Editor's note: This is the third of a four-part series about what it means to make "good, Christian movies." In this part, the author examines films that are "merely" entertaining—even frivolous—and what he believes the Bible has to say about that.

As a child, I grew up in the world of missionaries—a world full of fantastic people like the indomitable Hudson Taylor, Mary Slessor the "white queen of Calabar," and my hero as a teenager, the ferocious, poetic Jim Elliot. Forfeiting home, family and the comforts of their native culture, these brave souls sacrificed their lives for the gospel of Christ. "Expendable for God!" they cried with earnest, burning hearts. Former English missionary C. T. Studd intoned what would become the confession of countless missionaries: "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." To my youthful spirit, this was edible fire: sublime and deeply satisfying.

It was serious business being a missionary. There was much to be done and too brief a life to accomplish it all. Missionaries "made the most of their time" so as not to squander a single opportunity to serve people with the love of Jesus. Fruit-bearing for the Kingdom must be a first priority, and rightly so.

Many years later, looking back on my slightly romantic view of missionaries, I wonder whether the Greats would have approved of me watching movies—lots of movies. With the harvest so dreadfully plentiful, how could I indulge in hours of Monty Python or What About Bob? Perhaps they would have tolerated The Gods Must Be Crazy, but never something so frivolous as Wayne's World. Could we imagine Mother Teresa holed up with a copy of The Pink Panther while the poor languished outside? (I can, and I think she would have invited them all in for a good, healthy guffaw.)

Needless to say, the missionary sub-culture made little room for worldly amusements. Even if you enjoyed a movie now and then, it was largely unconscionable to pursue a career making "merely" entertaining movies. How could you justify spending months of your life and millions of dollars in the production of, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which would amount to two hours of inconsequential recreation?

So my question is this: Is it ok for a Christian to enjoy, and even to create, a movie not for moral instruction (The Truman Show), not to facilitate an evangelistic encounter (The Climb), but just for mere entertainment? By that, I mean something that is not practically nor materially or religiously beneficial in any immediate sense, but rather, as it were, simply "fun for the sake of fun," in the way that going to the circus or jumping rope with sing-song rhymes is just fun.

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If there is an answer, the Bible better say something about it. And, happily, it does.

The Biblical Grounds

The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it feels no need to argue for the goodness of joy; it simply assumes that we should have lots of it. Psalm 68:3, "May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful." Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always." In Esther 8 and 9the nation of Israel throws a massively joyful, two-day non-stop bash in acknowledgement of God's salvation.

In Revelation 4:4 we find that pleasure is also quite good: "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (KJV). To wit, the fruit of the Garden of Eden was not only good for food (a practical, material benefit), it was pleasant to the eye (a non-practical, non-material benefit). Jesus, knowing a pleasant thing or two about life, enjoyed a good dinner party (Matt. 11:19;John 2:1-11), where presumably he wasted a lot of time eating, drinking and laughing—"non-religious stuff."

The biblical language of "joy in the Lord," then, suggests a dual notion, that our joy is in God and that God is the source and dispenser of joy. Whether this joy includes mere entertainment is something we could only infer from the Scriptures, since it never uses this terminology explicitly.

The Witness of Creation

You can find out a lot, however, about an artist by the things he has made, and according to the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." So what can we deduce about God by observation of his creation? First off, it's a playful world out there. Ever go to the zoo? Those monkeys are crazy things, swinging around like there's no tomorrow, making faces, spitting bananas. Squirrels, ducks, Nemo fishes—they goof around a lot. Up there with eating, sleeping and copulating, playing is a high priority in the animal kingdom.

So too for humans. You could even call it one of those involuntary muscles: we just can't help but play. We make up games for ourselves, from the Olympic-sized expenditures of playfulness—jumping over sticks, throwing sticks, running around in circles—to the small-time games of checkers or Go Fish. We're an incurably playful creature and we can't escape the thought that God meant it this way.

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The Chinese-born Eric Liddell spoke for a lot of us when he chided his serious-minded sister, saying, "Jenny, Jenny, I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made fast and when I run I feel God's pleasure." When we play, not only when we preach or feed the poor, we remember God's pleasure. Indeed there is a largess to God's work: sounds that we cannot hear and colors we cannot see because they belong to a realm beyond the human grasp and exist merely for God's amusement, and so he has decreed it.

A Theological Thought

What then does this suggest about the nature of God? It is this: that joy is grounded in God and flows from his nature (Rom. 15:13;Ps. 34:8). Psalm 16:11 declares, "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures evermore" (KJV). In Exodus 34:6 the Lord reveals himself to Moses as "abundant in goodness" (KJV; also 33:19), what the Latin calls ultro bonus. This is the quality of divine generosity: a spilling over of more magnificence, more thrilling-ness, more fun than we can handle or make useful. If you will, it is the superfluity of God's goodness that forces us into acts of diversion. "There's too much goodness here! I shall simply have to enjoy it!"

Echoing our earlier comments on creation, the Princeton theologian Charles Hodge states: "The goodness of God in the form of benevolence is revealed in the whole constitution of nature. As the universe teems with life, it teems also with enjoyment."

Creation is infused with a "very goodness" that reflects the richness of God's inner life. Because God is rich with goodness, creation is rich—excessively rich—with goodness, and the only natural response of humans is to stop and take delight in the delightfulness of God's world.

J. I. Packer summarizes the gusto of the rapturous Psalmist thusly (Ps. 145): "[E]very meal, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sun, every night's sleep, every moment of health and safety, everything else that sustains and enriches life, is a divine gift."

The idea here is similar to that developed by Robert Farrar Capon in The Third Peacock, where creation is depicted as an extravagant, playful manifestation of Divine Pleasure. Things exist because God merrily wishes them to exist: for love, for goodness, for beauty.

For Aesthetic Delight

In the Old Testament, the concept of absolute well-being is called shalom, a state where all things in creation operate according to their divinely ordained purpose. Such was the state in the beginning; such will be the state when Christ finally restores all things to their glorious condition. In light of our biblical and theological observations, we argue that aesthetic delight—or the delight in things joyous—belongs to the register of shalom, alongside justice, peace, community and work. If delightfulness resides with God, then surely our enjoyment of those delights has a place in the Christian life.

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We are mindful, of course, of the gradations of delight: at the highest level, joy, which C. S. Lewis calls the "serious business of Heaven," on down to happiness and pleasure, and then further down to amusement, or mere entertainment. Our experiences of entertainment ought not to form the bulk of our daily life; entertainment, so to speak, is a lower form of joy. It's simple, it appeals to our animal senses, not the higher ones, and it rarely leaves a lasting sensation.

Still, God calls it good. It is good to entertain each other with goofy stories (Pirates of the Caribbean), with adventures (Patriot Games), with thrilling mysteries (The Fugitive), for they remind us in embodied ways of God's great purpose for human beings: to know him and to enjoy him and all that he has made. They remind us to live from the heart, not from dutifulness. They remind us that, at the end of the day, God does not need our little productivities.

The Denouement

The bad thing about entertainment, as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke put it, is not our acceptance of it but a tendency to "misuse and squander this experience as a stimulant at the tired spots" of our lives and as distraction, instead of as a lightening of the spirit, as God intended it. Good entertainment, such as Toy Story or Lawrence of Arabia, can inspire a dulled imagination, be good medicine to a saddened heart, quicken a wearied body and strengthen the bonds of friendship. In this way filmic entertainment partakes of the re-creative work of God, in the mending and enlivening of soul and body. And as such it is good, very good.

Is it OK to watch Spider-Man 2? Is it OK to be the filmmaker who spends millions of dollars on Ocean's Eleven or Zorro? If it's OK for God to spend divine energy making pomegranates and porcupines and platypuses for his pleasure, for a chuckle or two—for mere entertainment—then yes, yes indeed it is OK, very OK.

Part 4:Violence, Profanity, and Nudity: A Dialogue

David Taylor is the Arts Minister at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, and director of The Ragamuffin Film Festival, held August 6-8 in Austin.