Theology and Pop Culture

Over the last year I’ve taken two courses on “theology and film”. I did so because these two subjects are some of my favorite things in the world. I love studying theology and learning and talking about God in new ways. I also spend a LOT of time watching movies , talking about movies, reading about movies, etc. If you want to be my best friend, your best chance is to have similar theological convictions and movie tastes as me.

What I’m interested in, really, is where those two subjects converge; the ways that theology informs film and that films inform theology. Film is the youngest of the arts, and yet it is the most popular. People go to the movies in droves, and I’m coming to believe that it’s more than just escapism. People go to movies the same reason people used to go to church: to be a part of and experience a story bigger than themselves. And the sad reality is that for a long time, the church in America wasn’t telling a story worth engaging. But I do believe that the true Christian story, the whole, is the best story ever we could ever tell or hear or enter into.

All movies tell a story, and beneath every telling are inherent beliefs, truths (or untruths) that are often implicit to the reality presented on the screen. And these are the stories that our world shares, talks about, and interacts with.

A book I read says it this way: our world is having theological and philosophical conversations at the cinema instead of the church, and Christians are rarely present, or even invited.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, mostly because I can’t think of anything to say. I don’t have “aha!” moments all that often. I don’t preach very often, so I can’t really post sermons. So, the direction I would like this blog to take for now is a dialogue between theology and film, especially entering the summer movie season.

A couple notes: these movies will not be inherently “Christian” movies. Most will not have explicitly Christian themes, and some of them may never say the word “God” in them short of an expletive. But finding God in the secular is an important practice, and a biblical one for that matter.

Secondly, it should be noted that some of the movies I will review may be rated R (maybe even NC-17). To say it bluntly, I believe in the power of God to speak through films that contain language, violence, sexuality, etc. But different people have different levels of tolerance for such things and I respect that, so please take any movie recommendations with a grain of salt. Just because I think that the movie Gran Torino can teach us a lot about atonement theory doesn’t mean you should gather the kiddos around the tv for it. Similar things could be said about bible texts like Song of Solomon.

This is going to be fun. I look forward to the comments and discussions that this will bring out moreso than my other blog entries. I’ve been thinking over the last couple weeks that if I could invent the position of “Pastor of Cultural Engagement”, I might be uniquely qualified to do it… We may be a long way from churches having such a position, but I honestly think it’s the direction we’re heading in, or at least ought to.

If anyone has any movie suggestions, I’d be open to suggestions. As it is, I’ll probably hit the big summer movies as they come along and any older movies that catch my eye in between. I may even do some television or music eventually. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Look for my first “theology and film” post this week on “the Avengers”.

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7 thoughts on “Theology and Pop Culture

  1. Apparently Nazarenes used to be discouraged from seeing movies. Thank God we’ve moved past that. I agree we need to do a better job pointing to Christ in secular culture.

    Also, you should find a church with money and pitch a job description for that pastoral position.

    Looking forward to following your posts this Summer.

    Peace

    1. Thanks jared! In the meantime, I hear you preached a great sermon a couple weeks ago. Can you send me a link or something on how to find the podcast?

    2. Actually, the ethic of the church of the Nazarene has remained the same – but it was misinterpreted to mean a simplistic “we don’t go to movies.” The ethic, it seems to me, is a good one. 34. We hold specifically that the following practices
      should be avoided:34.1. Entertainments that are subversive of the
      Christian ethic. Our people, both as Christian individuals
      and in Christian family units, should govern themselves by
      three principles. One is the Christian stewardship of leisure
      time. A second principle is the recognition of the Christian
      obligation to apply the highest moral standards of Christian
      living. Because we are living in a day of great moral confusion
      in which we face the potential encroachment of the
      evils of the day into the sacred precincts of our homes
      through various avenues such as current literature, radio,
      television, personal computers, and the Internet, it is essential
      that the most rigid safeguards be observed to keep our
      homes from becoming secularized and worldly. However, we
      hold that entertainment that endorses and encourages holy
      living and affirms scriptural values should be affirmed and
      encouraged. We especially encourage our young people to
      use their gifts in media and the arts to influence positively
      this pervasive part of culture. The third principle is the obligation
      to witness against whatever trivializes or blasphemes
      God, as well as such social evils as violence, sensuality,
      pornography, profanity, and the occult, as portrayed by and
      through the commercial entertainment industry in its many
      forms and to endeavor to bring about the demise of enterprises
      known to be the purveyors of this kind of entertain-ment. This would include the avoidance of all types of entertainment
      ventures and media productions that produce, promote,
      or feature the violent, the sensual, the pornographic,
      the profane, or the occultic, or which feature or glamorize
      the world’s philosophy of secularism, sensualism, and materialism
      and undermine God’s standard of holiness of heart
      and life.
      This necessitates the teaching and preaching of these
      moral standards of Christian living, and that our people be
      taught to use prayerful discernment in continually choosing
      the “high road” of holy living. We therefore call upon our
      leaders and pastors to give strong emphasis in our periodicals
      and from our pulpits to such fundamental truths as will
      develop the principle of discrimination between the evil and
      good to be found in these media.
      We suggest that the standard given to John Wesley by his
      mother, namely, “whatever weakens your reason, impairs
      the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of
      God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things, whatever increases
      the authority of your body over mind, that thing for
      you is sin,” form the basis for this teaching of discrimination.
      (33.2-33.4, 903.12-3.14)
      (Romans 14:7-13; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Ephesians 5:1-18; Philippians
      4:8-9; 1 Peter 1:13-17; 2 Peter 1:3-11)
      34.2. Lotteries and other forms of gambling, whether legal
      or illegal. The church holds that the final result of these
      practices is detrimental both to the individual and society.
      (Matthew 6:24-34; 2 Thessalonians 34.4. All forms of dancing that detract from spiritual
      growth and break down proper moral inhibitions and reserve.
      (Matthew 22:36-39; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Philippians
      1:9-11; Colossians 3:1-17)
      34.5. The use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage, or trafficking
      therein; giving influence to, or voting for, the licensing
      of places for the sale of the same; using illicit drugs or
      trafficking therein; using of tobacco in any of its forms, or
      trafficking therein.
      In light of the Holy Scriptures and human experience concerning
      the ruinous consequences of the use of alcohol as a
      beverage, and in light of the findings of medical science regarding
      the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to
      the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to
      the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence
      rather than moderation. Holy Scripture teaches that
      our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. With loving regard
      for ourselves and others, we call our people to total abstinence
      from all intoxicants.
      Furthermore, our Christian social responsibility calls us
      to use any legitimate and legal means to minimize the availability
      of both beverage alcohol and tobacco to others. The
      widespread incidence of alcohol abuse in our world demands
      that we embody a position that stands as a witness to others.
      (903.12-3.14)
      (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-24:2; Hosea 4:10-11; Habakkuk 2:5; Romans 13:8;
      14:15-21; 15:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:9-12, 19-20; 10:31-33; Galatians
      5:13-14, 21; Ephesians 5:18)
      (Only unfermented wine should be used in the sacrament
      of the Lord’s Supper.) (413.11, 427.7, 428.2, 429.1, 802)

  2. I’m not a movie person like you! I hope we can still be good friends if not best friends! =)

    I rarely watch a movie from beginning to end but this troubling movie kept my interest from beginning to end.

    Though I do not share the same ethos you note about the role of theology in movies – [as I find our culture horribly so Bibliically illiterate that it would be impossible to narrate the activity of God in films consistent with who God is in Scripture unless one first discerns Scripture] – I found much to think about humanity, God, personhood, relationships, violence, love, redemption, pain, hurt, abuse, judgment and redemption in this film.

    Given you predilection for films, perhaps you’ve already seen it and once again I’m behind the times no matter how desperately I try to keep up with them!

    Alas.

    Tyrannosaur

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1204340/

    1. I’ve never heard of that movie, but it looks great! I’ll have to see if I can’t get ahold of it at Family Video or through Netflix.

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