Eugene Peterson’s "Eat This Book" … and Moviegoing

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book to be a particularly inspiring meditation on our need to read, taste, chew, and digest the Bible.And along the way, I am thunderstruck by how often the points Peterson is making about how we should read scripture run parallel what I’ve tried to convey about how we should attend to art.

I’ve just read a section on the power and essentiality of storytelling. (p. 40)

Check this out:

Honest stories respect our freedom; they don’t manipulate us, don’t force us, don’t distract us from life.

Great. Reminds me of the way I recognize a great movie.

And then he says:

Not all stories, of course, are honest. There are sentimentalizing stories that seduce us into escaping from life; there are propagandistic stories that attempt to enlist us in a cause or bully us into a stereotyped response; there are trivializing stories that represent life as merely cute or diverting.

Wow. He just said in one paragraph what I took pages to explore in my examination of different kinds of “dishonest” filmmaking.

Then he says:

The Christian life requires a form adequate to its content, a form that is at home in the Christian revelation and that respects each person’s dignity and freedom with plenty of room for all our quirks and particularities.

There’s a whole discussion waiting to happen, just from that quote. “A form adequate to its content.” He’s talking about the Christian life, but let me tell you… if more Christian artists came to understand that the form of their work is as important as the content, we would have a new rennaissance of artmaking.
I don’t know how many times I’ve received emails in which someone has protested my critique of a mediocre “Christian movie” or “Christian music” saying, “But Jeff, your focus is in the wrong place. It doesn’t matter how good the art is so long as the message is good.” Wrong. If we package the message in mediocrity, we show it disrespect, and worse, we make it unappealing to those we would desire as an audience.

The form and structure of the Bible is awe-inspiring. The forms and structure of God’s creation… from the ocean to the human body to a hummingbird… are awe-inspiring, excellent, beautiful, and meaningful. In the same way, great art lasts and speaks to us because of its excellence. And there is no art more lasting and powerful than great art inspired by, and reflecting back, God’s Word. In fact, the meaning of great art and the excellence of great art are inseparable. They are very much the same thing.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.