Everyday Theology (4): Swords, Sandals, and Saviors

In his attempt to read the movie Gladiator as a cultural text (chapter 6 in Everyday Theology), Michael Sleasman makes the point that,gladiator

“Film has become the new text by which many around the globe now pose the crucial questions about life.”

Considering that nearly every youth pastor in the country obsessively quoted The Matrix when it reached blockbuster status (and only seemed to use the movie for illustrations rather than critical interaction of ideas), I think that this chapter is worth taking note of. Movies have, no doubt, reached new levels of influence with emerging generations, and in many ways, are landmarks for cultural self-awareness.

Sleasman lays out three key directions from which to analyze a movie text:

  • The World-Behind-the-Text: “The world behind the text is most simply viewed as the background for a film, which may include genre, social context, cinematic influences, and most importantly the director.” P. 135
  • The World-of-the-Text: “The world-of-the-text involves the formal features of the text and, from a technical standpoint, is the most difficult section to analyze.” P. 137
  • The World-in-Front-of-the-Text: “The meaning – the complex interchange between the actual symbols of the text and the intention of the author – influences the response that the text generates by suggesting alternative ways of living and being.” P. 139

Sleasman goes on to address the issue of competing interpretations, stating:

“Basic criteria for discernment may include the largest in scope (the explanation that most adequately covers the largest amount of data), the simplest explanation (given two seemingly equal explanations, the simpler explanation is preferred), the explanation that takes the data most literally, and/or the explanation that appears to be the most likely.” P. 140

Sleasman eventually goes on to offer “hope” as the “guiding thread” which gives coherence to the film, but that is beyond my interest here.

What I am interested in is what you might think of the ways to address competing interpretations, and/or if we need to? Also, based on the thrust of this book, that we should be engaging cultural texts, then how should Christians, in general, engage the medium of movies? Should we be, as is often the case, showing how movies offer a glimpse of the gospel, even though it might be hidden and marred? Or should we be seeking to show how the stories in movies are an anti-gospel of some sort? What are your thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “Everyday Theology (4): Swords, Sandals, and Saviors

  1. Interesting post, especially after Kent’s thread about the use of buildings to convey theology. Obviously it is useful for Christians to understand the prevailing modes of communications that exist within a culture. The Western culture more often than not now-a-days uses non traditional mediums in which to communicate (eg. music, movies, etc…). The power of the written text is being eclipsed by (or maybe just balanced out – read further down for explanation) other modes of communication. I have heard the justification for using technology in sermons due to “wanting to connect with today’s culture.” My fear is that I have seen this occur too often poorly, with little to no thought behind the use of movie scenes or musical lyrics. Much like in Kent’s thread, theological reflection does not enter into much of what the church does today. I do believe that movies and the like can help to communicate biblical truth, but need to be carefully crafted and only used when appropriate. Too often it seems that the movie clip becomes the message rather than the Scriptures.

    Interestingly, there is a connection that one can make to the use of arts to communicate theological doctrine. During the Italian renaissance biblical themes coincided with the genius of some of the greatest painters and sculptors in history. Maybe the use of visual arts such as movies today is the direct result of the culture demanding something visual in which to understand Scripture. Maybe the iconoclastic zealotness of the Reformers lead to a church culture that suppressed any modes of creative visual aids. For those in whom the Spirit had granted creative genius, where could they exercise their gifting?

    I guess I ultimately side on the use of movies and other creative visual means of communication as long as they are used with a clear theological purpose. The gifts of God should only be used to enhance the gospel message and not take away from it.

    However, I am open to dialogue on this issue. Thanks Kyle!

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