Taking God to the Movies (2): The Master Storyline
Bruce Riley Ashford
In this second installment of “Taking God to the Movies,” I give a concise summary of the Bible’s grand narrative, stretching from Creation and Fall through to Redemption and New Creation. This narrative provides the starting point, trajectory, and framework for analyzing the stories told in Hollywood’s films. Each of the biblical narrative’s plot movements is significant; indeed, if we are to view the world Christianly, we must view it simultaneously through the lens of all four movements.
In the biblical account of Creation, we learn that this world is created by the triune God. This world is a good world that God has filled with men and women made in his image who are uniquely positioned to worship and obey him. God’s world is a world that reflects his glory and points continually to his beauty and goodness. During this first part of the biblical narrative, God’s good world was marked by universal human flourishing (shalom), as man was in harmonious relationship with God, with others, with the created order, and with himself.
In the biblical account of The Fall, however, we learn that this universal flourishing was broken as man and woman rebelled against God and in doing so alienated themselves from God, from others, from the created order, and finally even from themeselves. Man was alienated from God, under condemnation for his rebellious mutiny. He is also alienated from others, as his sinful disposition results in all manner of social and cultural evil (murder, rape, slander, unjust war, etc.). Further, he is alienated from the created order as he no longer lives in perfect mutual interdependence with created nature (hurricanes, tsunamis, polluted waters, etc.). Finally, he is alienated even from himself, no longer living as he was designed to live (existential angst, depression, mental illness, etc.) As a result, God’s good and beautiful creation is marred by the ugliness of sin, sin which has far broader impact that we might typically imagine.
In the third plot movement, Redemption, God immediately promises to send a Savior who will redeem and restore God’s people and his world. The entirety of Christian Scripture speaks of this Savior and his salvation. In the gospels, we learn that this Savior is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, we are provided with redemption and the reversal of our alienation. We may once again be brought into right relationship with God, with others, with the created order, and even with himself. But this redemption will not be complete until the end times, when the Creator restores his good creation, giving us a New Heavens and Earth, as foretold in the prophets, which will be inhabited by the redeemed of the nations who dwell eternally with their God. We now live in the age of fall and redemption, but await the age of new creation. We find ourselves living between the ages.
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).
Christian Scripture, therefore, not only tells the true story of God and his redemption, but gives us a way of thinking about life’s most important questions. We as Christians think, speak, and experience life from within this narrative and worldview. Likewise, Hollywood screenwriters also think, speak, and experience life from within their own worldviews. Their films are mini-narratives that each arise from within a worldview and speak to significant issues such as ultimate reality, the world, humanity, knowledge, morality, history, and death. Screenwriters deal with the same questions, problems, and experiences that are dealt with in Christian Scripture. For this reason, 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.