I think conservative Christians regularly misunderstand the root issues in many unbelievers’ lives and minds. We write them off as BAD. Or SELFISH. Or PRIDEFUL. And then we approach them from that stance. “Bad, selfish, and prideful secular culture, hear me tell you about Jesus.” Maybe that worked in modernism. Didn’t work well with post-modernism. And I sure don’t think it will work well with whatever post-post-modernism we find ourselves in now. But people do need to understand their problem, right? Until any of us have honestly faced our root problem, we won’t understand the solution God offers. Enter James Harleman, author of Cinemagogue.
During my five years helping with (leading?) women’s ministry at a megachurch in Seattle, probably the most beneficial positive thing I took away from it was my interactions with James and his Film and Theology lectures. I came from a Christian background whose main answer to secular culture was simply that it was wrong. But as I explored culture on my own, I noted that it often reflected the very longings I had, for good or bad. I had simplistic, inadequate answers for how to think through movies and music in particular. James was helpful to me with strategies for decoding culture, figuring out what reflected God and what was a distortion of Him and His plans. God is the ultimate Author. He wrote the first story, the story that gave the framework for all other stories. James reminded me that all stories we tell are subsets of God’s larger one—sometimes accurate and sometimes not. From there, I gained perspective of my current secular culture whose understanding of themselves is often reflected in the stories they write, songs they sing, and movies they watch.
James’ book is the work of bonafied movie geek. I love the subtitle of the book – “reclaiming entertainment and navigating narrative for the myths and mirrors they were meant to be.” It’s a quirky, entertaining dissertation on understanding all stories for what they reflect (or don’t reflect) about the one true story. James includes a bit of his own story in it too, which is interesting and adds to the point of the ideas he discusses.
In the book, James discusses handling objectionable elements. Years ago, I got to lead a discussion at church on chaos theory in The Matrix Revolutions. He and I disagreed about cutting out one scene in the movie (I was for cutting, he against). I found his thoughts on objectionable elements thought-provoking, though we disagreed. I still find his thoughts on that topic compelling. It makes me think, and that’s always a good thing.
If you are interested in decoding your culture so that your communication with them comes from a place of knowledge, not assumption, I highly recommend this book.
I have two copies of Cinemagogue to send to readers. If you’d like a copy, comment below. Be sure to choose to receive the follow up comments for this post so that I will have a way to let you know if you won. I had several people not respond when they won both Significant Work and The Gospel-Centered Woman. I’ll post the names of the winners on Monday.