Jonathan Morrow’s new book, Think Christianly seeks to provide Christians with ways to think about and interact with the culture surrounding them, while critically exploring their own perspectives.
Central to the work is the notion that “Due to the unprecedented influence and availability of constant media… the thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, convictions, values, and lifestyles of those inside the church are rapidly growing indistinguishable from… those outside the church” (19). The key is to see how to help Christians “think Christianly” about every aspect of life. The Christian life is not “Sunday only” or “in church only” but rather it is an every day, every second, every interaction life. Morrow, throughout the book, seeks to touch upon nearly every area of Christian interactions with culture, providing brief introductions along with recommendations for a way forward in each area.
Part one of Think Christianly focuses on our own culture and the need to equip the next generation to interact with the issues brought up around them. Morrow provides a survey of ways people try to avoid interacting with Christianity (54ff) and suggests a threefold way to engage with our youths so they do not fall victim to the challenges to our faith. This threefold engagement is composed of 1) mentors, “people to learn from and imitate in the faith” (57); 2) peers, “people to run the race with and to spur us on” (57); and 3) a robust Christian worldview, a challenge to youths to explore what they believe and why it matters (58). Conjoined, these help provide a valuable base for youths to explore their faith among their peers and mentors who can guide them towards resources and answer questions.
Part two provides ways to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of one’s life. Chapter four discusses three worldviews- naturalism, postmodernism, and Christian theism. These are the worldviews pervasive currently in western cultures, and Morrow provides several ways to interact with the competing views and analyze them. Chapter five provides ways to “cultivate a thoughtful faith” and chapter six provides some ways to be confident about engagement (along with a helpful discussion of forgiveness and breaking away from anger on pages 98-99). Part Two continues with a couple chapters about living like Jesus, which are extremely insightful–we need to be sure we think of Jesus as who He was and is: the Lord of all professions, master of all crafts. Finally, part two wraps up with what may be the most important chapter of the book: “Can We Do That in Church?” Morrow argues that we must see “The local church” as “God’s vehicle to reach the world with the good news… it is also the primary place where Christians are to be equipped for the ministry” (130). By utilizing some small portion in time in church to equip believers to engage, Christian leaders can radically change the perception of Christianity as a “Sunday only” venture. If believers do not get equipped, where will they be equipped? The truth is they’ll “google it” and find people without good credentials or intentions and learn from them instead (not saying there’s nothing good online–plenty of scholars and wonderful teachers are out there, but sifting through the muck can be difficult). This chapter, I think, is the most important in the whole book and provides a number of insights that church leaders must take to heart.
Part three provides a number of areas in which Christians need to engage and ways to engage with them. For example, taking the Bible seriously is a top priority and Christians need to know how to interact with the text. Of particular importance are the chapters on sex–which talks about porn addiction and same-sex attraction; and Christianity in the public square.
Morrow has peppered the book with brief interviews of leading Christian thinkers on a number of topics. While short, these interviews provide a number of great insights and will lead readers to explore many issues in greater detail. They range from “Leveraging the Internet to Make God Known” (with Randall Niles) to “Jesus Among World Religions” (with Craig Hazen), and beyond. Another helpful aspect are the lists of resources for further study, included at the end of each chapter. These include a list of books, DVDs, and websites for interested readers to explore.
There are few books that span as broadly as Think Christianly while also giving solid background discussions of each topic touched. Morrow continually provides valuable insights at a basic level which Christians can apply right now to start to “Think Christianly” about every aspect of life. If our churches and the members therein embrace many of the suggestions found in Morrow’s important book, we will be able to grow and positively impact the world in a major way. The book comes very highly recommended–it is the kind of book anyone involved in the church must have on their shelf and seek to apply to their lives.
I received a review copy of the book from Zondervan publishers. My thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review the book. I was not asked to write anything positive or negative about the book.
Think Christianly is available on Amazon (follow link) or at many local bookstores.
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).