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Halo 3 and Christians

By Eric Barger

I haven't mentioned much about video games in recent days. However, since the new Microsoft game, Halo 3, has become the rage of gamers, grossing over $300 million in just the first week of  its release, I thought a few words were in order.

I am prompted to speak up here due to some email enquires we've received and because of the fact that it has been reported that churches - many churches - are using Halo 3 to attract teens. The New York Times reported "that hundreds of pastors [are] desperate to reach young congregants" and have turned to Halo 3 as a recruiting tool. The Times titled the October 7, 2007 article "Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church." The article began, "First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace." Troubling that the world sees the dichotomy yet a growing segment of the Church seems oblivious. I am still curious how Christian leaders can justify using Halo 3 as a drawing card when, as an "M" rated game one has to be 17 to even purchase it!

Echoing thoughts I have express on other such issues in the past, James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy stated, If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it, said a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. About using Halo 3 as a valid tool to draw kids to church Tonowich said, My own take is you can do better than that.

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that its just pixels involved is an illusion, he said.

The Focus on the Family website mentions Halo as "violent" and "problematic."

Let me say up front that if you are expecting me to condemn all video games, then I am going to disappoint you. Gaming, of and in itself, is not necessarily evil. It is the issues of game content, wasted hours and idolatry (i.e. allowing something to displace or rival God from the foremost place of prominence in our lives).

Many of the games today feature explicit sexual and occult themes. The majority feature over-the-top violence. Halo 3 is certainly no exception. We need to also consider the clinical addictive nature of gaming in general. All of these things concern me and should be of interest and concern to every biblically minded Christian. Both my wife, Melanie, and I were both completely addicted to video games 20+ years ago. To this day we both know that the time spent, the rage factor from playing the games and the addictiveness is real - and our problem with gaming was way before the technology of today's games.

Many Christian gamers seem to have a biblical off-on switch helping them to ignore the violent themes. In my conversations with Christians who disagree with my position on games I do not remember an authentic biblical argument ever given in defense of violence as entertainment. I usually hear something like, "hey man, you're just a legalist" or "what do you expect us to do with our time?" One 20-something year-old gamer defended his 12-18 hour-a-day online game habit by telling me that it was all about skill and world rankings!

Often, the idea that because something is simply available, is cool, hip and popular then this is why Christians feel the need to participate. But obviously, none of these excuses make's it right - especially for Believers. No where does the Scripture give us the freedom to entertain ourselves with what the Word calls evil. Aren't we aware that as Christians we are subjecting the precious Holy Spirit to the stuff we watch or listen to? Just as with porn and foul comedy, the violence of the video games today is ingested of our own volition.

I know, I know...some will read this and think, "for God's sake Eric...its just a video game. It's fantasy. Its not real. Chill out." To them can I ask, where in God's Word does it delineate between fantasy violence for the sake of entertainment and being entertained with the real thing such as when people (primarily Christians) were fed to the lions for the sake of entertainment in ancient Rome? The answer of course is that God's Word never makes any delineation between the two.

I know there can be differences and degrees of opinions on stuff like this and I respect that one is not about to loss their salvation for merely playing Halo 3 or any other game. However, rather than a long expose' on the problems of gaming, I want to allow a review of just a couple of places in the Word of God to speak to parents, teens and others interested in the gaming phenomenon as it relates to biblical Christianity.

Read these passages and as you do, please consider the video games on your Xbox, PS3, Nintendo or computer.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
- Philippians 4:8

Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove (expose) them... Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
-
Ephesians 5:10-11, 16

For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
- I Peter 3:12

Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
- Romans 1:29-32

You may wonder how this last passage from Romans 1 relates to the issue at hand? Here's what the late Donald Stamps wrote in the study notes he edited for The Full Life Study Bible (now called The Life in the Spirit Study Bible).

‘Have pleasure in them that do them.’ Paul’s last word on human sinfulness is God’s condemnation of a condition even more damning than the practice itself, i.e., supporting and encouraging evil by taking pleasure in the immoral actions of others. This disposition is the ultimate in depravity – vicarious enjoyment of lust and evil. Sin becomes entertainment.

Being entertained by watching other people sin and engage in ungodly actions, even while you yourself abstain, brings you under the same divine condemnation as those engaging in such evil practices. Sin is intensified in any society wherever it meets with no inhibition from the disapproval of others.

Those (and especially those who profess faith in Christ) who use the immoral actions of others for entertainment and enjoyment are directly contributing to public opinion favorable to immorality and therefore to the corruption and eternal damnation of an indefinite number of other people.”The Full Life Study Bible

I encourage you to allow the peace of God - not the violence of a game - rule your heart and mind. By rejecting the violence and idolatry of video games like Halo 3 we'll not only be protecting our hearts and minds but we may well be helping lead lost people out of the way of Hell.

(c) copyright 2007, Eric Barger

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