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Tozer on The Menace of the Religious Movie

Ergun Caner’s recent claim that any preacher with 200 hours of preaching under his belt could be called a liar came unbidden to mind while I was recently looking for a particular Paul Washer sermon online. I realize that the practice of making and delivering sermons differs considerably from tradition to tradition, and I would argue from generation to generation, so it’s hard to compare one sermon from one speaker at another time to another at another, but I do think it’s reasonable to ask what’s appropriate behavior on the part of a given preacher in handling Scripture, making truth claims, constructing arguments, etc.

I would also argue that preachers who outright lie from the pulpit are rare; slanderers more common; casters of vague aspersions quite common; and men who tell scary stories because they are effective rather than true or edifying are embarrassingly common.

Anyway, in my searches I stumbled across a relatively obscure item by A. W. Tozer at SermonIndex.Net entitled “The Menace of the Religious Movie” [link]. This is actually a reading (not by Tozer) of a section from the book Tozer on Worship and Entertainment [link] which is in turn a collection of excerpts of sermons and writings by Tozer that are thematically related, and one of those things that would be read only by dedicated Tozer readers, compulsives, completists, and people trolling his corpus looking for lies and heresy. It may or may not have been a sermon at some point. It still makes for fascinating listening, and I recommend it, not because I agree with Tozer’s claims, argument, or conclusion, but rather because it is so thought-provoking.

Here’s the anonymously-contributed outline from the comments page:

Tozer, in keeping with the historic Christian stance on the theater, condemns the religious movie, giving the following seven reasons:

1. It violates the scriptural law of hearing.

2. The religious movie embodies the mischievous notion that religion is, or can be made, a form of entertainment.

3. The religious movie is a menace to true religion because it embodies acting, a violation of sincerity.

4. They who present the gospel movie owe it to the public to give biblical authority for their act: and this they have not done.

5. God has ordained four methods only by which Truth shall prevail — and the religious movie is not one of them.

6. The religious movie is out of harmony with the whole spirit of the Scriptures and contrary to the mood of true godliness.

7. I am against the religious movie because of the harmful effect upon everyone associated with it.

There is an element to this that is essentially Tozer’s presentation of the well-worked saw “the medium is the message” [link], and which could as easily be turned against television as against movies (Tozer doesn’t do this). And he dodges the question of whether reading Scripture qualifies as “hearing,” which he considers appropriate to the exclusion of all alternatives. But the fascinating part to his argument is that acting itself is sinful because it is insincere, and portraying a Biblical character is arrogant and disrespectful.

From my point of view it appears to me that Tozer is elevating things that are incidentally true in Scripture to be equal to things that are fundamentally true by claiming that Scripture is to be heard and not seen (portrayed), and it sounds to me like he’s reserving presenting Scripture as a task for professional preachers of a sort as opposed to artists and particularly filmmakers. I think he also makes an argument from silence in suggesting that because Scripture doesn’t mention certain art forms they are forbidden, slanders actors and theater people unnecessarily, and pushes over several straw men. Still at the end I think the premise of his central point: — that not all forms of worship are equally acceptable — is well-taken if not necessarily well-made.

Oh and by the way: because Tozer doesn’t center his argument on having anything to do with himself or his personal life story, I don’t think he wanders into personal misrepresentation/lying by embellishing territory here. Then again, this isn’t strictly speaking a sermon.

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