Saturday, March 29, 2014

5 Great Movies for Exploring Faith

After music, one of my great loves is for movies. As a pastor, I also have a tendency to see religious themes in a lot of places (it really helps with sermon writing and teaching) and I've had some thoughts of using my blog to occasionally explore some of those themes in books, music, and movies in greater depth. Following some recent conversations about movies, I thought I'd start there. So here are five of my favorite movies for discussing, thinking, and teaching about faith.

 (2013, animated musical, G) -- This is the movie that actually led to writing this blog post because of all my colleagues who have commented online about the religious themes of this movie. (In my favorite quote, one pastor friend quipped that "Frozen is in full accord with the unaltered Augsburg Confession," which is the founding document of the Lutheran church.") I've written about how Frozen presents the concept of love in my blog previously, but there is also self-sacrifice, death and resurrection, and the contrast of love vs. fear that all spring right out of Christian theology.

About a Boy (2002, comedy, PG-13) -- Hugh Grant plays a single, self-centered man living well off the royalty checks of his father's music who is out to prove that a man can be an island, but insists that he's not selfish because "there isn't anyone else. It's just me." All that changes when Marcus, an offbeat, bullied boy, makes a connection and Grant actually starts caring about people. At turns hilarious, goofy, and touching, the film explores our need for community and how love can change us from the inside out.

Les Miserables (2012, musical, PG-13) -- There is so much in this story that speaks to the lived reality of faith, but the contrast between the characters of Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean is a master's course on exploring law and gospel. Both characters strive to be righteous men, but Javert does so by following a strict legal code and Valjean does so by showing mercy and kindness. The film (and amazing music) ask the audience to consider what it means to forgive, to be redeemed, to be just, and the difference between what is "legal" and "moral."

Original Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983, science fiction, all PG) -- Basically everything related to the Force in these movies can be used as a metaphor for faith. I could build a sermons series just around Yoda's quotes: "Fear is the path to the dark side.""You must unlearn what you have learned.""Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Beyond Yoda, look at how Darth Vader's eventual redemption is brought about by the love and commitment of his son. (Sound familiar?) Or try a different angle and you can say Vader sacrifices himself to slay evil and save the life of his child. I could go on, but I think I've made my case.

The Mission (1986, historical drama, PG) -- I know, I know, this is kind of a gimme. A movie about Jesuit priests has a religious message to it? Never saw that coming. But I include it because it asks profound and haunting questions about what it means to confront injustice in the world out of love. The conclusion to the movie lifts up two different options in the actions of the priests and leaves the audience to decide which, if either, was the correct response. Also, the scene of redemption for Robert De Niro's murderous character is one of the greatest images of grace ever filmed and Ennio Morricone's soundtrack is a religious experience in itself.

I'd love to hear where others find religious themes in movies. What would make your list? You can leave comments here or in one of the places I post on facebook. Maybe I'll post a second list sometime in the future.

“Thought I’d something more to say…” -Pink Floyd, “Time”


  1. The Harry Potter Series - though reading the books will give you more of the heft of the thoughts....

    1. Agreed. The series is rife with Christian allusions: love, sacrifice, resurrection. Now I'm mad I didn't think of this one first.