movies, stories, gospel

Long-time-no-write ... because Barby and I find ourselves in Copenhagen for a conference (more on that later) with the flights over here providing the opportunity for watching some movies.

We've come a long way from The Sound of Music, a linear story (beginning at the beginning and progressing to the end) with basically a single plotline. With critically acclaimed movies like Pulp Fiction (which I am not endorsing here!) and The English Patient leading the way the presentation of stories has changed. The linear storyline is dislocated and the plotlines are multiplied.

We've seen this on TV. The multiplication of plotlines through Hill Street Blues and on to ER - where there may be up to 12-15 plots all happening at the same time - is now supplemented by Lost where any idea of a linear storyline starting at the beginning and progressing to the end is as lost as the title suggests.

A movie which caught my eye on the plane was Vantage Point where an American President is killed by terrorists in Spain and the story is then re-told from four perspectives. We have the story through the eyes of one character for about 20minutes then the movie literally rewinds in front of us to the same moment (12 noon) before the story is picked up through another character. Gradually the story makes sense - but through a non-linear storyline and multiple plots. As a piece of storytelling it was totally absorbing.

AND a person being killed and the story being told through four perspectives reminds me of another killing from four perspectives - the gospel story.

Here is the question which intrigues me. Is our gospel-telling stuck in a 'Sound of Music' world? If so, must this be the case? Would anything be compromised by being more creative and playing with non-linear storytelling with multiple plots more explicitly - even in the course of a single sermon? What would the gospel story look like in the hands of the director of Lost? Would it necessarily be incomprehensible? Probably! But maybe we can stop short of going that far?

I wonder if part of the answer might be found in the way the bigger gospel, the Genesis-to-Revelation story, can be told. Doesn't it make most sense non-linearly - by starting in the middle with Jesus generally (and the Road to Emmaus specifically) and using that then as a portal through which to travel back to Genesis and forward to Revelation, discovering multiple plots along the way?

I love the interface between gospel and culture, probing for that space where unshakeable biblical faithfulness and authentic cultural relevance coexist. I wonder whether there is some unexplored territory here?!

nice chatting



A. J. Chesswas said…
I would agree. But I wuld also say there is a place for both. I have jut been raving about The Sound of Music on my blog. The New Plymouth Operatic Society is performing the story over the coming week. I saw the opening night, and the response of the crowd was very enthusiastic. And it was acted with such incredible energy and, for want of a better word, magic, that even the most staunch post-modernist post-romantic would surely have had their heart warmed or else they would have had to run from trhe building!!!
Paul said…
Actually AJ I'd probably opt for something close to Sound of Music four times out of five. The linear and the single plot is still so valuable ... but as you affirm there is a place to try something different and creative.

Plus the thing that so impresses me about the movie is that at each stage of my life - 7yr old, teenager, young adult, husband, father - the movie takes on a different complexion as I identified with different characters in the film. This is another feature of story-telling that carries over into gospel and preaching.
Mark Maffey said…
Paul as you have taught me and many others there is definitely room for inventiveness in the way we preach the gospel. Story-telling is one medium we can continue to explore more in our Church environments.Thinking of the different characters on the Road to Emmaus I can see a range of angles that could be developed within a Sermon.

The question I have around this though is the care with which we need to handle scripture. We need to understand the original context and setting, and when we extrapolate from that ensure that we aren't pushing the boundaries of biblical truth.

The different genres within the Bible give huge scope to develop ways in which we can make it come to life for the listener. We can be vivid without destroying it's impact. "Samson brought the house down" comes to mind...
BJ said…
so elegant
Ben Carswell said…
Thanks for this & good to meet you at thrilled to hear of your planned move & trust God guides in the coming months.

Interestingly, the phenomenon of the Sing-along Sound of Music really has taken hold in recent years. I guess that says something about society - that we want to be part of the narrative.

Fascinating thoughts & I'd love to chat it through more with you about how it affects our preaching/evangelism.

See you at the weekend, maybe?
Tim said…
On the Scripture thing, I haven't seen the film, but I assume from what you say that each story adds something different (with its different point of view) to our understanding of the "event". Isn't that exactly why we do have four Gospels not one?

On the storytelling technique, i wonder how new it is, is that not what The Woman in White the 1859 novel written by Wilkie Collins, not the 2004 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the novel, does?
Anonymous said…

i used vantage point to frame Easter Sunday sermon.

Vantage point had 8 perspectives, so in the sermon i looked at the 4 gospels. then a bit of NT Wright for an 8th perspective on new heaven, new earth.

what about the 5, 6, 7 perspective on resurrection? well that, I suggested was ours, as we live out the story of God's life in our home, work and family.

finished with people laying flowers on maps of christchurch - as their prayer for resurrection life in their perspective.

the sermon is here -;

and some pics are here -

like you, I found the movie immensely helpful, esp in allowing the diversity of gospels, and a rich eschatology, to bloom (pun intended).

steve taylor
Paul said…
WOW - that is amazing Steve. I am on a borrowed computer in London at the moment - but I will definitely have a look at what you've done when I get a chance.

Paul said…
And Ben - not sure what you have planned for this weekend ... was it the cricket at Lord's? I went to the game at the Oval yesterday. Yes, all you cricket fans in New Zealand, you are permitted to go a deep shade of green as it was sheer bliss. You should have seen me leap to my feet with an instinctive shriek when Kevin Petersen went for a duck, only to discover that I was surrounded by thousands of quiet fans who remained seated. By the end of the game I had lost all sanctification with bouts of boo-ing Paul Collingwood ... but this morning piety has returned! :)

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