I Understand The Wire, but The Crown?

What should we stream on Netflix or Amazon Prime? Should we do what the Puritans did (even though they didn’t have wifi)?

Here’s one piece of advice on what to watch:

Does this [movie] increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

Remember that this world is not our home. The fact that we are forgiven sinners, purchased by Christ and bound for heaven should impact every aspect of our lives.

Additionally, we know from Scripture that we have an adversary who is determined to take Christ’s soldiers out of the fight. What soldier would spend time in activities that weaken his armor?

Be critical of the choices you have when deciding what to watch. Does this movie help you to better appreciate the truths expressed in Scripture, or is it void of redemptive elements? Does this show encourage you to snuff out sin in your life, or does it entice you to see how close you can get to the flame without getting burned? Does this film make you long for God’s kingdom, or does it merely increase your desire for the things of earth?

Okay. I can understand (and always have) why some people won’t watch The Wire. As much as I appreciate the show, I don’t recommend it to all Christians. It’s like meat offered to idols. Some people can’t handle it (and those who can aren’t superior, just different).

But The Crown? Why not watch a series that is highly suggestive about the English monarchy and its responsibilities, recent British history, the nature of British politics and the decline of Britain’s empire, not to mention very revealing about human nature (nor to mention exquisitely accomplished). None of this is particularly edifying or redemptive. The Crown doesn’t make me a better Christian.

But God is not merely a redeemer. He’s also the creator and that means — doesn’t it? — he’s also involved with and oversees the non-redemptive parts of human history. In that case, watching The Wire and The Crown makes me a better human being because they help me understand God’s creation and providence.

If you only take spiritual cues from the Puritans, you’ll have Christian duties figured out (perhaps) but you’ll still need to get a life.

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36 thoughts on “I Understand The Wire, but The Crown?

  1. Last week I swotted up on my knowledge of the theonomy inspired troubles in Northern Ireland by watching ’71 on Prime. Apart from the copious use of the f word and screaming, it gave me a real sense of the horrors and moral mess which took place there in recent decades. It was thought provoking and moving without resorting to gratuitous violence. Also it reaffirmed my contempt for Tony Blair, John Major and Bill Clinton who essentially let the IRA get what they wanted. How would Tim Challies, who I read is a bit of big name in Northern Ireland, view such a film?

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  2. So going back to the note I sent you the other day… would you draw a line between Machen’s opposition to popular culture and today’s neo-cal/pietist opposition to populse culture? Today’s opposition seems more prescriptive to me than Machen ever was (hence his relative silence on the subject).

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  3. DGH – excellent post! I was particularly struck by this very Kuyperian sentiment: “But God is not merely a redeemer. He’s also the creator and that means — doesn’t it? — he’s also involved with and oversees the non-redemptive parts of human history. In that case, watching The Wire and The Crown makes me a better human being because they help me understand God’s creation and providence.” Every square inch indeed!

    Paul – great comment! But if it has the “f word,” I think you can count Tim Challies out.

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  4. I primarily go to the movies for fun (I study, pray, go to church and fellowship with other believers for spiritual growth). Let’s face it I have no pretentions of going to see the latest Avengers or Pitch Perfect movie and coming out a better man. But D.G. is right you can gain a depth of character from them. The movie Minority Report helps us consider the repercussions of facial recognition which companies like Amazon and Google are developing, and there is much cognitive science to glean from a movie like Ex Machina. Since when is having fun a sin however? I am reminded of the Dominican Monks in movie The Name of the Rose who thought smiling was a sin.

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  5. PAH, I would only draw the line between Machen and the neo-Cals on culture if the neo-Cals were lauding the glories of ancient Greek writers (which I doubt they’d do under the duress of the anti-thesis).

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  6. VV, but it’s not Kuyperian because the every square inch slogan means redeeming culture. Redeeming culture means looking for redemption in the works of creation and providence.

    You have missed the point because of your bias.

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  7. DGH – from Kuyper’s lecture on Calvinism and Art at Princeton: “In view of all this we may say that Calvin esteemed art, in all its ramifications, as a gift of God, or, more especially, as a gift of the Holy Ghost; that he fully grasped the profound effects worked by art upon the life of the emotions; that he appreciated the end for which art has been given, viz., that by it we might glorify God, and ennoble human life, and drink at the fountain of higher pleasures, yea even of common sport; and finally, that so far from considering art as a mere imitation of nature, he attributed to it the noble vocation of disclosing to man a higher reality than was offered to us by this sinful and corrupted world.”

    and

    “It has frequently been remarked, moreover, that the idea of election by free grace has contributed not a little toward interesting art in the hidden importance of what was seemingly small and insignificant. If a common man, to whom the world pays no special attention, is valued and even chosen by God as one of His elect, this must lead the artist also to find a motive for his artistic studies in what is common and of every-day occurrence, to pay attention to the emotions and the issues of the human heart in it, to grasp with his artistic instinct their ideal impulse, and, lastly, by his pencil to interpret for the world at large the precious discovery he has made. Even foolish and drastic extravagances became the
    motive for art-productions, merely as revolutions, of the human heart and as manifestations of human life. Man was also to be shown the image of his folly, that he might depart from evil. Thus far the artist had only traced upon his canvas the idealized figures of prophets and apostles, of saints and priests ; now, however, when
    he saw how God had chosen the porter and the wage-earner for Himself, he found interest not only in the head, the figure and the entire personality of the man of the people, but began to reproduce the human expression of every rank and station. And if thus far the eyes of all had been fixed constantly and solely upon the sufferings of the “Man of Sorrows,” some now began to understand that there was a mystical suffering also in the general woe of man,
    revealing hitherto unmeasured depths of the human heart, and thereby enabling us to fathom much better the still deeper depths of the mysterious agonies of Golgotha.”

    I’m not disagreeing with your post – I agree with it completely. Kuyper would as well. “Every square inch” refers to redeeming culture, yes, but also that God is sovereign in everything, and that art need not be expressly “spiritual” to be edifying. For Kuyper, even “foolish and drastic extravagances” are worthy of depiction in art.

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  8. D G, I agree Tim Challies wouldn’t be watching ’71, but I sure would like to know how he would tackle nasty, violent and quite complex issues like the tragic troubles which caused so much bloodshed in Northern Ireland. His beloved Puritans have little to say on politics and I think of how John Owen was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell who could be a nasty piece of work. If there are Challies supporters out there, or even the man himself, how would they respond? I am all for living with heaven set before me, but in the meantime I have to contend with this crazy world by being in the correct means of grace and having a Rod Liddle take on the head bangers and Remainer snowflakes here in the UK.

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  9. Dr. Hart – yes, for the same reason I watched ‘Vikings’ on Amazon Prime. And am awaiting the next season. And I don’t have “to talk to that Priest”…………anyone remember who said that in the series?

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  10. -DGH says If you only take spiritual cues from the Puritans, you’ll have Christian duties figured out (perhaps) but you’ll still need to get a life.
    -Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: DGH – excellent post!

    Ridiculous. One thing we can know for sure, the Spirit would never say ‘get a life’ – dabble a little more in fleshly, worldly thinking- you’ll fit in better and will ‘get a better life’

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  11. vv, David Simon isn’t redeeming culture and The Wire is still brilliant. Kuyper is hard pressed to explain that on these grounds other than the rabbit out of the hat — common grace. I explain it by the wonder if God’s creation.

    See ma. No redemption.

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  12. The Viking character ‘Floki’ said that a number of times about Ragnar talking with Athelstan…………”he’s been talking with the Priest”………..

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  13. I watched Vikings since sea roving became my favorite historical fiction topic after reading Bengtsson’s “The Long Ships” and the Bernard Cornwell’s “Saxon Saga.” Also, the geopolitical structure seems to be headed back to a pre-Westphalian state. Long story short, Floki inspired my to build a boat. I sold the project to my wife as, “Hey, at least I’m not buying a Harley.” The boat works great and I’m learning more about amphibious operations. Unlike the Danes, I am not taking up sea roving.

    The rest of the writing in Vikings is pretty bad but it gives you insight into what unbelievers think is cool nowadays: ie pagan religions, tattoos, sleeping around, and violence. THus it has been; thus it will always be.

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  14. Walt, I really enjoyed that series, too, more than any I’ve seen lately. They got it right – everything, even Medieval Paris and much more. The architecture, costumes, culture, religion, was all very plausible, I agree. I thought the scripts were quite good, considering a difficult culture to emulate in language for today’s audiences. Yes, you don’t even have to squint to see similarities with today’s culture-worldviews in the West and beyond.

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  15. DGH – sure, David Simon was redeeming culture with The Wire – he just didn’t know it and his work did not “please God.” See WCF 16-7. God uses sinners who completely reject Him to accomplish His purposes, and that includes through their works of art. Total and absolute sovereignty, every square inch, etc, etc.

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  16. “Does this movie help you to better appreciate the truths expressed in Scripture, or is it void of redemptive elements?”

    Depends what “redemptive” means. In the narrow sense, it could mean characters in the show are redeemed by Christ, or the movie somehow helps you be redeemed by Christ. Or maybe the characters are redeemed in a more generic sense, i.e. they are bad and something happens so they get better. Or in the broadest sense, the movie could have some number of objectionable elements in it, but on balance is ‘redeemed’ by the overall artistic quality (common-grace goodness)

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  17. @VV I agree that God uses sinners who completely reject him to accomplish his purposes, but God’s purpose is not always redemption. His purpose can also be damnation. I suspect that there is an in-between category that we might call the common life. The rain falls on the saints and the sinners and let’s their gardens grow, but the rain doesn’t bring redemption.

    When I think about what Paul had to say about nature groaning in anticipation of redemption, I’m left wondering what if any of our culture will be redeemed in the sense of being included in the New Earth. I suspect that it will not. So perhaps David Simon isn’t redeeming anything (intentionally or not) even if he is providing an educational look at law and order in the inner city. Even things that lack eternal consequence matter – like good government.

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  18. D. G. Hart says: Ali, does the Spirit tell you to read Old Life?

    Interesting . Are you implying the Spirit would never tell me to read Old Life? Implicating yourself much?

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  19. Zrim says: Ali, subdue the earth, multiply, take dominion, i.e. get a life.

    Zrim, “get a life” =
    -John 10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
    -Romans 8:6 the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,

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  20. sdb – good comments. I think the key point is how you view creation/culture: fundamentally good or fundamentally bad. If creation/culture are fundamentally good, then common grace is naturally redemptive, because it redeems creation from the effects of sin and restores its intended condition. For example, look at Jesus’ healing miracles. He restored diseased bodies to the way they are supposed to be, in effect redeeming them from the effects of sin and sickness.

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  21. @vv I hear you, but I’m not convinced that creation is fundamentally good or bad. Or more precisely, that this is the axis that matters when we talk about redemption. Rather, the axis I think is relevant to creation is eternal/temporal. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of God endures forever. The earth will melt like snow, languages disappear to be forgotten forever, and the works of poets and artists are forgotten. None of these are redeemed. Your reference to those Jesus healed is interesting. But I don’t think it points to redemption of creation. They all died anyway. Those who died in faith will be redeemed, those who don’t will not be. Am I missing something?

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  22. sbd, WCF 4.1 says creation is very good. But, VV, how does that mean that common grace (or better, providence) is naturally redemptive? The chapter on providence follows that of creation and nothing there about redeeming “creation from the effects of sin and restores its intended condition.” Plus what sbd said about those Jesus healed. Healed isn’t glorified.

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  23. @Z Good point. I stand corrected. Creation is very good. But with the exception of man and angels, it will all be annihilated and replaced.

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  24. SDB,

    But with the exception of man and angels, it will all be annihilated and replaced.

    I don’t know about that. 1 Cor. 3 seems to indicate that some of our works will survive the fire of judgment. I guess we could debate as to whether they will be destroyed after that or if they will continue to endure. We could also debate what these works are.

    But I agree, common grace is not redemptive.

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  25. sbd, right, which is what the (semi) neo’s cannot abide because they think they hear fundamentalism in 2k with all that talk of destruction and otherworldliness–a good if also misguided instinct. But 2k has no problem polishing the brass or all sorts of film for its provisional value (for fundamentalism/pietism see Greg and Ali who wring their hands at the latter).

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  26. @Robert
    Sure. But I doubt Paul has in mind nicely tended gardens, compelling novels, helpful pedestrian bridges, or clever scientific theories are the kinds of works he has in mind.

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  27. SDB,

    Sure. I think the idea that such stuff will come over into the new heavens and the new earth really isn’t justifiable. As Zrim said, something like a good pedestrian bridge doesn’t have to come over into the new earth in order for it to be a result of worthy and God-honoring effort.

    I wonder what he does have in mind. Sometimes I think it will be stuff like certain hymns. I can imagine singing “A Mighty Fortress” for all eternity.

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  28. But, Robert, in an eternity free of mortal ills and ancient foes working believers woe would these words make much sense:

    “Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe…”

    Maybe even favorite hymns are facets of this passing life and we’ll be singing new songs.

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  29. Ali, since you are Spirit filled, and always disagree with Old Life, I would have thought the Spirit is opposed to the blog.

    But then you keep returning, like dot dot dot?

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