. In Matthew 9:11 we read And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” In John 2:1 ff. we see that Jesus first miracle was turning water into wine so that the wedding celebration at Cana could go on. (Of course the pietests say that he only did that because they drank wine in that day instead of water because it was safer to drink the wine which had been purified by the alcohol. If that’s the case then why didn’t he turn wine into safe water for them to drink?)

Lutherans know how to enjoy the gifts God has given to us without guilt. Of course, this does not mean that we have license to abuse the gifts. We encourage you to enjoy the gifts of creation judiciously.

The "pietist" portrayed above is of the "bad" kind or the kind that pietism produces rather than the "good" kind that a saving faith produces.

All of this is to say that the problem I have with articles like the one about watching movies is that while they're well-meaning and written by other Christians with good intentions, they set-up this false notion that we are somehow "holier" or "more righteous" by our mere act of avoidance, behavior modification, or outright separation from something when, in fact, we are only holy and righteous due to Jesus Christ's holiness and righteousness that is imputed to us.

Please don't misunderstand me either. I'm not suggesting that we should sit down daily to watch The Wolf of Wall Street 24/7 thinking it won't have some kind of an affect on us whether emotional, physical, spiritual, or all of the above.

In that particular scenario, it certainly will. But that's not what we're talking about here. Instead, Christians are made to feel like they can never watch an R-Rated movie or anything of that nature on occasion, and if they do, then they should instantly have reason to doubt if they're really a Christian in the first place. Do you see why this is a problem?

Worse, is the sheer hypocrisy though. Which is worse? Watching an R-Rated film about sinners and the consequences of their sins in a film like The Wolf of Wall Street due to the battle that rages between my sinful flesh and the new man (Romans 7:15-25) or watching a PG13-Rated movie like Son of God that completely perverts the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but leaves Christians who watch it feeling like they are "better" and "did something good" as opposed to those "other so-called Christians" who didn't want to watch it?

I'm sorry, but Isaiah 64:6, Matthew 15:8, Matthew 23:27, and 2 Timothy 3:5 all come to mind as specific warnings from God to avoid these kind of self-righteous attitude when it comes to wanting to look upon our "good works" and "obedience" as the "proof of our salvation" when we have Jesus Christ, His Word, and His Sacraments as our blessed assurances. 

If you think I'm being a little unfair in my comparison, then please prayerfully reconsider.

The aim and goal of these projects is not faithfulness to Scripture, nor the glory going to Jesus, nor the conversion of the unbelieving – the aim of these projects is to make money, pure and simple. Sometimes people believe that these things can still expose others to Christ, but here we must remember the Second Commandment and the Lord’s Prayer about hallowing God’s Name. Even teaching something just a little bit erroneous about Jesus is false teaching and profanes God’s Name. Could God use such a thing? Yes -BUT, it is more likely that the Old Adam, the sinful nature in each viewer will more than happily grab onto the false teaching and leave it at that. By nature, unbelievers do not want more truth about God, they want the lies and evil, more than anything they want it their own way – a God or a Jesus which suits their desires. This is not the Jesus that is revealed to us in the Scriptures. This is also not the Law and Gospel preaching that Scripture gives examples of and that churches ought to have as a focus. It is important to remember that far more Christians will be marketed to for these films and probably a vast majority of the viewers will be Christians, who could very well be led into thinking and believing some very strange and dangerous things.

*- Pastor Joshua Scheer

To reiterate, at the end of the day, I've learned that this all comes down to understanding the differences between piety and pietism.

I know I've thrown a lot at you today, but I hope that it was helpful in some small way. God willing, I'm sure we'll continue to look at this subject and attempt to define Lutheran piety in comparison to Evangelical piety in the very near future.

For now, I'd like to end with this brief summary since it seems to be the clearest expression of what I was hoping to communicate here today...

I will admit, I feel very nervous, very hesitant when it comes to instructing in piety. I am willing to do a very simple baseline -- be respectful, things like that. Or I will explain things that I do from my piety -- I have no problem teaching why I make the sign of the cross when I do. And, if someone is assisting me in the service they will reverence when I want them to.

But I am not likely to write a handbook on "this is how you should do things" -- because of a very simple reason.

I view the distinction between piety and pietism as this:

Piety are those things that one does in order to focus ones self upon Christ and His promises. One should be able to articulate the why of these (as an adult).

Pietism occurs when one says that others *must* do one's own piety. Why does not come into play (either why they must or even why I do something).

I'm not going to tell someone that they must kneel during the Confession, even though I do. I like the humble posture -- it reminds me that of myself I dare not stand before God almighty. But I'm not going to say, "If you don't kneel... bad!"

And of course, this applies to things outside of worship. I may choose, out of a desire to exercise self-control and discipline, to forgo X... but I can't tell another, "You need to give up X." I can explain, or even suggest if they ask -- but to command -- no.

I cannot assume that I know better how to face the trials you face in your life than you do. I can warn of sin -- I can suggest... but to say "Thou shall" when our Lord has not said "Thou Shall" terrifies me. It is too audacious for me. Piety suggestions must always be that -- suggestions.

Because ultimately... while piety is good, the specific shape of piety doesn't matter... the size and shape of the sign isn't nearly that important, as long as the sign points to Christ.


Piety and Pietism.

One is more closely associated with being a Confessional Lutheran while the other is often associated with being an American Evangelical.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, one is Biblical while the other thinks that it is.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in interpreting a specific portion of Scripture exegetically, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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