Film: should we enter into the dialogue?

How many instances during a given week do you hear movie references ?

Let me give you a few examples. A professor at university sites a key scene from 'Star Wars’ during his lesson, a CEO uses a movie clip to emphasis a point in his motivational talk, a line is used by a local newspaper columnist to support a weekly article or the local minister uses an image from a classic film to support the message on a Sunday morning. Film is part of our culture regardless of what you think about its influence. Recently many films have been released that reference the Bible, God and Jesus. Are these films influenced by the Bible or are audience’s perceptions of these Bible stories influenced by the films? Maybe both. 
People have different moral views, aesthetic preferences and artistic positions when it comes to film, but there needs to be consideration of how film influences the world we live in and can we be part of the conversation? The movie industry is interwoven into our visually driven society. Why? Since the inception of the medium, film has been a powerful medium to convey a message in a short period of time to a large group of people. Regardless of quality, the normal two hours of a film can communicate ideas about money, love, relationships and even God and many would just dismiss it as mere entertainment. I would push back on the notion that films are simply entertainment? Do not misinterpret what I am writing, I do not think we should enter the cinema with paper and pen in hand for some academic rigour.  Or am I advocating taking away the emotional component that comes from watching a film of any genre. My point is to challenge people to think. 

Should we consider some of the deeper influences that they have on our culture? 

Stories and culture. The desire to hear a good story is not a recent phenomenon. Throughout human history mankind has been drawn to a good story. Stories have been part of the human experience since the era of the oral tradition, they have been the driving force behind the invention of the printing press and they still captivate us in this visual age of the Internet. In this era, everyone can be a story teller, a writer and a potential film producer, story is the driving force of the human experience. Film is just another medium of communicating stories, some good and some bad, but ultimately a means of getting people to experience stories. Movies are part of the toolbox that most people use as they respond to and give shape to their lives. (1) 
Jesus was known for his use of story to drive his message and to communicate to the world. If you have taken the time to read Jesus’ teachings, you will find that close to 75% of his documented words were in parabolic style. The parables of Jesus are known in and outside of the church context. Word pictures help people to learn the point of the message, plant the seeds of ideas and for it them to grow in hearts and minds. Also, Paul was known for utilising cultural references to draw his audience into the storyline from the scriptures. The talk from the floor of the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) had its roots soundly grounded in the Bible, but he interspersed cultural references to help the audience to engage with the what he had to say.  The use of story and cultural references is not limited to Christian teachings, but it does move us to another consideration. In our modern era and because of the different means of story telling at our disposal, the question for this short piece is: 

Should Christians enter ‘wholehearted’ dialogue with others about film?

As you can see from my previous writings, I do have a love for film, but more importantly a love of the Bible. I have been recently reading quite a bit on the topic of theology and film. I have been overwhelmed with all of the options on this topic. Some readings are better than others, but it has made for some challenging discussions and considerations of my own theology. In this study, I think people need to come to terms with answering this question on their own. During the reading I came across a list by Robert K. Johnston of some reasons for Christians to consider why they should commit to dialogue with others about film (2):

  1. God’s (common) grace is continually present throughout human culture
  2. Theology should be concerned with the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the world
  3. God can speak to us through all of life
  4. Image as well as word can help us to encounter God
  5. Theology’s narrative shape makes it particularly open to interaction with the  other stories
  6. The nature of constructive theology is a dialogue between God’s story (as presented through the Bible, Christian tradition and a particular worshipping community) and our stories. 
Many of these discussion points need more explanation and study. I hope to engage with them in upcoming writings. These questions have caused me to consider my own theology. That is probably why the one book is 351 pages long. That should not discourage people from considering the discussion. These questions challenge us to think more about what we believe about the Bible and the impact it has on film and our world. What I hope to begin is to challenge people to see the opportunity of connecting with our culture through film and the Bible. 

If film is such a deeply influential part of our culture, shouldn't we consider engaging with film with deeper thought and through the lens of the Bible?

Love your thoughts. 

Article written by Russell Matthews @ Russelling Reviews 

1 Reel Spirituality - Theology and film dialogue; Robert K Johnston; Baker Academic 2006; Pg89.
2 Reel Spirituality - Theology and film dialogue; Robert K Johnston; Baker Academic 2006; Pg91.