Welcome! Today marks the first day of the Speculative Faith Reading Group’s reboot.1
So far we’ve enjoyed going through classic fantasies such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit. In doing this we have assumed a few things: that reading a story is not only a personal pursuit, but an act of worship. It’s something we can enjoy together.
Now we’re moving beyond reading and into film-viewing, for several reasons:
- The first is a sentence like this, from a Christian review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. “Soon after Gandalf comes to Bilbo, 13 dwarves show up, a biblical number.” If we don’t understand movie-watching Biblically, we’ll lapse into silliness like that.
- Second, Christian movie reviews often “focus on the family.” They assume we already know how to watch and enjoy movies as individual Christian adults and as the church.
- Third, Christians have lingering assumptions about why we “use” stories in films.
What are those assumptions? Without intent to alliterate, they all start with the letter E:
I watch this movie or put it on for my kids because “it’s just a movie,” and (especially if it’s rated G) little in it is harmful. Nothing is wrong with entertainment for us either, and if we can enjoy the movie without doing anything wrong, suggesting otherwise may be legalism.
I watch this movie or put it on for my kids because it teaches one or more moral values. (Some Christian DVDs endorse this by putting “A Lesson in [X]” right on the cover.) When I or my kids are enjoying a movie, we want it to be for the purpose of having Christian behavior reinforced.
Movies can be entertaining or edifying, but the best movies include a direct Gospel message. Because we should preach the Gospel, a movie like this may be the most “Christian” kind of movie. Bonus if the entire “way of the master” Gospel is presented, with a call for repentance.
So what’s wrong with these?
Nothing. Stories in films should certainly be entertaining, edifying, and even evangelistic. (All stories have messages to preach, no matter how much their artists claim otherwise.)
But we may miss out on God’s joys if they expect stories in movies only to be this way.
Here we must look not to traditions, but to the commands and example of God’s Story and the many ways in which our Author told His Story (including with fiction!) in His Word.
Two Biblical “genres” alone confirm that good stories are about more than these three Es:
- The Psalms are well-written and entertaining, but for the point of extolling God’s greatness, man’s love for Him and struggles with evil (or Him!), and the goodness or badness of the world. Jesus’s parables are entertaining, but mainly for the points of showing what His Kingdom is like, or what God is like, or even what Hell is like.
- The Psalms are morally edifying, such as when they extol the wonders of God’s Law, but they are also challenging — such as when the Psalmists pour out their doubts about God, or seem to endorse thoughts of their enemies (and God’s enemies) being punished. Jesus’s parables are also edifying, such as when He talks about good behavior (e.g., the Good Samaritan). Yet He also uses examples of bad behavior (e.g., the shrewd manager).
- The Psalms may be “evangelistic” because God is always at their center. But they often show only parts of His character at a time, and for other purposes assume Who He is and what He does, rather than repeating all these truths. Jesus’s parables similarly, and stubbornly, hide the whole truth about Him from all but the most dedicated seekers.
Why then should Christians enjoy stories and movies?
Based on the same reason God created man to do anything, as the confession says:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
Story’s chief end is to help us glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
We might flesh this out: With a story we can explore and enjoy the beauty, goodness, and truth of God, people, and His world.
Now for The Princess Bride.2 As you enjoy this comedy/fantasy film, consider: what beauty, goodness, and truth about God, people, and His world do we find? And even if part of the story does not align with God’s Story, how can we appreciate the good parts by contrast?