Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

5 Feb 2013

If You Enjoyed the Halftime Show You Should Repent


There, I’ve said it. OK, maybe (and I mean MAYBE) a case could be made that a mature believer could justify watching portions of the show as a means of cultural analysis and critique, but if a professing believer watched its totality as a means of entertainment or pleasure, then he or she has sinned and should repent.

No, I’m not talking about the musical forms (though something could probably be said here). Let’s skip all of that controversy for now and go straight to the elements that no Christian can reasonably defend. Elements that, as of 3:35 pm yesterday afternoon, 50% of readers at MSNBC(!) found excessively risqué, unwittingly ranking them in Paul’s category of “sexual immorality of a kind that is not tolerated even among the pagans” (1 Cor 5:1). Elements like the gratuitous exploitation of women, visually overt and unbiblical sexual themes, lyrical subjects that openly celebrate sin (I looked this bit up, distasteful though it was), and for lack of a clearer word, pornography.

Undoubtedly some readers will howl about liberty, the need to be in the world to win the world, and the ugly spirit of Pharisaism or weak-brotherliness reflected in this post. Whatever. Sin and worldliness do exist, and if not here, then I’m not sure where one might go to find them. There surely is room for reasonable debate over adiaphora or “things indifferent,” but the Halftime Show isn’t among these. Any suggestion to the contrary is unadulterated self-deception.

Let us instead take Peter seriously when he urges us as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul, choosing rather to maintain behavior that is excellent among the pagans (1 Pet 2:11–12).

24 Responses

  1. Steve Thomas

    Mark, thank you for this post. Your assessment is inarguably spot on. And no one should dismiss it as merely a fundamentalist rant. Two days before the event Matthew Vos, professor of sociology at Covenant College, suggested that Christians who join the Superbowl revery unmask their idols. His thought provoking article can be found here:

    The money quote is this: “The way we consume iconic national events like the Super Bowl better depicts what we really believe about women than does anything else. For in the invisibility of normality, there we find our idolatry.”

    Thanks to Carl Trueman for linking to it.

  2. paul

    I didn’t see it, but surely if we could put some Christian lyrics to it and absent any wardrobe malfunctions it could provide some awesome worship experience. For the sake of the gospel, of course.

  3. Steve Thomas

    Oops! I thought I typed revelry, not reverie–two very different concepts. Although, come to think of it, in some cases the latter might apply very well. 🙂

  4. Lance just some guy!

    Mark, also thank you for the post. It always amazes me as to how we can justify watching some thing like this as Christians. It saddens me that we can not just turn it off, or not watch it at all. It is as if we need to see these things so we can talk about it around the water cooler. Yes, we do have freedoms, the freedom to turn it off or not on at all.

    Lets no forget Luke 11:34″Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.”

  5. Mike West

    Thanks Mark. You wouldn’t think we would have to address professing Christians about something as blatant as most of the halftime shows, but this shows the real state of the church in our day. Man, just the quick advertisements were offensive enough. We, along with many other believers simply turned the tube off for 30 minutes until it was all over with. You would think the NFL and advertisers would get the hint. But the blindness runs deep.

  6. Matt Owen

    Just curious – have you encountered believers who wouldn’t agree with this? Of course I agree, just wondering.

  7. PhilT

    I wasn’t able to watch the game this year due to work, but my wife did. She said that she enjoyed watching the half-time show and that she and one of her girlfriends who was with her had a lot of fun dancing along and had a great workout. Should my wife repent?

  8. Mark Snoeberger

    Phil, I wanted to be clear that my “yes” is an unqualified one, despite the occasions you gave for me to offer qualification. Let me take a minute, though, to explain why I did not qualify my answer, despite three devices you inserted into your question:

    (1) Deflecting the discussion to a third person is a bit unfair, and puts me in a position of appearing cowardly (and in this case ungentlemanly). And so I am pressured to qualify my comments to avoid this appearance. I’ll take this risk and assume your goodwill, asking that for future reference we might engage in debate without this kind of deflection.

    (2) Further, in deflecting the discussion to a woman’s response, you proposed a situation in which the watcher is less inclined to sin, or at least not in the same way. As such I am pressured to qualify my statements due to my ignorance of women (which is considerable) and my concern of being accused of offering arguments [i]ad feminam[/i]. I’ll take this risk as well, offering only that (a) such susceptibility to temptation is not absent in women, and that (b) there surely is no warrant for practicing and taking pleasure in activities responsible for the seduction and sin of perhaps millions of men.

    (3) More substantively, you seem to suggest that because intrinsically unobjectionable factors such as fitness and fun are a motivation for enjoying the performance, the performance is to that degree redeemable. This argument resembles one of the prominent arguments in the link I provided above—that despite the sex and nudity and fornication and so on, it was OK because of the redeeming theme of “empowerment.”

    The pragmatism here is, of course, palpable. But if I can offer a more narrative assessment, every “Christian” argument I have encountered that extols the merits of Beyonce’s performance reads, [i]prima facie[/i], like a sermon on 2 Peter 2 with a thesis that affirms, based on v. 22, the abiding nutritional value of canine vomit.

    When we as Christians embrace activities that are not tolerated even among the pagans, we lose not only our apologetic platform but also our very identity. Truly, in Carson’s words, “To the degree that…Christianity has assimilated itself to the dominant ethos, reasons for anyone joining it are harder to come by” ([i]Christ and Culture Revisited[/i], p. 118).

  9. PhilT

    Thanks for your clarification. I’m just a little hesitant to come to the blanket conclusion that you have (that everyone who enjoyed it must repent for it), even though I’m inclined to believe that *many* who watched it may have sinned.

    I’m also not attempting to make any argument for the “redeemable” nature of the performance itself (since personal enjoyment of a specific thing and redeeming (usually something broader such as ‘dance’) seem to me to be further separated). I would rather argue that while many people may have enjoyed the performance for wrong reasons, someone else may have enjoyed it for other appropriate reasons (the rhythms, lights and effects, fun moves, etc.).

    My point is that *not everyone responds sinfully* to things like this. In order to make such an assertion we’d have to see into the hearts of every individual (something which only one person has ever done). I can fairly assert that the performance objectified women in some tangible ways and that those who lusted after that (or after the products or women in the commercials, etc.) actually sinned, but to assert that everyone who watched the show sinned doesn’t seem entirely to follow.

    So I agree with your article insomuch as you speak to the tangible problems (biblical violations) within the performance itself, but I disagree in ascribing sin to *everyone* who watched it. I’m open to critique.

  10. Phil,

    You said “I would rather argue that while many people may have enjoyed the performance for wrong reasons, someone else may have enjoyed it for other appropriate reasons (the rhythms, lights and effects, fun moves, etc.)”

    I am sincerely curious about when and upon what basis you think it is appropriate to compartmentalize an experience such as this where there seem to be both sinful as well as indifferent elements.

    Perhaps we must look not at every detail but rather at what generally characterizes the event or experience. In this case, would this be something that it is ok for us to enjoy because the details overcome the general characterization?

    If so, what are the boundaries of this logic? Would it be possible for a Christian to faithfully appreciate the lights and effects of a pornographic film?

    Tone is difficult to convey in text so I want you to understand that I am not being sarcastic. I am honestly curious about your thoughts on this.

  11. Michael

    Indeed this is the worst issue in the world right now; it demands someone to speak out. Christians should take note! I feel ashamed for focusing so much on poverty, homelessness, abuse, ignorance, and injustice! Thank God for this blog!

  12. PhilT

    There are a couple of distinctions I’ll suggest.

    First, in regard to the distinction between the goodness of a thing or event in itself and in someone’s response to it. I would hold to the view that all physical things (porn, alcohol, drugs, music) are not in and of themselves a sin. They are print on a page, products of plants, and results of sound vibrations. The things themselves are not sins. What may be sins are (a) the intention behind the production and/or (b) the response of the recipient. If we believe that sin is the product of a fallen heart (as Jesus taught), then it is the heart, the intention, behind the production of the thing/event, and the heart and intention behind the response that makes it sin. I think a balanced thoroughgoing view of Scripture upholds this view.

    Second, in regard to the distinction between (a) the intention behind the production and (b) the response of the recipient. I would hold that an (a) sin does not necessitate a (b) sin, and that a (b) sin does not necessitate an (a) sin. For example, I may sing a song with the intent to bring honor to myself and commit an (a) sort of sin (viz., pride). This doesn’t mean that you, the listener, have committed a (b) sort of sin. A man may see a woman and lust after her. Here he has committed a (b) type sin and she may not have committed an (a) sort of sin. Transferring between (a) and (b) sins (or visa versa) can cause major problems for biblical ethics (this has been a historic problem with Fundamentalist ethics…but I digress).

    So to conclude (and apply to the point at hand): if we believe that goodness and badness is determined based on the heart and not the thing itself, then Scripture can approve or condemn the (a) heart/intents behind a thing and (b) the responses to it. I think the article went a long way towards demonstrating where the dangers lie in both the (a) and (b) categories (i.e., a: exploiting women; b: lust). So in this case, I would warn against the dangers of types (a) and (b), but I would not assert that everyone has sinned in these areas and needs to repent.

    I hope these distinctions clarify where I am coming from.

  13. Mark Snoeberger

    Phil, Thanks for a sane engagement in dialogue. To much of what you have said I would agree, viz.,

    (1) Objects cannot be sins.
    (2) Just because someone sins in response to something I say/do/produce does not necessarily mean that I have sinned, though I would add the caveat, based on Romans 14, that if I knowingly say/do something that causes a brother to sin, then I actually have sinned.
    (3) Just because I sin in doing/producing something does not mean that someone sees/hears my sin has also sinned.

    Where I perceive a flaw in your reasoning is the suggestion that because an object cannot be a sin, then sin must necessarily be restricted to one’s heart/intention. I would suggest that there is an excluded middle that you have neglected. In between “intention” and “object” are thoughts, activities, and omissions, some of which are always wrong, irrespective of the absence of evil intentions.

    A great many sins are committed daily but are excused because of good intentions. A great many more are committed because we have deceived ourselves into thinking we had wholesome intentions. Eve’s initial sin, for instance, comes to mind. She ate the fruit because (1) was pleasing to the eye, (2) good for food, and (3) desirable to make one wise. She should have fled, but she didn’t.

    While one might surely be able to assemble a list of good intentions for watching Beyonce’s performance (it is good for fun and desirable to make one fit), the governing impulse ought to be instead, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them” (Eph 5:3–6). Or perhaps more simply, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18).

    It troubles me when Christians engage in and justify activities that even a large sampling of the unregenerate community identifies as sexual immorality (1 Cor 5:1). If nothing else it should at least alert us to the possibility of self-deception.

  14. PhilT,

    I also appreciate the distinctions that you are making and agree with most of them. With this in mind, however, I think there are other factors to consider in addition to a number of points made in the last comment by Dr. Snoeberger.

    Just one for example, is the importance of understanding what various cultural symbols convey and seeking in love to ensure that we do not create confusion both in the culture and for weaker brothers and sisters. We are not free to use out knowledge and liberty in ways that are unloving even if we are able to make those sophisticated theological distinctions faithfully. One example is the instruction about food but the interaction with cultural symbols goes beyond even issues that are this straightforward. For example, Paul’s instructions about women’s hair etc. seem to have a functional purpose in distinguishing the Church from the culture as a people beyond individual concerns.

    As you effectively pointed out objects have no inherent moral value in themselves. There is therefore no such thing as a neutral aesthetic. Things are not simply “fun” or “beautiful” but only become so within a particular context. I think the point that was being made is pastoral. Why is it that so many professing Christians are entertained by such displays? I do not know if I would go so far as to assert that every single believer watching who enjoyed the show sinned but I think it is certainly appropriate to question why that which is worldly is entertaining to so many claiming to be dead to the world. This type of highly visible performance is a great “case study” on that topic.

    Michael insinuated that this is a petty concern but from a pastoral perspective this kind of question is of the utmost interest and importance.

  15. PhilT


    Let me clarify my reference to “heart” or “intention.” I don’t use it to excuse actions that are sinful. For example, someone may have the best intentions in the world, but if they are violating God’s direct commands (i.e., lying in order to get out of a ticket in order to practice good stewardship is still a sin because it involves disobedience to a command of God) then the action itself is sinful. Based on Jesus’ claim that all sin comes from the heart, I still think that our intentions may not be as pure as we assume (i.e., the man trying to get out of the ticket may be using stewardship as a disguise for selfishness). So heart or intention is not a valid excuse for violating the moral law of God.

    To deal with the passages and biblical examples you have forwarded: Eve’s sin was violation of the moral law of God. I think you can still make the argument that the excuses she used masked her real motive: desire to be like God (aka pride). Sexual immorality (as referred to in the vice lists) is a violation of the moral law of God. Using “good” intentions (i.e., giving to the poor in order to excuse hiring a prostitute) as an excuse to participate in sexual immorality is still inappropriate.

    I do think there needs to be a fine line drawn on the poll which you seem to be alluding to in your reference to 1 Cor. 5. The poll deals with whether people think it is appropriate for children and *not* whether or not they thought it could be defined as immoral. Parental concern for children is not entirely the same as what Paul was dealing with (i.e., laws and practices regarding incest in pagan Roman culture). Further, there are portions of the Bible that our culture may consider inappropriate for children, but this doesn’t imply that they should be avoided as sin.

    So in the edge case where sexual immorality and lust were absent on the part of the viewers (i.e., a female watching), what do they need to repent of?

    Keep in mind that I’m not using the edge case to justify the sin of many. I’m just saying that a blanket statement, such as the premise of this post, may not be wholly accurate.


    While I respect the need to be pastoral, I think there is a danger in attempting to take a shock-jock approach to ethics and morality. Speaking loudly about what God condemns is great. Talking about a blanket need for everyone to repent about an area of their life in which they may not have sinned does not strike me as pastoral, but somewhat reckless. What our churches need is a more articulate presentation of holiness, not blanket assertions. They don’t need a list of do’s and don’ts but an understanding of the why’s and what’s of Scripture and holiness. To that end I’m offering my critique.

    1. Fair enough PhilT,

      I was coming at the issue from a broader cultural perspective. I think it is a crisis in America that frequently the church is indistinguishable from the culture. I am also concerned about using guilt and fear as a means of addressing this. I think that the answer is to clearly preach the Gospel of grace, which necessarily involves an understanding of the holiness of God. It seems to me that,as the song says, when we grow in our understanding of this “the things of the world grow strangely dim”.

      I think it is appropriate from a pastoral perspective to ask believers what about it they enjoyed and why. I also think that there are some things that are so generally irreverent that it is wise for believers to avoid them despite mitigating merit. I will leave it to others to debate if the halftime show is one of them or not because although it was on in the background I did not watch it.

  16. PhilT

    “I think it is appropriate from a pastoral perspective to ask believers what about it they enjoyed and why.” Agreed, KG

  17. Dave Doran


    It seems like you may not really be interested in any interaction with your comment, and perhaps it would be best to leave it alone, but it might be worthwhile to share a different viewpoint that does consider this an important ethical/moral issue.

    After years of counseling men who struggle with lust issues and couples whose marriages have been severely damaged or destroyed by infidelity, my view is that the point that Mark was driving at needs to be addressed clearly and consistently. The real issue is the sexualization of our culture and the fact that performances that undoubtedly would have been considered to be public indecency not that long are now mainstream, primetime entertainment is a significant contributor to the rot that is happening in hearts and homes.

    Further, that believers can discuss the performance with a faux objectivity that evaluates it in terms of the empowerment of women, etc. is a not a testament to the health of American Christianity. Frankly, to see porn considered an object that cannot sin seems to slice moral issues much too thinly (were no people exploited in the process of producing or peddling it?).

    For this pastor’s perspective, tackling the overt and pervasive sexualization of our culture is absolutely necessary if you care about God’s glory and the good of souls.

  18. PhilT

    I’ve received critiques from some of my friends whom I respect very much to the effect that I may have been overly dismissive of pornography and that I may have portrayed an overly cavalier attitude towards it here, so I wanted to set this right and lay out my point in that regard a little more clearly. I will do this in several parts: Testimony, Explanation, Differentiation, and Application.

    Testimony: I’ve seen the devastating effects of lust in ugly detail in myself, my family, my friends, my colleagues, and my church. It’s terrible. In almost all of these cases where lust reaches its final end (I can’t think of an exception at the moment) pornography was involved as a central tool of the sinful lustful heart. I don’t know of a single example of someone who has confessed enjoying pornography without resulting in lust or addiction.

    Explanation: The reason why I didn’t go after this point more fully in my interaction above was that I saw the argument as more of a red herring than anything else. I’ve dealt with these in the process of discussing fundamentalist ethics in the past. A discussion of music begins with a discussion of violent rap or racist hard rock. A discussion on art begins with talk of blasphemy and excrement in art. A discussion of theater begins with examples from the most debauched plays. A discussion of movies begins with R-rated movies and Hollywood lifestyles. These are red herrings. If you begin there, you begin defensively. You need to articulate first a positive and biblical and philosophical approach to every issue and then use that grid to understand how it applies to the edge cases. This is why I didn’t directly address pornography and I suppose this is why my argument was misunderstood.

    Differentiation: I dealt with the concert as still somewhat different from pornography in its (im)purest sense because I think we need to define what we’re discussing. Rather than applying an extremely loaded term to the performance and working back to application, I think we need to start at a level of application and head towards definition. If there are plausible (and common) reasons for enjoying some human expression without the involvement of lust, then I would hesitate to define it as pornography. If there are no plausible (or common) reasons for enjoying some human expression without the involvement of lust, then it might be defined as pornography. This is how I work from effect to definition. From my experience, I would say that I’ve seen plausible and common reasons for enjoying the halftime show that weren’t lustful or sinful. I have no good reason to doubt these reasons. On the other hand, I’ve seen no plausible reasons for enjoying internet porn sites without lust or other sins. I’ve never met a person who has attempted to argue in that direction either. In other words, despite some level of similarity (woman without much on…but then, porn involves much worse than that), I see something of a difference between porn and the halftime show. I won’t continue to chase this point here, because it probably seems like I’m defending something that I’m not by saying what I’m saying. Just because the definition of porn doesn’t seem appropriate for the half-time show, doesn’t mean that lust didn’t come into play.

    Application: Practically, we need to condemn lust and the use of any tool to promote it. Insomuch as the halftime show is an aid towards lust, then enjoying it should be condemned. Given that I think that this response is less than universal, I’m going to hedge a little on universally condemning every believer who enjoyed it. Given that I haven’t found an exception to a universal sinful response when pornography is enjoyed, I’m going to be more dogmatic about calling people to take measures to avoid it. But in the end, it’s not so much the porn that is being avoided as it is the lust itself. That’s the root. Pornography is one of many tools the sinful heart uses to feed the root lust and sin.

    I hope this clarifies my point regarding pornography. As before, I remain entirely open to critique.

  19. Mark Snoeberger

    Phil, thanks again for the civil engagement. You make some reasonable points, and I appreciate them. Your point on “differentiation,” especially, made good sense, at least in theory. If I may, I’d like to dialogue with you on that specific point:

    I know a wise, older Christian gentleman who likes to go to the racetrack to see the horses. Never gambles a red cent, but likes the animals. Some would condemn him, but I would classify this as a good example of the “differentiation” that, as you rightly observe, some fundamentalists cannot countenance. Watching the horses is not the same as engaging in or endorsing gambling. Other cases abound: watching the Super bowl itself, for instance, comes to mind—after all, you’d have to have an awfully fast remote finger to avoid every impropriety that flashed across the screen during the course of the game.

    At some point, though, the amalgamated package of an event leaves the believer with no choice, to use Paul’s words to Titus, but to say “No.” Thankfully you admit that point exists, but I’d like to suggest that your criterion for defining that point is inadequate (i.e., when one can no longer come up with a “plausible reason,” other than lust, for engaging in some activity). It would seem to me that, with this criterion, the Super Bowl performers could have stripped totally naked and performed sex acts on stage, but it would be have been OK so long as I can generate a “plausible reason” for enjoying it (i.e., a good workout).

    At some point, we have to say that the “plausible reason” rubric fails. For one reason, it is too susceptible to self-deception to be convincing (remember the proverbial guy who read Playboy strictly for the articles?). But more substantially, this doesn’t seem to be biblical pattern. Instead, the NT writers are ever concerned with fleeing avoiding every hint of evil, laying aside not only “sins,” but “weights,” loathing even that which has been stained by sin, etc.

    And my point in the article is that it is biblically viable to affirm that when Christians begin to defend activities so risqué that the unregenerate begin to object to them, we have done great despite to the cause of Christ.

    So, Phil, I think I do hear what you’re saying, but I also contend that there are biblical criteria other than the “no other plausible reason” criterion that need to be entertained here.