Monday, June 11, 2007

Developing Discernment

Just a quick note, I’ve been thinking about how we evaluate media because I received an email last week asking me, “Is The Pawn a Christian novel?”

Hm. What makes a novel, a story, a movie, Christian? I agree with Madeline L’engle that it’s Christian if it tells the truth about the way the world really is.

Ok, so here you go. I think that when it comes to movies and media, discernment involves evaluating at least three things:

(1) The artistic quality. If it’s a film, how well is it directed? Is the acting excellent or cheesy and second-rate? What about the storytelling? How well is the movie edited? How coherently do the scenes fit together? How about the cinematography, camera angles, pace, dialogue?

Many so-called “Christian films” and “Christian novels” are concerned with not offending people, or getting some kind of message across, rather than telling a good story. As a result both the message and the story suffer. And that’s more offensive to me than objectionable content.

(2) The worldview of the movie. Does this movie portray a universe where choices matter, or one in which fate and destiny rule? Are good and evil portrayed as equally strong, or does good have the power to conquer in the end? Are life, and the choices we make, meaningful and substantive, or is life simply meaningless and random? In this movie, do the ends justify the means? Are values of right and wrong dependant on the situation, or are they derived from a higher good?

When the Harry Potter books and movies came out, many fundamentalist Christians avoided them because of the content (spells, magic, wizards, etc…) and didn’t acknowledge the artistic excellence of the storytelling. In addition, the world of Harry Potter is unashamedly moral, choices matter, life is not just a matter of fate and timing. However, in the Harry Potter world, the ends justify the means. I believe discernment is harder than blind condemnation, but also more worthwhile.

(3) The content. I do think it’s legitimate to be wary of a film’s content. Sometimes the images will lead you into thought-territory that you have no business trespassing into. Graphic violence, gory murders, glorified eroticism, titillating sex, and gutter language can all affect the way we think, the way we relate to other people, the way we relate to God--and the scenes don’t typically have a purifying effect. However, content is only one of the factors a discerning person will use when evaluating media.

Undoubtedly some people will not welcome the violence in The Pawn. But I believe discerning readers will connect with the story on many other levels.

There you have it. I welcome your response.


Eric McCarty said...

I think what most folks mean when they ask, "Is it a Christian movie?" is "Does it portray the life-changing message of the gospel through one of it's characters?" Many of the stories which have pushed me toward Christianity have not been "Christian", but have REALISTICALLY drawn a sketch of choices and consequences. Take any other worldview to it's final destination and you see the emptiness and despair. This can be just as powerful as telling the Christian story.

oh amanda said...

Interesting post. I agree AND I disagree.

It gets on my nerves that every kid in the country has seen Spiderman even though it's rated PG13. They sell Spidey action figures in the toy section of WalMart yet kids under 13 shouldn't see it?! If the world says kids under 13 shouldn't see it, then why do we think Christians should see it?! (I know, I know, it's kids under 13 WITHOUT a guardian.)

But at the same time, just saying "you can't watch R-rated movies period" leads into legalism. (Is that the right word? Leagalisticism?! ha!)

I do wish the Christian media would get a clue and spend some money on films. We've got tons of great authors who bring suspense, romance and thrills. Why can't anyone show that on the silver screen?

FWIW, I completely agree about Harry Potter. What other books/movies do you put on this same level?

I think I just rambled---but your post made me think!

pastorwick said...

I don't think movies or books will inherit the Kingdom of God. :) But I do believe they can point in that direction. Thanks for your post, and looking forward to checking out your writing. Did you help write the Relevant book on fatherhood?

Steven James said...

Good thoughts.

Thinking only about what it honorable and upright plays into all this, but also acknowledging the world for as it really is--filled with both heartache and laughter, funerals and wedding showers--and then engaging in our culture rather than retreating from it.

btw - I didn't write the fatherhood book, different James. I think he spells it Stephen, I heard he's a psychologist, which I am definitely not. I'm the on laying on the couch not sitting next to it ;)

Mama Asher said...

As a reader of Christian fiction, thank you for having such a high standard for what you do. It seems that when something is "Christian" whatever the media that many times it doesn't measure up to "secular" standards. I appreciate your excellent writing.