Triperspectivalism and the Movies (A)

March 24, 2011 — 3 Comments

[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

This little mini-series is basically my paper from ETS, titled “Using John Frame’s Theological Methodology in Film Analysis.” I may cut out some explanatory footnotes here and there, but I’d like any feedback you have to offer me. This is a work in progress and will appear in final form in my thesis.

So, here we go…

Introduction

Since the inception of the film industry over a century ago, thoughtful Christians have wrestled with how to interact with it. The case will not be made here that all Christians should be out there watching films and staying up to date with the next big box office hit in order to connect with the culture. There is however a need on some level for those called to Christian ministry to be able to connect the stories people love in the movie theater to the story found in Scripture. As Craig Detweiler notes, “The next generation of pastors, teachers, and therapists must not only learn the language of film but also develop the art of interpretation – seeing and hearing what’s happening on big (and small) screens.”[1] This paper is an exploration of a model of interpretation for that very purpose. Using this method, I am focusing specifically on the ideological character of film, rather than say, the techniques of cinematography, or the artistic merit of certain films, though there is a place for Christian analysis from that perspective. The argument I am making is that this is the best method for the purpose of drawing out that ideological content, and the offering a dialogical contrast and critique of it.

Foundation

In his recent work on the language of thought, Steven Pinker claims that “the nature of reality does not dictate the way that reality is represented in people’s minds. The language of thought allows us to frame a situation in different and incompatible ways.”[2] In the context of discussing how abstract ideas are conceptualized concretely he adds, “Many disagreements in human affairs turn not on differences in data or logic but on how a problem is framed.”[3] When dealing with a subject like film, there are then even among Christians, multiple ways of framing the topic. Rather than dissolving to pure irrationality, “different ways of framing a situation may be equally consistent with the facts being described in that very sentence, but they make different commitments about other facts which are not being described.”[4] In other words, conflicts in framing a situation arise from unspoken assumptions about things not under discussion. These assumptions, or presuppositions, appear to play a big role in how one constructs an interpretive method. What is needed then is a self-consciously Christian theological method for interpreting films. In an ultimate sense, Scripture as the norming norm is our basic presupposition, but from that a few others can be derived in order to build a method of interpretation. For our purposes here, a presupposition is defined as “a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another.”[5]

A basic concept of the method I am using is called perspectivalism. Its development is a hallmark of John Frame’s theological methodology and is present in seed form in the work of Cornelius Van Til.[6] Unlike Nietzschean perspectivism, perspectivalism has the absolute nature of God as one of its main presuppositions and the absolute authority of the word of God as another.[7] Both of these presuppositions hedge it off from dissolving into a form of relativism. The other presupposition is the distinction between a creator God and his human creatures. As Creator, God has the ultimate perspective on reality that encompasses all creaturely human perspectives.[8] In principle, only God can have a comprehensive perspective on anything, and all human perspectives are necessarily less than complete on any given topic. Perspectivalism, as a general concept is merely an admission of human limitations and a desire to dialogue with other limited perspectives.[9]

These perspectives, which are limited and finite, are also interdependent. There is one truth, God’s truth, upon which each finite perspective depends. The more fully informed a finite perspective is, the more it includes truth found in other perspectives. Growing in knowledge then involves incorporating truths from these other perspectives. In a sense, each perspective includes the others, but each is emphasizing different aspects that are in principle open to harmonization. Rather than meaning that the perspectives are redundant (if they each include the others), this means that in many cases a thorough analysis from one perspective will include ideas that will overlap with those of another perspective.

To use a cinematic example, take the movie Vantage Point (2008). Essentially, the movie shows the opening action sequence several times, each time from a different perspective; sometimes a general vantage point, and sometimes that of a different character within the original scene. Viewed altogether, one finally sees exactly what has happened. Each perspective is a legitimate perspective relative to the person’s vantage point, but no single vantage point tells the whole story. Each person interprets the events taking place in the film relative to his perspective on them, coming to conclusions that would be the complete truth, if that person’s perspective was ultimate. This in some ways is reminiscent of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. What each of these examples assumes though is an omniscient vantage point. In the movie, it is that of the director, who crafts the individual scenes together into a coherent story. In the parable, it is the narrator who knows that it is an elephant that we are talking about, and so is capable of pointing out that each blind man is only offering a limited perspective on reality. Without the cohesion offered by an omniscient perspective, perspectivalism would indeed collapse into a form of relativism.

Next post I’ll flesh out how this can lead to a multiperspectival view of things, specifically movies.

 

 

[1] Craig Detweiler, Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 29.

[2] Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (New York: Penguin Books, 2007). 4.

[3] Ibid. 243

[4] Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. 260

[5] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987). 45.

[6] See John Frame and John J. Hughes, “Backgrounds to My Thought,” in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2009), 14.

[7] That is to say, perspectives are not a matter of taste. Some contain more truth than others and some perspectives can be more or less wrong. For an analysis of perspectivalism bringing it into dialogue with postmodern thinkers see Joseph Emmanuel Torres, “Perspectives on Multiperspectivalism,” in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame, ed. John J. Hughes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009).

[8] Frame refers to this as “omniperspectival” in John M. Frame, “A Primer on Perspectivalism,” September 10, 2010, http://frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2008Primer.htm.

[9] This is to say our perspectives are “finite” which is best understood in contrast to an “infinite” perspective

 

Nate

Posts Twitter Facebook

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. In Case You Missed It « Words With Nate - September 27, 2011

    […] Part A and B of a series taken from my ETS paper on using John Frame’s triperspectivalism in watching movies […]

  2. Perspectives on Triperspectivalism | Think Theologically - November 16, 2011

    […] Triperspectivalism and the Movies (A) […]

  3. A Triperspectival Map of DKG | Marturo - February 6, 2012

    […] We’re reading through chapters 2 and 3 this week, and it’s at that point that Frame first introduces his notion of perspectivalism. I’ve written a longer explanation as part of a paper I presented at an ETS regional meeting, and you can read that here. […]

Want To Add Your Thoughts?