Fiction, Film, and Christian Spirituality

That’s the topic of our gathering next month, when I meet with nine of my favorite people in the world — the students in my D.Min. cohort at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m co-teaching with my seminary classmate and long-time friend, Craig Detweiler, and thanks to him, we’re meeting on the stunningly beautiful campus of Pepperdine University.

We’ve got 10 topics, and each topic includes a novel (with one exception) and a film. Novels and films were nominated by the students, then Craig and I made the final list. Each student is presenting a paper on one topic, and a response to a classmate on another topic. Plus, we’ve got guest speakers, field trips, and more lined up.

Here’s the list:

Topic Novel Film
Does God Exist? The Brothers Karamazov God on Trial
The Slippery Nature of Narrative The Things They Carried Memento
Sacred Texts After the Apocalypse A Canticle for Leibowitz The Book of Eli
The Nature of Reality Simulacra and Simulation The Matrix
Aren’t Evangelicals Funny? Post-Rapture Radio Saved
Interfaith dialogue Life of Pi Life of Pi
The Problem of Evil Heart of Darkness Apocalypse Now
Ascetics and Aesthetics Chocolat Chocolat (2000)
Revisionism and “Truth” Unholy Night The Last Temptation of Christ
Social Justice Cry, the Beloved Country Cry, the Beloved Country (1951)

Some of you have asked when the next cohort will be offered — the answer is 2015.

So, what do you think of theses combos of books and films? 

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  • First, I love me some Craig Detweiler. While I was at Fuller I went to Sundance with him and Rob Johnston. Second, I love this premise. I led a church small group where we did film, but did not add novels to it. Learning to (re)integrate story into the Church is such an important matter. If we can’t enjoy the mystery of story, I think we begin to lose the mystery of faith.

  • Chocolat is also good, I think, on the problem of sin and evil. Every character has their own personal expression of sin, especially if we understand sin as breaking of shalom and undermining of community. Even the main character, Vianne, who is often perceived as the one bringing in a freeing presence is guilty of being flighty and abandoning a context. Her daughter suffers because of it. Every character, then, but one finds a redemptive transformation in the context of the same community they were expressing a repressive identity.

    I took Rob Johnston for ST2 (Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology) about 12 years ago and he taught the class very similar to this, books and movies were a key element of discussion and theological insight.

    I didn’t learn very much about the core subjects, but it was one of those courses that continues to resonate in my life. Should be a very invigorating discussion with all involved in the cohort!

  • davehuth

    Pairing Tim O’Brien with ‘Memento’ is brilliant.

  • That’s GOLD, Jerry! Pure, gold! That is a lot of material to launch into anything. Apart from the books and film, the the topics are a mouthful.

  • Scott Paeth

    Some good selections, but I’d put “God On Trial” under “The Problem of Evil” rather than “God’s Existence,” since the movie essentially takes for granted the existence of a god to put on Trial (despite some skeptical prisoners).

    Also, “Simulacra and Simulation” isn’t a novel (though a very good and challenging book). I’d put “Snowcrash” in that spot.

    • Scott, I tried reading Snowcrash last year. It seemed too outdated, and I quit.

      • Scott Paeth

        You might try “Read Player One,” think you’ll like it.