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4 Secular Movies that Actually Have Great Theology

4 Secular Movies that Actually Have Great Theology

© Paramount

Brantly Millegan - published on 08/02/13

Sure, Hollywood is mostly godless, but every now and then the producers aren’t paying attention and they accidentally turn out a movie that is shockingly serious in its theology

Every now and then the evil Hollywood cabal gets sloppy and accidentally let’s through a really great movie that intelligently engages with some serious theology. I know, rare! But it does happen. Here are just four of the best, but please do share in the comments what I left out.

The Village: Original Sin

The Village was panned by many, but mainly because of bad advertising. All the teens who went expecting a real scary movie were disappointed. Instead, they got a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and intelligent exploration of the dogma of Original Sin.

Humans were made good, but things went wrong. Adam and Eve sinned and our natures were distorted. So we find in every time and place problems with greed, revenge, lust, and a whole host of other sinful disorders. The problem is not simply our surroundings, our culture, our political or economic system – although those can be part of the problem – no, the problem is ultimately with us, and can only be fixed with God’s grace available to us in Jesus.

This is precisely what the leaders of the town in The Village didn’t understand at first, and only learned the hard way. Even though they left America’s corrupt culture and formed a more wholesome community in some respects, crime and tragedy still found its way into their community.

Forrest Gump: Providence

“I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” – Forrest Gump

You gotta love Forest Gump. He’s simple, naive, innocent – and yet keeps stumbling into the most amazing circumstances. Most people won’t have lives as interesting Forrest, but the movie brings up the age old question: is there meaning and direction to history, or is everything just random and meaningless?

Forrest’s conclusion quoted above might seem like a contradictory non-answer. But maybe what he means is that the ways of Providence are more subtle. As Scripture says of God’s wisdom, he “governs all things sweetly”.

Contact: The Reality of Religious Experience

In Contact, the skeptic has an experience of humility and beauty (well, er, also her Dad) and it changes her life. But she can’t prove it to anyone. And that’s where Dr. Eleanor Arroway becomes like her friend, the almost priest Palmer Joss, who, earlier in the movie (unfortunately after they fornicate), tells Ellie about a personal religious experience of God. She’s of course skeptical and asks for proof. But when later in the movie she has her own quasi-spiritual experience and can’t prove it, Palmer supports her and says he believes her.

The movie Contact was based on a novel of the same name (which I have not read) by atheist Carl Sagan. Which surprises me since, as a Christian, I’ve always thought the movie showed a great deal of respect of theism and always seemed to me to side with it: there are parts of the human experience which can’t be reduced to science.

Tree of Life: Meaning in Suffering

With the death of his brother, an adult man looks back on his childhood in 1950s America. The movie takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of the history of the universe, including the formation of the earth, the emergence of life, and even shows you a dinosaur (yes, suddenly seeing a dinosaur caught me off guard).

The movie basically follows the answer God gave to Job about why there is suffering in the world. After 37 chapters of telling the story of Job, his friends accusing him of having sinned to merit God’s punishment, Job defending himself, and Job finally accusing God, God shows up:

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38.1-7)

The rest of the biblical book is pretty much just God describing the enormity, complexity, and beauty of the universe, and pointing out that God is God, and Job is not. God doesn’t answer Job’s question directly, but he puts it the greater perspective of all of creation – a sentiment that Tree of Life is very successful in communicating. 

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