Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment

I define a kingdom disciple as a Christian who thinks God’s thoughts after him and seeks to apply those thoughts to every area of life. If that is true, that means we have a gauge for all of life. There are situations where it is so easy to put our brains in neutral and fail to apply hearts unto wisdom. Some say that many do that when they come to church, but we can definitely say that is true when the media comes into play. We are often tempted to put our thinking on hold while watching television or a movie. That’s one of the main reasons that the media has such a negative impact on our lives. That does not happen by design, but often because we do not have a good handle on how to think critically and with discernment.

In our local church, some of the men meet once a month for fellowship, pizza, movie viewing, and discussion of the film. Our emphasis is fourfold: to fellowship, to sensitize ourselves to the culture and society in which we live, to see what contributions films make to our thinking Christianly or non-Christianly, and to help one another think critically about what we see.

Brain Godawa helps us practice discernment and gain wisdom about our world and life. He is well equipped to write this book. He is a Christian and a screenwriter who has been influenced by at least a couple of PCA pastors. He understands that each movie contains a story and that story was good enough to result in a movie. Often, the story falls into one of two categories, the way life should be lived or the way life should not be lived. Stories contain ideas and ideas do have consequences.

Godawa says that Christians need balance in their lives. For example, they either become “cultural gluttons” who watch too many movies, or they become “cultural anorexics” who avoid them altogether. Whichever we chose, says Godawa, we generally rationalize our choice. He also reminds us that one person’s tolerance may be another person’s indulgence.

In the style of the late Francis Schaeffer, Godawa reminds us that the arts, including film, are “our God-given means of expressing our humanity.” “To reject the arts in toto is to reject the imago Dei, the image of God in humanity.” However, he also reminds us that we are a fallen people and our sinful nature has not yet been fully destroyed. He writes, “I will show in the following chapters that most movies follow a main character who seeks a specific goal and in so doing learns something about himself or herself and the world in a way that inevitably results in this person’s redemption-or lack thereof.”

I could write much about this book. I have found it to be both challenging and helpful in knowing how to view a film critically. I have also found it to be a reminder that we cannot afford to anesthetize our thinking capabilities, even when our goal is entertainment. Entertainment, according to the writer, “reinforces certain values over others, namely those that reflect the current fashion of the creative community.”

Godawa takes us through movie after movie to demonstrate the truth of his premise. He helps us identity the character and the story and then suggests ways to think about and evaluate the message. Each chapter contains a “watch and learn” section at the end that stimulates discussion questions.

One example you will want to think much about centers on the often-heard criticism that movies are full of sex, violence, and profanity. That they are! But Godawa challenges us to see how much of that is in the Bible. He helps us understand the importance of identifying the context where they are used. As we do that, we find that some are destructive while others are of a redemptive nature. I hope that will challenge you to read this book.

Pastors, teachers, parents need to understand how to be discerning in what we see in the media. We need to teach our covenant children and adults how to be discerning. We must help those to whom we have some responsibility know how to have a godly view of human life. This includes seeing through redemptive eyes how God’s plan and will contrast so drastically with the world’s. One way this seems to play out in recent films is the attempt to blur reality with virtual reality. Godawa points out that “the illusion/reality dilemma is a great story telling tool to challenge our assumptions about reality and truth, but taken to its extreme (that of denying all reality), it suffers under the weight of its own contradiction.”

In conclusion I would remind you of our beginning comments, the challenge for balance, discerning (thinking biblically), and understanding our world. This book will be of value in doing just that.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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