Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What Do Movies Tell Us about Our Culture?

There are few movies as beloved as Gene Kelly’s classic musical, “Singing in the Rain.” It’s a story about Hollywood’s awkward transition from silent pictures to—as they called them in the 1920s—“Talkies.” During one scene in which the characters watch their first “talkie,” a mogul of the old-school silent film industry scoffs, “It’ll never catch on."

Well, it’s clear that film as we know it has not only “caught on,” but as Sunday’s Academy Awards remind us, it’s become probably the most visible expression of culture. But the Oscars reveal another transition taking place in Hollywood.

At first glance, this year’s nominees look like very different movies. One takes place on Mars, another in the American wilderness, and another in a nightmarish, dystopian future. But on closer inspection, writer and producer Bryan Coley says the nominees all have one thing in common: They’re about survival.

Bryan, who’s the Founder and Chief Creative Director of “Art Within,” calls movies the “cultural texts” of our time. John Stonestreet spoke with him on our latest episode of “BreakPoint This Week,” and got his take on this year’s Oscar nominees.

He explained that survival is a theme Hollywood has wrestled with for almost fifteen years. Since 9/11, Americans have been subconsciously frightened. And this year’s nominees for Best Picture reflect that same fear.

In “Mad Max,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” and “Room,” characters fight for their lives against forces outside of their control. In nominees like “Brooklyn,” “Spotlight,” and “The Big Short,” characters also struggle to survive, albeit figuratively.

What’s different about this year’s nominees is the answer they offer. For years, our culture has focused on superheroes who swoop in to trounce the bad guys and save the day.

But moviegoers aren’t looking to the skies anymore. Instead, we’re looking amongst ourselves for ordinary saviors. And in this year’s batch of Oscar hopefuls, survival depends not on our heroes’ ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but on their grit, their scientific knowledge, and their moral fiber.

Take “The Martian,” for example. When Matt Damon’s character, finds himself stranded on the red planet, he relies on his own ingenuity and determination to survive. And rather than the big wigs at NASA saving him, it’s his own crew—in an act of mutiny—who return to Mars and rescue him.

This theme of ordinary people banding together against corrupt institutions runs all through the year’s top films—not to mention politics. For American culture, explains Bryan, “us and them,” has been replaced by “we.”

He points to the “we-centric” way the millennial generation lives, [sharing] each other’s cars with Uber…each other’s bedrooms with Air BNB…each other’s experience with Periscope, and…each other’s statuses with Facebook.”

And this new reality has got to affect the way we Christians engage our culture—at least if we hope to be heard. In John’s interview on “BreakPoint This Week,” Bryan offered some practical suggestions on how to do that without compromising our message.

First, we’ve got to humble ourselves. Instead of acting like superheroes come to save the day, we need to recognize that we need saving, too! And when we point people to Christ, it’s got to be Christ manifested in our lives—not just to an abstract idea.

And we must embrace the power of stories—or as Bryan Coley calls them, “moving pictures.” This isn’t new. When Jesus wanted to communicate eternal truths to his culture, he didn’t use doctrinal treatises, but “moving pictures,”—so to speak—of His own.

Go to BreakPoint.org to hear John’s “BreakPoint This Week” interview with Bryan Coley about this year’s Oscars, and be sure to check out the great resources from “Art Within.”

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

4 Ways to Overcome the Feminization of Boys

The world gaped in awe at the story of the four Americans, aided by a Brit and a Frenchman, who wrote about this Jason Bourne-like episode for The Stream. It is a story you need to read. It will lift your spirits as it did mine. singlehandedly, without weapons, prevented a mass shooting on a French train a couple weeks back. I just

Writing this essay reminded me of the duty we have to train boys to take risks and lead in self-sacrifice for the good of others. This is a distinctly Christian idea, one filtered down through the teaching of the Old Testament and especially the image of Jesus Christ, who ascended a Roman cross to purify his bride (Eph. 5:22-33). It is an idea that has had a major impact on the West, as men historically have recognized that if a war must be fought, it is theirs to fight. Women and children should not be thrust into combat. They should be protected. This is what men do. This is what men have done for millennia.

But what about today? Recently, men on a train in Washington, D. C. failed to act as a crazed man stabbed a victim 40 times. They cowered in terror. Let’s be clear: if a would-be killer entered our area, we would fear for our lives, too. But please note what I said for The Stream:
You see, traditional manhood fears death, but it fears something even worse: being a coward. For a man, the only thing worse than a bullet in the kidney, or a box-cutter across the throat, is the failure to act. To act self-sacrificially on behalf of women and children is the epitome of virtuous manhood. It reflects, in fact, the apex of Christian doctrine: a Savior-husband giving his life to save a bride, the church.
How can we help boys understand this? How can we encourage them to embrace virtue and, in a fearful moment, act, as the Americans in Paris did? Let me give four quick thoughts.

1. Dads can be unapologetically masculine. Fathers need to be plugged in with their children. If they’re never around, or disengaged, boys won’t learn what it means to be a man. Fathers need to be present, and they need to be men. There’s nothing fancy about this. It’s not complicated. Every man will have his own interests; no two men are the same. But according to biblical categories, men should be men. They should dress like men, talk like men, and carry themselves like a man. For more on what this looks like and how the Bible shapes men, see the brand-new book Designed for Joy, with a stirring foreword from John Piper.

2. Dads can demonstrate courage. If there is a crazy person in the parking lot outside the apartment complex, fathers need to be the ones who go outside. If there is a scary situation at the shopping mall, dads need to act to get their family to safety. If a neighborhood child bullies the father’s child, the father needs to appropriately confront and handle the matter. Fathers are made for courage; men are made for action. Consider David’s words to Solomon as David’s life ebbed: Be strong, and show yourself a man (1 Kings 2:2). A secular, feminist age despises this cisgender exhortation, but Christians love it. Men hear in it a summons to full manhood; women hear in it the foundations of the kind of character that will treasure and bless them, not target and use them.

Fathers should also tell their sons great and spectacular stories of courage under fire. My recent book on Chuck Colson is one such attempt.

3. The church can encourage physicality. Not every boy can be a J. J. Watt-like display of power and fury. Not every man likes fishing or hunting or deadlifting. But in general, the church should not seek to stamp out the instinct for play and physical activity that boys have (and need). Boys should be encouraged to play, to be adventuresome, and to compete in healthy ways. There is not one narrowly-subscribed way for boys to be physical; there are in truth a thousand different ways for boys to give vent to their testosterone-fueled flights of fancy.

Boys have on average 1000% more testosterone than women. It’s all well and good to be gender-neutral in the classroom, but I dare you to try to defy the natural force of testosterone when you have an actual boy and not a bunch of cool ideas from a fancy textbook.

4. The church can hold high the example of Jesus. Jesus was a man. He took on fearsome odds in coming to earth and rescuing his people. Contra the ultra-spiritual model of his life, where he floated six inches off the ground and never so much as ripped a tissue in half, Jesus’ ministry to fulfill the very will of his Father involved hard, physical challenges. He fasted; he was a carpenter; he frequently had little rest and many demands; he paid for the sins of the wicked by dying in absolute, undiluted physical agony. Jesus was not exaggeratedly masculine, but neither was he anything less than masculine.

If churches will recover this aspect of Jesus’ life, they will help men to see that he is not a fairy tale. He does no violence to the God-created nature of manhood. Instead, he redeems manhood, and channels to ends that glorify the Father. Men find in him the example they desperately want. They discover a warrior-savior who is so manly that he feels no insecurity over weeping over the death of his friend (John 11:35). They find their own understanding of manhood challenged, stretched, corrected, and galactically enhanced in the person of Christ.

The stakes are high when it comes to our boys. What we communicate to them about manhood will definitively shape them, as I said for The Stream:
Teach a boy that he is an idiot, that he can only ever ascend to Fantasy Football champion, that he cannot ever measure up to his sisters, that he is at base an animal, and watch in wonder as he fulfills all your worst predictions.
But teach him that he has immense dignity and worth, that he was made — whatever his chest size, whatever his height — to spend himself for the good of others, and you will form the kind of young men who do not cower when a terrorist stands up, sweating and fevered, to fulfill Allah’s will by mowing down innocents. This kind of young man wakes up from his nap, sees bloodshed on the horizon, and moves with a swiftness he has trained for to sacrifice himself for others. He may die, he knows. But he will die with honor.

by Owen Strachan, President of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. At MBTS, I teach the full range of theology and supervise doctoral students while serving as the Director for the Center on Gospel & Culture. He is the author of the soon-to-be released book The Grand Design:Male and Female He Made Them. He is also the author of The Colson Way: Loving Yur Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World (Thomas Nelson, July 2015). The Colson Way is the first study of Chuck Colson’s life in a decade.