Is Everybody a Critic?

By: Dan Wooding; ©2001
Have you ever watched a reporter critique a movie on the evening news and thought, “I could do that!”? Well, if you have, you need to read Dan Wooding’s interview with Dr. Ted Baehr about what is involved in understanding and reporting on movies.


And, How Does One Know How to Evaluate—or Trust—a Critic

For more than 18 years, if you include his radio and the television programs, Dr. Ted Baehr’s MOVIEGUIDE® has been analyzing movies with wit and wisdom from a Christian perspective.

In recent years, however, there has been a rush of “experts” into the field of family and Christian entertainment. Although some of the Johnny-come-lately’s have presented some useful insights, many have evidenced an unfortunate lack of understanding of theology and of the grammar of movies and television programs.

“Theology is of primary importance in analyzing entertainment from a Christian perspec­tive,” said Dr. Baehr. “One self-styled Christian reviewer ignored basic Christian theology when he said that he would recommend the recent ABC-TV program, The Search For Jesus, even though the program pointedly ignored and even attacked the divinity of Christ. This program was instigated by the virulently anti-Christian Jesus Seminar folks, whose stated purpose is to refute the divinity of Christ.

“For a Christian reviewer to make this mistake is horrendous. In any entertainment production, what is added to the Gospel or taken away from the Gospel is important to the degree that it relates to and affirms who Jesus is, as clearly expressed in the foundational creeds of the Christian faith. For instance, among many other things, the creeds clearly affirm that Jesus is fully God and fully man, that He was resurrected from the dead, and that He shall come again in glory. When a publicly broadcast work (or any work, for that matter) attacks these foundational beliefs, it attacks the essence of Christianity, and it should not be supported by a so-called Christian critic!”

Dr. Baehr went on to say, “Furthermore, a thorough grasp of the philosophy of art and drama is a must for understanding contemporary entertainment. Critics should understand the four major philosophies of art and how they’ve influenced entertainment and culture for over 2000 years. These are, of course, the philosophies of art developed by Plato, Aristotle, Horace, and the Bible. The influence of these systems of thinking about art, drama and culture are foundational to modern theories and essential for good analysis.”

Understanding the grammar of each medium is also critical, says Dr. Baehr. “One ‘hot’ new information service from a major ministry persists in confusing the ‘plot’ of a movie with the ‘premise.’ Basically, the plot is the storyline of the movie, whereas the premise is the active proposition or engine, which powers the movie. Characters in conflict prove the premise through drama. A simple course in filmmaking or drama, or a quick read of Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, would clarify their confusion, which severely denigrates their insights, and thus misleads their audience.”

Dr. Baehr concluded by saying, “Finally, understanding of the stages of cognitive devel­opment of children is absolutely crucial. One new critic has been taking her young child to R-rated movies for many, many years. This indicates a total misunderstanding of the vul­nerability of children at the early stages of cognitive development. I just met the child, now a young teenager, again at the screening of a brutal R-rated movie. At best, he has be­come desensitized; I don’t want to consider the worst. For this reviewer, Jesus’ words are apt, ‘It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’ (Luke 17:2 (NIV)).

“If you care about families and children, if you care about the Gospel, if you truly be­lieve that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom, then the business of analyzing movies and entertainment is profoundly important, for it is doing theology in the market­place of ideas. Those who do it without an adequate background, without a clear under­standing of creedal Christianity, without a comprehensive knowledge of drama, without the knowledge of the cognitive development of children, are doing their audience harm.

“Furthermore, many of these so-called critics can’t even write proper English. They don’t know the basics of communication; the difference between the Cambridge and the Oxford rules of punctuation; they’ve never opened the Associated Press Stylebook; and, what’s worse, they refuse to learn. People in the media business need to have standards, and, if they are acting as Christian commentators, they need to understand the difference between incarnational and sacramental theology. They need to understand the difference between a premise and a plot. Otherwise, they’re just charlatans or amateurs.”

So, who can one trust in the media wars? Well, armed with doctorates, solid theological training, a clear knowledge of cognitive development theory, and years of working in the entertainment industry, the editors and writers of MOVIEGUIDE® are dedicated to doing and applying theology as it relates to popular culture in a way that can help you and your family make media-wise choices.

One theologian, at a formal theological conference, commended Dr. Ted Baehr of his knowledge of theology and then asked, “Why aren’t you doing theology?” Ted replied, “I am. I’m doing theology for families with children. My ministry is the media.”

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