How to Watch a Movie

I have this class this semester at Southeastern that I am really enjoying.  It is called Theology and Culture.  We are studying how a Christian should view the surrounding culture.  We have looked at several key theologians through the years who have dealt with this very issue, such as Augustine, Francis Schaeffer, Abraham Kuyper, and C. S. Lewis.  The class has been one of my absolute favorites.  I want to actually provide some of what I am learning here.
The first offering includes a section from my latest class lecture.  In it, Dr. Ashford provided us with 9 things that are in every movie.  If we are able to identify these 9 things, we will be able to properly follow the story line, the underlying message of the artist, and then critically interact with the film from the standpoint of the Gospel and a Christian perspective.  Here are the 9 things:
1. A Theme: This includes the “moral of the story” or the “overall message of the movie.”  Using the movie Shrek as an example, we might say that the overall moral of the story is that we should not treat people differently because they are different from you.
2. A Hero: This is the main character of the story.  What the screen writer does with the hero, he is making a blatant statement about worldview.  What does this character stand for?  What is he fighting against?
3. The Hero’s Goal: This goal or strong desire almost always drives the story line.  The hero is usually obsessed with this goal.
4. An Adversary/Villain: This person is the EXTERNAL obstacle to the hero.  He/She/It is out to keep the hero from achieving his goal.  It is really important to identify the adversary, because this, too, will point to the worldview of the author.  What does he stand for?  What is he trying to prevent?
5. The Character Flaw: This is the INTERNAL obstacle to the hero achieving his goal.  He will either correct it or he will not.  This will determine whether it is a comedy or a tragedy, so to speak.  If he does change, it will be a clear indication that it is a change from the ‘wrong’ worldview to a ‘correct’ worldview, based on the artist’s own views.
6. The Apparent Defeat: This usually occurs somewhere around 40-60% into the movie.  The hero will be blocked by his external and/or internal adversaries.  His goal will almost completely become hopeless.
7. The Final Confrontation: Almost always happens.  This confrontation includes worldviews in conflict, with both the hero and the adversary explaining their worldview for their roles.  The artist wants viewers to reject the adversary’s worldview.
8. Self-Revelation: This is usually found at the 80-90% point in the movie.  The hero is going to come to understand that what he sought was not exactly what he really needed.
9. Resolution: Happily or Sadly ever after.  The result of the hero’s change, or evidence that he never actually changed.  This is usually evident in the final scene(s) of the movie.
All of these elements should be identified if we as Christians are to critically interact with the culture.  This type of thought and interaction can prove to be a powerful way to contextualize the gospel by talking about worldviews with others.  Remember, the Bible is a story, too, and offers a worldview that can speak to and interact with any other truth claim.
Dr. Ashford provided some other thoughts on seeking balance in participating in culture.  
  • First, discretion and balance is a must.  We do not need to feel like we need to interact with all of culture in order to speak into and shape culture.  If a movie will lead us into sin or do us spiritual harm, we must stay away.  Plain and simple.  Also, we do not need to demonize others for having slightly differing standards or feelings about certain movies.  But, we must also be willing to include good accountability with brothers and sisters who are willing to speak into our lives if/when we begin to consume material that is questionable.
  • Second, and VERY importantly, we must keep our emotions in check.  Hollywood does an incredible job of promoting its own worldview by tugging on our emotions.  Before we know it, we are actually rooting for sin, whether it be someone committing adultery, someone getting killed, someone stealing, someone lying, someone gossiping or slandering, someone seeking revenge, etc…We must control our emotions, not allow Hollywood to do so.  I think this is one practical way to be “sober-minded” as Peter calls us to be (1 Peter 4:7; 5:8).  
  • Finally, we must avoid BOTH worldly and Christian gluttony.  We cannot just receded into a Christian subculture bubble and hope to be able to effectively speak into and shape culture.  But also, we cannot just saturate ourselves with the world and spend very little time in God’s Word and meditation on his truth.

All in all, I think these are great guidelines to use when approaching how we as believers watch movies.  What do you think?

I Married my bride, Erin, in 2003. We have 3 children: Emma, Elijah, and Lydia. I have served full-time on staff at Westwood Baptist Church, in Roxboro, NC, since summer of 2006 as Pastor of Students & Discipleship. I am currently enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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