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Why should Christians watch films?

27 February 2014

Jameson Film FestivalDublin has just celebrated the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival so it felt topical to write a short  post on why Christians should watch films.

For many years now Leanne and I have run an informal film club in our home, with between 10-25 people attending each time. We used to do it nearly every week; now we do it once or twice a term. Our next film night is this Sunday and we are watching Robot & Frank, Do come along if you are interested; all the details are here.

 

So why do we do run a film club? Why do we watch a film and then discuss it? Well, there are three main reasons!

(1) To Build Community – Films are fun

Films are popular. In 2012, $10.84 billion was spent on movie tickets. Where people spend their money is always a good indication of what is important to them (this idea goes all the way back to Jesus, see Matthew 6.21). So it’s pretty clear that people like films, enjoy films and will happily spend their disposable income to watch films. Even when people are tired and fed up, they watch films. We think it is important to build community and make friends and so we provide a place where we can enjoy films with others who enjoy films, make friends, build community, eat popcorn, drink beer and have fun. Get the picture?!

We live in a world where more and more people feel isolated and lonely, so if you want to build community, watch films!

(2) To Understand Our Culture – Films reveal world-views

Every film, advert and trailer we watch is a sermon in that it has a message and a world-view (a world-view is a set of assumptions about the world – things we believe but take for granted). Films are trying to make you believe something and desire something and live in accordance with those beliefs and desires. It is telling you “this is how you find true meaning, joy, hope, power etc.” If you want to understand your culture, look at what is important to our culture. If you want to understand what is important to culture, look where people spend their money and why films are so attractive to them.

If you want to understand your culture, watch the films your culture is watching!

(3) To Understand Ourselves – Films reveal our hearts

Even more than helping us understand what is important to our culture, films actually reveal our hearts because they reveal our dreams. The reason  films are so powerful is that for 2 hours we can forget reality, be consumed by another story, another worldview (where true romance is always found, things end happily ever after, good triumphs over evil etc), and we live in the world we dream was true.

If you want to understand your own heart and what is important to you, examine how you react to the various story-lines and characters in the films you watch. Your reaction (whether of disgust or ‘if only’) reveals your heart.

Okay, so there are three reason that you might find interesting as to why we should watch films. But why should Christians watch films? Isn’t that the title of this blog post? Well as someone that has been a pastor in different churches for over 6 years and met with dozens of people 1-2-1,  the three reasons can be pushed a bit further for the Christian.

Christians should watch films to…

(1) Be Engaged

I don’t think Jesus ever imagined that Christianity was going to be cool or popular (just see what he has to say in Mark 8.34-38 and his example in Mark 10.32-45) as it would always involve taking up your cross, denying yourself and being a filmservant (bummer!). However, Jesus was very concerned that the message he came to share about the Kingdom of God would be understood by the average person on the street. That is why his teaching refers to shepherds and farmers and landowners. He was speaking their language. More than that, he engaged with ‘the salt of the earth’ and was found eating and drinking with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. In fact he was called a drunkard and a glutton (Luke 7.34). Jesus was very much engaged with the culture, world-view, thought-forms, language and aspirations of the people of his day.

Just as films are great for helping us build community, so they are helpful for the church to engage in culture.

(2) Be Constructive

Every film is a mix of sin and grace. Common grace means that every film will have elements of the gospel story in it. As C.S Lewis put it, “Every great story contains the gospel story.” That is, there will be themes of sacrificial love, forgiveness, justice – issues that are central to the gospel. However, every film will also be tainted by sin because we have all fallen short of God’s glory and turned away from our creator. We have then exchanged the truth of God for a lie and have worshipped the creation instead of the creator (Romans 1). There will therefore be themes of selfishness, insecurity, malice, cheating, violence, hurt and pain. Additionally, the default mode of every human heart is self-justification (be good, work hard, prove yourself and then you will be accepted). We have become autonomous and want to live life without God. So every film will contain the gospel (common grace) and contradict the gospel (inherent sin) – some films will contain the gospel more than contradict it and vice versa. This provides a great springboard for healthy discussion!

Just as films help us understand our culture by revealing world-views, so they are helpful for the church to add a constructive voice about truth, morality, meaning, identity and destiny. Films provide a great platform for discussion on these big topics. This would be very much the same idea behind the Intro Course (intro-course.ie). We want to provide a relaxed environment where people can ask the big questions of life knowing that no question is too feisty, no question is too simple and no-one is under any pressure to conform to any one belief system.

(3) Be Provoked

The original sin came about because Adam and Eve listened to another voice (the serpent) which caused them to believe a lie and desire something else more than God. Put simply, they started to believe another story about the world – they were taught a different world-view. This happens everyday in dozens of ways. We are being told another story about the world from many different voices. One of the biggest voices is film. As we have already reflected upon, films inform us of what is important in life, how to get true joy, how to prove yourself etc. If we are not careful we imbibe that message. What is so dangerous is that we are unaware that we are imbibing it. Films are not neutral. They inform us and can mould us. For example, the number of people who genuinely believe sex is going to be like it is in films is startling! It is therefore vital that Christians are able to watch films and critique the voices that oppose God’s story about the world and learn from the voices that reinforce God’s story about the world. If this critique does not happen we’ll easily be led astray as we believe lies and desire false gods. We need to reflect on films using a biblical, Christ-centred world-view.

As you watch the film you will find your heart being revealed (whether positively as you feel compassion and love etc) or negatively (as you identify with greed and lust etc). If done rightly, you will find that you are able to grow and change as a Christian just as much by watching a film reflectively as you are by reading the bible and praying (though the former should not replace the latter…haha!!). Films have the ability to provoke you like nothing else so it’s worth watching them for that reason alone.

Anyway, on our average film night we would not normally probe as deeply as in these last 3 points; we mainly stick to the first 3 points. However, this is something that I think the church should get better at. If you want to look deeper into this then I can recommend Ted Turnau’s essay “Reflecting Theologically on Popular Culture as Meaningful: The Role of Sin, Grace, and General Revelation”

Let me know if you think there are any other reasons why we should discuss films…and do come along and check out one of our film nights.

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