One of the greatest needs within the Christian community today is clear thinking about how the Bible relates to entertainment, the arts, and Hollywood.
Why is there so little Christian influence in Hollywood?
Over the last century, the Christian church primarily had two basic approaches to mainstream culture. On one hand Evangelical Christians saw it as something dangerous which we should avoid, at times responding with boycotts, and complaints that content does not fit our worldview. On the other hand, Christians in mainline denominations often embraced the culture, without enough discernment, and eventually compromising their faith in the process.
Evangelical Christians pursued purity, while abandoning the culture. Mainline Christians pursued relevance, while abandoning the gospel. Both of these options failed to be redemptive, biblical, or transformational in their approach to the culture.
Hollywood saw our only visible ‘witness’, and understood Christianity through both approaches. In short, they observed the gospel as being irrelevant. The Evangelical Church was irrelevant because it was completely disconnected, and the mainline church was irrelevant because it was merely a social club. In short, we failed to be salt and light.
How can we make a significant difference today?
The good news is there is a third way to approach Hollywood. The great theologian, Jonathan Edwards, already provided us with a model. Edwards taught that a vibrant understanding of the gospel will be founded on three core components.
First, we must have Orthopathos (right passions). This is seen in our understanding of how the gospel relates to our heart, to our life of prayer and our devotions. It is essential that we have a personal relationship with God that is vibrant and meaningful.
Second we must have Orthodoxy (right doctrine). This is more than simply knowing the gospel. It is seen in our understanding of who God is, who we are as people made in His image, and what God expects of us. If we don’t have solid theology we can easily be led astray from the gospel.
Third, we must have Orthopraxy (right practice). This is seen in the way the gospel drives us to be salt and light within our communities and the broader culture. Good theology will drive us to care for the poor, for justice. I will also motivate us to care for the artists speaking to our communities and the content being created in Hollywood.
If we only care about ourselves, and hold simply onto Orthopathos, we will have piety that fails to be salt and light. If we only care about theology, and hold simply onto Orthodoxy, we will be ivory tower theologians who know Greek and Hebrew, but who have lost the ability to communicate effectively to others. And if we only care about Orthopraxy, or ‘practical applications’, we may care about behaviors and activist causes but slowly drift away from our personal relationship with Christ.
Jonathan Edwards showed us that we need all three. We need a personal relationship with God, while also growing in our understanding of who He is, while at the same time growing in our understanding of what it means to be salt and light in our world.
For years Christians have come to Hollywood to make films, while lacking such a robust approach. We have seen sincere Christians come to Hollywood who love Jesus, but lack the solid theology to weather the storms. Sadly, they end up compromising their faith, or creating films that look no different than the mainstream. The reality is this. It doesn’t need to happen this way.
Real discipleship for Filmmakers, Artists, and Academics.
We started Arts & Entertainment Ministries in 2004, because we saw a great need. We had both grown up in the art world. My wife had been a professional actress since she was 15, and I had started playing woodwinds in orchestra pits at age 14.
We understood the life of artists and creatives because we, ourselves, are artists . We also cared deeply about honoring God with our talents. The challenge was finding resources to speak into the intersection of these two passions. Over the last 20 years we have created our own model for discipling artists. We have used this model to disciple artists across Los Angeles and New York, as well as in London. Joel has spoken for universities, arts groups, and churches all over the world.
A foundational part of our teaching is this: God’s heart is for redeeming not only individuals, but also entire communities, cities, and cultures. Authentic Christianity does not compel us to create our own subculture, rather it inspires us to engage our world and work for the good of the city in which we live. It empowers us to stand firm in our faith and our worldview while we love and have grace for people who think and act differently than we do. It inspires us to create art which echoes the hope, justice, and love of God while wrestling with the sins and fragility of our own humanity.
Christians who live this way possess a hope that comes from a spiritual life which beckons them to become a redemptive agent in the world around them. In short, our commitment to Christ does not take us away from the culture around us. Instead, it equips us to be a redemptive force within it.
To utilize the most powerful medium in the world, and have a lasting impact, Christians need to be equipped and grounded in biblical principles. We invite you to join us in this mission: Help us train men and women to remain firm in their faith as they seek to influence the world through great film.
Invest in the work of AEM (Arts & Entertainment Ministries).
Invest in the discipleship of Christians working in Hollywood today.
• Joel Pelsue is the Co-Founder and President/CEO of Arts and Entertainment Ministries as well as the Arts & Entertainment Institute. He is a Presbyterian minister, pastoring now for over 15 years both in New York and in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and his M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Joel lives in Los Angeles with his wife Michelle, and their three children.
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