If Abraham Kuyper went to the movies he’d find prayers.
Josh Larson doesn’t say it quite that way in his delightful book, Movies are Prayers, but its the basic idea when he speaks of movies as instances of common grace.
“Common grace” is a category you will know well if you’ve encountered the Reformed tradition as its refracted through the Dutch Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). At Calvin College, where I completed my undergrad, the Kuyperian vision flourished and still does. “There is not a square inch,” Kuyper once said, “in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” Building on that conviction, common grace is a way to name the possibility, as Larson puts it that “God’s grace and his revealing truth can be found in the most unexpected places.” Such places include movies, even the ones you wouldn’t immediately expect. Larson explains:
If Kuyper had deigned to to attend a movie theater, I like to think he would have found common grace—this notion that an agnostic artist, by God’s favor, can capture the glory of his creation—flowing from the screen. From the silent melodramas of Kuyper’s time to the colorful extravaganzas of today, endless creativity is on display in the collaborative work of hundreds of artists: cinematographers, editors, actors, directors, costumers, musicians, production designers, and more. And when the resulting movies genuinely yearn, mournfully lament, fitfully rage, honestly confess, or joyously celebrate, they serve as prayers (12).
This is a theological idea that you either love or hate. I interact with quite a lot of Christians who don’t like it. It seems to them that the creation from which culture springs is far too sin-tainted for us to expect much from it. To expect a movie to be a prayer doesn’t sit well. For others, common grace names something they already believed: God’s creation really is good enough—very good actually—that its potential to glorify its creator is hindered by sin but certainly not destroyed.
Count me in the latter group. Not surprisingly I am thoroughly enjoying Larson’s approach to film.