Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen, Free for CAPC Members
In Movies Are Prayers, Josh Larsen exemplifies how critical engagement with a film can be an act of neighbor-love.
Mike Cosper is the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Sojourn Community Church, where he’s served since its founding in 2000. Mike has also produced several albums of original music for Sojourn, as well as Songs for the Book of Luke for The Gospel Coalition. In addition, he regularly contributes to TGC’s blog.
He is the author of Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel, co-author of Faithmapping (with Daniel Montgomery), and most recently released The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth.
This book is the second in Crossway’s Cultural Renewal series and also the second to be featured as part of Christ and Pop Culture’s rotating bundle. The first, Greg Forster’s Joy For The World, focused on engaging culture in general. This second book offered courtesy of Crossway focuses on engaging TV and the movies in particular.
The introduction establishes both the pervasiveness of storytelling and our fascination with TV and the movies. Here, Cosper explains “I want to explore the way our ordinary, everyday stories intersect with the bigger story that God is telling, and I want investigate what these stories reveal about being human, being fallen, and longing for redemption (23).” To accomplish this, the opening chapter looks at the structure of stories in general, noting their connection The Story, which is the gospel. Cosper notes that we tell stories since we are made in the image of a storytelling God and that our stories naturally then reflect His story.
Before focusing on the actual stories in more detail, Cosper deals with the moral questions surrounding the content in TV and movies in chapter 2. He notes that, “Christians will draw up boundaries . Some consciences are more sensitive than others, and we need to make room in community for varying levels of maturity and comfort with our viewing habits. And to be clear, maturity might mean watching less TV, or it might mean freedom to watch more (55).” Given this, he goes on to say, “Examining why we tell stories and thinking about the formative effect they have on our lives has caused me to be less enthusiastic about certain shows and movies, and more enthusiastic about others. I’m more sensitive to what I think is exploitive and dehumanizing, and less enamored with certain writers, directors, and actors.” In the end, some readers may still feel that Cosper’s choices for conversation partners (like Dexter, The Wire, and Pulp Fiction) go too far. However, the way he ultimately interacts with those sources is very instructive.
The remaining chapters focus in on different types of stories. There are stories that focus on creation, paradise lost, and playing God (chapter 3). Others focus on the search for love (chapter 4), the fall and man’s descent (chapter 5), the effects of the fall, specifically continual frustration (chapter 6), and the role of fear in the stories we tell (chapter 7). Chapter 8 stands out as Cosper looks at the potential for a story to include redemptive violence. Here, he interacts extensively with Dexter as well as the films of Quentin Tarrantino (specifically Pulp Fiction). The final two chapters focus on hero stories (and how the gospel is the archetypal one) and reality TV. In all of it, Cosper does an excellent job showing how the different focal points of the stories we tell through TV and movies all connect to the story of the Gospel we find in Scripture.
All in all, there is much that could be said about the value of Cosper’s book. Most of his space is spent expositing actual TV shows and movie story lines. This serves to make the book a non-fiction work that has a story like quality to it. It also helps to make Cosper’s points by demonstration, rather than by building a more or less theoretical case that doesn’t come in contact with the actual TV shows and movies many people are familiar with. As a result, this is a very helpful book for learning how to “read” the movies and TV shows we watch in a much more Christ-centered manner.
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