Six Ways Christians Watch Films: Pt. 2
Updated: Aug 22
In my last post, I outlined six common approaches I see Christians take to watching movies. I've certainly overgeneralized here, but I think delineating these ways can be helpful for you as you think about how you watch movies.
In this second post, I'll walk through each way and offer you something to consider. While you shouldn't make any of these ways your only guide, I've also not offered full refutations of them either.
I'm hoping this concluding post will stir your thinking and continue the conversation on how we should approach films as Christians.
1. ONLY FACTS TELL THE TRUTH
This thinking often is a consequence of our culture's overemphasis on science. What people sometimes forget is that when a fact really stands out...more than likely someone has offered a context to it. In other words, someone has woven a story around it.
I might argue that in 2017 Americans spend 2.77 hours watching TV a day (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). On its own, that's not very compelling, but if I weave a narrative showing this is a bad thing, the fact takes on a new face. For example, what if I were to insert the statistic into this story?
"Stories are Trojan Horses. They carry messages that slip into our hearts and minds. Americans, like you, welcome hundreds and even thousands of them into your gates every year. We know this because Americans watch ______ hours a day, ______ hours a week, ______ hours a month...etc."
This context draws you into a story and wraps itself around the fact (or statistic), answering the question SO WHAT?
2. FICTION IS LESS SPIRITUAL
Maybe in the back of your mind you're thinking: Jesus taught in stories! And many of them had fictional characters, events, settings. And, yes, you're exactly right. If fiction intrinsically is less spiritual than other forms, that poses a problem for us in understanding what Jesus was doing!
But, I'd like to go beyond this and suggest that most of Scripture is composed of stories.
Brian Godawa in Hollywood Worldviews writes,
"A survey of the Scriptures reveals that roughly 30 percent of the Bible is expressed through rational propositional truth and laws. While 70 percent of the Bible is story, vision, symbol and narrative" (12).
70 percent! That's significant.
But I'd like to go even further and remind you of this: human existence is one grand story...and God is the dramatist. Scripture captures this story for us.
In other words, the method God has chosen to reveal himself and his plan is through story.
For young children, it's not a bad idea for parents to let ratings guide them in selecting a movie. I don't recommend children watching the vast majority of PG-13 or R films.
But, overall, making ratings your sole guide for movie selection isn't a wise method.
Why? Ratings generally focus on how much sex, language, violence, and adult content are in the films.
Ratings don't comment on what worldview the film is hiding in its belly.
Disney's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was rated PG, but subtly introduces a great deal of eastern spirituality into it. See my review of it here.
For young adults or adults, War for the Planet of the Apes is only rated PG-13, but its worldview is a subversion of the Christian story.
Sometimes we think there's a hierarchy of truth in different genres. Those genres that look more "real-to-life" such as documentaries and historical dramas generally are more true and beneficial than genres like science fiction or fantasy.
However, this is faulty thinking. Documentaries and historical dramas carry worldviews just like science fiction or fantasy.
When filmmakers are creating an historical drama, they are doing so through their perspectives. They are choosing what events in the story to include and which ones to exclude.
Actually, documentaries and historical dramas may be more sneaky and sinister than science fiction or fantasy precisely because you think the filmmakers are just simply presenting the truth.
This doesn't mean that there aren't documentaries and historical dramas that tell the truth, but that they always do so coming from a particular worldview.
5. GOD'S IN ALL
Craig Detweiler in his work Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century takes the approach of helping us see how God is revealed in our films. He writes the following:
"I am interested in how God speaks through people, places, and experiences outside of Scripture, specifically, within the feature-film-going experience" (34).
"In this study, I hope to awaken the underexplored possibilities of natural theology, the opportunities presented by general revelation" (35).
Detweiler doesn't focus on correcting films with Scripture, but seeing where films already align with Scripture. I like to think of what he's doing here as finding God in films. In other words, Detweiler is looking for where filmmakers are including insights gained through general revelation.
I think finding God in films should be a step in a Christian's approach to movies, but this step should be matched with the next step: framing our films with God.
We should see what is true, good, and beautiful in a film (usually insights drawn from general revelation) but look carefully to how the filmmaker interprets these things.
Romans 1 tells us that the natural (non-Christian) man twists his knowledge about God to his own desires or perspective. A wise and discerning Christian should always frame or correct, if necessary, insights of general revelation with Scripture.
In other words, God through Scripture should have the final word.
6. FREE TO SEE ALL
I'm not going to say much on this point, except that while the Christian is free to do many things, he's not free to do all things.
Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law, but that doesn't mean he abolished it. Jesus summarized the Law for us: love God first and foremost and then love your neighbor. See Mark 12:32-33.
While Christians have freedom to watch many movies, using wisdom and discernment, we are not free to watch movies that are pornographic in nature, for example.
You may find that if a film leads you to break one of God's twin commands (love God and your neighbor), then you should not engage with it. Turn it off. Flee.
I don't recommend you making any one of these ways your sole guide for watching movies, though I think you should glean from the middle four.
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and cast chaplain at LifeHouse Theater in Redlands, CA.