Philippians 4:8 and Evaluating Art

Jollyblogger struggles with Alan’s view of what makes a good film.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://jollyblogger.typepad.com David Wayne

    Yeah, although it’s not much of a struggle – I think I’m in total agreement with Alan. I’m just trying to consider other factors and alternative points of view. I came from a tradition that heavily relied on Ted Baehr-style guides so I’m sensitive to the concerns, but I do find them to simplistic.

  • Rich Clark

    It’s funny that issue of whether a film should be redemptive is one sticking point for many friends of mine. Many of my seminary friends write off some incredible films simply because they’re not redemptive.

    A good example of this is the review by my president of “Kite Runner,” which he basically liked, but for some reason had this to say at the end:

    In the end, The Kite Runner is a fascinating and deeply moving story of betrayal and rescue. Missing from the story is the promise of redemption, and that is why the film ends with a most unsatisfying absence of resolution. Where there is no redemption, there is no real sense of hope. There is no “way to be good again” — only a way to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

  • Rich Clark

    Read the rest here.

  • Alan Noble

    I’d love to write a blog/article/book about the way the very absence of redemptive themes evokes an incredible desire for redemption. The basic logic would go something like:

    1. All people inherently have a hope for the future and a knowledge of their need for redemption (Ref: Romans 1, and Peter Berger).
    2. The absence of an essential quality in a work can cause the viewer/reader to become more aware of their desire for that quality, or the “rightness” of it. (binaries)
    3. Therefore, works which lack clear resolution or hope can actually cause the reader/viewer to become more aware of their tremendous need for redemption/hope/justice.

    My thesis was sort of based on this idea, to some extent at least, with Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    I think you’re right, Alan. At the very least (though I think they can be much more than this), a movie that does not necessarily portray redemption can be a sort of, “cautionary tale,” which every mother in America knows the value of. You look at someone who has come to undesirable ends, and you say, “Their story has value because it teaches us to look elsewhere.” Why is it that so many Christian leaders have a hard time seeing that in film? After all, if “There Will Be Blood” portrayed the main character as recieving all kinds of joy and happiness and fulfillment later in life because of his immoral choices throughout the movie, we as Christians would have a very different reaction than we do to the movie as it stands.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    And then there are those of us who see the value to be had in a story that simply portrays characters rather than offer themes such as redemption and depravity. I would have thought as highly (or perhaps more highly) about There Will Be Blood if it hadn’t gone after what I felt was a stilted ending and would have simply left Daniel Plainview at the top of his game and in a place of conflict.

    But then I don’t need my themes spoonfed to me.

    Perhaps the best romance film of all time, Before Sunrise (or debatably its sequel, Before Sunset), does not both either themes of redemption or depravity. If there are any themes to pick out, we might lean toward the theme of humanness or romance. But more than anything, the movie is a study of character and communication.

    I don’t think the film would fair well with Movieguide despite there being much objectionable content, it doesn’t feel the need to foist an unnecessary concept onto the story. And again, it might not fair well with some of the CAPC contributers either—for there does seem to be a need amongst some members of CAPC to justify a film, to pick out redemptive values, in order for it to be a worthwhile experience.

  • http://www.thewonderingpundit.wordpress.com The Pundit

    Good comments, The Dane.

    Sometimes I wonder why most Christians won’t let me just watch a movie without having to “redeem” that wasted time by finding Jesus hidden in the shadows somewhere.

    Which one is he in The Big Lebowski again?

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    He was the white Russian.

  • http://www.thewonderingpundit.wordpress.com The Pundit

    Or, Jesus in TBL is “Jesus” (you know, the guy who “nobody effs with”).

    ‘Course, he was a registered sex offender. With a record.

  • http://jollyblogger.typepad.com David Wayne

    I’m so glad I met you guys – for a recovering fundie like me it’s very refreshing conversation. And hello to the Dane – glad to see you are alive and kicking.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Likewise David! Though I don’t kick around on the web as much as I used to, I’m still alive and occasional. Hope you’re doing well and still jolly!

  • HPoD

    Alright, so I’m commenting here because I am a former student of David’s. I’m not sure whether my education was during his “fundie” period or not, but I guess it doesn’t matter. First off, I’m a student of arts and theatre, so my education is purely in the secular debates on the evalation of art quite a few times, in quite a few ways. From reading Both Noble’s “Should We Trust the Critics” article, and now these repsonses, I just felt compelled to share some things.
    It is not that I feel that God does not have a hand in all things, and that he does not sustain very existence, but I believe on another level that he left the arts to our purview– indeed, it seems that God doesn’t exactly create what we look at as “Art” on a regular basis. He may have given the Coen Brother’s their minds, souls, opportunities in life, and whatever else, but I don’t see His named stamped across “No Country for Old Men”– or Ratatouie for that matter… Therefore, I think that we first should ask ourselves– what is a critic? Simply, it is a person who gives an opinion, and who is hopefully informed in the discipline of opinion. Given that, I look at the question, “Should we trust secular critics?” Well, I personally think that’s a bad question.
    What are we talking about when we ask, “Should we trust secular critics?” Are we asking if we should trust their judgement on the entertainment value of the movie for the general public, or even a selected public? I think not. That would assume that their was a question in their abilities to perform that function simply by being secular– a bad logical premise for anyone, including Christians. Secondly, are we asking ourselves, “Do I trust a secular critic to disapprove of a movie that does not subscribe to Christian values? Or trust him to even provide a review of a movie saying that he felt it good because it subscribe to values that were secular?” I think in both cases, again, it is a less than reasonable question. By denoting a critic as “secular” it seems assumed that he is not going to take Christianity into account in his critique, and certainly not provide a moral judgement on the work.
    If we really look at the question I think we are really asking ourselves, “Is it prudent, for my walk with God as a Christian, to trust the judgement of a secular critic on a piece of artwork and whether I should take part in it or not?” (I use “take part” to try and encompass all artforms. Currently, it looks like we’re discussing film, but back in the day people had problems with nude statues, so…)
    I think the answer to the question above is the answer to the basic question of trust– it is a result of personal judgement. If you only wish to take part in arts that reflect your belief system, then you had best only trust critics that are of a personally acceptable distance to your belief system. Common sense dictates this.
    However, I think the question carries deeper weight. I think this question provides us with a sense of, “Should we be agreeing with the secular critic, or with secular representations of art at all?”
    I don’t know what all the Bible says about how a man should live in this world. I know that we have to go forth and be disciples. I know that we have to be in the world not of it. I know that we should not sit in the seat of mockers. I know that Jesus chose his followers, and even friends, from the dregs of society.
    By taking part in art (yes, even the low arts– even the greeks had their body humor comedies), are we as Christians joining in that which does not glorify God? Or should we, in fact, be well aware and educated with what passes through the minds of our culture? Does that exposure actually help us connect with our society, the very people we’re supposed to disciple to? I guess we could wait for God to break the ice and let us speak in tongues about the next sitcom we haven’t seen, but honestly that doesn’t look like it works too often– and I don’t think God is THAT picky about who walks into the Gates of Heaven.
    Sorry for the rambling. I just feel that this question begs much bigger issues, some really big questions about discipleship, our Christian walk, and even the Godly wisdom given to us about trusting people, Christian and non-Christian alike.
    To end– Do we choose to trust (or not trust) the critic because he or his art are “secular” and not “Christian” enough?


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