5 Questions to Process Your True/False Doc Binge

If you spent your weekend binging on documentaries (like me), then the last thing you probably want to do is spend more time thinking about it. But there’s never enough time during the festival to process I view, and if I don’t take time to think through my experience, I tend to mindlessly consume it.

This mindless consumption can be both dangerous and dishonest. Dangerous, because as Christians we’re called to carefully consider what hear and believe, lest our faith be swept about by every new idea or philosophy (Eph. 4:14). Dishonest, because moviegoers make an invisible contract with directors to listen, consider, and respond to their art. A good friend of mine says that good moviegoers don’t just passively watch. They actively view films.

Thankfully, God commends us when we use our minds (that he created) to carefully consider what we view (Rom. 12:1-2). And there’s a long history of Christians taking the ideas of outsiders seriously (Acts 17). In fact True/False is a great opportunity to engage with modern worldviews. That said, here are five questions to help us engage with, and process the docs we viewed this weekend:

1. What aspects of the Biblical story line did I view this weekend? The Bible’s storyline can be summed up like this: Creation, rebellion, redemption, restoration. Because this is humanity’s true storyline, it’s hard to find a documentary that doesn’t hit on one of these themes. Some friends of mine saw human rebellion in The Act of Killing, which depicts the depravity and evil of unphased murderers. I saw longing for restoration in films like Crash Reel, as two brothers battle to accept their disabilities and yearn for healing. Where did you see creation, rebellion, redemption or restoration?

2. What aspects of the human condition did I view this weekend? The T/F festival directors do a great job of picking human stories. The Bible affirms the humanity of all people, so wherever we see honest depictions of the human condition (humanity’s sin, need, desire, idolatry, glory, relationships, longings) we ought to commend it. Watching 20 Feet From Stardom was a wonderful reminder that all of us were made for glory. When I heard those backup singers really sing, it gave me chills, because their voices were glorious. Yet, beside that glory, was the human desire for fame, a twisted, debilitating idol. Think back through your films, where did you see the human condition on display.

3. What aspects of artistry should I celebrate? One final area to commend is creativity. Maybe it’s the creative storytelling in Stories We Tell. Or the terrible beauty and originality of photography in Leviathan. Perhaps we can commend the careful illustrations Manhunt that help make a complex topic easier to understand. What art can you celebrate?

4. What worldviews did I discover a window into? True/False gives us a window into the world and how people think about life, meaning, goodness, evil, humanity, God, knowledge, truth, and ethics. Christians must not be deaf to the voices of outsiders; we must listen and consider. Try to listen so well that you can articulate an artist’s ideas better than he or she can.

5. What do these worldviews/ideas agree or disagree with Scripture? Once we’ve taken the ideas of a film seriously we must submit them to God’s word so that God has the final say. Often, we’ll find common ground. For instance, we can affirm the high value Blackfish places on protecting human life over greed, because the Bible says that every human is made in God’s image, and deserves dignified protection. We can affirm the wonderful relationship that Moo Man depicts between man and cow, because the Bible says that God commanded humans to care and cultivate creation.

Yet, there must be places where Christians disagree. For instance, where we affirm Crash Reel for showing the human dignity of a young man struggling with Down syndrome, we must equally question the perspective of films like After Tiller which, while complex, deny the full dignity of some human lives. We must submit before scripture challenging ethical and philosophical questions in films like The Gatekeepers, Pandora’s Promise, and Dirty Wars or we’ll be tossed about.

Take some time, maybe with a friend or spouse and work through these questions for a half hour. Let’s be the kind of Christians who mindfully engage, commend, and challenge the world around us.

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