God and Film, Pt 5: Discernment – How to handle differing worldviews in film.

“Discernment means thinking as God thinks…the cruical gift and skill of learning to use the mind…may be the thng most lacking among contemporary evangelicals.”  Discernement is a way of constanlty viewing and comparing the world with the Word, and pointing to the deficiencies of following ‘our hearts’ rather than God’s plan for humanity.  Yet, because so much of Christianity is made up of the extremes of cultural annorexia on one side and gluttony on the other, believers who long to be discerning honestly don’t know where to begin.  What exactly do we ‘do’ with movies?  How can we critically engage with them and maintain integrity in the process?  Many Christians discern on a basic level, but nothing futher.  Their gameplan consists of saying no to R-rated movies, or movies with foul language, sex scenes or violence even if the film portays it in non-explicit ways, for no consideration for context or storyline.   Unfortunatly, this view always gives the undiscerning believer an excuse to lazily dismiss all films that do not confirm their worldview, and in turn they are never able to understand or articulate the various philosophies of the world.  As we see in Scripture, God has made his truth evident in his creation and created a plethera of experiences for us to enjoy and glorify him with (I Cor. 10:23-33).  “He wants us to think, to feel, to create, to enjoy, to remember, imagine, and hope.  His goal is not simply for us to have experiences, but to choose experiences and to respond to experiences in such a way that we grow more and more obedient to him (Phil 4:8)”.  As we understand God’s expanse over the universe we can progress in our discernment of film and confidently say with Abraham Kuyper “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign,does not declare,’That is mine’!

Every experience, even in viewing film, belongs to God and believers have a responsibility to handle film in ways very differently from the lost world.   Proverbs 24:30-32 gives an incredible picture of a man crossing over the field of a sluggard and a vineyard of a fool, who neither could profit much from their property because of their laziness.  The author makes an important statement: “Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.”  He observed that laziness and folly, lead to poverty and destruction.  The point is this: we can and must learn from negative examples in life.  We must ask of every experience “What can this teach me?” and as Horner reminds us “The experience itself must alwayse be viewed as an opportunity for discernment, obedience, and growth”

A worldview, as N.T. Wright explains are “…at the deepest level shorthand formulae to express stories” and every movie maker has one.  Let’s compare two fantasy/action films: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials.  Naturally, Chronicles seems to be an easy sell with an explicit creation (Narnia), fall (enter: the white witch) where it is always winter, but never Christmas (unimaginable!), redemption comes on the scene when Aslan sacrifices his life and the snow is melted away and Narnia is restored (Restoration).   Not to mention, C.S. Lewis is one of the most influential evangelicals of the 20th century.    Now, to contrast Pullman’s far less expansive trilogy Materials. To the undiscerning viewer, both may seem to be the same genre and movie trailers may seem to project they have similar themes, yet Pullman’s world is diametrically opposed to Lewis’.   The Golden Compass, the first in Pullman’s trilogy, projects the desperate condition of humanity as a result of God’s intervention. Humanity was fine, until God projected his existence onto the scene with “The Magisterium” (religious people).  Redemption is available only by “killing God” and freeing the people from the tyranny of such religious control.    Stark contrasts like this one are easy to pick out, but many are not and take much work and effort to understand what worldview is being portrayed.  It’s important for discerning believers to remember that “movies are not wholly evil or wholly good…most movies are a mixed bag of values and ideas, some good, some bad, but most worth engaging in and discussing.”


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