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Blog // Thoughts
April 30, 2005

Creeping Up on Theology and Film

Lately I have realised that this blog has not paid enough attention to issues of theology and film and also to book reviews. I reflected on the film issue a little recently and again when discussing my history of personal websites. It even came up again yesterday on a different topic. To compound things, Jonny […]

Lately I have realised that this blog has not paid enough attention to issues of theology and film and also to book reviews. I reflected on the film issue a little recently and again when discussing my history of personal websites. It even came up again yesterday on a different topic. To compound things, Jonny Baker referenced a good little piece he has written for a CMS magazine and a forum discussion on Robert K. Johnston’s excellent book Reel Spirituality.

Interestingly, another discussion on the Blah forum, arising from Jonny’s article gets bogged down in two paradigmatic issues I sought to tackle when trying to write my own book on Theology and Film (surely a subject for another blog entry). First, in this discussion, the question of God speaking to us through film and cinema is framed in polar terms of “does” or “does not.” Those in favour tend to have a more open view of God communicating through Culture (does), those opposed want to safeguard the primacy of Scripture as revealed truth (does not). But maybe we need to step back from that for a moment and considerthe “can” question, but reflecting on how God communicates (conflating communication and speech loads things from the start). For example, making a phone call, writing an email, composing a song or painting some graffiti on a wall are all forms of “communication.” But they vary in terms of directness and tangibility. In fact a great many things we do during a day “communicate” though not always in a clear, propositional way. If we start by dropping the assumption that to “communicate” means the same thing as “to speak in propositions,” we start to understand how it is that God may speak to us, not just through film, but through other aspects of our culture.

This starts to become clearer if we put to one side for a moment the question of “medium” and think about how God may communicate through our reflective thought processes. I sometimes wonder if the way conservative thinkers oppose the idea of God speaking to us through film is a reaction against the idea of putting the silver screen on a par with the Bible itself. But what is it about the Bible, that makes it’s communication special? To me it is not the physicality of it, but rather the way the narrative touches our imagination and is brought to life by God’s Spirit. It is not just the act of reading, but it is the act of reflecting imaginatively upon the Scripture that is the means of communication.

Now perhaps this reflective imagination is possible through other means? Let’s not get caught up in evaluating too much for now, but just consider the possibility. To me the Psalms and the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament are a great guide for considering how this might happen. In both the writers are reflecting upon their context and culture (both natural and humanly-created) and it is clear that God is communicating to them through their creative and imaginative reflection.

Perhaps, the way that God “can” communicate us through film is akin to the way God commicated to the Psalmists and Wisdom writers in the Old Testament.

[tags] Theology and Culture, Film, Cinema, Wisdom [/tags]

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