Meaning At The Movies
A couple years ago we had a Sunday morning class with the above title. I would like to revisit the subject of that class in this article for two reasons. First, we all tend to forget things over time. So it’s good to remember and reconsider ideas we have studied. Second, as I have thought about the class I have concluded that at several points I made the class more complicated than necessary. So it may not have been as helpful as it could have been. I hope to correct that in the present article.
Let me begin by saying that neither the class nor this article is intended to say Christians shouldn’t enjoy movies. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6:17 that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” This is not a license that frees us to do whatever we desire. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are given the following command, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” So in our fun and enjoyment we are to honor God. It is my desire that by working through the following questions when viewing a movie your enjoyment will be enhanced.
Question #1 –What is the main point of this movie? What is it saying? What is it teaching? Here the idea is to put your conclusions in your own words. Try to make your statement in two or three sentences. This will make it easier to remember and share with others.
Grant Horner, author of Meaning at the Movies, reminds us of an important truth, “Film, like all art, is open to varying interpretation. It is an untenable argument to claim any film or other work of art has only one single valid level and range of meaning. Experiencing art is clearly a subjective event . . . This presents a real challenge to the discerning viewer.” So don’t get all hung up on interpretation of a meaning because someone else sees it differently than you. Use it as an opportunity to engage in conversation with one another.
Question #2 –What does God reveal to us in his Word about this subject? Here I would encourage you to not only put it in your own words but to list some passages of Scripture that support your conclusions.
The call here is to develop biblical discernment. The idea is to make the choice to develop the necessary skills to use the Scriptures to distinguish truth from error. Hebrews 5:11-6:12 is filled with teaching about biblical discernment. The passage begins by identifying those who lack this trait, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again”(5:11-12). So those who lack biblical discernment can’t explain the basic truths of Scripture.
The mature are identified in 5:14, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Biblical discernment entails hard work. You must be constantly using Scripture and you need to train yourself to be discerning. The writer adds two other points in 6:11-12, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what is promised.”
If you are going to practice Question #2 properly you must develop the habit of steady application of the Word to life. You won’t look for the quick answer or the list that solves all the problems. You will patiently work at developing this skill so in the long haul it will become second nature to you.
Question #3 –How should we respond to this movie? We could also ask the question this way: How will you engage with others about this movie? Grant Horner concludes, “For most of us, movie going is a social event. We watch with others and react with others, and then share our responses, opinions, and critiques. We often end up in vigorous debates because many of us are highly opinionated about film. So film watching helps us engage individuals. . . Film is the modern-day equivalent of philosophy. It is an artistic representation of what we believe, what we dream of, what we hope for—indeed, of what we are in the core of our being. Instead of arguing about fate in the marketplace of first-century Athens, we now watch (movies).”
Will you engage in the debate? Will you learn to develop your imagination? Will you train yourself to be biblically discerning? Your mission is to discern and decide. There are different grades of discernment and varying levels of exposure. You can get closer to some things than others, and there are other things that should be avoided entirely once their nature is clear, but each of these decisions is a form of discernment.
In the words of Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment. For even the wise cannot see all ends.”