Friday, July 16, 2010

On the "Older Forms of Christian Expression" That Don't Work Anymore

BJU's working on a new feature film:
[Unusual Films'] primary mission is to produce high-quality films that clearly present the Christian message.

"In many cases, older forms of Christian expression aren't as effective any more," Lawson says. "[Unusual Films'] primary mission is to produce high-quality films that clearly present the Christian message. [With film,] we're able to get a message out to a much wider audience than we would be able to in Greenville, South Carolina."
Newspapers misquote and quote out of context. We all know that. Or maybe Lawson was talking about "older forms" like John W. Peterson cantatas. But I'm just going to go out on a limb and suggest ever so timidly that God has pretty well laid out in the text of Scripture all the forms of Christian expression we really need.

Read the Bible. Sing the Bible. Pray the Bible. Preach the Bible. Observe the Lord's Supper and believer's baptism.

Or have we concocted better ways to vanquish idolatry and depravity from human hearts?


Darren Lawson said...

Perhaps you should check with the source before speculating.

ben said...

Speculating. You were offended by the John W. Peterson line?

So are you implying that you didn't say what was reported? Or that you were referring to something other than cantatas?

Frankly, your answers to those questions are far less significant to me than the question I actually DID ask.

d4v34x said...

Contatas have been around for hundreds of years. Used to (and could still) be a great way to "sing the Word".

Since brother Lawson has dropped by, I would be eager to hear any correction or explanation of what he must admit is, on its own, a controversial statement. I want to believe and hope . . .

To a larger point though, Ben, and one we've discussed a bit now and then- just how ought Christian people of an artistic bent approach their medium?

Let's say Christianity produced a poet on the level of Eliot, whose verse (assuming he was truly converted) doesn't tend to leave on thinking, wow that points directly to the Gospel of Christ.

What would conservative Christianity do with such an one today? Order him to write hymns?

Christianity ought to produce artists. But what arena will or ought we allow them?

Greg said...

Hey Ben, I don't have the theological training that you (and maybe many of your readers) do, so forgive me if I'm missing something.

Even if the quote is accurate and not twisted out of context, what's wrong with it? You don't directly say that his statement is wrong, but it sounds like you're implying that it might be. Would you disagree that some older forms of expression aren't as effective? I have to say that in the case of music, my church is going to be less effective if we sing hymns from the 1500's, even if the words are sound, than we are with more contemporary music that also has sound theology. Isn't that what he's saying, just applied to film rather than music? You disagree?

You say "sing the Bible", but do you think this guy disagrees with that? He's talking about FORMS of expression, not content.

What am I missing?

Greg said...

And I understand that your final question was the ultimate point. But I still don't get the lead-in.

Bill said...

Speculation, especially when verification is so easy, seems to be the wrong approach, and not the Christian approach.

When referencing a "form of expression," it'd be more logical to assume, if assuming is what's to be done, that one is talking about either communication or art, not a form of worship, surely. I don't believe Darren is equating film making to prayer or Bible reading in any way.

But it is a modern, accessible communication art form.

Though certainly not art, blogging, too, is a modern communication form. Perhaps you should renounce that?


Joel said...

I'm interested in the question of whether Unusual Films has ever produced anything quality, or ever will.

ben said...


Those are worthwhile questions to ask. Though I have instincts, I'm not one to think that my instincts are worth proposing as foundations.

Nevertheless, I'm confident of this: We're not likely to be led to sound answers by folks who think that schlocky dramas have a place in church gatherings. And I'm not sure it'll be profitable to try to answer that question until we agree that we have no essential need to add forms to the biblical forms.

ben said...

P.S. Dave, remind me sometime to tell you the story of a pastor friend who told a BJU marketer that he had no interest whatsoever in replacing a morning sermon with an itinerant drama team presentation, and wound up with his church erased from the master authorized recommendation list.

ben said...


So let's assume that the quote was accurate, in context. It begs the question of what older forms he's thinking of. The older forms could merely refer to older methods of or approaches to movie-making. That's possible, and if it's what he meant, it's fairly benign, depending on whether you concede 1) that movies are valid media for Christian expression in the first place, and 2) that the new methods that someone (Hollywood or BJU or whoever) has developed are genuinely more effective for communicating Christian truth. I see both of those as open questions—matters that I've seen more rigorously addressed publicly by those who would have substantial concerns than those who are producing Christian movies.

It's also possible he could be referring to things like preaching, which would obviously be highly problematic. And there's a whole range of forms that might lie somewhere in the middle.

ben said...

Bill, Lawson's welcome to clarify whenever he wants, if he thinks the paper got it wrong. Or if he thinks he got it wrong. I've seen BJU get the facts wrong publicly, and I've seen media get the facts wrong about BJU. So neither would surprise me.

Additionally, I'd happily publish a guest post from him defending the whole genre of Christian movies, or merely the BJU approach. Whatever he'd like.

In any case, I'm gladly wager that I stop blogging before BJU stops injecting movies and dramas into church services.

d4v34x said...

If you mean we as in you and I, I gladly stipulate we need no more than what's prescribed. If you mean a bigger we, I think we have to answer those questions before we get that agreement. There might be some kids who need those answers.

Bill said...

Oh, phooey, I thought you had real concerns, or I’d not bothered posting. I didn’t realize you had an agenda.

When did it become the Christian thing to blast someone publicly without checking to make sure you have the facts? And didn’t Darren ask you to do that in his post? Instead you’d rather assume and speculate - that’s what one does if he isn’t really concerned with truth.

There is a complete logical disconnect between your embracing blogging to blast new forms of communication. So, I’m not sure what your wager is worth - there’s no philosophical point to make. Your fight is with yourself, I believe.

And please, please, remove the C.S. Lewis quote from your page. I’m sure you can’t approve of Christian Sci-Fi, can you?

Anonymous said...

Ben, maybe you can have some kind of contest for the new quote on your blog. Well, that is if you cater to demands people make on you.

Can you bring back the quote contest?

Shayne McAllister said...

I'm happy to allow that older forms of expression don't work any more, and that this new movie could be helpful to in some way further a conversation about the Christian message. I agree with ben's point that the preached and proclaimed word is the main way we should strive to proclaim the word, but that doesn't mean a good movie couldn't help the conversation (as did "The Blind Side" or "The Village" in my interaction with non-Christians). I don't think BJU would say that a movie such as this be shown instead of a morning service, it may have a place.

Normally I agree with Ben's criticism of fundamentalist culture. This time I think you're overreacting brother (ministry drama teams excepted).

(BTW> GO THOMAS SNEED! He lived across the hall from me for a year, had no idea he was an actor let alone playing the main character).

ben said...


The first step towards what you want is establishing what's essential and what's not. If the kids or their parents or whoever don't get that point, the mess only gets worse.

ben said...

Shayne, you're making a significant assumption in your comment—that the medium of movies is a compatible with the Christian message. I'm not arguing that it blanket isn't, but that the question hasn't been thoughtfully answered. That's not to say it's impossible that those two movies were helpful in individual settings—say, on a micro level. I'm suggesting that we haven't established that movies don't undermine the Christian message on a macro level.

ben said...

Now, to my larger point, Sharperiron strengthened my point with a timely post about how a church is trying to use movies to effect conversions.

Some quotes are telling. I'll make my point and then you can read them. This church is saying the same thing Lawson did: More people will watch movies than will pay attention to other communication forms, and they'll be affected by movies than by these older forms.

Now, I believe there's a fundamental theological problem with the argument that movies can reach people's souls because they're a medium that "moves people." And I think I'm not the only one. What Unusual Films believes about that, I still don't know. At this point I have no reason to believe it's not what follows:

"Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible."

"Cinematography can tell a message that moves people, and brings them into conversation with believers."

"And every ending is on an up note: Once characters start to peacefully, prayerfully trust God in adversity as well as success, all their prayers are answered. They win the big game, pay off the bank, have the long-wanted baby, reconcile with loved ones."

"Remember, John Wayne only died in two movies. Movies are an escape. They offer hope. And Sherwood is stepping up to claim that the only hope that matters is Christian," Catt says. Sherwood's motto, emblazoned in the entryway of the church, is "Whoever wants the next generation the most will get them."

ben said...

Whoops, linked directly to the article, not SI. Here's their posting, as an HT.

d4v34x said...

"Once characters start to peacefully, prayerfully trust God in adversity as well as success, all their prayers are answered. They win the big game, pay off the bank, have the long-wanted baby, reconcile with loved ones."

This is my problem with written Christian fiction as well-- essentially that God exists to give me whatever we want, but we've got to follow his "formula" to get it."

Also, I'm pretty sure JW died in at least three movies.

ben said...

I'm pretty sure you're right. Plus there are a couple movies (I think one of them is "True Grit") where his character is portrayed as dead (maybe in a flashback), though JW isn't actually shown dying.

Don't ask me how I know that.

Shayne McAllister said...

Let's just say I've had meaningful conversations about Christ regarding "The Book of Eli" (BTW, it's a Bible!) God can use all kinds of movies, and so can Satan. . . and sometimes the same movies. That's not to say that we should let movies preach to us without a scriptural filter. This is what I said.

"(The new movie) could be helpful to in some way further a conversation about the Christian message."

Is it the best way to do that? Are there more effective means? It's not really the question. Was Dr. Lawson speaking of preaching when he talked about older forms of expression? No way.

Art and storytelling are powerful tools. Christian expression is kind of a vauge term in my mind. It's Christians expressing. It's not obvious to me that Christian expression always has to directly contain the gospel, just like not everything you say to your neighbors is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It's still true that you are expressing whatever it is your expressing uniquely as a Christian. Your Christianity effects all of life I hope, so why can't it effect your movie-making life?

Again I think you're overreaching and assuming definitions of terms that most people wouldn't assume.

ben said...

Shane, I'm not arguing with your first paragraph. I'm not suggesting that movies can't create opportunities for evangelism. I'm suggesting that the folks who tell us movies are a great tool for communicating Christian messages haven't proven their point just because they can insert the gospel into the medium and jerk some hearts around.

I mean, bad preaching can do that. Doesn't make it right.

And I'm certainly arguing that folks who've propagated revivalistic and moralistic manipulation in the forms of preaching and drama and movies aren't the sort of folks I tend to trust when they start talking about newer and better forms.

Let's just say it sounds familiar.

Todd Wood said...

In today's post at Desiring God, highlighting an Idahoan, we see someone else thinking about movies.

Eric said...

Some interesting thoughts here. I know where I stand on drama and films as part of a worship service, but I'm not sure that speaks to their appropriateness or usefulness in general.

You said: "What Unusual Films believes about that, I still don't know." So, you contacted them and they refused comment? Odd.

Have you actually emailed or called Lawson? (BTW, I just looked up his email at the BJU site - took me less than 10 seconds to find.) I'm sure you could add some actual substance and information to the conversation if you cared to take the time.

Just a thought. :)

Proverbs 18:13

Anonymous said...

What would Lawson say about using hip-hop songs in service? Maybe he's planning on starting a new rap label.