Senior editor at The Gospel Coalition, author of Uncomfortable, regular film critic
Your new book Uncomfortable explains the value of embracing flawed but essential local church communities. Why was that topic important to you?
It was important to me because the local church is so incredibly important. I see many in my generation who are disenchanted with the local church or who prefer a more self-styled, DIY Christianity over one that is “institutional” or embedded in a community. And yet Jesus didn’t call us to individualistic, DIY faith. He called us into a family, a community, with each of us as living stones being built up into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). It’s more challenging this way, to be part of this eclectic “house,” because it means we are being fit together with all sorts of other stones who sometimes rub us the wrong way. But it’s the biblical and more beautiful way.
A lot of Christians have idealistic and sanitized theological views of community, but balk at the concept once theirs gets messy. How can believers cultivate healthy expectations about their own church communities?
Community is all well and good until it isn’t. Invariably a community that is initially awesome will one day become not awesome. We get hurt. We feel misunderstood. We change or others change. And in our consumeristic society, the default response is to just leave. If it’s no longer “working for me,” whether in a church community or in a marriage, we bail. That’s why commitment is essential in a healthy approach to community. To be committed, whether in marriage or in a church community, is to stick with the relationship, the family, in good times and bad, even when it’s hard and messy and uncomfortable. It’s love based in sacrifice and covenant, not convenience or comfort.
We live in a Rotten Tomatoes-saturated movie review culture, in which one’s opinion on a film must be distilled into a flat binary — “GOOD” or “BAD.” How can we engender more thoughtful discussions?
I think we can do practical things like creating more space for discussion after we watch movies. Take your friends or church small group to a movie and then go to a coffee shop afterwards to have a discussion. Invite people over to watch a film at your house and then discuss it together. Too often our discussions are limited to a brief, “did you like it?” exchange as we walk out of the theater and to our cars. Resist this! In my own reviews I don’t give star ratings or anything like that, because I want to engage the film beyond the “is it good or is it bad?” question. Most films, even bad ones, present at least some interesting ideas worth discussing. As Christians we should respect the filmmakers enough to at least try to grapple with what they are attempting in the film, even if we might disagree with or dislike it.