When I was in seminary, I had a side job as a movie reviewer for a major Christian periodical. For two years I spent nearly every Friday night sitting in arthouse theaters watching a lot of really bad films. Then, I’d quickly cobble together a review for which I was paid an astounding $25, plus the cost of a theater ticket and mileage. I reviewed such “blockbusters” as Romeo Is Bleeding and Cobb. Some films were laced with over 80 f-words. How do I know this? I had to count them!
It wasn’t a very glamorous life, but it did teach me how to write quickly and how to express a focused opinion on virtually any topic. (I also learned how to take notes in the dark, which hasn’t proven to be a very useful skill.)
This process did, however, get me to reflect deeply on what makes a movie “good.” By what criteria would I recommend that others go see a particular film? Why do some movies with lousy scripts make hundreds of millions of dollars? Why do some movies strike us as having redemptive qualities in spite of a dark storyline (e.g., Schindler’s List)? Questions like these can apply to other entertainment media as well, such as music and books.
At times, Christians can come across as rather unreflective about their entertainment choices. On one end of the spectrum, some believers give little, if any, thought to what they consume; on the other end are those who avoid entertainment altogether because they view it as opposed to Christian values. What I’d like to propose, however, is that Christians can actually use entertainment trends as a bridge for engaging others, especially unbelievers, in deeper conversations. Over the years, I’ve found some foundational issues useful to consider.
Just like every person has a worldview, so does every piece of entertainment. Why? Because books, movies, and music are written by people! So, whenever I am consuming media, the first thing I do is watch for clues about the worldview it’s promoting. I look for dialogue or situations that connect to issues such as:
- the existence and nature of God (Does God exist? What is He like?);
- the nature of humans (What is man?);
- the origin and nature of evil; and
- the source and nature of morality (What is good?).
In my experience, nearly every film, book, and song addresses one or more of these worldview questions. As we consider them, we can also begin to compare and contrast the answers with our own Christian worldview. This provides a critical foundation for any conversation with other people. (My colleague Kenneth Samples has done a lot of very fine work on this issue of worldviews. I highly recommend checking out some of his web articles, including this great introduction to the topic: “What in the World Is a Worldview?”)
During my time as a movie reviewer, I noticed that most American films operate from within what I call the worldview of practical naturalism. In these stories, no supernatural reality is presented. All solutions to humanity’s problems are explored within the context of the natural world. Occasionally, a film will present spiritual themes or characters. Christians are rarely portrayed in a positive fashion. We’re often depicted as abusers, hypocrites, and criminals, but even this observation can offer Christians insight into how nonbelievers see us.
Discussions about worldview issues can act as a practical bridge with nonbelievers. I’ve found that even in casual relationships a worldview issue from a recent book or film can be a good way to strike up a conversation. My husband and I frequently find that the most enjoyable part of our movie-going experience is when we engage in a vigorous conversation once the film is over.
It is also important that parents and youth leaders teach the emerging generation how to be wise consumers. Many teens give little, if any, thought to the worldview messages contained in the media they consume; so, parents might need to be a little creative and persistent in their engagement. Yet even if without a family conversation about how to thoughtfully engage entertainment choices, children will learn by watching the choices their parents make.
Next week, we’ll continue this conversation and explore additional ways to evaluate entertainment.
Resource: In 2012, Kenneth Samples and I recorded two podcast episodes featuring tips for watching movies from a Christian point of view: “How to Watch a Movie, Part 1” and “How to Watch a Movie, Part 2.”