Wednesday Web Link – Movies and Cultural Engagement

Wednesday Web Link – Movies and Cultural Engagement


The Wednesday Web Link is our weekly feature on an article from the whole internets that is not only movie related, but a movie related article that makes you think deeper about the movies and TV you are watching.  If you have an awesome article to share that plumbs the depths of movies, TV shows, and the stories we watch, let us know on Twitter at @reelworldtheo or like the Reel World Theology Facebook page or email Josh at and the article could end up here!


Reel World Theology’s main mission is to keep our minds and hearts engaged when we view entertainment and to redeem what we watch on the big and small screen.  We want to be able to see how the stories we hear and see reflect the character of God and how that images His creation, which includes us and the world around us.

Not only that, we watch a lot of movies here, so we also desire to commend good movies, good film making, and good storytelling.  You will notice that the most enduring stories of our culture, movies like The Godfather and Star Wars and TV like M*A*S*H and the Simpsons,  is not just because of the stories they tell (although that is important) but the craft of the movie or TV show is better than anything else like it.  If we are truly committed to telling a good story, the craft and finished product needs to be just as good or better.  Part of our responsibility at Reel World Theology is to talk about film craft, acting, writing, production, etc.  It is not just to dissect, analyze, and expound on the deeper theological messages of movies and TV (however, it is our MAIN mission here).

All that being said, this week’s Wednesday Web Link is an article that addresses some of these aspects of how we approach cultural engagement (A word I join these articles in not really liking) and how it relates to movies and TV.  The original article comes from Mockingbird, a great website connecting the Christian faith with the realities if everyday life, talking about cultural engagement and how that is a terrible solution to previous generations of Christians who isolated themselves from popular culture.


“Christianity’s insights about life, the world and, therefore, culture, are unique and irreplaceable. And there are real distinctions – the wheat and weeds are two separate plants – but we critics could do to pray less for our distinction-making abilities, and more for our humility. Pray to take ourselves less seriously and keep laughing at South Park, keep trusting that the people who write novels, screenplays, and the like are in their position because they have insights that we don’t. Pray that God can deconstruct our control obsessions enough to quit ravaging the field for weeds, and rest up a bit. If Christianity’s about anything, it’s about our need for a word outside us, beyond us.”


Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today’s main film critic, read the article and added her own reflections on the difficulty of reviewing movies as a Christian and from the distinctly Christian perspective.  She touches on what I was referring to above.


“[A]s a critic and an editor, I am increasingly committed here at CT Movies to trying to not just look for truths in the movies and TV we watch, but also treat them as movies and TV, treat their creators as intelligent world-builders with particular contexts and aesthetic visions, and treat readers as the intelligent, thoughtful Christians they are.”


Think about recent movies Gone Girl and Left Behind.  Both have messages and both are movies that have actors, a script, cameras, production, special effects, etc.  What makes one movie bad and makes the other movie awful (we don’t have to debate which movie fits into which category)? One had a great director with a unique vision and great story, while the other lacked those things.  It’s not necessarily because the individual stories and messages of those movies are not worth listening to, but it is how they are presented and executed that make a movie iconic or destined for the trash bin.  Reel World Theology wants to look deeper at the truths in the movies we watch, but also to examine if the movies for their nuts-and-bolts cinematic qualities.

So what do you think?  Keep the discussion going and help us to only get better at this and hone our craft as reviewers.



As you might see in the comments section, Reel World Theology podcast contributor Wade Bearden helpfully shared a follow up to these two articles written by Josh Larsen over at Think Christian.  Larsen states:


“In a broad sense, I agree with what both of these folks have to say. Certainly, as McDavid suggests, Christians are needed as critics outside of our Christian subculture. (I’m grateful to have other outlets where I can do that.) And Wilkinson’s call to focus on form is one way our Christian criticism can avoid the dreaded, pop culture Jesus juke. Yet I wonder: if we allow these perspectives to be our guiding directives as Christian critics, might we be giving up what makes us distinctive?”


Read the whole article as it is a good thought and very helpful addition to the conversation.

I share Larsen’s semi-anxiety or pause to immediately throwing the parking brake on the vehicle of analyzing movies, TV, and culture from a distinctly Christian perspective.  However, I felt like both articles brought it up but cautiously did what Larsen purports in his article and embraces what we do while being true to the direction, vision, and substance of these cultural artifacts.  Reviewing movies from a distinctly Christian point of view is not strip mining a movie for truths at the expense of what makes it a movie, all three articles point this out, and I agree that analyzing from a Christian perspective is tricky.  Therefore, to extend the artifact metaphor, as reviewers and members of Christ’s body we must delicately chisel out the narratives and messages of movies and find God’s truth while being careful to avoid damaging the site we are doing the excavating, aka the movie, documentary, TV show, etc.

What I did agree with McDavid (Mockingbird author) and Wilkinson on is the use of the phrase, “cultural engagement.”  It might be nit-picking (not might, it is), but the term connotes ideas that Christians are somehow separate from the culture at large and we enter in to culture from a separate sphere.  I find this to be fundamentally false and a big reason why, as a church planter, I hate the term, “reach people”, as if somehow we are on the good side and everyone else who is not a part of a church is on the bad side and we have to reach over the wall to evangelize, serve, etc..  I will save the lengthy exposition of why I think that, but to say that we live in this world in order to be a part of this world for a higher purpose.  Everything we do can be done for God’s glory, including watching and talking about movies.

What other term could we use?  Well, I have ideas on the church side, but my ideas on the movie and TV side are less formed.  I like Fizz’s conviction to keep our minds turned on, so it might be “cultural cognizance”?  Not sold on it, but let us know your thoughts.


I just did a double take and my head exploded when I realized you were referring to Josh Larsen from FIlmspotting! That…is…awesome! I had no idea he was writing at Think Christian. Again, thanks for sharing Wade!

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