House Church Central Goes to the Movies
Theological Reflections on the Movie Scene by Herb Drake


If I had a list of my favorite films, only a few of the films listed here would be on it--some, in fact, would be way down on my list. But these films stood out because I believe they have themes or content that merit discussion from a believer's point of view and are therefore recommended for group viewing and discussion. In some cases, it is unlikely that their producers even intended to produce a film that would go on such a list.

Content of Modern Movies

I guess I'm fairly lucky, as I can savor an occasional bowl of hot chili. But chili is not for everybody. You need just a bit of a cast-iron stomach or you can fall victim to the misery of heartburn.

The same can be said for the movies. For believers, movies can be enjoyable diversions or threats to faith--depending on one's "stomach." Films are said to be the "new literature." I guess that means that more and more people will seek out a two-hour viewing experience, while less and less devote the hours that it takes to read a book. Whether that is true or not, the question remains: Do believers have any business at the movies?

Certainly, for many, the answer is "No." Children should not go. And many find that the ethical gap between the silver screen and the Christian Life too great to bear: the violence, the language, the nakedness, and--especially--the outright attacks on people of faith. I would not want to persuade such folks to consider the movies. They do not have the "stomach" for them. But a case can be made for the rest of us.

Sinners and Tax Collectors

For one thing, the New Testament witness says that we should imitate Jesus, who dined with sinners and tax collectors. I'd bet that the language, idioms, and innuendos of first-century sinners and tax collectors was just as scandalous as that of our own culture. Modern sinners and tax collectors go to the movies. If we are to have any chance of having a dialog with them, we need to be able to have some points of contact--some shared experience. So, as ironic as it might seem, a movie can be a useful witnessing tool. Non-believing colleagues who may shun a conversation about Jesus Christ will often delight in discussing a movie. And how can one engage in such discussions if one simply stays at home? Do you just say, "Oh, I don't watch any movies because they challenge my faith!" What kind of witness is that? That just says "Hey, I'm a closed-minded Christian." And so we confirm what they already think about us and any chance of dialogue is lost.

Redemptive Themes

A second reason for attending the occasional movie is that many have redemptive themes, and these can be a joy to find and discuss in the company of other believers. Occasionally these themes are unintentional and actually backfire on the movie's intended purpose. Consider Cider House Rules, designed as a pro-abortion polemic--so much so that it's director lavished public praise on Planned Parenthood when he picked up his Oscar. But the brood of delightful orphans that formed the background of the film was a testimony not to death, but to life! Even a child with a heart defect was presented so sympathetically that any thought that his life should have ended in an abortion would have been far more tragic than his actual death portrayed in the film as a result of his condition.

Theology in Movies?

It is also helpful to look at the theology behind various movies. This is one area where some of the new movies actually outshine the old. Consider City of Angels. No matter what you might think of the plot device that angels can deliberately "fall" and become human (in the film, "falling" is not a euphemism for "sinning"), the movie at least makes the statement that angels are a distinctly different and separate act of creation. This is light-years ahead of the older film It's a Wonderful Life that is beloved by so many Christians. Wonderful Life has good-guy humans becoming angels when they die, and then engaging in "works theology" for the privilege of "wings." Give me City of Angels any day! In fact, I regard that film among the very best celebrations of God's gift of human life that I've seen outside the Bible. The ending, which disappointed many (they actually killed Meg Ryan!), was essential in allowing this film to turn a mere Cage/Ryan romance into a powerful celebration of God's gift of human life.

Like the biblical book of Esther, Few modern movies actually mention God--let alone the Son or Holy Spirit. This does not mean that theology does not have something to say about the themes in various films. Ironically, the great majority of films that have themes that are deliberately spiritual often have the worst theology--films such as Ghost, Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within, and the Star Wars films--so do not expect to see very many of those discussed here. I find that movies about ordinary people and situations tend to be far more fruitful.

Applying theology to films is not simply an academic exercise. It gives us a chance to practice the application of real theology to real situations that affect our lives with the Christian community where it meets the world.

Christian Bashing

Many movies contain outright attacks against Christians, and it sharpens our skills to engage those challenges on and point out where they fail. Such attacks demand a response from the church and boycotting movies is tantamount to admitting that we'd rather shun those challenges than confront them. The strong polemics that so many movies tell their audience that our faith is ignorant, intolerant, and worthy of the harshest form of ridicule. But those adjectives belong to the world. They have completely different meanings in biblical Christianity, which equates worldly "wisdom" with foolishness and "tolerance" of ungodly behavior as the sin of Jezebel (Rev. 2:20).

In fact, I recommended some movies to Christians as necessary medicine--even movies that I don't like. Four Weddings and a Funeral is one such film. Golly I hated that movie! But every believer should see it. Few works of comedy so dramatize the whirlwind that we reap as a result of sowing the notion that "church" is a place where the non-believing public can go to have a wedding or a funeral. We have sowed that whirlwind, and we have allowed the name of our Lord to be associated with non-believing weddings and funerals by having them use our churches rather than the town halls, courtrooms, or brothels where such godless rites belong. Sadly, it took Hollywood to point out our error, and we need to listen with sober ears, reclaim the church from the culture, and return it to its biblical roots.

So the impressions I offer on movies are for those who can handle the vicious attacks, the senseless violence, the language, the gratuitous nudity, and all the rest. If you are one of those people, welcome aboard to this section of House Church Central.

*The "Views" column on the list gives a count of the number of page views each file has since February, 2017 or since the film was added to the list (whichever is later).

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