In his book, Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth, and Evil in the Movies, Christianity Today film reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet writes,
“God’s truth is not available solely in Scripture or in the mouths of preachers—it can also be discerned in the way a tree grows or the way a sugar cube absorbs coffee. God may be revealing Himself not just through the charity of a compassionate saint (Dead Man Walking) but also through the shocking evil of a desperate preacher (The Apostle)...Christ’s incarnation teaches us that spiritual things and fleshly things are not separate. The sacred is waiting to be recognized in secular things. Even those artists who don’t believe in God might accidently reflect back to us realities in which we can see God working.” (pp. 55-56, 56-57)
In other words, God is at work outside the sphere of the believing community of the body of Christ. He can, and often does, show himself in the popular art of those who are not believers.
As Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor write, Christians should learn how to “look closer.”
“We challenge you to ‘look closer,’ to discover the surprising messages God may already be broadcasting through the mass media…Learning to ‘look closer’ will take time; it will take work, it will take patience. But those willing to engage pop culture with eyes wide open may find themselves pleasantly surprised and spiritually energized. The theological term behind learning to look closer is ‘common grace.’ It begins with an appreciation of the creative side of God, the goodness initiated in Genesis that continues through the Spirit’s ongoing work of conscience…Common grace explains why the most spiritual movies are often made by people outside the formal borders of the church.” (A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture, pp. 16-17)In chapter 5 of this book, Craig Detweiler goes into detail as to how God speaks in and through the movies of our popular culture.
“Movies teach us (almost) everything about our world that we need to know. Film noir such as The Maltese Falcon reveal the evil hidden in every human heart. Romances such as Say Anything suggest that love is worth waiting for. Science fiction such as the original Planet of the Apes teaches tolerance. Fantasies such as The Lord of the Rings dream of a better world, challenging us to environmental preservation. The Marx Brothers promote laughter in the face of absurdity. Humphrey Bogart offers a code of honor and ethics. Katherine Hepburn demonstrates brains and bravura. Sean Connery models wit, grace, and style. Clint Eastwood communicates the power of silence.” (p. 156)Detweiler is bold in daring to suggest “that if God can speak to us through the pummeling effects of Raging Bull, then Fight Club, Magnolia, and Dogma might be God’s latest, greatest sermons—but only if we follow the advice of the provocative poster and trailer for American Beauty: “Look closer.” (p. 156)
Is it theologically possible to believe that God is pleased by the artistic endeavors of unbelievers? Richard Mouw believes so. In his excellent book, He Shines in all that’s Fair, he writes,
“When an unbelieving poet makes use of an apt metaphor, or when a foul-mouthed major league outfielder leaps high into the air to make a stunning catch, we can think of God as enjoying the event without necessarily approving of anything in the agents involved – just as we might give high marks to a rhetorical flourish by a politician whose views on public policy we despise.” (p. 37)