You are no doubt aware that our society today pushes back hard against the idea of "absolute truth." We are bombarded with messages about "speaking your truth" and "being true to your truth." Truth is said to be subjective. You discover, define, and declare your truth, and no one should oppose you because it's your truth. This widespread attitude has caused great difficulties for the Christian Church. People dismiss the Gospel as being our truth which is not suitable for them. People shut down outreach efforts with a simple "that's not for me." People are often completely dismissive of the idea that there is absolute truth which applies to all people of all time, and so they will not even listen to a discussion of truth according to Scripture.
And yet, for all this insistence upon truth being relative, people (even society in general) do reflect ideas of absolute truth. This inconsistency is a reminder to us of conscience; though it has been corrupted by the fall into sin, and though people can and do suppress it, the conscience remains.
This gives us a ready opportunity to make use of apologetics. A goal of apologetics ("making a defense of the Faith") is to tear down faulty ideas in order then to proclaim the Gospel. This is in line with II Corinthians 10:5 where St. Paul wrote, "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." You may be familiar with apologetics, but you may not have considered it from the perspective of modern media. I hope to show you how something as simple as talking about movies you enjoy can be a tool to proclaim the Gospel.
I enjoy writing movie reviews for the Christ in Media Institute. So far, all of these reviews have been of superhero films. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply because it's a genre I love. The second is because superhero films often reflect ideas of truth and give me a direct way to work in spiritual themes. Though the writers, producers, and directors may often be people who would say "truth is relative," yet the truth often is reflected in their films.
Think about some of the typical constants in a superhero movie: "good guys" and "bad guys," protecting the innocent, developing into a "hero," and saving others. The very nature of these things often leads into quite a few other spiritual themes as well. They certainly reflect ideas about truth. What makes someone a "hero"? Why do we root for people to be saved? What does this say about the nature and value of life?
Superhero movies require "good guys" and "bad guys." Even when there is an effort to make the protagonist more of an "antihero," he is clearly distinguished from the villain. Consider the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanos is clearly a villain. Captain America is clearly a hero. Even the characters that have much more complex character arcs, like Winter Soldier and Loki, are clearly identified as "good guy" or "bad guy" by the time a particular arc reaches completion. In films/cinematic universes that try harder to have conflicted antiheroes, the antihero is still a "hero" in so far as he does the right thing.
How is it that we can all agree on such labels? Clearly there is an objective standard. Thanos is the bad guy because he seeks genocide and genocide is wrong. Captain America is the hero because he saves people from harm and puts his life on the line and those are good things. Where did this standard come from? It came from the conscience. It's the remnant of the natural law written on our hearts. Yes, the fall into sin corrupted our conscience so that it is no longer perfect but it remains in part and so we see such universal standards. The reason that references to objective truth come out in these films is because the filmmakers have this conscience.
The very idea of superheroes is built around the idea that people need saving. People need saving because there are bad things in the world (an objective truth). Superheroes are often said to be "saviors." Whether it's Shazam saving his family in Shazam, Batman saving the city of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises, or Iron Man saving the entire universe in Avengers: Endgame , superheroes save people.
This very naturally leads into a discussion of sin and why it's in our world, and Who saves us from the consequences of sin. So, just by talking about some of the most popular movies today, we have opportunity to talk about Law and Gospel. The modern day action film is often "high stakes," and this is certainly true of most newer superhero films. Mortal danger is a common element. The filmmaker who uses such high stakes must then also deal with questions about the value of life, the nature of death, and even things of the afterlife.
Hollywood is one of the biggest supporters of the abortion industry, and yet Hollywood's superhero films often better reflect those who are pro-life. Avengers: Infinity War is a prominent example. Though its filmmakers are not likely to oppose abortion, this movie contains numerous references to the value of all life – here again we see the inconsistency. The objective truth that all life has value is written on their hearts and so they produce art which reflects that truth.
These are just a few examples, and yet we see here a great apologetics tool for the Christian. Why does "truth" come out in films even when the film makers may very well say they deny objective truth? Simply because there is objective truth. You don't have to write formal movie reviews to make use of superhero media in your Christian vocation. Do you go to these movies with your friends? Do you post about these movies on social media? Do you talk about these movies with your family? Do you meet people who have this same interest? Then you have opportunities to connect those conversations to the Gospel.
Particular film genres can give you unique opportunities to speak to unbelievers. Again, let's consider the Marvel Cinematic Universe. People of all different beliefs enjoy these films – just look at the box office numbers! If you enjoy the MCU, you instantly have a connection to talk to other fans of the MCU. The same is true of other films.
I like to use superhero movies for this because I love the genre and it tends to portray many reflections of truth. However, you can do the same thing with other film genres, and even other types of media/story telling too. If you're not sure how to do that with your particular favorite genre, try this: when you watch a movie, think about how the filmmakers are trying to influence you. What does this film say about truth – is there a standard for it or is it totally subjective? Who are the "good guys" of the film and are they truly on the side of good? What makes the hero a hero? For whom does the film want you to root and why? What does the film say about life, death, and eternity? After asking such questions, find the reflection of objective truth in the story and use that as your starting point for discussion.
Follow Pastor Locklair's movie reviews in the Christ in Media Institute blog.
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