FOX News declared 2014 the year of the Christian film. But what is a Christian film? Is a Biblical film always a Christian film? What does the term faith-based film mean? Are faith-based films synonymous with family films? Can God speak to us through a secular, “non-Christian” film? Over the next weeks I will explore all of these issues as I set out “Looking for God in faith-based films.” But first let’s go back a bit and lay some ground work.
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17.16-7)
As the Apostle Paul arrives in the City of Athens, he looks for the center of the cultural conversation. The Jews and devout, “God fearing” people are meeting in a religious forum within the synagogue. But those who didn’t embrace theism, as well as the shapers of the ideology of the day, were gathered in the Athenian Starbucks of yesteryear, the marketplace. Here Paul places himself in the midst of public discourse, first listening, then reasoning from a position of his Christian faith. Looking for a link between their cultural beliefs and his Christian beliefs, Paul finds it in the line of statutes to their numerous gods. Paul used their story of a statute to an unknown god as the foundation of God’s story. Where are today’s culture’s stories being told?
Plato once said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” The most powerful and influential forum for expressing our viewpoints are the stories told through medias such as film, television and digital media. Hollywood’s influence on our culture can hardly be overestimated, the movie industry’s products, for better or worse, influence the way people perceive the world and their place in it. The stories contained in cinema capture our imaginations, inspire and encourage us, help us deal with our fears in an unthreatening way, show us how to laugh at our human fragilities and insecurities. We emphasize with stories, because stories humanize a truth.
How did Jesus give us truths of the Kingdom of God or convey important theological truth? “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13.34). A parable is an earthly story that relates a spiritual truth. Just as Jesus enter mankind’s world physically – “became flesh and dwelled among us” – Jesus also entered our world contextually. Jesus would set up a world and invite us in to experience His truth. Professor Rob Johnston writes, “Parables provide stories drawn from everyday life that capture the attention of their viewers/hearers by focusing on what is not usually seen, teasing their recipients into an active engagement with them through their open-endedness. In this way, Jesus’ parables caused those present to see life in a new way. So, too, do movies.”