Reflection on the 'Gospel' of a Film

Long ago, on the xanga.com Westmont blogring, students talked about whatever you like. They posted about music, movies, tastes, travels, what they were doing at that very moment, what video games they were playing (mainly men), how they felt about how you looked (mainly women), how stressed they were, and so on. Those conversations have migrated to Facebook and off the net. But they left a lasting impression on me, because students almost never blogged about their classes or what they were learning in them, except for occasional oblique compliments for how they liked a class or (more commonly) for whines and complaints about the demands classes or chapel were making on their sleep schedules.

I think what made these topics unimaginable there is the boundary between school and life that they (and, I believe, you) impose on yourselves. Invading your social lives with course content seems all but taboo among all but a few of you. School is not life; life is not school. Your worlds remind me of the old cartoon of Sam and Ralph, the sheepdog and the coyote who amiably punch in at 9 o’clock, wait until the whistle blows, and spend their work day protecting or stealing sheep and trying violently to outwit each other. At the 5 o’clock whistle the two stop immediately, punch out, and bid each other good night. Hey, it’s just a job.

Now I don’t expect you students to be carrying your academic agendas with them wherever you go; and yes, I do remember what it was to be a twenty-year-old college student. I myself did not give my studies a very high priority, though I did think about the material I found interesting and talk about it with roommates and a few others. However, it still came as something of a shock to see activities that consumed something like half of my students' waking hours to be all but invisible on their on-line journals.

Yet our course subject of soteriology – and, in fact, college academics in general – is not just a job you should be starting and stopping as if you were flicking a switch.

That dichotomy threatens the integrity of what you are learning in this class, because it effectively makes the Christ you study about in your coursework different from the Christ you trust (or don't trust) outside your academic life. Gnosticism! This exercise is meant to rescue your academic Christianity from that impoverishment.

Among the topics of Christian systematic theology, none interacts as often with film as soteriology. Identify a film you want to show to a group of viewers (your audience is your choice). I suggest that you first figure out what its ‘gospel’ or message is, and how it compares to the good news of the New Testament as it is appreciated in later soteriology. You'll describe this in your write-up. Formulate questions for them to discuss, and screen and discuss the film with them. Use lectures and readings as appropriate to inform your choice of films, your questions, and what each story has to say to the other.

Please keep your paper four pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my suggestions for writing papers.

Remember, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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