Exploring Christian thought through discussion, movies

TORRINGTON – One local church has adopted a new tactic to explore the big questions in Christian thought.
The Rev. Nate Johnson, pastor at Christ Reformed Presbyterian Church, has launched two programs designed to spawn discussion while at the same time offering an entertaining get-away. One program started Saturday, when the community was invited to a special showing of the movie, “Shane,” arguably one of the best known and most popular Westerns ever made.
“Shane, from what the experts say, is the classic of all classic Westerns,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing that comes close to its prominence.”
The film also has the distinction of staying true to the book it’s based on, with just a handful of deliberate deviations from the original story, he said. That makes it an almost perfect vehicle to explore social and even theological symbolism.
“I read some interviews with the author of the book which pointed out the movie may have, as its counterpart, some Christian symbolism,” Johnson said. “The author said, ‘Yeah, I’d see where you could see that. But there was no intention for me as a writer to tap into the Christian story.’”
One significant difference Johnson pointed out is in the opening scene. In the book, the title character is seen in a valley, described as wearing clothing that are worn and covered in dust. But, in the opening shot of the movie, he’s seen riding from the high reaches of the Tetons and his clothes are almost pristine.
“Why did they do this?” Johnson said. “It seems unreal if he’s coming from the back woods and all.
“Movie reviewers claim there’s five or six issues, things the director did that had mythic ties to the Christian world view,” he said. “The rider coming down into the Jackson Hole valley, wearing pristine, undusted, untainted leather garments is really – he’s coming down into an Eden, into an idyllic garden. Definitely the Christian world view is being tapped here.”
That’s just one example, Johnson said. And he hopes to use those differences to springboard into a broader discussion of what it means to be a believer in the modern world.
“Our interest is, as historic Christians, is that really taking place?” he said. “And, if it is, how do we dialog with that as orthodox Christians?
“Mythic structures are powerful, they’re effective communicators and their valid in their own right,” Johnson said. “But then, we’ll discuss the historic connotations of the mythic structures being woven into the shots.”
Movie nights will be hosted at Christ Reformed Presbyterian Church the second Saturday of each month. Johnson is still working out the lineup for future movie nights, working with church’s ruling body, called the Session, to strike a balance, he said. But he hopes to explore a variety of topics, including romantic love and passivism, through the medium of cinema.
“We need to visit with the Session to see what movies will be allowed here,” Johnson said. “There are still several roads to cross as we clarify
the parameters.
“But we want to be relevant,” he said. “We need to engage the culture where the culture is at. The unexamined life is not worth living.”

History of the Reformation
The second program, launched last week, examines the life of Martin Luther, the 15th Century theologian and monk who’s 95 Theses was the spark that launched the Protestant Reformation.
This October marks the 500th anniversary of Luther pinning his Theses – proposing academic discussion of the practice of using indulgences as a way for individuals to “buy” their way out of punishment for their sins – to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
History of the Reformation will continue through April 24. Johnson said the first session this week had a good turnout, with about 60 people hearing a panel discussion with the local faith community and sharing in a question-and-answer period.
“The Reformation was arguably the most significant event in the history of the Western church,” Johnson said. “Luther empowered the populace.”
Future installments of History of the Reformation will feature sections on Luther, his life and the role of the Reformation in Germany. Later sections will focus on the life of John Calvin, a French theologian and minister who was equally influential in the Reformation movement.
History of the Reformation continues Mondays at 7 p.m. through April 24. The first part of each program features a video presentation by Dr. Robert Godfrey, third President of Westminster Seminary California near San Diego, where he is also a professor of Church History.
Both the movie nights and History of the Reformation represent departures from more traditional faith teaching methods. Johnson hopes to use them to engage believers and non-believers alike.
“Part of our concern is to fight the anti-intellectualism of our age,” he said. “Historic Christianity lives or dies on the basis of its
truth claims.
“The Reformation was centered around theological issues, but are they relevant to Tom, Dick and Harry, out there in the middle of calving season? Johnson said. “I think Torrington has enough of an urban center that people will see the relevance of the historic event and see how something that happened 500 years ago has a bearing on this age.”

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