The first week of January I will be once again teaching a 2-credit course, “Film & Theology” at Covenant Theological Seminary in St Louis. It’s rather intensive (4 straight days, 8:30-12 noon, 1-4 pm) but a delight for me. It seems undeniable that film is a primary story-telling medium—perhaps the primary story-telling medium—in our postmodern world. Being able to explore that with the next generation of leaders in the church, and demonstrate how we can be part of that cultural dialogue is a very good way to spend a week. After all, good films raise the same issues that are addressed in the biblical gospel—the perennial questions of life and reality.
As part of that class, I schedule at least three (and will probably use 4) films to watch in class, and then discuss. After all, talking about engaging an art form but not actually practicing it is not a wise way to develop discernment. There are a multitude of good films I’d like to watch with my students but have to decide on four. I have several qualifications:
1. The film must be worth discussing. Every movie can be talked about, and usually is, but some movies are very limited in the themes they explore or the depth to which that exploration occurs.
2. Depictions of sexuality or violence must be moderate. Since we live in a post-Christian and fallen world, it is inevitable that there will be aspects to people’s stories that reflect less than full righteousness. Even the Scriptures contain such stories. Still, since this is an academic setting, the viewers have less discretion as to whether they will choose to see the films. And since there are plenty of fine films that are moderate in how they depict such realities, choosing films that will not produce problems for weaker believers is a responsibility I wish to assume as the instructor.
3. The film should be easily defensible. I am teaching this course at a Theological Seminary, an institution I happen to like a great deal. I not only teach there, I did my theological studies there. Covenant is part of a denomination in which there are people who are quick to object to whatever they happen to disapprove, and for some movies is on the list. Some of these folks are cultural warriors, some are ideological conservatives, and none have the self-awareness to realize their expressions of “being offended” are actually attempts to control others via the legalisms they spawn. I am pleased that Covenant Seminary offers courses like the one I teach and I want to choose films to watch in class that I can argue are worth seeing and are vital expressions of issues that the church needs to engage.
Films that I have shown in classes in the past include Run Lola Run (1998; R); Nanking (2007; R); Wit (2001; PG-13); Stranger than Fiction (2006; PG-13); and 13 Conversations about One Thing (2001; R).
My question is this: What films would you suggest I show in class? Or to put it another way, which movies would you like the future leaders in the church to discuss during the week they spend with me?