Grant Horner, an English prof at The Master's College, specializes in the Renaissance and Reformation. But he truly comes alive when talking about movies. He teaches a popular class in film, and speaks regularly about film and popular culture.
His recent book, Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer (Crossway), examines how film affects viewers. Believing that every film is essentially a different take on the Fall of Man, Horner says movies are today's most powerful form of expression, and directors are today's philosophers.
Christianity Today spoke to Horner in his Master's College office in Santa Clarita, California.
Your book says that "the suppression of the truth about the fall of man" led to culture—including pop culture and movies. Please explain.
The history of human culture is the history of these suppressed truths bubbling back up; that's what I say is the origin of culture. Why do we have culture at all? I think it's to examine and explain the human condition. We can get along with very little: food, clothing shelter, maybe someone to hug. But we have cathedrals, opera, popular music, sports, comic books, and movies. Why do we spend so much energy on things that are not necessary for survival? I think it's because this repressed truth keeps coming up.
Many of us see film as mere entertainment, but you see it as today's philosophy, right?
Philosophy is the structure that you create to help you understand and live in the world. That's what movies are. Every young man gets his ideas about how to be a man by watching action movies. Every young woman gets her ideas about what romance should be like by watching romance movies. Is a raunchy, sophomoric, toilet-mouthed movie a philosophical statement? At the very least it's a statement that these things have no moral value, and that they're perfectly acceptable.
Your book doesn't list movies we should or shouldn't watch as Christians. Why not?
Scripture tells us that our minds should be saturated with Scripture, and when you know it, then you can tell how much interaction with culture to have. Those things vary from person to person. There are some things you could watch as a mature Christian that you certainly should not watch as a baby Christian. For me to tell other people in precise instances what to watch is very problematic.
But is there a standard or a cutoff point you go by?
In 1 Thessalonians 5: 21-22 [in the KJV], Paul says to "prove," which means to test, all things. Hold fast to that which is good. Paul also says to avoid what looks wicked. If it looks wicked, it probably is. That's the general principal I use.
Many people limit "discernment" to avoiding the negatives: If a film doesn't have sex, violence, or bad language, it passes the test. Anything wrong with that approach?
I don't think there's anything wrong with that approach. You have to be careful with what you expose yourself to, and you have to be even more careful with how you approach what you expose yourself to. Let's say you see something you find offensive—say, blasphemous language. The real question is: Do you approve of it? Are you going to talk like that? If you can remove that temptation from yourself, that's really good.
Let's talk about violence. Was The Passion of The Christ too violent?
It had to be. Mel Gibson was saying, You don't take the camera away when Christ's sacred body is being tortured to death. You show it. I think he did a very good job of getting both believers and nonbelievers into the horror of the narrative. But I did make a decision not to watch it again. I'm a little concerned that I would become numbed to the violence.