Contents

 

Feature ArticleGod Loves Movies by Brian Godawa

Educational Helps – by Laurie Detweiler

Free Offer

Q&A

Announcements

 

March 2009


Feature Article

 

God Loves Movies

 

By Brian Godawa

Adapted from the Preface of the Updated and Expanded 2009 edition of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (IVP), available July 2009.

 


God loves movies. Movies are visually dramatic stories, and in the Bible, the dominant means through which God communicates His truth is visually dramatic stories—not systematic theology, not doctrinal catechism, and not rational argument. A survey of the Scriptures reveals that roughly thirty percent of the Bible is expressed through rational propositional truth and laws. Therefore, seventy percent of the Bible is story, vision, symbol and narrative.[1] Sure, God uses words, rationality and propositions to communicate his message. But modernist Christianity has neglected to understand how much more important visual imagery, drama and storytelling are to God.

Visually

Movies are a visual medium. Cinematic composition, color, light, and movement confer emotional states and embody symbolic meanings and ideas with deep effect. Consider the sense of awe at the majestic panoramic depiction of good battling evil in The Lord of the Rings. Remember the visual punch in the spiritual gut experienced through The Passion of the Christ as it incarnated the atonement imagery of Isaiah and the Gospels.

The thousands of miracles that God performed for his people in the Bible were not mere abstract propositions, but “signs and wonders,” sensate visual displays of God’s glory.[2] God’s own Temple was designed by Him to be a visually rich engagement of the senses as his people worshipped Him, surrounded by colors, images, pictures and statues of visual beauty.[3] New Covenant sacraments are visual pictures of grace that are not reducible to abstract propositions.

And then there are dreams and visions: God’s form of television and movies. Joseph’s dreams of fat and skinny zombie cows, Ezekiel’s Close Encounters with spinning wheels, Nebuchadnezzar’s Terminator statue, as well as other visions given to dozens of Old and New Testament saints are all stunning high-definition, Dolby sensurround feasts for the senses as well as the spirit. God loves movies. He produced a lot of them.

The book of Revelation is a theatrical orgy of visual imagery, produced, written and directed by Jesus Christ. The images of apocalyptic horsemen, multiple-headed monsters running around killing people are more akin to a modern horror film or fantasy epic than a systematic theology or doctrinal exposition.

God also uses visual images to reveal Himself. The burning bush is just a trailer for upcoming releases. From Old to New Testament, God’s favorite visual images to use for his presence seem to be thunder, lightning, clouds, smoke, and fire. Tentpole spectacular! And no blue screen CGI!

Dramatic

Movies are all about drama. Drama is relationship in action. It is existential rather than intellectual. As we follow characters working through their moral dilemmas and personal journeys, so we learn through them. It is one thing to rationally explain the concept of forensic justification, but the power of seeing Jean Valjean being forgiven in Les Miserables, embodies that truth existentially like no theological exposition possibly could.

Rather than merely give sermons or lectures, God often had his prophets give plays. Ezekiel was a thespian prophet. God told him to act out a battle scene as a prophecy, complete with miniatures.[4] Then God has Ezekiel engage in the longest-running Off-Off-Broadway performance of the time in a dramatic symbolic enactment for 430 days.[5] And there were more episodes of the Ezekiel show.[6]

Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet.” But he should have been called “the acting prophet,” because so many of his prophecies were theatrical performances.[7]  Isaiah broke the social taboos of modesty with R-rated shocking performance art as he walked around naked as a visual “sign and token” of Israel’s shame.[8]

In the New Testament, God uses the Lucas-like special visual effects of a picnic blanket from heaven filled with unclean animals to persuade Peter of the New Covenant inclusion of Gentiles. God, it seems, is the original Cecil B. DeMille. Mere words were not enough for Him. He wanted lights, camera, action!

Several books of the Bible are deliberately structured according to theatrical conventions. The books of Job and Jonah are depicted in dialogues reminiscent of ancient plays, including prologues, epilogues, and several acts. Job’s friends function as the chorus of ancient theatrical performances. The book of Mark structurally resembles a Greek tragedy.[9] God loves the visual, and God loves drama. But even more, He loves visually dramatic stories.

Stories

Movies are first and foremost stories. And so is the Bible. The Bible is the story of God’s redemptive activity in history. The Bible is not a systematic theological textbook. It communicates doctrine and theology mostly through story. Storytelling draws us into truth by incarnating worldview through narrative. Creation, Fall, and Redemption, the elements of a worldview, are a narrative progression of events that can be seen in all movies.[10]

Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God mostly through parables—sensate, dramatic stories. To him, the Kingdom was far too deep and rich a truth to entrust to rational abstract propositions. He chose stories of weddings, investment bankers, unscrupulous slaves, and buried treasure over syllogisms, abstraction, systematics or dissertations. Jesus could do abstraction. He preferred not to.

Indeed, stories and parables may be a superior means of conveying theological truth than propositional logic or theological abstraction. As N.T. Wright suggests, “It would be clearly quite wrong to see these stories as mere illustrations of truths that could in principle have been articulated in a purer, more abstract form.”[11] He reminds us that theological terms like “monotheism” “are late constructs, convenient shorthands for sentences with verbs in them [narrative], and that sentences with verbs in them are the real stuff of theology, not mere childish expressions of a ‘purer’ abstract truth.”[12]

Kenneth E. Bailey, an expert on Middle Eastern culture, explains that “a biblical story is not simply a ‘delivery system’ for an idea. Rather, the story first creates a world and then invites the listener to live in that world, to take it on as part of who he or she is… In reading and studying the Bible, ancient tales are not examined merely in order to extract a theological principle or ethical model.”[13] Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer agrees that doctrinal propositions are not “more basic” than the narrative, and in fact, fail to communicate what narrative can. He writes in his book, The Drama of Doctrine, “Narratives make story-shaped points that cannot always be paraphrased in propositional statements without losing something in translation.”[14] If you try to scientifically dissect the parable you will kill it, and if you discard the carcass once you have your doctrine, you have discarded the heart of God.

Because of our modern western bias toward rational theological discourse, we are easily blinded to the biblical emphasis on visually dramatic stories. We downplay the visual as dangerous or irrational, while God embraces the visual as a vital to His message. We elevate rational discourse as superior and dramatic theater as too emotional or entertainment-oriented, while God elevates drama equally as part of our imago dei. We consider stories to be quaint illustrations of abstract doctrinal universal truths, while God uses stories as his dominant means of incarnating truth. God loves movies.

Brian Godawa

 

Brian Godawa is the screenwriter for the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars, and author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.


 


 

Educational Helps

 

Our family often enjoys watching movies together. One of my favorite memories from when our boys were younger is Friday nights in our basement with each of them laying pallets on the floor and having a family movie night. I would pop popcorn, and we would enjoy the evening with four little boys sprawled out on the floor, Marlin and I on the couch and our dog, Max, curled up next to us. We normally chose a comedy, and soon the laughter would begin. As the movie played out it got quieter and quieter until finally there were four little boys asleep on the floor.

 

Our sons have grown up to be quite different in their interests and abilities. At the ages of 23, 21, 20, and 18 it is often hard to find something to do that all of them enjoy. A movie night is one of those things that all of them and mom and dad enjoy together still. Over Christmas this year with all of them home we had a couple “Dinner and a Movie” nights.

 

Our graphic designer, Ned Bustard, has created some fun activities for you to use on your family movie nights. Enjoy. Click here to access the file.

 

Laurie Detweiler

 


 

Free Offers

 

Free Movie Tickets
We have made arrangements with Regal Cinema to give away free movie tickets. With every order in March you may have one free movie ticket for every $150 of books purchased. But you have to ask. When ordering on the web, type FREE MOVIE TICKET into the Special Instructions box during checkout.

 


 

Q&A

 

Q. I see you have curriculum guides on your web site. Can we use the curriculum guides for our start-up school?

A.  Absolutely! In the past, we sold the guide for $150. Why are we now giving it away? Two reasons: First, we are convinced that the need for classical Christian education is so great that we want to do all we can to assist, and that includes schools, homeschools or a mix of the two. Second, we hope that you will purchase your educational materials through us.  Download the guides here.

 

Q. How much overlap will there be in book lists for readings in the Omnibus IV, V, and VI texts as in the first three?

A. While the eras of history will be revisited (ancient, medieval, modern) the reading lists are not the same. There are only a couple formerly-read books required which will be discussed with a new direction and greater depth.

 

Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to info@veritaspress.com.

 


 

Announcements

 

Veritas Press Scholars Academy Diploma Program

Are you looking for your child to go to college? Do you desire accountability and assistance in knowing that each year your students are accomplishing what they need to? We now offer year-by-year planning culminating in a high school diploma. There are four different diploma levels, each addressing the varying levels of a student’s abilities and circumstances. Grade-by-grade certification services ensure you are on track for your objectives, meeting an outside standard, and, in many cases, satisfying state requirements. We’ve even made provision for qualifying courses completed elsewhere or using other curriculum. For more information, click here.

 

Veritas Press Teacher Training and In-A-Week classes are now Online Only

In an effort to save you the time, trouble, and money needed for travel and lodging in these trying economic times, we have decided to offer our teacher training and in-a-week classes online only this year. The online version worked quite well last year. This year’s Teacher Training Conference is scheduled online for July 29-31, 2009. Online In-A-Week classes are scattered throughout the summer. Here’s the entire schedule:

 

ONLINE EVENT                               DATE                                    TEACHER

Teacher Training                               July 29-31                             Numerous

Latin In-A-Week                                June 15-19                            Joanna Hensley

Latin In-A-Week                                August 10-14                      Joanna Hensley

Omnibus I In-A-Week                      June 29-July 3                     Bruce Etter

Omnibus I In-A-Week                      July 20-24                             Bruce Etter

Omnibus II In-A-Week                    June 29-July 3                     Graham Dennis

Omnibus II In-A-Week                    July 20-24                             Graham Dennis

 

What better way to prepare yourself to teach these courses or just learn the material for your own improvement? Watch for future announcements and details on our web site. Please be encouraged to mark your calendar and join us for these wonderful opportunities.

 

Detweilers Taking on More Speaking Engagements

It’s hard to believe, but Marlin and Laurie Detweiler will be empty nesters come August. Consequently, they are willing and able to take on more speaking and consulting engagements. If we can be of service to you or your organization, feel free to call Marlin at 800-922-5082 or email at info@veritaspress.com.

 

Faith of our Fathers DVD: A DVD documentary written and directed by Brian Godawa

This historical documentary takes a look at what the Founding Fathers intended when they framed the Constitution and wrote the First Amendment religion clauses. Were they trying to create a Christian nation, a secular paradise, or something in between? The documentary looks at how our understanding of church and state relations has changed through history by means of Supreme Court decisions and cultural pressures. From Everson vs. Board of Education to the most recent decisions over Ten Commandments displays, such interpretations are explored in comparison with the Founder’s original intent. Running time is approximately 60 minutes.  It is only available at Christianbook.com. Make sure you choose the right one, as there are several products with that title. 

 

Prospective Student Weekend at New Saint Andrews College
Come experience the unique culture of New Saint Andrews on March 27-30. Visit classes, meet faculty and students, tour NSA, attend Disputatio, learn about student housing, and worship at one of the local churches. If you initiate your application during Prospective Student Weekend, they will waive the $50 fee.  Enrollment is limited, so apply before the application deadline of February 15! You can register for the weekend at www.nsa.edu. For questions contact Lindsey Leithart Tollefson at ltollefson@nsa.edu or 208-882-1566.

 

17th Annual ACCS Conference: Building a Firm Foundation

The Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) national conference will be held June 25–27, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. It is designed to provide the principles of a classical and Christian education and practical instruction in a broad range of subjects. Plenary sessions will feature Charles Colson, George Grant, Matt Whitling, and Douglas Wilson. Practical workshops will teach the implementation of classical Christian education. Click here for more information or contact the ACCS office at 208-882-6101.

 

Future Job Opening with Veritas Press Scholars Academy

Online Teachers—With the rapid growth of our online courses we continue to seek more teachers for the 2009–2010 school year and beyond. Experienced teachers can work from home, the beach, or anywhere high-speed internet is available. Send résumé to bruce@veritaspress.com. Current needs include Rhetoric II, German I, French I, Introduction to Philosophy, War Between the States, Art Appreciation, and Music Appreciation.

 


 

 

Visit us on the web at VeritasPress.com or call us at 1-800-922-5082.

 

Lost your catalog?  Browse the Veritas Press virtual catalog online!

 



[1] Of course, most of the propositional content and imagery is integrated with each other, so a strictly “scientific” separation is not possible. Both are necessary to God’s revelation, but the sheer comparison of volume is revealing.

[2] See Heb 2:4 Deut. 6:22; Dan. 4:1-3; Acts 14:3; 2 Cor. 12:12.

[3] Exodus 25; 28; 1 Kings 6, 2 Chronicles 3; 4.

[4] Ezekiel 4:1-3

[5] Ezekiel 4:4-8

[6] See also Ezekiel 5:1-4; 12:1-11; 17-20; 37:15-23.

[7] See Jeremiah 13:1-11;  19:1; 17:19-27; 27:1-14; 32:6-15; 43:8-13; 51:59-64.

[8] Isaiah 20:2-4

[9] “Theater,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, © 1998 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc.Version 1.0.

[10] See Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2002).

[11] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 77.

[12] Ibid, 78.

[13] Kenneth E. Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 51.

[14] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 50.