In our present time, it’s no use denying the importance of language and terms. Within literary theory is a view that the meaning of a text comes primarily from the reader and not the author. While I won’t deny that an audience plays a role in interpreting and applying a text, I think the author plays the key role in defining what the text means.
If this was not the case, then we or those around us (like politicians) wouldn’t spend so much time arguing what we said was not what we meant, or that this group or that group was twisting our words or taking them out of context.
THE TERM: TINY BUT MIGHTY
The term is one of the key components of language. Turn on the news, find a story with controversy, and there’s a good chance it revolves around the definition of a term or series of terms.
Concerning the discussion of abortion, what do we call that which is inside the mother’s womb? Is it a “fetus” or “baby”? Consider the repercussions if we call it one or another.
Concerning the discussion of hate speech or hate acts, what makes a person a “racist” or a “misogynist” or a “homophobe”? Consider the repercussions if we are labeled as one of these. Any defense that we are not one of these would require us to define the very term we’re being labeled.
Concerning the discussion of human distinction, what is a man or a woman? Consider the many individuals who struggle knowing how to answer this question and the repercussions of some who argue we must leave it up to the child (even at a tender age) to decide his or her sexual identity (NBC news).
It’s remarkable that these blazing controversies are fueled by a thing so small as a term.
PRATT: BOLD AND CHRISTIAN
On an encouraging note, I now turn to another example of the importance of terms by looking at Chris Pratt. Yes, the actor known for Parks and Rec, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. This very gifted actor, both in his comedic and serious roles, is also a professing Christian.
In an interview, Pratt offers insights on the climate of the filmmaking industry toward faith. “Hollywood” he explains, “is not anti-Christian or anti-religious…” (Desert News). Here’s how he explains what he means:
They [Hollywood] are kind of not anti-anything. They are kind of pro whatever is authentic to you. And I like that. Because it's authentic for me to be pro-Christian, pro-Jesus. That's my thing. I like it. And I've never had anyone try to shame me, to my face. Maybe they go say it behind my back. But if that's the case, go ahead. You can say whatever you want about me — to my face or behind my back. I'm not going to change.
I can’t but admire Pratt’s boldness and heart to share his faith with others. And I’m also pleased to hear how positive of an experience he’s had working in Hollywood. But I’m eager to hear the conversation continue. When dialoguing with others who are curious about his faith, I hope he’d continuing unpacking what he means by his terms.
First, he might begin by explaining what he means by “Christian.” Especially in the United States, the term means different things to different people. Does he mean the vague belief in God, which is the case with so many who claim they are Christians? I don’t think so; I think he means something more specific. He does mention Jesus. But then it’d be wise to define who he thinks “Jesus” is too. Some think Jesus was that wise and good man, the equal of Buddha or other religious gurus. Others say, as I do, that Jesus is the God-man who actually lived, served, judged, died, and rose again as revealed in the Scriptures. Stopping and defining terms in this way is not needlessly quibbling over words, because Mormons would also say they are “pro-Christian, pro-Jesus,” but their understanding of Jesus is far different than what is revealed in Scripture (i.e. Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers).
Finally, that Hollywood is “pro whatever is authentic to you” is a great opportunity for Pratt to share what exactly the Christian faith is and means. One of the reasons I say this is because sometimes Hollywood seems terribly confused about the Christian faith. From my perspective, Hollywood often paints Christians as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic, and that the Scriptures are what perpetuates this behavior. It bothers and saddens me when some Hollywood films portray Christians in this way, in the same way that it would bother and sadden other people when a film misinterprets their religion, race, or identity.
At Stage & Story, we’ve looked at two films recently that have messages which are vocally against the Christian worldview. I wrote an article on The War for the Planet of Apes called “The War for Christian Imagery” and JT Wynn wrote an article on The Truman Show called “The Same Ol’ Story.” We certainly don’t think all films that Hollywood produces want to undermine the faith, but it’s hard to deny that there is confusion on what Christianity is and really teaches.
There are Christians in Hollywood, like Pratt, trying to do their work with integrity, and I’m grateful to the Lord for them. I can only hope that God continues to strengthen Pratt to speak about the Jesus of Christianity. I pray that when he does get an opportunity to define what he means by “Jesus” and “Christianity” his definitions help others better understand the historic, biblical faith. Because our language, especially when it comes to the eternally important question of the identity of Jesus, gravely matters.