This topic starts with a "why" and includes numerous movie suggestions. 

Reply below! Your suggestions are welcome.



Teaching the Bible with Secular Movies and Music

an short article by Neil MacQueen originally written for the Rotation.org Writing Team's MAGI Video Workshop which uses clips from Disney's Moana.

Using secular movie clips and songs to help illuminate Biblical concepts and provoke discussion has a l-o-n-g history in Christian education. Using secular media in youth ministry is pretty common, but less so in children's ministry -- which is odd given the vast amount of media our kids consume, especially in these days of YouTube and the internet. 

One of lesser-known reasons to use popular secular media is that it teaches our kids to compare and contrast biblical themes and issues found in the secular world. Take Star Wars for example. Once you realize it's a story about a messiah, and evil empire, and redemption, you can't watch the other movies in the series without thinking about these themes.

Another reason to use popular secular media is for its memory-enhancing value. How many times will your children watch Star Wars over their lifetime?  And every time they do your lessons, if sharp and well taught, will be refreshed too. Think of it as hijacking or piggybacking!



Moana, the recent movie from Disney, is a great example of this kind of powerful teaching opportunity, and it's one of the reasons our Writing Team used clips from it in our "Magi" lesson set. As a story and animated movie, it is acclaimed as one of Disney's best. Its themes are universal --seeking, challenge, courage, heart, redemption. Its hero is a young child out to save her people. The added fact that it also musical with great songs that appeal to all ages makes it a golden teaching opportunity.  

DID YOU KNOW THAT Moana's songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the famous songwriter of "Hamilton" who just so happens to have attended a Christian university? 


It's amazing how many themes from Bible's story are found in the Moana movie, albeit, with some different interpretations.

  • Moana feels a call to be different, to explore beyond the reef. 
  • Her grandmother says the "ocean has chosen you." 
  • There are "Pharisees" in the story (her father is one), and prophets (her grandmother).
  • Everyone else is afraid to travel beyond the reef, but Moana learns that it is the only way to "restore the heart of Tafiti and save her people." 
  • Maui, the comic relief, introduces himself as a selfish "demi-god" (half-god). But Moana's story of salvation is also Maui's story of redemption. He is a flawed hero.
  • Maui teaches Moana how to be guided by the stars, ...a knowledge her people have lost.
  • Moana realizes that LOVE is what Teka the Volcano goddess needs most, and it transforms both of them.
  • Moana's example restores the heart of her people too, who learn to set sail again.
     

Moana-Grandma

Supporting Members can access the Video~Music Workshop Lesson for the Magi that uses several Moana clips.

To be sure, secular movies RARELY exactly correspond to the Bible's message  --but that's where the discussion fodder is! The same is true for the movie Moana. 

Some Questions for Moana

  • How is Moana like and not like a Magi?
  • What was life like for the Magi that may have prepared them to want to venture beyond the reef?
  • What is the "heart" that the Magi were seeking and wanted to see restored?  Who restored it?
  • How does love and not fear restore people?
  • What does it mean to be a Magi today? 
  • Who are the people in our lives that have or can teach us to be guided by the stars?

What are the differences between... (the Magi and Moana)

Make a list comparing and contrasting the:

  • Heroes
  • Villains
  • Problems
  • Surprises
  • Risks
  • What's the "redemption story" in the movie?  How are people saved/redeemed?
  • Main themes
  • etc.



By using secular media, we also teach our students how to parse the message they see and hear in secular media and compare it to the Bible's message.

Good vs Evil, Heroes & Saviors, the Secret of Life, the Help of God (or gods), the Wages of Sin, Redemption ...these are universal themes read and seen throughout media. They are themes about which our student need the tools to understand how the Christian message differs. And yes, is often "hidden" between the lines and scenes for the Spirit to help us see.

Several authors have written books about the parallels and influence of the Christian story in modern media. One of the most famous is "The Gospel According to Outer Space," by Robert Short. It looks at the parallels in Superman, Star Wars, and the like to the story of Jesus. That book, and others like it, were the source of lots of study group discussion back in the 80's and 90's. 

As a Sunday School teacher, I tend to see quasi-Christian themes in all sorts of media. But it doesn't always happen right away. It wasn't until I had seen Moana for the third time with my grand-daughter that the parallels jumped out at me. That's one of the blessings of a web ministry like Rotation.org  --  we can post what we are seeing so others can see and use it too.

The Blessing of YouTube and DVD Players

The rise of YouTube has made showing secular media clips so much easier. Not only are key scenes and songs being released by the publishers on YouTube, they are being posted there by fans. You'd think the publishers would be upset, but most view any publicity as good publicity. YouTube's licensing and advertising revenue sharing also keep the movie companies happy. 

In spite of the ominous FBI warnings on DVDs, US Federal Copyright Law gives EDUCATORS quite a bit of latitude to use clips from any type of media for teaching purposes. So while you can't legally show Moana in worship or fellowship, you can show it without hesitation in a face to face teaching situation.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
Original Post

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" - Birth of Jesus. Available anywhere.

"Home Alone" - Jesus in the Temple (at 12). Segments: (1) on the plane when mom discovers he's missing; (2) her efforts to get home; (3) when mom and son are reunited.

"Finding Nemo" - same story as above. Could also be used with the parable of the lost coin/sheep/son - searching diligently until it's found.

"Ben Hur" - Sermon on the mount. (available at most retailers or Amazon.com)

"The Nativity Story" - could be used with several stories: The visit with Elizabeth; the birth of John the Baptist; Jesus in the temple (the segment on their travel to Bethlehem and how they had to ration their food).

"Bruce Almighty" - several segments on prayer; Gifts of the Spirit.

"Liar Liar" - would be okay with the Ten Commandments (better with older children/teens. Some content may not be suitable for young children.)

"Planet Earth" segments could be good for Creation lessons. Can be done in short clips. Available online from Amazon.com.

"Jonah" by Veggie Tales. It's too long for a class time, but can easily be done in segments.
(Available at most retailers and Christian bookstores.)

"It's a Wonderful Life". Could be used with thematic lessons - spiritual gifts, love, community, prayer.

"The Prince of Egypt" - could be used with Baby Moses, slavery, exodus and deliverance. Could also be used during Lent to explain Passover.

"Akeelah and the Bee" could be used with thematic lessons. Community, encouragement, spiritual gifts.

Julie

Last edited by Luanne Payne

WEBSITES that list and help match "SECULAR" movies to Bible stories/topics

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Disney's Frozen

Ten Biblical lessons we can learn from Frozen

  1. Some forces are more powerful than ourselves
  2. Love is patient
  3. Forgiveness heals
  4. Everyone is a bit of a fixer-upper
  5. People were not meant to live in isolation
  6. Freedom is not the absence of rules
  7. Love forsakes worldly desires
  8. The least likely people can be wise
  9. Evil never wins
  10. The ultimate act of love is a sacrificial death. In the end, Anna had a choice between saving her own life and giving her life for Elsa. Anna chose to save her sister, just as Jesus Christ died to save his beloved children, us. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)

See the full discussion at https://www.projectinspired.co...n-learn-from-frozen/

Tip: Google "Frozen Sunday School Bible Lessons" for numerous resources.



Link to a Wisconsin Episcopal Church's "FILM SCHOOL" Sunday School for Youth.

https://styg.com/filmschool/

Description, Concept, Films they've used.

A note at the bottom of the list of films says to contact Aran the leader for "how" they used each film. Perhaps we'll see their notes online someday. (hint hint)

Wonder Woman 

This 2017 movie is FILLED with Christian imagery! Things like loving people instead of giving them the punishment they deserve and also a sacrificial death to save the lives of others. Wonder Woman would be a great discussion-starter with teens or adults.

A search of the internet show all sorts of articles that discuss the imagery and themes if you need a bit of help organizing your thoughts. Here is one from CBN: Five Theological Points in Wonder Woman We Can Agree On.

If you need help with discussion questions, you can search the internet for that, too. Here is one Bible study that looks at the movie and then talks about the Armor of God: Bible study: Wonder Woman.

Here is an article with great question suggestions for discussing secular movies. It is written for family movie night, but the questions could be used for classroom discussion, too.

In 4 faith talks for family movie night, specific questions are given for discussing any  movie. Here are highlights:

  • The BIG story (good versus evil) - who was the good guy in the movie?
  • The BIG lesson (moral) -- what is this movie telling you about life, love, relationships, friendship?
  • The BIG picture - what things in the movie are different from reality?
  • The BIG hero -- who needed to be rescued, what makes a hero heroic?

 

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