Brian Godawa’s “Hollywood Worldviews”
Why Every Christian Should Read It
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a prayer meeting and heard someone “lift up Hollywood” and pray for “the light to shine in the darkness” and for God to “raise up godly people there.” Those quotation marks are not typed with a tone of sarcasm or cynicism. No, in fact, the voice praying those prayers has often been my own, and — for reasons too numerous to mention here — those kinds of prayers have been some of my deepest heart cries. Tinseltown, that little cradle of artistic wonder and madness a couple hours down the road from me, has been a burden on my heart as long as I can remember. But I’m certainly not the only one. In my travels to Africa, Poland, and Australia, I’ve heard Christians there fervently praying for Hollywood too.
We should all be encouraged. God is indeed shining His light in the darkness, and He is raising up godly warriors for Christ in Hollywood.
Hollywood screenwriter Brian Godawa is, I believe, one of those people. He’s one of those whom God has raised up in our generation for such a time as this — partly in response to the church’s prayers, in my opinion — and I know God is raising up others as well.
Brian has written screenplays for major feature films, including the critically acclaimed To End All Wars starring Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Carlyle; he has worked with director Ralph Winters (X-Men, The Wolverine); and he is an accomplished author and novelist — including the intriguing Bible-based fiction series Chronicles of the Nephilim. Book One of that series, Noah Primeval, is a retelling of the Noah story. His extensive research on Noah for this novel and his early access to the script for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has made him a leading voice in the cultural debate about Aronofsky’s controversial treatment of a sacred Bible story. You can read about his perspective on that debate in my recent interview with Brian.
So, yes, we should be encouraged, and we should continue praying for our culture to be redeemed. As Jesus said, we must be as “wise as serpents, but as innocent as doves.” And this is where the book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment comes in. Besides Brian’s work for the big screen, when he wrote and published the book Hollywood Worldviews, the church was given something powerful: the ability to understand movies from the point of view of a successful Hollywood screenwriter who is also a devoted Christian. It also doesn’t hurt that he is well-versed in philosophy and theology with a keen grasp of the writings of Francis Schaeffer and other Christian luminaries.
Hollywood Worldviews is not a new book — published in 2002 — so for many this might be old news, but as the Millenials are come of age, a book like this is incredibly timely. At a recent George Barna conference in January, I listened to panelist after panelist talk about the Millenials and the “Screen Age” — this current moment in history where every person on the planet has a screen glowing in their hand or buzzing in their pocket telling the person to look at its bright glowing dispensary of knowledge and cute kitten pictures. It’s ludicrous, exhausting, and wonderful all at once — and a little scary. In some developing regions of the world, people will have a cell phone before they have a toilet or working plumbing.
Stories now wear out our eyes 24/7 on our bright screens in the form of movies, TV shows, books, music videos, games and apps; and Christians desperately need to find a balance between the “cultural glutton” (as Brian coins it) — the Christian who gorges themselves on entertainment without giving any thought to its content or worldviews — and the “cultural anorexic,” as he calls it, the Christian who avoids all movies or cultural engagement like the plague (and yet so often has a strong opinion about movies they’ve never seen!). Hollywood Worldviews provides a riveting field guide for finding that balance.
Besides clearly defining what “worldview” means and its relation to the “Creation-Fall-Redemption” pattern, the book answers — with depth and easy-to-follow accessibility — just about every question I’ve pondered about the dilemma of being a Christian who also loves going to the movies. I’m talking about questions like:
- What about all the sex, violence, and profanity in movies — do those things rule out ever seeing a movie? Is there ever a time when it’s okay to watch a movie with R-rated content? How do we discern these things properly and make the right judgment call from a true Biblical perspective?
- What about all of the graphic violence, graphic NC-17 sexual language in the Bible, and — yes — even profanity? Does that mean we should not read the Bible?
- Doesn’t Philippians 4:8 say to only “think on good things”? So is watching a movie with graphic depictions of sin violating that scripture?
- What about Ephesians 5:12 and its statement about wickedness? Is it telling us to have a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach? How is that even possible in our world? Does that mean I should stop watching movies that depict or mention evil? What about when the Bible depicts or mentions evil?
- What about in the Psalms when it says “I shall not put any worthless thing before my eyes”? Isn’t that a clear condemnation of ever seeing a movie that depicts evil in graphic ways?
Of course, the book is very careful to clarify that we need to exercise age discretion with movies and young viewers just like we do with age limits on alcohol or driving, smoking, etc. The book does not condone allowing young people to see R-rated movies, in other words. But the questions above were all serious questions I had — especially as I graduated from high school and began to think a little more deeply about those things — and Hollywood Worldviews answers every single one of those questions with amazing Biblical depth and insight; and that’s just in the first act of the book.
Let’s not forget that even going to the movies — no matter which movie — was once seriously frowned upon by American evangelical Christianity (and perhaps still is, in some circles). So it hasn’t always been easy to get answers to difficult questions like these. In the 1940s, American Christian colleges actually prohibited its students from even attending “the cinema” — no matter which movie — as part of its conduct code. (I once worked at a major Christian college and read some of its student manuals from those years.) Things have changed, of course, but the instinct to flee from all secular cultural and never engage in fruitful, loving (but well-informed!) discussion with non-believers still lingers in our church culture. Yet, on the opposite extreme, we also have Christians who have their mouths wide open to the flood of movies that come from Hollywood without taking a single moment to think about what they are digesting.
And this book tackles both tendencies of Christian culture head on.
I think my favorite thing about the book was its second act where it takes a close look at every major worldview — from existentialism to Romanticism to nihilism to neo-paganism and many others — that are often depicted in Hollywood movies. He uses real movies that many of us have seen as examples, and it’s done in an entertaining and compelling voice. He even tackles the question of the Monomyth, which is a subtle but intimidating weapon that postmodernists sometimes wield against Christianity. The book really cleared away much of the fog in my mind. It’s that fog you experience when you see a movie and walk away with a vague feeling that something about the film was disagreeable to your spirit and your beliefs, but you can’t really put it into words. This book gives you the words, and it carefully — like a surgeon’s knife — dissects how worldviews make themselves known in films.
And I use the analogy of a surgeon’s knife for a reason. The book carefully extracts worldviews from films with the intent of healing, not destroying. He doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and this is what really hit home to me: the point is not to play a “figure out the worldview” game when you go to the movies, and use the tool like a blunt instrument against others. The point is to genuinely listen to what the film has to say and consider it. Yes, the tools of discernment protect us from unknowingly digesting a worldview that might lead us away from our relationship with Christ, but the tools are also there to help us learn things from other people. Just because a filmmaker is not a Christian does not mean he or she does not have something valuable to say about the human experience.
A non-believer may not have the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit living in them, but you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is working in their lives and wooing their hearts to come to Him. The Book of Romans talks about Creation communicating the revelations of Christ to all of humanity, and that is one of the ways that God reveals Himself to the lost. Darren Aronofsky, for example, may not be a Christian, but he may have noticed something about the Bible story Noah or about the human experience in general — or even about God — that I have never noticed before. Sure, he may not give Christ any credit for it or acknowledge God in any way — not yet at least — but that little kernel of revelation he’s picked up about God might be the very seed that the Holy Spirit has planted that will eventually bring Aronofsky to Christ in the future. In other words, through the means of common grace and the general revelation of God in Creation, it’s possible for someone to have a valuable insight about God before they even learn to call it that or give Christ the credit for it.
The Holy Spirit is laying the groundwork in people’s hearts to woo them to Christ, and sometimes the sparks of inspiration and insight that non-Christians have are the fingerprints of the Potter’s hands. He is working in their lives, and we shouldn’t discount those things; in fact, we should look for them. We should point them out in others. That act alone might be what leads someone to faith in Christ.
Hollywood Worldviews gives you the ability to find those things. It helps you discern the many layers of a movie with keenness and complexity so that you can learn new things that will bolster your faith in Christ — even if the filmmaker is an atheist. And, just to be doubly clear, I am not saying that all roads lead to Christ. Jesus is the only way to Heaven. But if we learn to see good things in movies — even in movies that seem to “attack the faith” — and if we first point those good things out to non-believers who ask us about a film, that gives us a powerful platform where we can also speak the truth in love and point out the things that should be exposed.
Ultimately, besides helping us to discern the layers of meaning in films, the book cuts to the heart of something far bigger than even the big screen: storytelling and what storytelling means to the heart of God.
And any Christian who cares about the heart of God will find some precious treasures in this book.