Some of my friends watch an amazing amount of film. And why not? Film, and story, has immense power to shape our imaginations, and by that means to open us more deeply to God and to life. Jesus used parables: but if he were preaching today, he would likely be using film.
Eugene Peterson writes of the importance of Scripture as God’s story in “Eat This Book” he writes that,
“Spiritual theology, using Scripture as a text, does not present us with a moral code and tell us, ‘live up to this’; nor does it set out a system of doctrine and say, ‘Think like this and you will live well.’ The biblical way is to tell a story and in the telling invite: ‘Live INTO this — this is what it looks like to be human in this God-made and God-ruled world; this is what is involved in becoming and maturing as a human being.’”
“When we submit ourselves to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories, but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.” (Eat This Book, 43-44)
I’ve shared quite a bit of reflection from stories being told in film over the eleven years or so of this blog. Maybe the most dramatic moment for me was after viewing Avatar, when I was also teaching from the book of Ephesians, and a line in Alan Roxburgh cued me to the reality that Paul was framing his teaching around three powerful themes: mystery, memory, and mission. God’s story is the paradigm that becomes the foundation for so many of our most moving stories. And the small frame always loses power until it is grounded in the frame of the “big story.”
Why reflect critically, and using theological lenses, on movies made by secular artists? Because secular artists and producers are on a quest, hitting at universal themes of meaning, transcendence and more, and that quest is reflected in their films. The great questions are religious questions: what is truth? why is there so much beauty in this broken world? Why is the world so broken? What does it mean to be human? Is there a God, and how would I know? Great film asks these questions, and offers a variety of answers, located in reel-life.
A few years ago I collected some great sources for further reflection on film. First, pages that collect articles, and then some individual articles.
Refresh Journal of Contemplative Spirituality:
Reel Light: Film and Spirituality, 2006
Culture Vulture at Wycliffe College
Pop Culture Theology
God is Not Elsewhere
Faith and Film list at CMU
Reel Spirituality: Resources and Study Guides
And some individual articles reflecting on the power of film and it’s usefulness for theological reflection:
My own articles —
And no, I haven’t seen “Noah” yet!