Archives For Grant Horner

Most Christians go through life with an uneasy truce with the media. We can’t avoid the media altogether. (Maybe we can, but nobody really does.) But we also distrust it. We find music, movies, and tv shows compelling, but we also sense that we are being asked to believe something that is not true. Most Christians don’t get beyond this tension. They say, “Okay, media, I’ll stay tuned in, but I’m not going to be entirely happy about it, and I reserve the right to feel guilty from time to time.”

In this post, I want to introduce you to a book that can help you move beyond the media truce: Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer by Grant Horner. The book is directed at movies, but Horner explains that his theory for what movies are and how Christians should relate to them applies to all aspects of cultural production.

Why do people make movies? And why, when we watch movies, do we find things that seem so true and important standing alongside other things that are clearly false and destructive? Horner explains this in light of Romans 1, where Paul essentially says that every human being knows the truth about God, and that every human being is attempting to suppress that truth. So the grand human drama that plays itself out every single day is one of truth and suppression: we know God’s truth, but we push it down. We are never entirely successful in our attempt to suppress God’s truth, says Horner, so truth continues to spring up, even in the most unlikely places.

So how do we relate to movies? We do so with discernment. Horner encourages us to engage with the stories that our culture is telling. But he warns that there is no such thing as mindless entertainment. The Christian must use her God-given mind in every sphere of life, and movies are no exception.

Horner is realistic about the harmful effects of film. He argues that film is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling that any culture has ever known. Sometimes this powerful medium has a beneficial effect; sometimes the effect is harmful. Each Christian must be aware of what he can helpfully view, and what he ought to avoid. Not only does this vary from person to person, we may also find that we can watch a film and benefit from it one day but not the next.

All of this fits within the first half of Horner’s book. But the second half is equally fascinating. He explores particular genres of film and asks questions like: Why do we find comedy funny? Why do people like watching horror films? How should we think about Hollywood Romance? Though the Bible does not address modern films directly, Horner’s analysis of these topics comes from a thoroughly biblical worldview, and I resonate with his explanations.

If you don’t care about movies, you probably shouldn’t bother with this book. But for the rest of us, this book is very helpful. You spend a ton of time investing in movies of all types. Why not spend a few hours thinking about what movies are and how we should relate to them as Christians?

Why should Christians care about the arts? The two reasons I have already given are that art cannot be avoided, so we should think critically about it, and that the arts serve as a cultural barometer. In this post I will add a third reason: The arts allow us to test God’s truth in the real world.

God’s truth applies to every area of our existence. What God says about Himself, about humanity, and about the world He created holds true when tested against the experiences of our daily lives.

Unfortunately, few Christians intentionally take God’s truth with them into their daily lives. We have been taught to think that “religious truth” (if we can even justify calling it truth) can make us feel happy, fulfilled, and hopeful, but it shouldn’t be literally applied in the real world.

But if the Bible conveys God’s truth, and if we live in a world that was designed and created by the same God who wrote the Bible, why should we think that His truth doesn’t apply to the world He made? It absolutely does. So when Jeremiah tells us that men have wicked hearts, we should expect to be able to walk outside and find that truth confirmed. And we do. When Ecclesiastes tells us that the search for meaning apart from God is futile, we should expect to find real people coming to this same conclusion. And we do.

Rembrandt: "The Artist in His Studio" (1629)

Rembrandt: “The Artist in His Studio” (1629)

Interaction with the arts gives us an excellent opportunity to test God’s truth in these ways. Nowhere does mankind bear his soul and express his struggles, desires, hopes, and fears as openly as in the arts. Mankind grapples with his existence in the arts. By engaging with the arts, we take the truth that God has revealed and learn how it applies to the things that human beings think about, create, and admire.

Grant Horner says:

“We must evaluate, critique, and discern our way through all the elements of this fallen world. To do anything less than this is to dishonor God by ignoring the blessings of his wisdom, to waste the opportunities for learning and discernment he has given us, and finally to lose part of the opportunity we have to be salty in this bland and dying age.” (Meaning at the Movies, 79)

Rather than taking the Bible and hiding out in our spiritual bunkers, we should actively engage the artistic creations of the people around us:

“I contend that Scripture does not call us to evacuate ourselves entirely from the pagan culture that surrounds us, but to use our wise and prudent interaction with that culture to help us grow in our appreciation of God’s grace toward us, to see that what God says about fallen mankind is in fact absolutely accurate (even as found in pagan works), and to better equip us for interaction with the many human beings who do not yet know him.” (Horner, 26)

As Christians, we have every reason to walk fearlessly amidst the cultural productions of our age, knowing that God’s word gives us a foundation and a framework for understanding why people wrestle with their existence in the arts and how the gospel provides the true answers that these artists are searching for (this will be the subject of my next post).