February 20, 2015

When Black-and-White Becomes Grey

by Tom Patton

Now that Presidents’ Day is behind us we can be sure of one thing: “Fifty Shades of Grey” brought in a whole lot of green. According to box office analysts, the carnally erotic full length motion picture brought in $94.4 million over the extended Valentine’s Day weekend.Thanks to mass marketing visionaries, it seems as if the bedroom of society has been transformed overnight into a chamber of bondage. It seems as if the American culture has finally learned to normalize darkness.

But there is also one more thing that we can be sure of with the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey:” the black and white clarity of the Bible has strangely turned grey in the lives of many in the church. Perhaps the most visible example of this has been Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who hasn’t allowed his professed Christianity to stop him from “enjoying” the film. But he is only an example of a much larger problem within cultural Christianity. Somehow, someway, those who claim Christ have rationalized perversion as being normal. How does that happen? Through the slow and indiscernible process of cultural assimilation.

The Disintegration of Our Society

It’s important for all who claim the name of Christ to understand the massive influence media has on their world-view. Though one might say they are shocked by the sexual disintegration of our society they still must be cautious to not allow the trauma they once felt to become all too familiar. With the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” believers can now witness local news stations speaking of whips and chains as if they were an intriguing and acceptable genre of adult pleasure. Stories of sexual domination are being unashamedly promoted to bookstores and movie theaters as being so culturally acceptable that the film’s Valentine’s Day release was done intentionally with the hope that this twisted tale would become the new norm for date night couples all around the world. Even radio advertisers offered a “Fifty Shades of Grey” stuffed teddy bear for Valentine’s Day equipped with a black mask and matching handcuffs. The normalization of taboo has finally found its way into the American Dream.

Whether or not the church will embrace this forbidden tale is still to be seen. But regardless, the bizarre nature of its media acceptance has been staggering. Never has there been such a fully-engaged embrace of wholesale perversion from mainstream media as there has in this recent phenomenon. Instead of speaking of such distortion as being an act of shameful degradation, the self-appointed architects of today’s carnal culture have been allowed to sell their twisted brand of sexual sin with wicked winks and silly smiles. The same news anchors that we trust to scan our traffic and predict our weather have suddenly become accomplices in this newest American tragedy. If this concept were to be presented to families 30 years ago this kind of behavior would have be seen as clinically psychopathic and/or even criminal. What once was too evil to speak of is now broadcasted from coast-to-coast. Our culture has been molested and no one has reported it as a crime.

The Description of the Story

Without ever having read the book or having seen the movie, it is obvious that this story “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a corrupt tale of a man and a woman who engage in a twisted form of pretended slave domination and disguise it as sensuality. According to Time magazine, the main characters of the film are ironically named Christian Grey and Anastasi Steele. Both names are mockeries.

“Christian” of course is a name that belongs to theperson who loves Christ and holds to God’s truth to be black and white. “Grey” of course being a name pointing to the blurring of all distinctives in the world. His name signifies the symbolic fading away of right and wrong in a Judeo/Christian world. “Anastasi” on the other hand is a name that comes from the Greek word in Scripture for resurrection and the belief of afterlife in the world to come. “Steele” of course refers to hardest metal on earth; worldly, stubborn; man-made.

Their first names represent the world as it was; their last names represent the world as it has become. Again, I haven’t seen the film or read the book but the imagery is strong; they represent a new normal. They belong to a world where there is no longer a clear and cloudy, a right and a wrong; now the line has been intentionally smeared and the world is to embrace it as one of the ubiquitous shades of fading grey.

The Danger to the Saints

Though it seems surreal to comment on such a cultural corruption, it is nevertheless very important—from a biblical perspective—for the church to be aware of the stages of exploitation that are leading to the fall of the American culture. The loosening of cultural attitudes towards sexuality has the ability to create a subtle and almost imperceptible osmosis of the soul of everyone who is exposed to it—even the church. Though right-and-wrong is clearly black-and-white to the believer; over time the gradual greying of morality can corrupt even the purest of hearts. Therefore, the symptoms of spiritual cancer must be shown to be what they truly are; deadly and sinful.

Though the church’s mission is not to save the culture or even to preserve it (even though it does do these things), the church does exist to warn the culture and to come out from within it. Therefore my concern is not about the film itself or even the reasons it was made; evil has always existed and the culture has always been corrupt. My concern is directed towards what I consider to be the widespread and indiscriminate acceptance that it has received in the media, and the effect that message might have in furthering the erosion of morality in the church.

It is important for the church to realize that the media have become the indisputable self-appointee d gatekeepers of our culture. The sad news is that they have abandoned their posts. Not only have a handful of perverted, sadistic book publishers and film producers decided to single-handedly parade such filth before the American consumer as if it were appetizing, but they have encouraged even the most innocent and naïve to investigate what might be wrong with them since they don’t find themselves at least curious to consider their twisted form of thinking.

The Distortion of Sexuality

For generations the sadist/masochistic approach to sexual relations had universally been branded as a dark and perverted idea of finding delight in the concept of being involved in feigned scenarios of physical submission and dominance. Though this kind of warped activity makes its appearance from time to time in certain works of fiction, sadist/masochistic scenarios are typically portrayed as being a comically bizarre and perversely strange distortion of human sexuality even to the most hardened of people. No longer is that the case.

When deviant sexual behavior like homosexuality is not enough, then the engineers of mainstream media intentionally push the envelope to further pervert an already disintegrating culture. It is no stretch to say that the only thing left to the mainstream producers of perversion is to attempt the exploitation of children and animals under the same banner of acceptability. Evil has now become good and good has become evil. There are no more people who blush; and there is no more room for shame. It is a home invasion of the most violent kind.

The Declaration of Scripture

In the New Testament, Romans 1:18-32 speaks directly to the wrath of God being revealed against mankind and manifesting itself primarily in the sexual corruption that is seen in society. Though Scripture paints this corruption first and foremost through the disintegration of male and female relations as seen in the wholesale embracing of homosexuality, the corruption of all sexuality has now avalanched its way into society. Though the mainstream media may never know it, they appear in Romans. The wrath of God has come by giving man over in the lust of his heart to impurity and then allowing him to give hearty approval to those who practice such things, even though they know they are worthy of death (Rom. 1:26; 32). The media, as concierges of culture, have given this hearty approval and the due penalty must follow.

The Duty of the Sheep

The reason Russell Wilson could enjoy “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the same reason that a fish doesn’t know it’s wet, and a toad never noticed it was gradually being boiled to death. Slowly, over time, Wilson has allowed himself to become assimilated into the world through the process of desensitization. But he’s not the only one.

Russell Wilson has become a metaphor for the church-at-large. Professing Christianity somewhere along the way has allowed the glory of the cross to become peripheral to the pleasures of the world. Somehow the shame of perversion has been rationalized to become an enjoyable form of voyeuristic entertainment. Unguarded exposure to the dangers of mass media has ultimately deadened the spiritual nerve endings of many who claim Christ. Biblical discernment has been lost in the sea of cultural accommodation. American Christianity is dangerously close to having her lamp be removed from the land.

In Isaiah 5:20 the prophet speaks on behalf of the Lord when he writes, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil. Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” The warning still stands; it’s not too late.

It is time for all the families who love the Lord Jesus Christ and who believe in decency and virtue to fortify themselves in their thinking and be actively communicating to their sons and daughters about the difference between what is beautiful and what is shameful. We must teach our sons and daughters to blush once again.

Tom Patton

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Tom is the Pastor of Congregational Care at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles.
  • Mr. Mike

    I get up at 4am Eastern so I am usually one of the first to read this Blog and the first to comment. The whole time I was reading it one word kept coming up in my mind. I’m reluctant to use it as it only applies to God but in this case I will with the understanding of its earthly limitations. Pastor Patton, that was PERFECT. If ever there was a Spirit filled monologue, that was it. Thank you so much.

  • 2ruthmatters

    Wow, that was great Pastor Tom! My thoughts are that American/cultural Christianity is the ‘reason’ the lamp has been removed from this land, and I think it happened a very long time ago. It’s just so blatant now that it’s becoming very obvious even to some of the hardest of hearts.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    What a timely message for me. I had recently posted an article warning of the dangers of this horrible film on my FB page, only to have my unsaved friends put up posts about how Christians are judgmental snobs who should read their Bibles and be more like Jesus. It shocked me to see their defense and dedication to this film, as well as their attack on me for even opposing it. What a dark world this is becoming…come Lord Jesus.

    • Señorita Daffy

      Amen, Jane!

    • ZooKeeperKevin

      In all seriousness Jane, would you expect anything less from an unrepentant sinner? They love their sin more than they love God so it is to be expected they would defend worldy things. They don’t want their sin exposed to the Light of Jesus Christ. And to further justify that, they twist Scripture by distorting the context of Matthew 7:1 and making it out to be the Gospel. They limit the attributes of God to only being “God is love” while overlooking His other attributes such as being holy, righteous and just. Because He is just He will punish all sin. The actual context of Matthew 7:1-5 talks about Christians and righteous judgement. How we as Christians can judge other Christians of a particular sin as long as we ourselves are not guilty of that particular sin. We cannot judge unbelievers, but JOHN 3:18 answers that.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        I guess I underestimated people’s inability to be ashamed anymore. Like Pastor Patton said above, “There are no more people who blush; and there is no more room for shame. It is a home invasion of the most violent kind.”

      • E S Gonzalez

        Right, a person who reads Matt 7:1-5 wholly and understands it well will see that ultimately the passage doesn’t tell us not to judge, it tells us HOW to judge.

      • Fibber MaGee

        “The actual context of Matthew 7:1-5 talks about Christians and righteous judgement. How we as Christians can judge other
        Christians of a particular sin as long as we ourselves are not guilty of that particular sin.”

        Before I respectfully disagree, could you expound on your statement?

        • ZooKeeperKevin

          As the context reveals, this does not prohibit all types of judging. There is a righteous kind of judgment we are supposed to exercise with careful discernment (Jn 7:24). Censorious, hypocritical, self-righteous, or other kinds of unfair judgments are forbidden; but in order to fulfill the commandments that follow, it is necessary to discern dogs and swine from one’s own brethren (vv. 3–5). Jesus forbade harsh, censorious judgment that self-righteous legalism promotes (Mt 7:1), He demanded the exercise of moral and theological discernment. What I mentioned initially was dealing with hypocritical judgement. Pointing out a problem another believer is struggling with when I am guilty of the same thing would be an example of hypocrisy where I would need to remove the log from my own eye. If for example a professing believer is struggling with blaspheming God’s name and is not making any conscience effort to repent of that sin, then another believer not struggling with that sin can use righteous judgement, but it is not to be done in a harsh manner. In a way that comes off almost self-righteous.

          • Fibber MaGee

            I believe you misunderstand the context. That attitude is
            dangerous for Christians and not what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 7. You
            are saying that we can only judge someone’s sin if we don’t participate in that
            sin. Isn’t that Pharisaical? That is not what the text says or implies. That assumes
            righteousness we don’t posses. The
            context is the attitude of the heart. This is pervasive throughout the sermon.
            This is not an area that you or I are able to judge unless it is ourselves we
            judge. Verses 3-5 is Jesus using hyperbole to make his point and v6 is a brief reminder
            that he is not prohibiting all judgment. The word judgment carries strong
            meaning to people and if we are going to use it, we need to use it correctly. Luke
            6:37 is a sister passage that confirms what Jesus is teaching. Luke 17:3, 2 Tim 3:16 uses the words rebuke,
            reproof, and correction, not judgment. When I began to study judgment I found
            that the commentaries were invaluable in helping me to understand it all. I use
            William MacDonald, Matthew Henry, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul. I suppose if
            you disagree with these guys it would be better to debate MacDonald or HenryJ

    • Kay

      The sad thing for me was that so many of my friends who are active in their churches went to see this movie. One friend read every book and then ask a friend to hid them at her house so her family wouldn’t see them.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Oh Kay, that is so sad. If those friends are Christians (because being active in church doesn’t guarantee that), please don’t be afraid to confront them on this privately and in love. Our loyalty is to Christ and and His name, so don’t be afraid to remind them that He died for our sin in order that we would die to ours.

  • Linda Rice

    Thank you, Pastor Tom! Some of the grey I’ve been thinking about lately is Christian romance books, often called “historical fiction” by its fans. I wonder how much this seemingly harmless genre may have desensitized Christian women to more graphic literature.

  • Johnny

    I think this was good and timely, and much to reflect on. I read about Russell Wilson endorsing watching “Fifty Shades of Grey” and it reminds me of a pastor who I once sat under who would pepper illustrations into his sermon about his vast collection of films he owned (even joking about lending them out to people like he was a video store) and from his description of the films it sounded like many of these were a far cry from Hallmark-level family movies. I don’t know if this was a “toad being boiled” situation or if he just didn’t see the issue with this, but it always struck me as troublesome because, by this pastor owning R-rated films and lending them out there was also something of an indirect endorsement of the material as well. And to be honest, the “50 shades” junk probably isn’t that much different that the content of many films out of Hollywood these days that many Christians likely have on their shelves already.

    • MR

      You are absolutely right about the “frog in the boiling water” analogy. In 2010 my wife and I decided to get rid of cable, we realized that we were watching too much. Last year we got Direct tv and we were shocked at how numb we had become to the garbage. We watched seemingly harmless shows, after a few years break when we went back… I couldn’t believe we didn’t see it.

      Psalm 101:3
      I will set no worthless thing before my eyes;
      I hate the work of those who fall away;
      It shall not fasten its grip on me.

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  • Libs

    Excellent word! Thank you!

    I read somewhere that Target is selling, “50 Shades toys.” Target!

    Mainstream media invasion is influencing Christians on ALL current trending topics, it would be of benefit to remember this unfortunate truth as we discern what is being reported.

  • Tiffany Perry

    It’s a sign of our apostasy that you even had to write this.

  • Well said, all of it. You wrote, “It is no stretch to say that the only thing left to the mainstream producers of perversion is to attempt the exploitation of children and animals under the same banner of acceptability. ”

    One thing to realize is that Hollywood only shows us what we are just about ready for. They take us to the edge of a cliff we felt safely distant from. Then they push us over and we see… What was already there all along.

    The frightening thing is that pedophilia, sex slavery and beastiality is already rampant, waiting its turn in the spotlight. And I’m talking about the USA.

  • 072591

    My personal grudge against 50 Shades of Gray is that I made a storyline for the video game WWE14 (you can make wrestlers with their own storylines in it.). I made a villain called Gideon Gray, a semi-occultic leader who would brainwash wrestlers into joining his stable; their colorful outfits would be changed to gray tones to signify that their individuality had been subverted and undone. The stable’s name was “The Shades of Gray”. Now, I can’t use that name without the snickering.

    • I deleted this comment b/c I thought it might take the conversation too far off track.

      • 072591

        Fair enough. It was more of a personal gripe than something productive anyway.

  • “Whether or not the church will embrace this forbidden tale is still to be seen.”

    Not really. The church will reject it just like it has rejected homosexuality. Many false churches, on the other hand, will accept it just like they have accepted homosexuality.

    But I get what you mean. I just wanted to make that distinction clear. Thanks for your excellent commentary.

  • 072591

    Now, on a more serious note, one source of fascination to me is that the same people who will defend reading and watching 50 Shades of Gray would immediately declare me a heretic for playing Dungeons & Dragons. After all, fantasizing about being on the business end of a sexually-inspired beating in a sex game room (seriously, that’s what the trailer called it) isnt nearly as bad as pretending to be an elf shooting orcs in a “Lord of the Rings”-ish game setting, I guess.

    I’m not saying that watching 50 Shades is absolute proof of being unregenerate – and I was explicitly called a false prophet on another blog for arguing against that explicit assertion; I am saying that there is a serious issue going on with that kind of desire. It might not even be a perverse sexual lust issue. There could be something else going on. It needs to be examined and overcome, not indulged and levereged.

    • Lyndon Unger

      You still play D&D? Like the paper game?

      I didn’t know that was still around!

      • 072591

        It’s still around, but the company that made it, TSR, got bought by another company that got bought by Hasbro.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Hypothetical. What would Pastor Tom say to a woman parishioner of his that went to see 50 shades of grey and he overheard her telling other women in the church that she enjoyed the book and the movie?

    • Tom Patton

      That’s a really good question. I actually expect that will happen because of the social licence of acceptability that Russell Wilson has already given the film/book by his tweet…that’s why I wrote the article. Ideally you could ask her to read the article and then inquire as to what she thought of the concerns that I mentioned, and then go from there. Prepare yourself to meet believers (or at least those who believe they are) who have been so engulfed in this cultural accommodation of sensuality that they don’t even recognize the spiritual damage they are doing to their own soul and Lord. The division between sanctification and salvation has been widened greatly as of late; people don’t know that they don’t know. Be patient with her; you just might lead her to Christ!

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        “Ideally you could ask her to read the article and then inquire as to what she thought of the concerns that I mentioned, and then go from there.”

        Works for me!

        “Be patient with her; you just might lead her to Christ!”

        There is the chance that she might get defensive and offended, but it’s worth taking that chance.

  • Thank you for writing this Pastor Tom. I have also written a post calling the church to holiness titled “One Shade of Red.” Enough Said: https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/one-shade-of-red/

  • MR

    “Without ever having read the book or having seen the movie, it is obvious that this story “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a corrupt tale.” I was pleased to see that you haven’t read or watched this garbage. It’s really disturbing and disappointing when so called Christian family websites review movies like this. There are some movies, books, etc that need no reviews for us to know better. I guess we can expect “Fifty Shades of Grey” small group bible studies, from “Christian” book store chains.

    • Jeff Schlottmann

      Oh yeah, just wait for the book to come out called “Finding Jesus in 50 Shades of Grey”.

      Someone on TGC wrote a similar article where he stated he hadn’t watched or read it. I was surprised at how many people attacked him for it. And also for talking negatively about the movie.

      • Lyndon Unger

        Knowing Evangelicalism, “Finding Jesus in 50 Shades of Grey” is already out under a different title. You’ll probably find it at Lifeway.

  • brad

    Tom,

    It seems like you are targeting mostly believers and those who claim to be believers. I am coming from a different context – the missional context. In my world, Fifty Shades of Grey is rather tame. We deal with prostitutes, drug addicts, Muslims, non-Christians, etc. I have wrestled a lot with whether or not we should be ministering (life-on-life) with “sinners.” Part of that is experiencing first hand and exposing my children to the depravity of sin and sinners (i.e. having prostitutes, homosexuals, homeless, porn addicts, drunkards/drug addicts in my home – which is much more scandalous than going to a movie). I have received quite a bit of criticism for this, but I am wondering what your counsel would be?

    • Tom Patton

      Brad, thanks for the question. I believe our Lord Himself set the example as being One who ate and drank with sinners; He too was condemned for it by the religious elite; so you’re in pretty good company. That being said, He was also a single man surrounded by other holy men. Not exposing your children to depravity is impossible in the world in which we live; however limiting the amount of depravity they are exposed to is your spiritual responsibility. Obviously I don’t know your context, but overall I believe that once God has given you a family to care for you need to consider different ways to minister to those unbelievers that come across your path that are suffering at that profound degree of sin. Whether of not they see “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not my concern; whether or not they come to see Jesus Christ as Lord is. Thank you for your heart of compassion for those whom Christ may bring to himself one day. Be prayerful about maybe having your ministry take place in the context of the local church and bringing them to the place you worship with other men being present. The accountability is so very helpful and necessary so that we don’t fall in trying to lift others up before God. I pray that helps.

  • E S Gonzalez

    Thank you for this post.
    I’d heard somewhere that the box office projection for the film was ~$60M. So, the fact that it generated $30M more than expected/hoped for exposes just how much more depraved/receptive our culture is than the “box office people?” (I dunno … I dunno who comes up with these figures) even imagined! That’s sobering.

  • Corey Fleig

    Tom, Thanks so much for the article! Fortunately, I never even acknowledged the existence of the book/movie, so I didn’t know about it until you just explained it here in this article. I’m thankful I managed to miss the entire thing. If its ever possible in the future, I wish there was a prudent way to write more on what goes on under the radar. I get information all the time about how celebrities and their lawyers live their private lives, and it ain’t pretty. For all the hoopla of Hollywood and the Oscars, the real lives underneath, the daily living with personal issues, conflicts, contracts, money, and divorce, that’s where reality is. Sin is always bad – we know that, but sin with celebrity status and money is even worse. BTW – great picture of you!