Useful Questions When Approaching Literature, Films, Etc.

Andy Naselli —  May 30, 2012 — 1 Comment

Grant Horner, “Glorifying God in Literary and Artistic Culture,” in Think Biblically! Recovering a Christian Worldview (ed. John MacArthur; Wheaton: Crossway, 2003):

If Christians attempt to approach culture—literature, film, the arts and philosophies of humanity—from a human, cultural standpoint, they will be acting in disobedience to God. (p. 315)

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Some Useful Questions

There are several core areas that must be considered when attempting to approach cultural artifacts from a biblical perspective:

  • What is the apparent moral stance of the work in question? Is good represented as good, and evil as evil? Are these categories blurred or even reversed? Is there a sense of justice involved at any level? Is man represented as good, evil, or neither?
  • What is the apparent worldview of the author? Is there a God in the universe whom the work represents, and what kind of God is He (or he/she/it)? Is the universe a place of free will or fatalistic determinism? Does good or evil win in the end? Is life meaningful or meaningless, random or purposeful? Is the universe a place that makes sense and is going somewhere, or not?
  • What can be accepted—i.e., what is true? What parts of this representation agree with the biblical revelation, and to what degree?
  • What must be rejected as untrue? What is against biblical revelation, and to what degree?
  • Should one retreat from or participate in culture, and to what extent? How can a person glorify God throughout his/her experience with this cultural artifact?

The rest of the questions are more directly personal and practical:

  • Can participation in this cultural artifact be used for God’s glory? Is it possible and likely that participation (watching the movie, reading the book) will glorify God through obedience? Is it edifying?
  • Will participation be detrimental to one’s spiritual life? Will this lead to a person’s becoming desensitized to sin and the desperate plight of lost people? Will one buy into the worldly philosophies that may be presented positively or negatively?
  • Is this a personal problem area? Has the person had past struggles in any of these areas (e.g., the negative portrayal of an affair in a novel like Madame Bovary, or the positive depiction of materialistic atheism in a contemporary movie)? Could one find any of the material presented alluring or enticing in a sinful way? If so, should the person risk his/her mental purity, using his/her freedom in Christ as a rationalization? Is the person’s conscience uncomfortable about participating in the activity?
  • Has the person’s obedience been compromised to a point that he/she doesn’t recognize this as a problem area? What is the person’s motivation? Is there a wholehearted desire to glorify God by discerning obedience, or is the person being fooled into thinking that sin is not sin or that temptation is not temptation? Is there an understanding of a truly biblical anthropology? (pp. 319–320)

Related: Grant Horner, Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

One response to Useful Questions When Approaching Literature, Films, Etc.

  1. Jessica Matzko May 30, 2012 at 7:14 am

    I’m grateful that Christians are attempting to evaluate movies and books on their own and that the market provides tools to encourage critical and Biblical thinking. Too often, it seems like Christians let a MPAA Ratings Chief do that work for them!

    Nevertheless, I feel like the philosophical trajectory and intellectual assumptions shaping the questions above are deficient. For example, the first question seems to be shaped by reductive and simplistic ideas about the depravity of man. I’d much rather that first question say:

    “What is the apparent moral stance of the work in question? Is good represented as [God represents it], and evil as [God represents it]? [If not, why not?] Are these categories blurred? [What makes evil and good difficult to distinguish in the world portrayed in this book or movie?] Is there a sense of justice involved at any level? [If not, is there a hope or a longing for it?] Is man represented as good, evil, neither, [or both]? Are good men portrayed as independently or inherently good? Are evil men portrayed as independently or inherently evil? How do those portrayals complement or contrast doctrinal truth?”

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