Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Future Kings and Queens of the Universe
Russell Moore’s book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel argues for a Christian perspective on cultural engagement that goes beyond (and even rejects) simply trying to integrate Christianity into existing culture. At one point, he argues that we cannot reduce the people that are often outsiders in our pews to being projects; instead, we must see the Christians around us as part of the glorious resurrection to come:
When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run. The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a “ministry project.” He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ. (81-82, cited below)
I thought the perspective offered here is wonderful. The body of Christ is made up of people that we so often want to just reject out-of-hand or treat differently because of who they are. But there is no room for that in the ultimate hope of Christianity. We will be ruling with our Lord Jesus Christ with all of these “others.”
Thus far, I highly recommend Russell Moore’s Onward to you, dear readers.
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2015).
I often say that every movie has a worldview. The same is true for any story. Brian Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, takes just such an approach to movies: what do films teach us? How might we critically evaluate movies?
First, Godawa introduces the concepts of a “cultural glutton” as opposed to a “cultural anorexic.” The point is that Christians are to be in the world not of it. It is one thing to say that violence in a movie is bad; but what of the context of the violence? The Bible also has many scenes which, if filmed, could even rate NC-17. The question is: what’s the point? When looking at film, Christians should look into the way the narrative shapes what happens in the movies.
In order to look into this theme, Christians must be equipped to seek out the context of stories as well as the explicit (and implicit) things they teach. In order to equip people to watch film critically, Godawa approaches this task is divided among several chapters by topics related to film and worldview. Each chapter begins with a summary of the topic of the chapter and how one might discover this theme in film. For example, in the chapter on “Postmodernism,” he begins with a definition and explanation of the concept. Then, he utilizes a slew of examples from various movies to show how postmodernism is found in them in either positive or negative light.
The chapters all cover interesting topics, and Godawa’s use of specific examples from movies are fantastic case studies for showing how critical engagement with worldviews can play out. Even better, Godawa’s explanations and applications could easily be used to apply outside of film and in areas like literature. Frankly, some of Godawa’s evaluation of popular films–including some I’ve enjoyed greatly–have forced me to rethink how I thought of the storyline. Movies which may appear to be fairly neutral or simply entertainment alone do indeed have their own way of approaching reality. Some of the movies which were brought to new light for me included “Gladiator,” “The Truman Show,” and “Groundhog Day.” Dozens of movies are treated throughout this book, and Godawa’s analysis is always interesting and thought provoking, encouraging the critical engagement he seeks.
Another great aspect of the book are the activities Godawa proposes for each chapter to apply what one has learned. These are frequently interesting and provide ways forward to put into practice the art of discernment when it comes to watching film.
One difficulty with a book like this is there is some necessary oversimplification. For example, Godawa, in his discussion of existentialism, writes: “Existentialism accepts the Enlightenment notion of an eternally existing materialistic universe with no underlying meaning or purpose” (95). Oddly, Godawa seems to downplay Kierkegaard’s very explicit Christian faith in light of his existential views, and Kierkegaard seems to become a kind of pariah through this analysis. Kierkegaard, for Godawa, is strangely aberrant from his general picture of existentialism as necessarily godless and without purpose.
At other points, films receive short shrift are are discussed in ways which seem a bit odd. Of course, engagement with these points actually encourages the sort of critical interaction Godawa is pursuing. Some offhand comments are a bit awkward and out of place (for example the bare assertion that “men are the leaders in home and public roles” in Christianity without qualification–in contrast with the declared equality of genders in Galatians 3:28 and the apostleship of a woman in Romans 16:7), but overall these negative points are outweighed by the service Godawa has done to provide critical perspective on worldviews in film.
Hollywood Worldviews is a great book which will encourage much discussion. It would serve as a good resource for those who wish to meaningfully engage the culture. People who read it will be equipped to have thoughtful conversations on the way movies put forth worldviews. The book should come with a warning, though, some of your favorite movies may not be what they seem!
Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.
I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).
Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
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There has been much furor recently over the release of the Hunger Games movie. My own discussion of that movie has drawn a number of comments from Christian visitors, both good and bad (and I appreciate the candor!). One theme that has reverberated throughout the discussion is the appropriateness of Christians watching violent movies or even considering using them to try to engage with the culture at large. There are no easy answers to these questions, but in this post I seek to provide a brief guide for Christians who hope to use movies to engage with the culture at large.
Perhaps the most contentious issue that was brought up in my own discussions of the Hunger Games was the appropriateness of viewing violent movies and even using them to engage with others. Jonathan Morrow, in his important book Think Christianly, provides an excellent discussion of the topic at hand. He prefaces his remarks with the comment that “the Bible would probably get… an NC-17 rating in [some areas like the end of Judges]…” Yet it is important to note that “The Bible does not use evil for exploitation” but rather “always records evil and sinful behavior and the consequences that come with them” (193). Violence in a work does not necessarily exclude it from the Christians’ sphere of engagement.
Morrow provides a number of useful questions for Christians to consider when looking at a movie. Here are a few samples (see p. 194):
These are the types of questions Christians must ask as they consider a movie. Now, it is clear that Christians won’t always agree on the answers to these questions. What some consider gratuitous might be something someone else considers necessary for a plot. But violence of itself does not mean a Christian cannot engage with a movie. In particular, some movies use violence in order to point out the horrors which follow from it. This is, in fact, Biblical. Throughout the Bible, violence is depicted along with its consequences, yet it is clear that in all God is in control (see, for example, the Joseph narrative). As Christians interact with movies that have violence, they can focus the discussion on the consequences of humanity’s sinfulness and the need for a savior.
Engaging With the Movies
Morrow suggests a three-layered approach to movies: examine the form of the film (this involves engaging with the artistic elements such as music, cinematography, and the like); observe the content of the film (what is the message the director is putting forward? who is the hero/villain [these characters generally convey that which the director wants to show as good or bad]); note the function of the film (what is the film’s purpose? does it portray sinful behavior in a positive light?) .
These questions allow one to proceed to the level of engagement with the culture. If a film is inappropriate, it is not enough to simply dismiss it as a horrible, immoral movie. Rather, one can engage thoughtfully with those who want to discuss the movie. “Why did you enjoy the movie?”; “What kind of message do you think the movie tried to put forward?”; “Do you agree with the central theme of the film?”–these are the types of questions Christians can ask in order to engage with the culture. Note that none of these questions comes across as antagonistic or angry. Rather, they come across as interested and thoughtful. Whether one has seen a movie or not, one can easily engage in a dialog which can lead to some interesting discussions.
The brief overview I’ve given here is merely a guide. Interested readers should check out Morrow’s book (linked below).
A Case Study: The Hunger Games
I’ve already discussed The Hunger Games at length in both the film and book versions, so I won’t repeat that discussion. Here, let me just apply what we see above. There are a few minor spoilers below.
What is the form of the film? -Generally, it seems to be a blockbuster movie with grandiose special effects and stirring musical scores. The visuals often dazzle with bright colors in the capitol but they are very subdued in some parts, particularly in the districts which are under the oppressive rule of the capitol.
What is the film’s content? -In my post on the movie, I argued that the content largely serves to direct the audience’s attention inward: we are, in a sense, the capitol. We are the ones who actively participate in activities to give ourselves comfort while there is great suffering around us. The violence in the movie is there, but it is portrayed in a way which does not glorify it. It is the people of the capitol who glorify the violence, and it is the people of the capitol who are the confused villains.
What is the function of the film? -Again, it seems to be a social commentary on the evils we bring about here. The decadence of the capitol is our own indulgence; the violence going on in the Games are the evils of the world. I see the film as a stirring commentary on social injustice.
But what if you think the violence is too much? What if you think I’m just wrong about this particular film? Should you jettison it altogether? I think not. Instead, I suggest you turn to the questions above. Ask: “Why did you like the Hunger Games?”; “Do you think the film glorifies violence, why or why not?”; “What current problems do you think relate to the film?”
Christians are called to engage the culture around them in a transforming fashion (1 Cor 9:19-23). Engaging with popular films is just one way to engage with the culture. As popular movies come out, it is important for Christians to know the relevant issues they raise and be ready to comment on them as they come up. If we can more effectively open discussions with people about these highly relevant topics, we can help show Christianity is an extremely powerful worldview that touches upon every aspect of our lives in a positive way.
Jonathan Morrow, Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture (Zondervan, 2011).