Film and Christian Preaching: Toward a Cinemate Homiletic (Part II)


V. Scene #4: Introduction to a Cinemate Homiletic

Now, what exactly is a cinemate homiletic? What kind of preaching is that? How are we going to approach film in creating a cinemate homiletic and how are we going to make preaching cinematic? Answering these questions using a methodological construction for the cinemate homiletic, this section contains three main parts:

  1. Previous approaches to preaching and film
  2. A new theoretical cinemate approach to preaching and film
  3. The practical application of the new approach

a. Previous Approaches to Preaching and Film

In the last couple of decades, there have been three major homiletical streams that have tried to benefit from the critical relation between film and preaching. Here, the article briefly summarizes each of the three in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.

The Movie Illustration Approach

As a handy approach already anticipated by Rev. Jump in 1911, this is still the most common practice utilized among preachers throughout the past decades. Basically, this approach suggests using a key theme of an entire movie or a short episode in it as a sermon illustration. Most recently, Peter Lamone, MSC with Rose Pacatte, FSP took this approach in a very creative way and published A Movie Lectionary: Cycles A, B, and C (2001-3). This lectionary book provides one selected movie, including the movie’s synopsis, cultural commentary, the movie’s dialogue with the Gospel, key scenes and themes, suggestions for reflection and conversation and a short prayer for each Sunday of the cycle. This kind of illustrative approach has its strong merits, obviously. Above all, a quick movie illustration in the sermon can easily catch the audience’s attention by the illustration’s “pop familiarity” and its entertaining character. Plus, a movie illustration, by its natural imaginative quality, can invoke in the listener’s mind the creative, real-life application of the sermon point illuminated by the illustration.

An unavoidable, critical problem with this approach is, as Timothy Cargal points out in Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon, that the preacher often distorts the message of the whole movie.[1] The preacher tends to squeeze the complicated message of a complex movie plot into a handy key theme, in order to hastily illustrate the often irrelevant sermon point. This eventually disrupts the whole sermonic message and ruins its credibility as well when the listener later discovers the illustration’s original irrelevance to the sermon point. Another related issue is that when the movie or the portion of it is used in this “surrogate” sense, we do not do full justice to the full integrity of the movie itself. In other words, we do not initiate any solemn dialogue with the film as a critical cultural, spiritual, or revelatory conversation partner. We just happen to have the film as a cheap illustrative servant inaptly exploited for a sermon point.

The illustration approach is still favorably and widely practiced in the pulpit, despite the critical problems above. This is not the place to discuss that matter further. It would suffice instead to remark that in order to do full justice to the film for its cultural, spiritual and revelatory integrity, we need a different and more articulated approach beyond the simple illustrative approach that eventually deforms both the sermon’s credibility and the film’s reliability.

The Message-Filming Approach

The following sentence might explain this approach as plainly as possible: “Preach like a movie director shooting a film.” This methodology, strongly advocated by Paul Scott Wilson, which focuses on the attractive sermon plotting and creative imagination of the text, has been adopted widely in the North American context for the past several decades, although in different ways by different homileticians.[2] Wilson especially wants the sermon or the actual delivery of it to be as “visual and sensory”[3] as possible by the effective (or filmic) application of images, actions, sounds, and vivid cultural contexts found in the text and today’s world.[4] He believes that this will render the preaching activity an effective communication event for the media-saturated people of today. Overall, this approach is a technical or communicative approach, using filming as a key metaphor for sermon composition. In other words, at its best the approach primarily focuses on the development of the communicative effectiveness of the cinematic preaching event.

Since filming is a metaphor in this approach, the use of actual movies in the sermon is not necessary. Thus, adopting movie illustrations or applying a key theme of a movie in the sermon is not essential here. Rather, how to make the whole sermon an effective filmic communication becomes the main focus. Doubtless, this technical or media-oriented approach offers strong advantages to the people visiting the filmic “cathedral” on a regular basis. They may find that the sermon sounds “pop-familiar” and thus communicates well.

A major disadvantage or weakness that Wilson is not conscious of in this approach is that it lacks a cultural hermeneutic which is the essential flipside of the filmic communication. Wilson only wants to adopt filmic narrative “techniques” fitting for the sermon composition for the effectiveness of the sermonic communication, but he has no concerns about the filmic cultural contents or ideologies that those techniques are supposed to convey in and of themselves (e.g., the five-dimensional technique appearing in Interstellar [2014], which seems to suggest that the spiritual world is indeed not really “spiritual” but just a multiply dimensional one we can reach or even “use” freely one day). Those two sides of the same coin, however, can never be separated. The point is that the simple adoption of filmic techniques into preaching does not guarantee the successful gain of a cinematic people’s attention, because that simple adoption is very ignorant of what almost always comes with the filmic techniques. When cinematic church-goers sense filmic techniques applied to the sermon, they will also naturally want to hear how the sermon deals with the filmic or media culture (and its message) per se that those techniques always bring into the sermon. To summarize, filmic preaching should address filmic cultural phenomenon as well. The next approach is better, though not complete, in this aspect.

The Dialogical Approach

This methodology is both thematic and dialogical. The approach, supported by Timothy Cargal in Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon, encourages the preacher throughout the sermon to parallel the movie theme and the sermon theme, the latter growing out of the biblical passage. Then, he asks the preacher to produce the actual sermon content by placing the movie theme and actual movie scenes, often side-by-side, with the sermon theme and sermonic meaning sequences. He calls this approach critical “dialogue” with a film in preaching. He specifically wants the dialogue to happen between Scripture and film toward a common thematic ground around which that dialogue is actively engaged and intensified.[5]

As indicated, this third approach supplements the previous two approaches, first by actually using the movie as a whole or short episodes in it as sermon illustrations, and second by rendering the sermon as “visual and sensory” as possible by incorporation of the lively film narrative parallel to the sermon flow. Plus, this methodology demonstrates its strength by the intense dialogue between Scripture and film, which we can call a cultural hermeneutical approach to Scripture. This approach is exactly what is lacking in the message-filming approach above.

The only decisive problem with this approach is that it is not always easy to find a particular pop movie for a given Sunday as a dialogical partner that parallels a specific (lectionary) biblical text. It is not that there are no movies dealing with critical themes of human life; indeed, there are many. It is just that those great themes often do not exactly match the scriptural texts or their meanings. Hence, in this approach, there is a great deal of danger that the preacher either distorts the film’s theme or narrative to abnormally parallel the text or, even worse, alters the biblical text’s meaning to fit the movie’s topic. In either case, the mistreatment of film and Scripture is unavoidable.

A related critical hermeneutical problem is that since a single movie will have a dialogue with one sermon text at a time, there is a considerable risk of narrowing down the wide range of interpretations of a biblical passage; in short, a danger that a single movie’s particular agenda would dictate the text’s interpretation. Obviously, we will need a broader filmic-cultural hermeneutic that can fully explore the wide interpretive spectrum of a given passage.

This methodology obviously would work well for a set of sermons designed for special occasions that would fit particular film’s relevancy to carefully chosen texts. However, due to the reasons above, we can imagine that it would not work well for a general preaching practice on regular Sundays. In particular, the cinematic congregation today brings their full range of pop cultural experiences, concerns, problems, questions (and answers), ideologies and inquires to the Sunday pews and wants their preacher to address those pop cultural issues as faithfully, effectively and widely as possible. The dialogical approach cannot perform this complex pop cultural hermeneutical business. Thus, we now turn to a more sophisticated cinemate methodology that can carry out this particular hermeneutical business and others as well.

b. A New Cinemate Approach to Preaching and Film: In Theory

Specifically, this is the cinematic narrative-hermeneutical approach.[6] As we will see, this methodology combines the previous three approaches to make a sort of hybrid methodology, while going much beyond them all. Briefly speaking, this new cinemate approach has three essential methodological rules of thumb.

  1. The narrative structure of the sermon should be cinematic-narrative.
  2. The actual content of the sermon should be guided by the five filmic narrative codes borrowed and adapted from Roland Barthes’ narrative theory[7]: Enigma [hermeneutic] code; Action [proairetic] code; Semic code; Symbolic code; and Cultural [referential] code.
  3. Finally, the five cinematic socio-spiritual codes should be utilized as a particular interpretive hermeneutic vis-à-vis the Bible:
  • The Code of Gender & Sex
  • The Code of Power, Good (Grace) & Evil
  • The Code of Humanity & Divinity
  • The Code of Money & Material
  • The Code of Nature & Violence

At its most basic, therefore, this approach first provides a cinematic biblical hermeneutic represented by the five cinematic socio-spiritual codes. The five codes, articulated in the next segment in detail as a socio-spiritual phenomenon, arise from the critical analysis and interpretation of pop movies and eventually function as the preacher’s continuing dialogical partner with Scripture. That socio-spiritual dialogue ultimately guides the formulation of the core cinemate sermon theme and eventually the sermon’s entire composition. These five codes are important in the sermon listener’s life because they represent the essential cinematic socio-spirituality that the listener confronts, participates in or resists every day, living in the film-saturated media culture. The preacher would take this particular cinematic hermeneutic to the given text and have critical dialogue, confrontation, confirmation, negotiation or even negation between the two. Here, to be clear, we do not simply mean that the preacher would bring particular cultural-ideological frameworks to each Sunday’s text in order to interpret it within those frames. Rather, it only means that the preacher takes to the text the congregation’s real life (cinematic) situation, or cinematic Sitz im Leben, as the pastoral lens when it comes to the sermonic biblical interpretation. That is, as Thomas Long argues, the preacher, arising from the congregation, goes to the text with all her pastoral concerns rooted in the everyday congregational situation, for the sake of the people’s spiritual transformation.[8] The five cinematic socio-spiritual codes rightly specify that congregation’s present situation.

This new cinemate approach then, as the second stage, suggests using each unique filmic-narrative flow to structure the sermon, the flow borrowed from a befitting movie of the preacher’s own choice. This second stage indeed supplements and further develops Wilson’s message-filming approach discussed above. While Wilson argues for the visual and sensory composition of the sermon content and dramatic sermon flow through the “Four Pages,”[9] the new cinematic approach takes a more radical step in enriching the visual and sensory composition and the dramatic sermon flow by adopting the actual filmic narrative structure as the sermon structure itself. This approach is also more radical than Cargal’s dialogical approach in which the sermon theme and sequences are just laid parallel with the movie theme and scenes. The new approach attempts to render the flow of a sermon in the same way a movie is directed, so that the sermon listener, during and at the end of the preaching event, might feel like they have been “hearing a film, seeing a sermon.”[10] This task is not easy in any way, yet a practical example of it, with a quick guide to how to choose a particular movie for a sermon, will be provided in the next segment.

Lastly, in order to ensure the genuine filmic-narrative quality of the sermon, the new approach proposes adopting the five filmic narrative codes into the actual sermon content composition, the literary codes borrowed and adapted from Barthes’ narrative theory. According to Nick Lacey in Introduction to Film, Roland Barthes articulates five key narrative codes by which not only the story-teller (or the movie director) hooks an audience into the narrative, but also through the reading of which the audience itself actively engages in the narrative with their own understanding and creative interpretation.[11] The new cinematic approach uses the same double effects through the adoption of the five codes; 1) hooking the listener’s attention throughout the sermon and 2) invoking the listener’s active involvement in the cinemate sermon narrative. A detailed explanation and practical usage of the fives codes appear in the next segment.

In summary, this new cinemate approach is both cinematic hermeneutical and cinematic narrative. First, since this approach is cinematic hermeneutical, it enables the preacher to put herself in a critical sermonic dialogue between the cinematic congregation, Scripture, and the film-saturated culture itself. Second, since this is also cinematic narrative, it helps the preacher to come up with an effective communication tool well-suited to the media-oriented psychology of the congregation today. This new cinemate methodology is a challenging task, indeed. Yet, it is not impossible. The next segment shows how we can make this happen step by step.

c. A New Cinemate Approach to Preaching and Film: In Practice

Before more closely exploring the practice of the cinemate homiletic methodology, we need to be reminded of the key theological argument discussed earlier: that both preaching and film share two essential theological qualities: communication and communion. We have already realized that both preaching and film can be an effective communicative medium for a revelatory message, while they also make possible the sacred communion between the audience/listener and the divine. The practice of the new cinemate approach is indeed possible and achievable only based on this theological understanding. This reminder is important at this point, since from now on, the theological boundary between preaching and film is so blurred that the preaching event itself becomes filmic storytelling and vice versa. For the purpose of this project, we will need to remember how and why this theological blurring is possible. Yet, our primary focus still remains on preaching practice, not on film directing. This segment of the article aims at the exploration of that cinemate preaching practice.

In accordance with the three key rules of thumb introduced above, the practice of the cinemate homiletic methodology takes three distinct yet interconnected steps: 1) application of the cinematic socio-spiritual hermeneutic, 2) identification of cinematic sermon structure, and 3) the detailed composition of the sermon content by using Barthes’ five narrative codes.

c-1. The application of the cinematic socio-spiritual hermeneutic

We first need to figure out what this cinematic socio-spiritual hermeneutic really is. The definition of it, even though the complicated terminology itself sounds quite byzantine, is simple enough. Earlier in the article, we already acknowledged that film is aesthetic and spiritual enough to be revelatory of the divine presence in its secular realm. And we also realized that the church-goers, as a social group (thus, socio-spiritual), bring that specific cinematic spiritual acknowledgement to the Sunday pews, in order to either interpret, investigate, confirm, verify or discard it vis-à-vis the message of Scripture or the church’s message, especially that from the preacher. In this respect, the cinematic spiritual acknowledgement by the movie-goers is nothing but a particular cinematic socio-spiritual hermeneutic; that is, a specific hermeneutical lens for today’s cinematic-biblical interpretation. Now, the question is, how do we actually execute the cinematic socio-spiritual hermeneutic for a homiletic biblical interpretation?

The article identifies the five cinematic socio-spiritual codes as the core practical constituents of the cinematic-biblical hermeneutic. Various writings on film and faith have already touched on these five and other related codes, subjects or themes, (depending on each author’s terminological preference) as major pop cultural topics appearing in film,[12] even though some authors have more specific interests in two or three particular codes. Yet, overall, all their discussion remains within the scope of these five codes. At this point, we need a brief survey of each code.

The Code of Gender & Sex

A great number of movies throughout the past century have dealt with gender or sex issues, directly or indirectly. To name a few: The Seventh Veil (1945), Brief Encounter (1946), East of Eden (1955), The Graduate (1967), Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), The Color Purple (1985), The Scarlet Letter (1995), The First Wives Club (1996), What Women Want (2000), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), and most recently, Sex and the City I and II (2008, 2010). A variety of issues came up with these movies, including LGBTQI concerns, gender inequality, gender roles, pro-life or pro-choice, contraception or birth control, sexual violence, women’s health, women and politics, women’s liberation, women of racial minority, cultural gender prejudices, etc. A key concern for this project, meanwhile, is that movies are doing a better job of opening up these issues to the public realm than the church. And now the cinematic congregation has started bringing these women’s issues from the “cinematic-enlightened” outside to the ignorant church pulpit for advice, encouragement, confirmation or disapproval. As is well known, even movies like The Scarlet Letter wittingly entangle women’s issues with the church authority and faith tradition, for better or worse. The people of media culture have now come to investigate gender and sex issues, in the context of religion, interlocked with the gender and sex code. In summary, gender and sex concerns have become one of the key cinematic socio-spiritual codes. Cinematic church-goers then bring a particular gender and sex approach to both the church’s texts and the preacher’s message rising from the text.

The Code of Power, Good & Evil

Today, the Bible is not the only place that seriously questions the problem of evil. Film, through various genres (e.g., Film Noir and the Gangster Movie) and creative stories (e.g., the famous The Lord of Rings trilogy [2001-3] and Harry Potter series I-VIII), examines and challenges the same problem, often more vigorously than any other pop cultural mediums. Also, often times, the problem of evil in film is deeply associated with the problem of power, as in the Bible. For instance, as seen in The Lord of the Rings, evil, the destroyer of innocent people and the world, wants more power, either physical or spiritual, to gain more control of the world. The Devil’s Advocate (1997) also poses a similar evil-power problem, this time at the individual level. Whether at the cosmic level or at the individual, the evil-power problem is always hard to untangle, due to its complexity. The problem of evil and power is almost always confronted and challenged by the question of good. The well-directed and well-acted movie, The Verdict (1982), is the best representation of this case. Against a giant law firm’s malevolent practice of judicial justice, an ambulance-chasing individual lawyer of “no name” stands alone with good intention and his religious belief in a sound humanity. He is in many respects a person with whom very few people—if any—in society would like to be associated. He is divorced, in debt, often drunk, has no sexual charm and is a lawyer with no clients. Still, he has a good conscience and opposes the evil practice of law. Here, life gets complex enough with the question of evil, power, and good. Once again, the cinematic congregation brings this problem of evil, power, and good, tangled and complex enough, to the pulpit-listening pew for theological investigation, negotiation or negation. And it is the preacher’s sacred duty to take that cinematic socio-spiritual question from the people to Scripture for a serious hermeneutical task.

The Code of Humanity & Divinity

The topics of love and hatred, freedom, sincerity, compassion, friendship, good memory, adventure, family values, mental health, coming of age, maturing, relationships, disability and human dignity, vocation, integrity, mythic imagination, spirituality, etc., have been the favored staples of most fine pop movies from the film industry’s inception about a century ago. We can anticipate that the same topics will continue to appear in future films since they are the most profound experiences of a sound humanity or divinely-sanctioned human souls. Meanwhile, our special attention goes to the film’s peculiarity in its cinematic portrait of the fundamentals of humanity and divinity. Two things immediately come into our consideration regarding their cinematic portrayals.

First, films are as honest as possible in narrating and showing sound or disrupted (or distorted) humanity. The great merit of film is that it does not have to tell white lies about real life situations for the purpose of consolation. It just shows what is out there, leaving the responsibility for critical judgment to its audience. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) is one of the best presentations of the case. In the movie, we confront a quadriplegic patient, whose mind is sound enough for fine reasoning, yet whose left eye is his only communication outlet. He blinks his left eye at a certain letter when a communication partner reads an alphabet chart to him, and the partner gathers up each letter to make a word, phrase, or sentence after reading the chart over and over again to him. (In the movie, he eventually ends up writing a book by that blinking.) Watching the movie is not easy. Yet, the after-feeling is profound. We have met and witnessed a middle-aged quadriplegic man whose ceaseless human endeavors at communication wind up as great heartfelt communion with other human beings, including his own children. Because the movie is honest and cruel enough in the portrait of the quadriplegic’s life, we can also believe that our feeling and judgment over his life and the movie itself is honest and thorough.

Second, in most cases when the film wants to handle the matter of sound humanity seriously, it does not simply look into the matter of humanity, but also it goes deep into the matter of divinity carved within human souls. Amistad (1997), directed by Steven Spielberg, is one such case. On the surface, the movie is about profound human dignity and the historical call to repentance over the evil practice of slavery. However, in its depth, the movie is also about “God’s Spirit at work in and through [humanity]”[13] represented by vigorous abolitionists and their Christian sincerity. At the end, the theological boundary between humanity and divinity is blurred enough for us to see the divinely sanctioned human nature in the characters. Divinity is still divinity, not humanity. But, we start seeing divinity in and through humanity.

In summary, the code of humanity & divinity helps the cinematic congregation find and foster the divine presence not only in the church, but also in everyday life or in historical witness. This is in fact a great merit of using good pop movies for theological edification. By carefully watching and interpreting the movies, we start seeing the Spirit of God working in and through human beings and human history, freed from possible dogmatized and institutionalized bondage of God within the church’s ecclesial boundaries. The cinematic congregation now brings back the “God-out-of-bounds”—whom they confront in the pop film and bring to the church pew. What is the preacher going to say to them?

The Code of Money & Material

This code is specifically about the hostile social environment of modern American neo-capitalism, consumerism, materialism and the related poverty and economic injustice. In spite of the gravity of these matters in pop movies, strangely enough it is very hard to find any film studies that handle them with acuity. It is not that there are not many good pop movies that straightforwardly address this code of money and material. Movies, like The Color of Money (1986), The Money Pit (1986), Wall Street (1987) and its sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), Other People’s Money (1991), Indecent Proposal (1993), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Two for the Money (2005), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Boiler Room (2000), and Mad Money (2008) are upfront analyses and critiques of neo-capitalistic consumerist society. What is notable in these movies is that the matter of money (or the restless pursuit of money) is almost always entwined with the matters of either material or distorted human nature. First, as seen in The Godfather trilogy (1972, ’74, ’90), the issue of money is also the issue of who is going to get more economic and political control over the limited material resources of the world (e.g., casino ownership or control of the Italian oil export market). In this kind of money and material movie, indeed, there is no clear distinction between money and material. They are interchangeable and both become the source of social or individual evil.

The second related point is that the money problem also becomes a problem of distorted human nature. As the cases of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006) show, life revolving around illegitimate money or love of monetary success becomes a vivid representation of fallen human nature in the forms of greed, lust, loss of self-control, selfishness, jealousy, betrayal, aversion, unreasonable self-elevation and the like. The movies do not say that money is the source of such fallen human nature, yet they still seem to contend that money could be the origin of it in modern society.

It is unfortunate that in pop movies money or pursuit of material is often portrayed in a negative, if not disapproving, tone. This probably might be the cinematic projection of how modern society perceives its own relation with neo-capitalistic money and related material issues. Now, the cinematic congregation whose conception of money and material is under the influence of that cinematic projection wants to hear what Scripture or at least the preacher can say about it.

The Code of Nature and Violence

This code is specifically about violence in or against human life and also human hostility against nature, the Mother earth. Often, these two kinds of violence go together since one kind of violence can end up executing the other kind of violence, escalating the cruelty of the world (e.g., consider the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in which cases violence against humanity caused a devastating effect on nature). Movies like A Civil Action (1998) and Erin Brockovich (2000) also effectively demonstrate the fact of the double jeopardy of violence and propose comprehensive possible resolutions for their own cases, though not complete ones.

Pop movies also acknowledge that the issue of violence is not simple at all; e.g., we cannot simply say “violence is always wrong!” War-oriented movies like Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), The Thin Red Line (1998), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and An Act of Valor (2012), always challenge that simple notion about violence. In those movies, we are often asked, “Who really commits violence, a good person or a villain? Whose violence is worse? Is violence at times necessary or even good? Which is better, an innocent honorable death or committing violence against others for survival? And more fundamentally, who defines what is violent?”

While pop movies do a good job of informing us of the complexness of the problem of violence, at times, as Bryan Stone notices, violence in pop movies becomes a vehicle for the “entertainment of comfortable spectators.”[14] To put it bluntly, people sitting in the movie seats are not scared any more by cinematic violence; rather, they are much entertained by and even enjoying watching it (e.g., violent scenes including war, drugs, homicide, racism, bombing, shooting, rape, sexist language, etc.). This shows, to borrow Stone’s observation again, that we are now being increasingly desensitized to violence in film.[15] Even worse, when a notion of so-called redemptive violence is, directly or indirectly, introduced and enhanced in films (e.g., as in the cases of Die Hard I and II [1988, 1990] and The Passion of the Christ [2004]), there is a good chance for the audience to come to advocate seemingly “legitimate violence.” Here, we do not say that all kinds of violence in film should be banned because of their negative impact on human psychology and spirituality. That ignorant practice just betrays what human life really is; violence is part of human nature and the world, whether we like it or not. And film is here to genuinely describe what human life is as it has been. Thus, what is actually needed vis-à-vis the violence in film is the cinematic people’s careful, balanced discretion; no absolute disapproval, yet no blind-minded embrace.

It is our hope that Scripture or the church’s message helps the cinematic congregation deepen and widen their careful discretion over the matter of violence in film. In particular, we hope that the preacher figures out a certain Scriptural guide for the sake of the cinematic congregation when she diligently goes to the text with the code of nature and violence in her own discrete cinematic mind.

Summary and Suggestion[16]

The cinematic congregation today brings to the church pews all these five codes growing out of their everyday watching of pop movies and their unconscious cultural analysis of them. What should be noted here again is that these codes are not simple cultural vogues or trends that come and disappear quickly as people’s cultural appetites change. These five codes are rather the vivid representation of the cinematic public’s general socio-spiritual psychology and context that have been formed throughout the pop film watching of the past century. We anticipate, in light of the century-old enthusiasm toward film, that this particular cinematic socio-spiritual psychology will continue in the time ahead.[17] This means that the cinematic congregation naturally will utilize as their unique hermeneutic lens these five codes as they listen to the Scriptural reading and the preacher’s message rooted in the former. This is why the article urges the preacher to take the five codes to the Scriptural text as she embarks each week on biblical exegesis and interpretation. As discussed earlier, by this practice, she is not simply taking a particular cultural ideology or ideologies to the text as a predisposed theological lens, but she is initiating a critical socio-spiritual dialogue between Scripture and the cinematic people whom she represents and cares for enough to prepare and deliver a faithful message for them each Sunday.


Sunggu Yang, PhD

George Fox University


[1]Cargal, Hearing a Film, 6.

[2] For a dramatic “plot” structure of the sermon, see Eugene Lowry The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001 [1980]); for the power of imagination in and for preaching, Thomas Troeger, Imagining a Sermon (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1990); and

for the homiletic “move” discussion for the post-modern, more dialogical congregation, David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1987).

[3] Paul Scott Wilson, The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching (Nashville, TN.: Abingdon Press, 1999), 83.

[4] Ibid., 87-88.

[5] Cargal, Hearing a Film, 62.

[6] From this point on, the term, “cinemate,” is used in a more theoretic sense or when pointing to the overall methodology, while “cinematic” appears in a more practical sense or when indicating certain detailed aspects of the methodology.

[7] Found in Lacey’s cinematic articulation of his narrative theory in Nick Lacey, Introduction to Film (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 88-90.

[8] Tomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005 [1989]), 16.

[9] Each Page representing “Trouble in the Bible,” “Trouble in the World,” “God’s Action in the Bible,” and “God’s Grace in the World.” Wilson, The Four Pages, 15-17.

[10] The book title of Cargal’s Hearing a Film, Seeing a Movie: Preaching and Popular Movies. 

[11] Lacey, Introduction, 88.

[12] Gender, environment, violence, and justice issues dealt with in Christopher Deacy

Gaye Williams Ortiz, Theology and Film: Challenging the Sacred/Secular Divide (Malden, MA.:; Oxford, Blackwell Pub., 2008), esp., chaps. 3-6.; issues of evil, good, sin, redemption, justice, and peace in Greg Garrett, The Gospel According to Hollywood (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2007); subjects of metaphysical evil, violence and redemption, humanity, morality and the divine revelation in Roy M. Anker, Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2004); topics of humanity, beauty and creativity, reconciliation, community and friendship and faith in Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2004); and many others.

[13] Barsotti and Johnston, Finding God in the Movies, 53.

[14] Stone, Bryan (1999) “Religion and Violence in Popular Film.”Journal of Religion and Film, 3/1, April,

[15] Ibid.

[16] Two side notes are needed here. First, some might complain that the five codes try to include all human issues that other cultural artifacts also (can) handle seriously. Put simply, why do we need these five codes after all if 1) they are just all about human life (why do we really need five distinctions?) and 2) other cultural artifacts can do the same? This critique is half right and half wrong. First, it is half right, since the five codes indeed cover the whole socio-spiritual range of human life. Yet, it is also entirely wrong. The film is now a very unique sweeping phenomenon in the general public. Discussed in detail earlier, we are now living in a film or image culture. Film and image can say everything about human life at ease and in depth to the whole public, while other cultural products are limited in that capacity. This is why the article’s specific interest goes to pop movies. Further, we need five distinctive codes since those five represent how the film handles each movie topic or theme in a unique cinematic way. Even though the five codes often overlap with each other in a single movie, it is not always the case that a single movie can touch on each of all the five codes; often it touches on just one or two. Besides, each code contains a very specific socio-spiritual aspect of human life that other codes cannot represent. Second, these five codes and their analysis are not exhaustive. Each preacher through their own watching and “reading” of movies, is encouraged to come up with their own creative codes and analyses. Here, the article suggests only the five, while it could be more for other preachers. Yet, in terms of the argument appearing in current faith-based film study publications, the five seem to be the foundation upon which each preacher can build her own code set. What is more important here is that the preacher figures out how pop movies represent, interpret, apply or even (socio-spiritually) distort the codes they have found.

[17] Johnston, Reel Spirituality, 53.

Categories: Features

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: