Faith & Film

A Guidebook For Leaders

Edward N. McNulty

A Review
By Frank A. Mills

September 26, 2023
Book Covers

Faith & Film: A Guidebook for Leaders, Edward N. McNulty. Westminster John Knox (Louisville), 2007. 272 pages including appendices, endnotes and bibliography. ISBN: 978-0-664-33950-4.

Several years ago, I was part of an early morning church service called “The Garden.” We sat around tables, ate breakfast sweets and drank coffee as we worshipped. An integral part of “The Garden,” was using short movie clips to illustrate the theme of the homily. Occasionally, I was the one presenting the homily and thus, the one who had to come up with movie clips. Ever since those days, I have been cognizant of spiritual themes in movies, even though the films were not spiritual per se.

As with my experience with “The Garden” (although only short clips), many pastors are coming to r Faith & Film: A Guidebook for Leaders, by Edward N. McNulty pulls themes of faith from popular films.

The books first paragraph states,

This is a practical book designed to help pastors, Christian educators, and that much-sought-after group, “the intelligent laity” enter into a dialogue with some of the films produced by Hollywood and independent filmmakers.

Faith and film can be in dialogue, but it takes a learned ability to be aware of the dialogue taking place in the film, as well as a learned ability to understand how the dialogue might be applied to our Christian growth. It is this learning experience that the first part of the book – “Looking for the Light of the World While Sitting in the Dark” -- sets before the reader. In this section we learn to develop a theology of seeing. We learn how “Hollywood and Jerusalem” can work together, that films can be visual parables, and from the intersection of faith and film, how to become a film critic.

If you do this in a church, there’s going to be those who object for any number of reasons. McNulty, recognizes this, and provides with ways to work through the objections. Lastly in the first section, McNulty offers suggestions for settings for film discussions and on using the guides presented in Faith & Film.

The second part explores twenty-seven wide-ranging films, offering an introduction to each. Each film listed also includes a brief section on introducing the film to the viewers. Each film listed also has questions for reflection and discussion following the viewing of the film. It should be noted that many of the films covered in Faith & Film are R-rated. Consideration, therefore needs to be given to whom the films are shown.

Although the films in this book are old, they still have a message to share. McNulty publishes and edits an online magazine, Visual Parables, which feature more current films.

There are two appendices, the first, a source list, and the second, “Church and Theater” explains how both are partners in exploring film.

If you are a pastor or Christian education director, I strong urge you to get read Faith & Film: A Guidebook for Leaders, consider the power that film has to insightfully present spiritual truths in the form of a parable, and then figure out how you can use film to impart spiritual truths to your congregation.

Previous to Faith and Film McNulty authored Praying the Movies: Daily Meditations from Classic Films (2001) and Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations from Classic Films (2004), both by Westminster John Knox Press. In 2014, Jesus Christ: Movie Starwas published by Read the Spirit Books.

© Frank A. Mills, 1997-2024

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