Sundance Film Festival: Report 2
The pastoral call to "interpretive leadership."

David Swanson, associate pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is back with his second report from Park City, Utah. In this post he questions our assumptions about church and culture, and asks leaders to consider a new posture toward films.

It's day 4 of the Windrider Film Forum at the Sundance Film Festival and so far I've seen 4 dramatic features, 4 documentaries, and a set of short experimental music videos. I find this funny since I don't generally watch this many films in a year! Some of the films we've seen have been purchased by production companies and will soon be coming to a theatre near you. Others will be seen by very few people after this festival ends in a few days.

Our days at the Windrider Film Forum begin each morning with a teaching session at Mountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship facilitated by Fuller professor, Craig Detweiler. Craig has asked us to view each film with an open mind, expecting to catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God. This quote from C.S. Lewis has served as one of our starting points:

We sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.

This week we've been asked to "get ourselves out of the way" as we show up to these films and pay attention to what the filmmakers are attempting to tell us about our world. It's been a fascinating experience.

For example, yesterday we saw a gritty film about sex trafficking called Trade . Surrendering to this film means watching some horrific realities about our world. Looking, listening, and receiving from the filmmakers meant paying attention to the stories of depravity and redemption they chose to tell. This film raised questions for me about the presence of God in the darkest places in our world, and encouraged me to pray for the people found in those dark places.

Another take-away from our morning sessions with Craig came from our conversations about how ministry leaders should think about the role films play in our culture. How are we to lead within a culture that is looking increasingly to films for ways to understand how the world works? For those of us in pastoral leadership this means accepting the reality that most folks in our churches watch a lot of films. Much of our tradition has been to tell people to abstain from films, to only watch films with certain ratings, or to sponsor screenings of explicitly "Christian" films.

January 25, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 27 comments


February 19, 2007  5:13pm

While I definitely agree that there are some things that Christians shouldn't view for entertainment purposes (for example: any of the Saw movies), I'm just not sure that viewing them is a sin in its own right. I think there's a subtlety that this conversation is lacking. It's not the case that we must absorb all of American culture or reject it entirely. That's how we wound up with the ridiculous, Christianized sub-culture that we have now (Christian putt-putt, Christian wrestling, Christian dance clubs, Christian everything). We've got to participate in broader culture judiciously, taking some of the bad with the good - and it's our response that matters most. For argument's sake, here's a contextless proof-text: "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" Matt. 15:10-12

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February 11, 2007  7:52pm

Corey, I don't recall reading the statement "There are some that can stand strong in the face of dipping into the sinfulness of society and use it as an evangelical tool to reach the lost and guide them into truth" - perhaps I may have missed it. But I am definitely an advocate of interacting with culture - and offering a differing perspective on what we encounter to those we have the opportunity to interact with. As far as dipping into sin goes - I assume that none of us is beyond sin - so we're all immersed to some extent or another to start. I don't advocate watching Saw2 or Victoria's Secret specials - but I also don't advocate boycotting the Davinci Code either. As someone who has stood outside the Christian community for most of his life - I can tell you that Christians aren't the City on the Hill because they abstain from certain behaviors (or watching certain movies) - the "lost" are attracted by love and the hope for something eternal - there's enough judgment to go around in our culture without the church acting above the fray. Thank God that Jesus chose to dip into a sinful world...while showing that it's possible to live in a sinful world while living for something redemptive beyond this world.

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February 06, 2007  11:35am

Several have echoed a comment above "There are some that can stand strong in the face of dipping into the sinfulness of society and use it as an evangelical tool to reach the lost and guide them into truth" and I have a thoguht or two on this sentiment. First, when does "dipping into sinfulness" become sin? Your motives do not necessarily overide the actual sin. To say "I will sin so that God may be glorified" is a contradiction. I think it takes more strength to stand at the water cooler and explain why you wouldn't see a particular movie. It is the easy road to go along with the crowd, it is much harder to stand with the few, or to stand alone. Where has my witness gone if I tell a non Christian that I spent money and time watching Saw2 just so I could understand the depths of sinfulness? Do I need to watch Victoria Secrets fashion show to discuss exploitation of women and the lustful hearts of men? Most of this thread seems to ba a cover for watching what we want to watch and rationalizing it as "evangelism research". Sorry, I don't buy it.

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William D. Kenna

February 05, 2007  10:36pm

While the Christ was condemned by His enemies as being a whoremonger, winebibber, and friend of publicans, He was in fact only the latter one. He was indeed friend to the worst of society. Why? Because they were the 'ill in need of a doctor.' And by the way, why have we been so quick to forget the fact that it was they, the sinners, that came out to Him, and not vice versa. Ultimately, it was the knowledge of and the attraction to the Messiah that changed lives, no matter where they found themselves in society or a culture. Some of these expressed opinions sure seem to turn that around. While He didn't go into them or even infer acceptance of the houses of prostitution, or the opium dens, upon receiving the truth, those that did populate them ran out to Him! Why would I, the one who now knows the truth, want to sit and fill my spirit with the opinions, thoughts, and perversions of those 'artists' who are living 'in the world, and outside of Him?' I never forget nor attempt to not put into practice, loving those in sin and bringing them into the knowledge that will set them free! Sort of makes you wonder what we Christians will support next; why not a Dove Award for 'The Davinci Code' and at least a standing ovation for that classic film, "The Last Temptation of Christ?' Well, after all, He did say that He had come to separate didn't He? It seems that He has.

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February 02, 2007  1:11pm

I'm a little dismayed by how convinced some of you are of the power of Satan. First off, Satan doesn't provide us with anything; he didn't make comic books or television, and saying those are works of the devil (on the internet, no less!) is about as sensible as saying the printing press is a work of the devil. Secondly, the power of God is greater than any temptation Satan can throw at us. (This, by the way, is not an argument for testing God by throwing ourselves into temptation.) Even if we assume that movies are gateways to sin and lies and not goodness and truth, they are at the very least expressions of a sinful world into which we must go–the same way Jesus came into this sinful world to save us. A final response: Paul's words about creation in Romans 8 suggest that all of creation, not just humans, long for redemption. I'd concur with Travis that the redemption that Christ brings is to all creation, not just people.

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January 31, 2007  9:47pm

One of my favorite recent movies is M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." Not because it was a great movie...but because it showed us that while we can sequester ourselves from evil by creating our own little worlds - we often awake to find that the evil is among us. We brought it with us when we built the walls that surround us!!! I personally love movies - probably many that some on Ur might find objectionable. If I'm honest, my motives for watching some of these movies are probably not always pure and righteous. But I also know that I love to show up to work ready to discuss the latest movie with coworkers - offering a different take on the movie - providing what I hope is interpretative leadership. Engaging these movies head on (within reason) offers an excellent opportunity to build bridges rather than walls.

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Mark Goodyear

January 31, 2007  2:04pm

Brett, I like your comments. If you just got here, go read Brett's comment.

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David Swasnson

January 31, 2007  9:16am

Thanks for the comments on my post folks. From the looks of things it seems that most of the readers believe that as Christians we should keep our distance from films (and perhaps other cultural artifacts) that are not at least somewhat "Christian." I certainly appreciate that perspective. I'm curious if there are any readers who are more sympathetic to my call for an "interpretive leadership" that necessitates a more intentional cultural engagement? Thoughts?

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January 30, 2007  11:59pm

I've never been to this site before but I must say that reading all these comments has been an encouragement that the Body of Christ (or at least a segment of it) is engaging the culture and many have discernment! Imagine that?? God asks us to use discernment when it comes to things like current films. And, when something on the screen is offensive to you, get up and leave! When we have done this, the theater operators are very understanding and give us a raincheck.

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January 30, 2007  6:00pm

I've not read all the comments, but if this is new and you think it postworthy, use it. I believe the suggestion given by the author is great for some, not for others. There are some that can stand strong in the face of dipping into the sinfulness of society and use it as an evangelical tool to reach the lost and guide them into truth. Jesus did that and He was accused of hanging with the wrong crowd. For others, the suggestion bears caution as it could be a detrimental step into temptations. We've all got our callings and there are grey areas where what is good for one, is not good for the other. It doesn't ever mean keeping our head in the sand. But the Lord knows where each individual is and what He's doing in each life at any given moment.

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