(Our current Sunday morning Adult Education class is focusing on the arts. Enjoy this summary from our last class, and consider joining us on Sunday mornings.)
by Denis Haack
Christians shouldn’t see their love for art as something that is somehow disconnected from their faith. In fact, art is part of every chapter in the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. And when we bother to look for it we discover that a wide variety of art forms—from poetry to street theater to music to fiction—is referenced in the unfolding story of scripture, some specifically commanded by God and all used and blessed by God.
Today, a primary art form involved with story is the cinema. It can even be argued that it (along with television, gaming, and the internet) is the primary story-telling medium for most of the younger generation in these opening decades of the 21st century.
All good stories follow a simple literary pattern, though good story tellers sometimes mix the pattern up to make things more interesting. And when we examine this pattern we can see that it, in turn, follows the pattern established by the biblical story. Each good story tells the character’s setting (creation), what goes wrong (fall), the problem’s solution (redemption) and whether everyone lives happily ever after or not (restoration). As theologian Daniel Doriani says in Getting the Message, “Biblical dramas do not follow the patterns of literary dramas because someone ‘massaged’ the stories to make them fit. Rather, God has structured human nature and creation so that certain elements are present in all stories worth telling. If biblical dramas have the same structure as fiction, it is because art imitates life, not because the Bible imitates art.”
This is why good films, which always tell good stories, connect so deeply with viewers—they are addressing the deepest yearnings, fears, and questions of the human heart. “Despite its reputation as a mindless, soul-less diversion,” Roy Anker writes in Catching Light, “cinema regularly wrestles with the central deep mysteries about origins, meaning, purpose, intimacy, destiny, morality, and the possibility of God—those domains of human inquiry to which philosophy, theology, and the arts have traditionally devoted themselves.”
This in turn means that there are two questions we can ask about a movie—or about any other part of human culture. The first question is, “Do I like it?” This is not an insignificant question but for the Christian not a very important one. The second, and more crucial question is, “Do I get it?” In other words, does the movie provide insight into my culture’s ideas and values? And does it provide a point of contact to talk with my non-Christian friends about the questions of life?
To provide some context for our discussion, we looked at 5 scenes from Wit (2001), Life of Pi (2012), and Match Point (2005). As we did so, it was possible to catch a glimpse of how movies reveal the perennial yearnings of the human heart, the ideas of our post-Christian culture, and how over time the convictions our society holds about the meaning of human life and justice have changed.
The real point of this class was admirably expressed by a well-known Anglican, C. S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” And that applies to film, and to all of art, as much as it applies to everything else in life.
This Sunday, our final class will be an introduction to Christian discernment, which is needed because all art is made by fallen people in a fallen world. So, please come if you’d like to think about and discuss this issue together. We meet at 10:45 am (during the second service) in the conference room.