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A Messy Conversation

When a theology prof and a bitter skeptic talk.

For many Christians, dialogue is a dirty word. Confident in our convictions, we often find it easier to badger those we would save with our irrefutable truth, rather than genuinely listen to the things they are saying.

Craig Detweiler and John Marks seem to believe that understanding each other is more important than convincing each other. Their documentary, Purple State of Mind (4 stars), is a mesmerizing conversation between two friends who met nearly three decades ago. Detweiler had just come to the faith; Marks had just left it behind.

The men probe each other's histories and worldviews, neither willing to yield his strongly held principles—yet both are equally committed to the friendship. One might expect the most ire to come from Marks. Not so. Detweiler, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and the film's director, is deeply troubled by a Christianity he sees as increasingly militant, judgmental, and hypocritical toward the very world it is commanded to love.

Marks isn't looking for love. For Marks, who witnessed harrowing atrocities while working as a journalist in the Balkans, the Bible cuts Christians off from the suffering of humanity. God is someone who "murdered his own Son to make a point" and authored a book that "promises mass murder." Detweiler sees his friend as a protest theologian whose anger and bitterness toward God is a critical component of any faith journey.

Purple State of Mind is an authentic, messy, unexpectedly funny, and deeply moving plea to push beyond that which divides us. The film's contention that conversation, not conversion, is the most important part of any relationship may alarm some viewers; if Marks isn't ultimately on the road to salvation, what's the point?

Detweiler wouldn't ...

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Christianity Today
A Messy Conversation
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July 2008

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