As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, Hollywood serves as America’s most influential “seminary.” Given cinema’s pervasive reach and its powerful ability to tell stories that are loaded with religious and philosophical meaning, pastors and churches must find ways to help their people be shaped more by the Bible’s narrative than they are by Hollywood stories.
In today’s post, therefore, I provide a concise summary of the Bible’s grand narrative, stretching from Creation and Fall through to Redemption and New Creation. This big story and its four plot movements should provide the framework within which we evaluate Hollywood’s little stories.
The Bible opens with an account of Creation. In the Bible’s telling, God created the world from nothing and created human beings so that we could worship and obey him. We worship and obey him by heeding his permissions and prohibitions (e.g. eat from these trees, but not from this one) directing all of our activities toward him, whether those activities are social (“Be fruitful and multiply”), cultural (“till the soil”), or managerial (“have dominion”).
God called his creation “good” and “very good.” It is a world that reflects his glory and hints at his goodness. And, at the time of creation, God’s good world was characterized by universal human flourishing, as human beings found themselves in a harmonious relationship with God, each other, and the rest of the created world.
Very soon, however, the Bible’s narrative takes a dark turn. In its account of the Fall, the Bible teaches that Adam and Eve sinned against God, alienating themselves from God, each other, and the created order. Their sin affected all of humanity such that the entire world is pervaded by sin and its consequences.
As sinful humans, we are alienated from God because of our sin. We are also alienated from each other in many ways, as our individual and collective sins combine to create a world characterized by unkind words, false witness, slander, unjust war, rape, murder, and other relational evils. Further, we are alienated from the created order. We no longer experience the unbroken goodness of the pre-Fall world; instead we experience polluted water and air, destructive hurricanes and tsunamis, and other ills. Finally, we are alienated even from ourselves; instead of experiencing the wholeness God intended, we experience physical and mental brokenness.
Redemption and New Creation
In the third plot movement, Redemption, God immediately promises to send a Savior who will save his people from their sins and restore his creation from sin’s consequences. In one way or another, the whole Bible points to this Savior and his salvation. In the New Testament, we learn that this Savior is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, God saves us from our sin, reconciling us to himself, to each other, and to the world around us.
But this redemption will not be complete until Christ returns to set the world aright. As the Bible tells it, Jesus will return to install himself as King, purge the world of sin and its consequences, and oversee an eternal kingdom characterized by justice and peace. Until Jesus returns, we live “between the times” of his first and second coming, experiencing his salvation in the present but awaiting its fruition in the future.
A Christian Way of Thinking
From this narrative, we learn not only about redemption, but about God, the world, humanity, knowledge, morality, history, and death. Christian Scripture speaks to every facet of human existence, and about every dimension of human society and culture.
In a nutshell, Scripture sets forth a worldview. It gives a particular view about ultimate reality (God is ultimate reality), the world (created by God, essentially good, open to miracles), humanity (created in God’s image, alienated from God), knowledge (knowledge is possible because God enabled us to know and has communicated with us through Scripture and through nature), morality (right and wrong is based on God’s character; certain moral laws are written on the hearts of all humans), human history (it is linear and is moving towards an end), and death (death is not final, heaven and hell). As Christians we should think, speak, act, and experience life from within this narrative and worldview.
Similarly, Hollywood screenwriters think, speak, act, and experience life from within their own worldviews. Their movie scripts are mini-narratives that arise from within a worldview and speak to significant issues such as ultimate reality, the world, humanity, knowledge, morality, history, and death. In other words, Hollywood stories and scripts delve into the same questions, problems, and experiences that the Bible’s stories and teachings explore. That is why the next installment of this series will discuss how to “read” the narratives set forth in a Hollywood film, so that we can compare these narratives to the one set forth in Scripture.