Both books in today’s roundup focus on the intersection of art and faith, exploring the ways in which each enriches and enhances the other.
“Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings” by Josh Larsen (IVP Books, 2017). Foreword by Matt Zoller Seitz.
First I was intrigued by the whole idea of movies as prayers. Then I was thrown by the fact that Josh Larsen kicks off the first chapter in his exploration of this intriguing idea with a look at the movie “Avatar,” which is way way down on my list of films worth considering in any way or for any purpose. But I pushed through, and ultimately, I was very glad I did.
You could say my experience is emblematic of what many Christians will experience while reading Larsen’s book. His very premise has the potential to shake us up — even though he explains early on that if prayer is simply communication with God, then the idea of movies as prayers makes sense. But we have to be willing to trust him as he takes on a journey through a world of film that is vaster and more complicated than many of us have ever realized. Not for him the simplistic formulas and sanitized worlds of contemporary “Christian movies”; he plunges into movies of all sorts, even R-rated ones. “Our prayers, too, are imperfect,” he reminds us. “Some of them might be rated R.” Both prayer and movies, in his words, “are not golden gems of shiny spirituality but messy expressions that reflect the brokenness out of which they’re born.”
As he moves through the various categories of “movies as prayers,” which cover every aspect of the familiar creation/fall/redemption/restoration pattern — from praise to lament to anger to confession to joy — Larsen convincingly drives this point home. With such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, one who understands and cherishes prayer as much as he does films, the journey is one worth taking.
“Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish” by C. Christopher Smith (2016). Foreword by Scot McKnight.
As editor of The Englewood Review of Books, a project of the Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Chris Smith knows books. And church. His engagement with both has taught him that a church that reads together — both Scripture and other works — is likelier both to thrive as a community, and to serve those outside its doors. “Learning and action,” he tells us, are two “interwoven threads,” both of which are needed “in order to sustain healthy, flourishing communities.”
Smith has a number of good ideas about how to encourage churches not only to read, but also to read together. His ideas on community engagement are also innovative and helpful, though at times I found some of his ideas a little too prescriptive and specific; he seemed to think, for instance (if I read him correctly), that political engagement by every church in every community should look pretty much the same. I would have liked to see him allow more for different kinds of communities, different emphases, and different priorities. That aside, however, his book is a deeply valuable resource and a model for Christian engagement with both the world of books and the outside world.