Theology and Film (as art)

May 16, 2007

I’m sure many have gone before me, trying to touch upon connection points between Theology and Film. It has become popular in many places within the Christian tradition to use video clips to illustrate a point, maybe a point in a sermon, or something similar. This is part of a synchroblog (where more than one blogger write on the same theme, usually on the same day, and link to each other), and the theme is movies. You will find links at the bottom to some other bloggers also writing on this theme today. In this post I want to take a short look at the relationship and conversation between theology and the medium of film, but especially seeing film as an art form, and then, maybe, also seeing theology as a form of art.
Art has been an inherent part of our theological heritage. This has come about in many forms. The importance of poetry in the Old Testament is probably one of the best examples, although it runs much wider than poetry. The written nature of poetry made it an accessible art form to use in scriptures. But what about the music behind many of this poetry? We can read about it, although getting access to this is quite difficult. Then there is also the visual arts, which was part of the Jewish, and even pre-Jewish, traditions, and also part of the early Christian traditions. We find visual art at many Christian burial places, and places where they met. Early houses where meetings were held, and then this developed further when official churches was built. Whole books have been written on Christian art. Still, I wonder what is the difference between art and a mere picture. Can any picture be classified as art? Any song? What about any movie?
Art has always provided a new way of seeing things. The opening up of new possibilities in our perspectives. It has provided for theology both new ways of looking at theology, and looking at God, possibilities that wasn’t possible when using mere rational words. Art has also provided theology with a window into the human world which is our context. Recent decades have seen the development of film as a new medium, and I believe as a new form of art. Providing new metaphors on life, and for life, and providing us with a window on what the world look like, providing us with new ways of seeing things.
Many might find it funny that I will spend time writing on movies, many might think I consider movies to be a waste of time, because of the constant critique I have on most movies. John de Gruchy, when writing on Theology and the Visual Arts in the 3rd edition of The Modern Theologians, write about the necessity of developing good taste. He go so far as to say that bad taste is sinful, since bad taste is akin to “pride, intolerance, and idolatry, whereas good taste is analogous to our experience of holiness and healing”. This is such a loaded sentence. Art and Theology can both be seen as agents of prophetic critique and healing. Obviously, theology don’t always take this task seriously, and probably the same could be said about art. But I believe developing good taste in art is also developing appreciation for art which can be seen as an agent of critique and healing. Art that is not simply mediocre, not simply riding the waves of culture, and when talking about film, we can with good reason talk about art which is simply in it for the money. Much more can be said about this, but before this post get to long, let me end of this paragraph saying that I don’t consider all movies to be good art, and don’t consider all movies to be art at all.
But, still we have movies that can be seen as art, not simply the artsy movies, but those giving a critique of society, and giving a window on viewing society. And with these we need to be in conversation. The conversation need to run deeper than just finding stories that will prove a point we want to make in a sermon, but in the conversation movies, as a form of art, might critique our theology as well. It will sometimes help us to see something in a different way. Sometimes the arts, and also movies, would provide a more able way of critiquing society than we can do in only writing word in theology.
A last point of where this conversation between Theology and Film might go towards more in future, is the use of Film as form of art in also communicating our theology more. Not just by making movies of Bible stories, although this might be a worthy cause, and not just putting something nice to watch with a sermon, but using Film as art form, in the same way we have used music, poetry and visual arts in the past, at a way to communicate our theology.

See what the other synchrobloggers have to say on Christianity and


7 Responses to “Theology and Film (as art)”

  1. Phil Wyman Says:

    Thanks for expanding our thinking on how to consider the place of art in our faith.

  2. Jenelle Says:

    Great to have you join us on this Synchroblog. I appreciate your thoughts on art as opening a door for healing, if we can develop a distaste for mediocrity:

    I believe developing good taste in art is also developing appreciation for art which can be seen as an agent of critique and healing.

    The trouble is, it is difficult to argue about aesthetics. What is beautiful to you may be terrible to me. But, if we can manage to stay in conversation about it, then perhaps that’s where the Spirit has room to do the healing.

    I agree with your thoughts on Youth Ministry, by the way. (In your About section…) cheers.

  3. cobus Says:

    Thanx for joining in.
    I think me need to leave definitions of what is good taste sufficiantly vague. But we need to recognize the fact that a destinction can be made.
    I’ll be blogging much more on Youth Ministry, since I will be starting in official Youth Ministry in the next few weeks, and will need to struggle with the questions surrounding it much more.

  4. Jenelle Says:

    Blessings as you begin working with young people, Cobus. Strangely, as you begin in the next few weeks, I’m ending a long stint doing youth ministry. Only because God is calling me into something new. I’m excited for the new, but need to remember how to say “goodbye” well.

  5. Steve Says:

    Hi Cobus,

    Thanks for the post, and good to see you join in theis synchro blog. I haven’t been able to look at all the contributions yet, because I fear that Telkom might say I’ve exceeded my alloted bandwidth this month and cut me off without a byte. So I’ll be back to read in more detail later, and hope to see your contribution to ther next one.

  6. […] My Contemplations takes “a short look [with ’synchroblog’] at the relationship and conversation between theology and the medium of film, but especially seeing film as an art form, and then, maybe, also seeing theology as a form of art.” [My Contemplations] […]

  7. […] Cobus van Wyngaard contemplates Theology and Film (as art) […]

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