Cinemagogue by James Harleman

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.

57 Responses to Cinemagogue by James Harleman

  1. Lucy February 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    You had me at “movie geek!” 🙂

  2. Lucy February 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Wendy E February 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    This is an ongoing topic of conversation with my young adult children. We would LOVE to have a copy to guide more discussions. Sounds great!

  4. als February 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I would love to read this!!!

  5. Rohmeo February 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Good stuff. This would be perfect for a skeptical Christian I work with who I recently got Prodigal God by Keller to read plus he knows every line to every movie ever. I would of course read it first before I pass it on because I've heard some of Harleman's reviews over the years & love his engagement of culture from a biblical context.

  6. Milika February 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Sounds edifying.
    I'll be finding a copy after the next round of exams.

  7. Unknown February 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Looking forward to reading this. It will be great to share with our teenage daughter who is in the acting industry and our 3 other teenage and preteen kids.

  8. Stephanie February 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Would love to check this book out!

  9. February 2, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    This sounds so good! Thanks for posting on it. My husband loves film and frequently hosts movie nights to discuss Christology and film. He will definitely be interested in this.

  10. Lyndy February 2, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Thanks for doing a giveaway, sounds like a great book.

  11. Natalie February 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    I really enjoy your blog, and as a movie geek married to a super movie geek, this book sounds like something we both need.

  12. geekgirlsc February 2, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Did you want to cut out the scene due to “coarse jesting”? 😉

  13. Wendy February 2, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Who ARE you, GeekgirlSC?! You know me, don't you. 😉

    No, not course jesting. Just sex.

  14. Laura February 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Thanks for this giveaway!

  15. Hannah Thomas February 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Sounds like an interesting book!

  16. Rosalie February 2, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    I would read it and so would my husband!

  17. Cinemagogue February 3, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Thanks for the sincere review, Wendy… not just on the book, but our intersection in ministry together. Good times. Received a few encouragements like this recently and I'm not ashamed to admit it makes me tear up with joy.

    Wait. Guy stereotype kicking in… I totally didn't cry! Someone must have been cutting an onion nearby. Or it was dusty. My eyes were sweaty. Yeah, that's it.

    Whew. That was close.

  18. mamaluke February 3, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    Sounds like a good book. I'd be up for a read. Thanks for the review.

  19. Liv February 3, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    I am so interested in movies I frequently tell myself I should be writing them, so I really hope to read this book. It doesn't seem to be available in Sweden, though..

  20. Rachael Starke February 3, 2013 at 2:13 am #

    This looks fascinating. Sign me up.

    Wish I'd been there for that discussion on obectionable material. I've already had some good discussions with my eleven year old about the difference between depiction to discourage/warn, and depiction to encourage/entice. Then there's the whole visual (movies) vs. verbal (books) issue….

  21. Dan February 3, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    I have benefited from James Harleman's views on movies. I would love a copy of this book.

    By the way, I also your views on complentarianism. I often benefit greatly.

  22. Paula February 3, 2013 at 2:53 am #

    I would love a copy of this book!

  23. Sara February 3, 2013 at 3:15 am #

    I would love to win this book! Thanks for consistently good posting. sincerely,

  24. Wendy February 3, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    I have been remiss in not posting James' website as well. Be sure to check out regularly for reviews.

  25. Kelsey February 3, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    This sounds like a practical, helpful book. I'd love to read it!

  26. Emily February 3, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    I would love to read this too! =)

  27. Ruth in NZ February 3, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    Hi there, I really enjoy reading your posts as they seem to intersect my own thinking so often. I was just discussing with someone the other day the need we have as a church to stop just saying, “No, that's bad.” and start discipling people to recognise the world views and “truth and lies” of the stories out there. I then went on to say that I didn't feel like I was equipped to do that myself, let alone encourage others too. This book sounds like a good starting place.

  28. Pigwotflies February 3, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    I'm intrigued, sounds like a good book.

  29. Addy February 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Sounds like a book both my husband and I would enjoy digging into!

  30. beckyg February 3, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    As a bonafide movie geek myself, I would LOVE a copy of this book!

  31. Eric February 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    I would love to win this book!

  32. Laurie P February 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    This is a topic I have great interest in learning more about. I have pre-teen children in the public school for whom this topic is very relevant. Thanks so much for letting us know about this book!

  33. Haley Olson February 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    This sounds so intriguing! I would love to dig into this book.

  34. HC February 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    I'd love to read this too! I want to be able to talk to teens from a place of knowledge, not assumption. And I know lots of people whom I can pass the book to.

  35. HC February 3, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    I'd love to read this too! I want to be able to talk to teens from a place of knowledge, not assumption. And I know lots of people whom I can pass the book to.

  36. Wendy February 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Anonymous, I'm going to delete your comment. As the new instruction on comments states, anonymous is left only for those who need a safe place to share a burden or concern. Otherwise, this blog is not accepting anonymous comments.

  37. awingf February 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    I appreciate your blog, thanks for challenging me!

  38. Stephanie February 3, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    At our house, watching a movie is the answer to lots of life's 'problems'. And while we understand that there is only ONE story to tell, and we ALL tell it well or not so much, we would love more insight on this subject.

  39. Jane February 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    In raising our children, the question of “Is this movie one that we should watch and why?” has been a constant battle. This book seems like it has some great ideas to help us in our search to see Jesus.
    I had never heard of the author, but I'm off to check out his website!
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  40. K February 3, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    I'd love to read this.

  41. Kristin Conniff February 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Pls count me in!

  42. Gaye February 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    I would love to share this book with my young adult son, who is a lover of all things movies.


  43. Sarah Guild February 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Me me!!! I hope it's me. :). Thanks for the review. This is such such needed discussion.

  44. Anonymous February 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Recently stumbled upon your blog as a result of a google search about Christian perspective conservation and environmental politics. The post I read, which pertained to that topic was so encouraging to me as I journey through the process of applying my Christian Faith to many secular purposes (or, better said, dig out and identify the Christian purpose behind the secular motions and culture). Your insight and honesty ismuch appreciated.. Looking forward to reading the book you reference here.


  45. Corinne February 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    This is a topic of great discussions in our home. The book sounds like it would be a great help. Every time I watch the Lord of the Rings movies, I cry and feel such longing and emotion. I then think about heaven, the Lamb, the wedding feast, evil being conquered, etc. We have had many conversations on the Biblical themes within that story. I am so glad we serve a God who is over ALL parts of his creation, and that even “secular” things can draw us to him!

  46. Anonymous February 3, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    Oh sorry,thanks for letting me knowing; it was good to share in the Lord together for a time.

  47. Andrea February 4, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    I was just reading through the chapters in Genesis telling story of Joseph, and so struck by his deep emotion that I found myself sobbing. The way God used story elements throughout His Word is so intriguing and captivating to me. I am in awe of His sovereignty in our individual stories and love the ways in which he allows for them to weave together and intersect in ways that ultimately glorify His Story. I don't normally comment on any blogs, but having some of this on my mind just before reading your post, I am compelled to respond in this case. Thank you for giving some copies away!

  48. Weary Traveler February 4, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    That book sounds awesome! I'd love to win it. I enjoy watching movies and thinking about whether or not it has elements of God's story and / or truth about life in it!

  49. Keri Seavey February 4, 2013 at 3:04 am #

    Thanks for the review and an introduction to a new author that I now want to read! I would love a copy of his book, and will also order the other one that you recommended. Thanks again, Wendy.

    By the way, I love your blog. When I get my email that you have posted something new, I hold off on reading it until my “special time of the day” when I have a few sacred minutes to drink a cup of coffee and just sit and think or read or pray. Your blogs always make me think deeply. Thank you for your love of the gospel and your willingness to share your thoughts.

  50. Keri Seavey February 4, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    OK, so I just clicked on the link to what I thought was this author's “other book” and realized it was a link to the same book you reviewed. Feeling a little silly… Maybe that means I should order an extra copy to give to a friend. 🙂

  51. Wendy February 4, 2013 at 3:13 am #

    Thanks for the encouraging comments! I'll announce the winners tomorrow.

  52. Melissa B. February 4, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    I work in theatre and am drawn to conversations on faith and art. I would love to read this book!

  53. Raleigh February 4, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    This sounds great! Thanks for recommending it and for offering copies.

  54. Elizabeth February 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I would love to read this! My husband and I often have conversations about this topic, and my father-in-law is a media professor. I would love to share this with him!

  55. Wendy February 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Winners are Natalie (comment number 10) and Melissa B. at the bottom. Please email me your addresses today.

    If I don't hear back today, I'll choose another winner tomorrow.

  56. Henna Maria February 5, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Interesting, hope I will win!

  57. Wendy February 5, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    New winners are Lucy and BeckyG. Email me your mailing addresses to If I don't hear from you today, I'll pick new winners tomorrow.