Hollywood. Few words can spark such strong and wide-ranging reactions among believers.

Shakespeare introduced the famous line, "To be, or not to be?" into the theatre. Today, Christians bring a similar question with them to the movie theatre—"To see, or not to see?" For many believers wanting to stay true to their beliefs while they stay up with culture, that dramatic dilemma is the question.

When it comes to Hollywood's latest offerings, most of us fight an inner battle between ethics and entertainment. Douglas M. Beaumont addresses this very issue in his new book, The Message Behind the Movie:  How to Engage with a Film without Disengaging Your Faith (Moody Publishers), as well as why movies matter and the role faith should play at the box office.

A Different Approach

For Beaumont, film and faith met at a place you'd least expect—a preaching class in seminary. When his sermons needed improvement, his professor suggested Beaumont look outside the Bible for inspiration. "I started reading all these different books on screenwriting," he reflects, "and started realizing that a lot of the techniques that we use to study the Bible can be used to understand movies better."

Studying apologetics in seminary and as a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Beaumont has come to terms with the fact that, like it or not, Hollywood is "the primary mover of cultural worldview in the West." Understanding how movies are put together—and what they're trying to accomplish—can be very useful for Christians as we look for ways to understand and interact with our world. "Culture and media are such a big part of apologetics and worldview training today." Beaumont explains. "I thought that there should be a resource out there that helps Christians deal with movies the way Hollywood deals with movies."

Christians need the help. Statistics show that Christians' movie viewing habits are about the same as the population at large. "That was my jumping-off point for the book," he says. Most books written for Christians on the topic of movies deal strictly with the ethical concerns of what we choose to view. "Usually, all Christians want to talk about is, ‘What should I see? What should I not see?'" he says. "I wanted to take a different approach."

Movie on Play, Mind on Pause

Since most believers are deciding to go to the box office on a regular basis anyway, Beaumont wants to move past the issues involved with deciding whether or not to watch films and start talking about how to watch films in light of our faith. According to Beaumont, measuring a movie based on its rating or by tallying profanities is often a less useful yardstick than breaking down a film and thinking about its core messages.

As we watch, he challenges us to think about how the meaning of a film is communicated through its style, its story, and its worldview. "I've tried to focus more on the interaction between me and the film," Beaumont says. "What is it saying to me? What can I say back to it in the form of evangelism and apologetics as I'm talking to people about it?" In other words, many of us as Christians need to learn how to watch a movie.

When it comes to movie watching, though, many of us think that the only equipment required is a ticket, a bucket of popcorn, and a pair of eyeballs. Beaumont says those aren't the only things we need when we step into the cinema—we also need to learn how to think critically and objectively about what we're experiencing. Once the movie starts playing, it's tempting to let our minds go on pause. But, he argues, if we keep our mind and our faith engaged as we view a film, good things can happen. We'll end up enjoying the viewing experience more and we'll be better able to dialogue with friends and family about what the film means and how it relates to our beliefs.