Discovering Spiritual Messages in Secular Films


"Get Low" is one of the films featured in Temple Baptist Church's "Faith in Film" series. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

I have always loved movies. It is a lifelong passion.

Because I love the movies, I like to share with others those movies that touched me deeply and to give them a chance to discuss them. I want them to see how they speak so deeply to me. My hope is that these movies will speak to them.

That is the reason why I began a monthly event in my church called "Faith in Film."

I take a secular movie and look at it through the lens of faith to see if there are biblical themes that can be gleaned from it.

My first task was to develop a short list of secular movies that have spiritual themes to them. Notice these are secular movies. I do not use movies such as "War Room" or "Heaven Is Real."

My reason is that I want to show people a deeply held belief: God speaks to us through movies that are not "religious" by definition and there is more going on than just telling a story for profit.

One of the things that I want people to realize is that movies are an art form and, as an art form, there is something more going on than just pretty pictures up on a screen. Frances Schaeffer wrote, "An art work can be a doxology in itself."

The list of movies I compiled when launching the series included:

  • "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  • "The Mission"
  • "It's a Wonderful Life"
  • "Get Low"
  • "Twelve Angry Men"
  • "The Apostle"
  • "Millions"
  • "Of Gods and Men"
  • "Chocolat"
  • "Wall-E"
  • "The Lion King"

We watch the movie together and then I take time afterward to ask them this question: "What did you see?"

This opens the discussion and gives everyone a chance to declare if they saw something in the film that spoke to their faith experience.

There has been a positive response to the series within our congregation, but it is not merely Christians that have come to the "Faith in Film" gatherings.

We are open to anyone who would like to attend. I promote this to our community using a community message board and Facebook to let people know what the next movie will be.

Giving people who may not have a faith experience a chance to see a movie from a faith perspective helps them see that God may be reaching out to them through the movie. This can give an opportunity for dialogue about faith and how God speaks to us.

As I enter my second year of doing this, one of the things I hear from those that attend is an appreciation for a chance not merely to see a movie, but also talk about it. People tell me how much more they enjoy the movie because of the discussion.

The reason I think is simple: People see the movie and have feelings about what it is that they see, but they have no way to help come to an understanding about what it is they have experienced.

The discussion opens up an avenue for understanding that would not exist otherwise. That is why the discussion aspect is so important.

There is one practical issue if you want to do this: You must secure a license to show movies in church. One group, Church Video License, sells yearly licenses to allow the showing of movies in church.

Another thing we do is provide drinks and popcorn each night we do our movie. The reason is simple: No movie is really good without some popcorn.

I would be happy to help any church that would like to try "Faith in Film." Just drop me an email at michaelparnell@temple-baptist-church.org.

Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.

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Tags: Culture, Media, Mike Parnell, Movies


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