Think Again: Christianity’s Relationship to Reason

Are Christians well known for their careful thinking, or does faith do damage to reason? While skeptics sometimes question whether historic Christianity comports with a vigorous logical outlook on life and the world, the truth of the matter is that many advancements in the area of logic have come from the work of Christian scholars.

In Patrick Hurley’s popular college textbook, A Concise Introduction to Logic, he lists ten eminent logicians who have made significant contributions to the field of logic. Interestingly enough, six of the ten famous logicians were either Christians or closely associated with theism:

  1. Peter Abelard (1079–1142)
  2. William of Ockham (1285–1347)
  3. Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716)
  4. George Boole (1815–1864)
  5. John Venn (1834–1923)
  6. Kurt Gödel (1906–1978)

So, just what is Christianity’s relationship to reason? Well, even though there are far too many individual believers who seem to have an anti-intellectual faith, the Christian worldview overall proposes that faith involves knowledge and is itself compatible with reason. Here’s the assessment of Christian philosopher Ronald Nash on the topic: “Even though most people who reject Christianity treat it as a refuge for enemies of reason, the truth is that there may be no worldview in the history of the human race that has a higher regard for the laws of logic.”1

While some Christians remain unaware that the Bible has a high view of reason, here are some of the intellectual virtues that Scripture mandates: checking sources, reflection, discernment, honesty, and testing (Acts 17:11; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Scripture also indicates that because God made human beings in his divine image, human cognitive faculties and sensory organs function reliably to engage in the rational enterprise. Historic Christianity therefore values logic as a good gift of God.

So the next time a skeptic insists that Christianity doesn’t have a high view of logic, inform them that the Bible promotes and values critical thinking and that there have been many eminent logicians who were believers. And stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

See other installments in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6.

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains a number of episodes given to the topic of Christianity’s relationship to reason. It is archived at org. I recommend in particular that you listen to the three-part series entitled, “Intellectual Code of Conduct” (part 1, part 2, and part 3).
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. Most formal logic texts (even used ones) are very expensive, but RTB sells my book at a very reasonable price. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Endnotes

  1. Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 74.

 

 

Think Again: Logic vs. Passion

Do you know that it’s possible to engage in a vigorous argument without your face turning red, your jugular vein popping out, or raising your voice? Lots of people think of arguments solely in terms of verbal fights, but there is another kind.

businessman fight in boxing ringThe kind of argument of which I speak is, of course, a logical argument (instead of a heated disagreement). A logical argument consists of making a claim (also called the conclusion or central point), and then seeking to provide support or premises for that claim. If you only make a claim and provide no support (in terms of evidence, facts, and reasons), then you have a mere opinion, not an argument. And if you supply evidence but fail to marshal a claim, then you just have a lot of information. In other words, a logical argument is a supported opinion.

It is easy to feel passionate about the central point of your argument—especially when the person you are conversing with feels equally passionate about a different or opposite point. But strong emotions, while a normal part of being human, can indeed color one’s logical analysis. Though it may not be easy to engage in a dispassionate analysis of one’s deeply held conclusion, it is important to try.

As noted above, emotion is a natural and important element of being human, and emotion is often involved in the truly positive experiences of our everyday lives. However, emotion can be so strong that it can limit our ability to examine ideas and issues analytically. So don’t stop appreciating genuine emotion, but try to keep your emotions in check during logical exchanges so that they don’t become a negative factor in the reasoning process.

Another thing to watch out for in logical debates is caring too much about winning the argument. Discovering truth is more important than your ego. Unfortunately, some of us cerebral types like to constantly keep score of our logical victories. But it would be better to take a hit to one’s ego and lose the debate if the result was that you were corrected and discovered truth. Truth always trumps the fragile needs of our pride.Next time you engage in a formal argument, see if you can present your argument in the most winsome way possible. And stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

See other installments in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains a number of episodes given to the topic of logical and critical thinking. It is archived at reasons.org. I especially recommend that you listen to “Need for Dispassionate Analysis.”
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. Most formal logic texts (even used ones) are very expensive, but RTB sells my book at a very reasonable price. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Think Again: Logic’s Golden Question

What’s the point?

That is the essential question to ask when critically examining arguments. In logic, the point is always what the argument’s conclusion indicates. Thus, the conclusion is also called the central point of the argument. It is what the arguer is attempting to prove and encourage others to accept. The sooner you identify the point of the argument, the better off you are in your critical thinking task.

Since knowing the point is absolutely essential in thinking through an argument, losing sight of the point is logically disastrous. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to careful thinking is distraction. Anything logically irrelevant to the central point of the argument provides no support for that conclusion. The problem of irrelevance is that it tends to throw the reader or listener off track, and thus the point is hidden or lost.

There is a group of informal fallacies (errors or mistakes in reasoning) called fallacies of relevance. Fallacies of relevance include such common errors in reasoning as red herring, straw man, and ad hominem. All three of these errors involve diversion and cause a huge logical problem. Here’s how these three informal fallacies of relevance unfold:

  1. Red herring: This fallacy misleads the reader or listener by appealing to secondary or extraneous issues (i.e., changing the subject).
  2. Straw man: This fallacy involves misrepresenting the argument of another, usually by making the argument seem more extreme (distortion).
  3. Ad hominem: This fallacy is committed when a person ignores the opponent’s argument and instead attacks their character, which is irrelevant to the argument.

All three of these fallacies are quite common and can be detected and corrected by diligently pursuing the genuine point of the argument.

Remember to get into the habit of asking that critical question: what’s the point? This short question is golden in logic. Ask the question and keep on asking it as you evaluate the logical claims that you and others make. Don’t ever lose sight of the point or your ability to evaluate the argument is lost. So arm yourself with this powerful question, and stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

See other installments in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains many episodes about the topic of logical relevance. It is archived at reasons.org. I particularly recommend that you listen to “Logic 101H: Straw Man and Red Herring.”
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. In fact, there is an entire chapter addressing various logical fallacies, including red herring, straw man, and ad hominem. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Apologetics Strategies: How to Talk to the Experts, Part 2

man on plane_iStock_000053959068_MediumIn part one of this series, we imagined a scenario where you find yourself on an airplane conversing with a quantum physicist. You want to dialogue about science-faith questions, but the discussion could go several different ways—or even shut down quickly depending on the level of expertise you bring to the table. I asked you to consider your audience, how you relate to that person, and how that relationship can impact your discussion. Do you have the knowledge to keep up with a conversation about quantum mechanics? Are you better equipped in a different field, like philosophy or theology? Or are you an Average Joe, fueled by a love of the truth and, perhaps, an interest in apologetics?

If you’re not a scientist, does that mean that engaging with people with greater levels of expertise is off limits? Not necessarily—however, such discussions do need to be handled carefully. Here are a few practical ideas to help you keep the conversation going with someone who has more technical knowledge.

1. Defer to the Expert

If you find yourself in a conversation with an expert, assume that the other person really does know their field. Unless you’ve had graduate training in science, it’s unwise to act like you know more about science than the scientist. So defer to his or her expertise. This will show them respect.

I’ve found that this principle is also helpful when talking to people who belong to different religions. If a family member belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), assume (at least for the sake of conversation) that they know more about LDS theology than you. Even if you’ve read books by Christians about LDS theology, chances are it’s been reinterpreted through the lens of historic Christianity, which may not be an accurate reflection of how people think inside the religion itself. It shows humility and respect when you give people the grace to be the expert in their own belief system.

2. Ask Questions

As an introvert, I have often experienced great difficulty making new friends. My mother advised me, when meeting new people, to ask questions about the other person’s life and interests to get to know them better. After all, people love talking about themselves. I have found this strategy to be very useful when engaging others in faith-related conversations, especially if they have more expertise than I do in a particular academic discipline, like science.

If you find yourself chatting with a scientist, ask thoughtful questions about his or her research interests. It’s usually easy to keep the conversation going by giving verbal invitations, such as, “That’s interesting. Tell me more,” and “What got you interested in that question?” This kind of engagement often moves the conversation from the academic to the personal realm.

When appropriate, I also find that it can be helpful to ask the scientist whether they are “religious” or if they’ve had a “personal faith journey.” This kind of language leaves the issue open to interpretation, but it is an effective way to begin to dig into their worldview a bit more. If that seems to go well, I’m not beyond inviting them to share with me about their hang-ups and even their animosity about Christianity, Christians, and organized religion in general. I’ve also been in a few situations where I apologized on behalf of the Christian in their life who abused them. Taking this step often opens new doors of care and concern.

The goal in any conversation is to land it in a graceful way. This is especially true when having conversations with family members and coworkers, where the relationships will have a long-term engagement. Your genuine curiosity shows your care for that person and builds a connection with them. It’s important to leave things in such a way that doesn’t shame the other person or create animosity.

The more willing we are to listen to a person’s difficulties, the more willing they are to give us some room later (often several conversations down the road) to share with them about our own journey to faith in Jesus.

3. Recommend Resources

When you’re a non-expert talking to an expert, don’t fall prey to pressure to have all the answers. If you’re outmatched academically, remain calm. You can always invite the expert to explore resources from qualified peers. If you are talking to a scientist, send them over to reasons.org or recommend one of our books to them. Reasons to Believe’s (RTB) team of scholars and editors work hard to put together resources that can be given away to nonbelievers to investigate on their own or to facilitate further discussion.

Consider carrying a stack of business cards with you with the RTB web address on it to give away to the experts you encounter. If appropriate, you can follow up by gifting them with an RTB book or DVD.

If you really want to step out in faith and go on a Holy Spirit adventure, ask Him before you leave for your next trip to guide you in selecting an RTB book to take with you in your carry-on bag on the plane. Don’t be surprised if God divinely appoints someone who needs that very book to sit in the seat right next to you!

I hope these ideas will spark your imagination for how you can creatively share about the God harmoniously revealed in both Scripture and nature with those you encounter in your daily life.

Resource

Dr. Jeff Zweerink outlines his apologetics strategy in RTB Live! vol. 16: 4 C’s of Science Apologetics (DVD). This is one of my favorite RTB messages.

****

By Krista Bontrager

Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.

Apologetics Strategies: How to Talk to the Experts, Part 1

man on plane_iStock_000053959068_MediumImagine you’re on an airplane and in the course of casual introductions, you discover the gentleman sitting next to you is a quantum physicist. You share some thoughts about the compatibility between the record of nature and the words of the Bible—but it isn’t long before you realize that you’re in way over your head. The physicist’s questions exceed your ability to offer ready answers. What’s your next move?

This situation highlights a very important point for all would-be apologists: know your audience, know yourself, and have the humility to know the difference. Certainly reading Reasons to Believe (RTB) books and other apologetics materials or even taking courses through Reasons Institute or attending apologetics conferences will provide you with a good foundation—but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re ready to engage with someone who has a PhD in a science field. There are additional factors to consider.

Chances are you fall into one of the following three categories. Knowing which category you belong to is a critical first step in understanding how to engage scientists in an apologetic conversation.

1. An expert in the same academic discipline

Let’s go back to our airplane scenario. If you have the same level of education and technical expertise as the quantum physicist, there is a higher probability that you’ll be able to engage him on equal footing. You have invested significant time, money and energy into educating yourself at the highest levels of academia. Even then, however, a science-faith conversation may be challenging without significant knowledge of the theology and philosophy involved.

Being in conversation with a research scientist takes great discernment, as well as a good deal of practice. So don’t be overly hard on yourself if you stumble. Use it as motivation to dig deeper into the research.

2. An expert in a different academic discipline

The situation with the quantum physicist would be quite different if he were sitting next to me. I might be able to engage with him for a while on some theological questions, since that is my area of training, but when it comes to science, I’m easily outmatched. Even though I am familiar with many scientific ideas because of my experience at RTB, it would only take seconds before I’d be in over my head. Knowing my limitations ahead of time helps me avoid overstepping my area of competence and, thus, keeps my credibility with the physicist.

It’s important for all Christians to understand that our first calling is as missionaries. This is far more important than demonstrating our academic competence. For the sake of the gospel, it’s very important for us to swallow academic pride and repress the desire to “win” the conversation or shame the nonbeliever. We must know our limits and be willing to take a different approach when needed.

3. An “Average Joe”

Now let’s say the quantum physicist is sitting next to an Average Joe. This is the person with little to no technical training in any academic field. Someone like my dear mother comes to mind. She loves the Lord and is fully convinced of her salvation, but she has little in common with the physicist in terms of education and knowledge.

This category might also include the apologetics hobbyist. This person has read apologetics books and attended a conference or two, but doesn’t posses any advanced degrees in science. This category might also include the aspiring science student who is still in the beginning years of his education.

There is, however, one very important point connecting all of these “regular people” with the quantum physicist: a love for truth. And that critical foundation can make all the difference.

By knowing our audience and knowing ourselves and knowing the difference between the two, we can begin to customize our apologetics tactics. This is particularly important when talking with people who have a background in science. So, what’s the next move in the conversation between an expert and an Average Joe? We’ll return to this topic in another post to discuss some practical strategies to help keep the discussion going.

Resource

Dr. Jeff Zweerink outlines his apologetics strategy in RTB Live! vol. 16: 4 C’s of Science Apologetics (DVD). This is one of my favorite RTB messages.

****

By Krista Bontrager

Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.

Think Again: Keep Your Arguments Clear!

Jewish scholar and radio talk show host Dennis Prager often says, “Clarity is more important than agreement.” And when it comes to reasoning, clarity carries its own persuasive power. Clutter and excessive complexity in an argument frequently stand in the way of the argument’s understandability and credibility.

Since being clear in one’s reasoning is advantageous, keep clarity in mind as you initially construct your argument. A logical argument is really a simple thing; you first make a claim and then seek to support that claim. The claim, or central point, is also called the conclusion of the argument. It is what you are trying to prove and encourage others to accept. The premises, on the other hand, provide the support in the form of facts, evidence, and reasons for accepting the conclusion.

Because you want people to accept your conclusion based upon the premises, the statement that constitutes the conclusion should be very obvious in the overall argument. This can often be achieved by making the specific conclusion the first or last statement in the argument. Another way of clearly identifying one’s conclusion is by using conclusion indicator words, such as “thus,” “therefore,” and “accordingly.” For added clarity, consider beginning your conclusion statement with the words, “In conclusion.”

You can also clarify which sentences in the argument serve as supporting premises. If you have multiple premises you might want to enumerate them so people can distinguish and more easily remember them. There are also premise indicator words, such as “so,” “because,” and “since,” that let listeners know you’re giving support. You never want the conclusion or premises of your argument to be unclear.

People greatly appreciate clarity, especially when it is contrasted by its opposite in a debate. Listeners are usually open to, and even inclined toward accepting, the clearest position. So give them what they want and enjoy the benefits of logical persuasion. However, bear in mind that clear does not mean simplistic or unsophisticated. When presenting your strongest evidence in support of your conclusion, deliver the ideas in the clearest terms possible without compromising the integrity of your argument.Remember that whenever clarity meets with ambiguity, clarity wins—especially when the clear arguments are also substantive. And stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

See other installments in this series here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains a number of episodes given to the topic of logical clarity. It is archived at reasons.org. I recommend in particular that you listen to “Five Point Logic Checklist.”
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. Most formal logic texts (even used ones) are very expensive, but RTB sells my book at a very reasonable price. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Think Again: What Is a Genuine Education?

Learning to think for oneself is one of the most important intellectual duties in life. Truth needs to be pursued and apprehended by each individual person. And one of the great benefits of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) is that human beings have been given the faculties to hunt and gather the truth.

kids-graduatingAs a logic instructor I seldom, if ever, tell someone what to think (i.e., what position to adopt as the conclusion of their argument). Instead, I attempt to assist others in learning how to think (helping to order a person’s thinking according to principles of logic). Logic can be defined as “ordered thought”—that is, thinking and arguing in a manner that is consistent with the laws of logic and the rules of rational inference.

Genuine education is not indoctrination. Rather, authentic learning takes place when the best arguments for and against a position are presented and students are provided with the tools to fairly evaluate those truth-claims. There is a time and a place to advocate one’s position, but teachers have a sacred duty to help their students discover the truth by being as fair and objective as possible. Teachers need to encourage their students to grow in their intellectual maturity so that they can truly think for themselves.

Studying logic and critical thinking is an ideal discipline for pursuing a genuine education because it empowers the learner to know how to evaluate truth-claims. So, again, logic teaches a person how to think instead of what to think. It is similar to the adage of making people self-sufficient by teaching them how to fish rather than giving them a fish. The best education always provides tools for students to become sufficient in facing life questions and challenges.

I am concerned that much of education today, especially in the social sciences, involves little more than indoctrination. I believe the way to successfully battle this ideological stronghold is to teach people to think for themselves. How about you? Are you ready and willing to hone your critical thinking skills so that you can be empowered to tackle truth and make careful judgments for yourself? If so, stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

See other installments in this series here: Part 1 and Part 2

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains many episodes given to the topic of logic and critical thinking. It is archived at reasons.org. Specifically, I recommend that you listen to “Ordered Thinking: The Value of Logic.”
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. Most formal logic texts (even used ones) are very expensive, but RTB sells my book at a very reasonable price. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Think Again: Questioning Conspiracy Theories

Are professional sports on the up and up? Do the “better” teams win by genuinely defeating the “lesser” teams?

10 March 2010: UC Irvine vs Cal State Fullerton basketall in Anaheim, California. Photo by Matt A. Brown

With the NBA playoffs having just finished, it’s a good time to mention one of the conspiracy theories that was making the rounds a few years ago. According to many sports fans at the time, the NBA’s league officials were conspiring to get the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics to play in the NBA Finals. Why had they allegedly done this? Big money, of course! The vast TV audience that this marquee NBA matchup would attract would pay great financial dividends to the league. In other words, in the NBA the fix was in!

Before trusting or denying such a claim, how would one go about thinking through it logically? After all, conspiracies sometimes exist. As a sports example, some point to the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series. Well, let’s reflect upon a few factors.

First, how many people would have to know about the scheme in order to effectively pull off the subversion? I think the number of conspirators would have to be very large to ensure the right outcome. For example, key members in the NBA league office would undoubtedly have to be involved. Numerous referees would have to be in the know as well in order to make the right (or wrong) call at the critical juncture of decisive games. In addition, several coaches would also have to agree to the scam. Lastly, a considerable number of important players would surely have to be part of the plot in order to affect the end result of the games.

Consequently, if a great number of people are involved in the conspiracy could the silence of all the participants be ensured? Could all the people be sufficiently paid off to guarantee nothing would leak out? There would be the possibility of people having a crisis of conscience. And some may stand to gain a great deal by being a whistleblower on one of the most remarkable sports conspiracies in history. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the more people who know about the conspiracy, the greater chance someone is going to reveal the secret. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

Logical problems like this also apply to all the big government conspiracy theories that require the involvement of many people, like the JFK assassination and the 9/11 (or “truthers”) controversy. But similar questions could legitimately be asked about the alleged conspiracy that the apostles lied about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, the challenge of conspiracy is at times an apologetics issue.

Conspiracy thinking is common in our culture, and that includes Christians who are sometimes taken in by fanciful conspiracy theories. As I’ve demonstrated above, an important starting point when thinking about conspiracy claims is asking the appropriate questions. And the study of logic helps a person learn how to do just that. So stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

For more in this series, see “Thinking Again about Logic.”

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains a number of episodes given to the topic of conspiracy thinking. It is archived at reasons.org. I recommend in particular that you listen to “The Big Three: Conspiracy Theories” and “Asking Four Questions: Evaluating Conspiracy Theories.”
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. Most formal logic texts (even used ones) are very expensive, but RTB sells my book at a very reasonable price. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Eyes Wide Open: Thinking about Worldview in Movies, Part 2

Group of people at the cinema watching a movie

Christian families are constantly interacting with all sorts of entertainment: books, music, video games, television, and movies. In part 1 of this series, we discussed worldview analysis as a foundational principle of evaluating the media we consume. Now we will examine some additional considerations.

Production Value

When I was a child in the 1970s, Christian filmmaking—films made outside the Hollywood system, financed by Christians, for Christians—was in its infancy. No child of that era can forget being scared sleepless after watching the doomsday horror film A Thief in the Night at Sunday night church.

Films from this era were frequently noted for their good intentions, poor screenwriting, no-name talent, and underfunded production budgets. Many Christians believed that the noble intent of the filmmakers to preach the Gospel was enough to overcome substandard production values. But by the mid- to late-80s (when I was in film school), Christians who worked as professionals in Hollywood began to rethink that strategy. They looked around and started asking why Christian films were so bad? Didn’t Jesus deserve better than this?

The recent efforts of producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey to make The Bible mini-series brought independent Christian production values into near alignment with Hollywood standards. Yet, other Christian filmmakers seem content to settle for mediocre production standards while appealing to the niche evangelical audience by making “preachy” films.

Production value plays a vital role in deciding whether a film ought to be considered “good” in the minds of most consumers, even among Christians. Sure, there are loyal followers who will consume almost any piece of entertainment that’s released with certain branding or headlining performer. But if a film lacks exemplary writing or skillful performances it misses out on potential greatness; and box office numbers generally reflect that.

In my view, there is inherent value in an artful film because our creativity reflects the image of our Creator (Genesis 1:26–27). And, sometimes, it’s perfectly appropriate for Christians to appreciate good art, even if we don’t agree with the worldview it portrays. We can offer comments about a thoughtful script, amazing storytelling, compelling acting, or beautiful cinematography. When we do so, we’re often praising the efforts of the many hard-working believers who labor anonymously within the entertainment business. Quite frankly, I’ve often found that a well-acted, thoughtfully written, small-budget film (such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) or a well-made, sincere, “family friendly” movie (like Babe) can elicit more enjoyment than a poorly scripted summer blockbuster (Armageddon comes to mind) or a moderately okay Christian film (such as Fireproof).

Moral Content

Many Christians have a tendency to make immediate judgments about what constitutes “good” entertainment based solely on moral content, specifically, language, sexual content (both on-screen and implied), violence, and substance abuse. These are important considerations, especially for parents; however other factors need consideration, too.

It’s important to understand that films and books are often multilayered. So it’s valuable for Christians to learn a little about how to discern the layers. It helps to begin by looking at a film or book’s themes from a “big picture” perspective and avoid quick judgments based on the moral content alone, such as foul language, sexual acts, violence, or drug abuse.

Let me explain what I mean. Consider Schindler’s List. This Oscar-winner contains many difficult, even horrific, scenes. In isolation and without context, it seems the morally objectionable content (e.g., genocide, child abuse) would preclude Christians from viewing or appreciating the film. However, the film presents a powerful message of individual repentance and redemption. I think this is why Schindler’s List resonates with so many believers. This deeper thematic purpose provides a larger context from which to interpret the inclusion of more objectionable elements.

In another example, Cobb (which perhaps only 10 other people on the planet actually saw) includes many scenes showing baseball legend Ty Cobb engaging in drug abuse and other unflattering behavior. It was a very hard film for me to watch. In the end, however, I was struck by the film’s very accurate picture of the futility of life without God. Money and fame failed to bring peace and satisfaction.

Now, would I recommend Cobb to my mother or teenage daughters? No way—but if I was engaged in some water-cooler conversation, it might come in handy as a bit of a morality play. In this way, individual Christians ought to weigh out these issues in coordination with their interpretation of Scripture, their conscience, and their personal sensitivity.

One final thought: remember to pray for all of those Christian brothers and sisters who work within the entertainment business. They often face difficult and discouraging environments and situations as they attempt to be salt and light in a dark place.

Resource: In 2012, Kenneth Samples and I recorded two podcast episodes featuring tips for watching movies from a Christian point of view: “How to Watch a Movie, Part 1” and “How to Watch a Movie, Part 2.”

****

By Krista Bontrager

Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.

Eyes Wide Open: Thinking about Worldview in Movies, Part 1

Group of people at the cinema watching a movie

When I was in seminary, I had a side job as a movie reviewer for a major Christian periodical. For two years I spent nearly every Friday night sitting in arthouse theaters watching a lot of really bad films. Then, I’d quickly cobble together a review for which I was paid an astounding $25, plus the cost of a theater ticket and mileage. I reviewed such “blockbusters” as Romeo Is Bleeding and Cobb. Some films were laced with over 80 f-words. How do I know this? I had to count them!

It wasn’t a very glamorous life, but it did teach me how to write quickly and how to express a focused opinion on virtually any topic. (I also learned how to take notes in the dark, which hasn’t proven to be a very useful skill.)

This process did, however, get me to reflect deeply on what makes a movie “good.” By what criteria would I recommend that others go see a particular film? Why do some movies with lousy scripts make hundreds of millions of dollars? Why do some movies strike us as having redemptive qualities in spite of a dark storyline (e.g., Schindler’s List)? Questions like these can apply to other entertainment media as well, such as music and books.

At times, Christians can come across as rather unreflective about their entertainment choices. On one end of the spectrum, some believers give little, if any, thought to what they consume; on the other end are those who avoid entertainment altogether because they view it as opposed to Christian values. What I’d like to propose, however, is that Christians can actually use entertainment trends as a bridge for engaging others, especially unbelievers, in deeper conversations. Over the years, I’ve found some foundational issues useful to consider.

Worldview Analysis

Just like every person has a worldview, so does every piece of entertainment. Why? Because books, movies, and music are written by people! So, whenever I am consuming media, the first thing I do is watch for clues about the worldview it’s promoting. I look for dialogue or situations that connect to issues such as:

  • the existence and nature of God (Does God exist? What is He like?);
  • the nature of humans (What is man?);
  • the origin and nature of evil; and
  • the source and nature of morality (What is good?).

In my experience, nearly every film, book, and song addresses one or more of these worldview questions. As we consider them, we can also begin to compare and contrast the answers with our own Christian worldview. This provides a critical foundation for any conversation with other people. (My colleague Kenneth Samples has done a lot of very fine work on this issue of worldviews. I highly recommend checking out some of his web articles, including this great introduction to the topic: “What in the World Is a Worldview?”)

During my time as a movie reviewer, I noticed that most American films operate from within what I call the worldview of practical naturalism. In these stories, no supernatural reality is presented. All solutions to humanity’s problems are explored within the context of the natural world. Occasionally, a film will present spiritual themes or characters. Christians are rarely portrayed in a positive fashion. We’re often depicted as abusers, hypocrites, and criminals, but even this observation can offer Christians insight into how nonbelievers see us.

Discussions about worldview issues can act as a practical bridge with nonbelievers. I’ve found that even in casual relationships a worldview issue from a recent book or film can be a good way to strike up a conversation. My husband and I frequently find that the most enjoyable part of our movie-going experience is when we engage in a vigorous conversation once the film is over.

It is also important that parents and youth leaders teach the emerging generation how to be wise consumers. Many teens give little, if any, thought to the worldview messages contained in the media they consume; so, parents might need to be a little creative and persistent in their engagement. Yet even if without a family conversation about how to thoughtfully engage entertainment choices, children will learn by watching the choices their parents make.

Next week, we’ll continue this conversation and explore additional ways to evaluate entertainment.

Resource: In 2012, Kenneth Samples and I recorded two podcast episodes featuring tips for watching movies from a Christian point of view: “How to Watch a Movie, Part 1” and “How to Watch a Movie, Part 2.”

****

By Krista Bontrager

Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.