The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Ted Turnau. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics315. Today’s interview is with Ted Turnau. Ted is a college lecturer who teaches Cultural Studies and Religion in Prague, Czech Republic. His interest is in issues of popular culture, imagination, and how they relate to the Christian faith. He is also author of Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective. I had the privilege of meeting Ted at the European Leadership Forum in Hungary, where he was teaching about apologetics and popular culture, and evaluating the worldviews of popular movies. The purpose of today’s interview is to explore the relationship between popular culture and the task of apologetics, and get Ted’s insights into how we can be better apologists. Well, thanks for joining me today, Ted.
TT: It’s great to be here, thanks Brian.
BA: Well, first off, can you tell our listeners a bit about your background, and how did you end up in the Czech Republic?
TT: I’ll give you the short version. The short version is, I was a PhD in apologetics at Westminster, and one of my friends, also a PhD student in apologetics, came over to this weird place called Prague, and started ministering with a group called International Institute for Christian Studies, which places Christian academics in secular colleges and universities. And, he was over there, and we were supporting him. He was over here for about a year and a half, back in ’96-’97, and his wife got breast cancer. And back then, the facilities in Czech Republic for dealing with cancer were not that great, not like they are today. And so, he wanted to be back in the states with his wife while she got treated. He suggested to the head of IICS that I could take his place, and he suggested I could be a substitute. I wasn’t doing anything in particular, according to him I was just working on my dissertation. So, I got this call one day and (was) asked if I could go over and teach out the semester for him and finish his classes. And I said, “We’ll pray about it,” which is the Christian way of saying, “No.” But we did pray about it, and the obstacle was, we had two kids, we were living my mom, because my dad had died of cancer and we were down there helping her out. And my mom was working full time, my wife was working full time, I was doing my dissertation, and we didn’t really have any way of getting the kids to school, and watching over the kids. So, we made an announcement at our church, Redeemer, in Winston Salem, North Carolina about there’s this opportunity, Ted could go over and teach in Prague, we need people to step up and help them with child care. And, I think in two days, three days maybe, we had every hour covered that we needed covered. So, I came over, and it was a long two and a half months without my wife, but I also had this kind of epiphany of, “Oh my gosh, I know what I want to do when I grow up,” sort of moment. Fell in love with the town, fell in love with the students, fell in love with being on the ”front lines” so to speak, I’d always thought I’d be in a seminary teaching. And I had had a little seminary teaching experience – turned out pretty disastrous. But, when I was teaching here, I was just getting questions that you’d never get in a seminary, and having conversations that you wouldn’t have at a seminary, and saying, “Yeah, I want to be here, seminary sheminary, I want to be on the front lines.” Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in Europe, and Europe’s the most atheistic place on the planet. So, and then it was getting home, convincing my wife that this was what we actually ought to do, and she came over and watched me teach for a January term, and she said, “Yeah, yeah, I can see this.” And raising support and finishing my dissertation, and we came over in 1999, and we’ve been here since.
BA: Well, excellent, that’s a great story, with a few commonalities with me, as we’ve talked about prior to this interview. But, you teach Cultural Studies and Religion there in Prague. And you mentioned doing your PhD in apologetics. I’m curious, what sparked your interest in apologetics in the first place? And then lead you down this road of emphasizing popular culture.
TT: Okay, so that’s a two part question. About apologetics – I got into apologetics because I had to. I grew up in a Christian family and went to a fairly secular college, University of Virginia, and had just amazing cognitive dissonance of trying to be a Christian intellectual in a very secular environment. Along with all of the other temptations and stuff that’s going on in college. And by the time I got to the end of my college experience, it became really clear to me that I had been living off of my parent’s faith to a great extent, and I really needed to know if this stuff were true. If the gospel is true, the bible is true, if God existed, all that stuff, and I just couldn’t go forward in my Christian faith without apologetics. So, I was kind of spiritually messed up by the time I graduated from college, and I wanted to get to a place that would be a safe place for me to ask really hard questions and expect biblical answers. And it came down to three: Gordon Conwell, Westminster, and Dallas. But, at Westminster, I was a Philosophy minor, and the guy there was all into philosophy, and he just started saying things what were blowing my mind. He said, “Come on, let’s go to the bookstore.” And he said, “You need to buy this book.” And he gave me Van Til’s little book about apologetics. And I took it home, and I don’t think I even got through the book, but it just blew my mind. Again and again, how radically theocentric this guy’s thinking was. And that experience drew me to Westminster. And I had a really rough first year, sleepless nights, dangling above the abyss, all that Kierkegaard stuff. But, it really did give me a deep appreciation for the authority of the bible, and a deep appreciation for apologetics. So, in a certain way, without apologetics, I don’t think I’d be a Christian today. Yeah, so apologetics is essential, it’s central to who I am, and especially who I am in Christ.
BA: Well, that’s good, and I will restate my second part of the question, which I should have held off till now. And that is, as you got into apologetics, what lead your emphasis to be on looking at and evaluating popular culture?
TT: I’ve always had a deep and abiding interest in popular culture, even since I was a little kid and was watching way too much TV. When I was a child, when I was fifth grade or so…I’ll sum up my attraction to popular culture in this way: When I was in fifth grade, an art teacher came in and she said, “I want you guys to draw whatever comes into your mind when I play this piece of music.” And she put on Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells.” And I’d never heard anything like it, and I tried to draw every line of music that I heard, and couldn’t keep up with it. It just blew me away. And I searched and searched, because she never told us what it was, until I heard it on the radio and said, “There it is! There it is!” And I just kept having that sort of experience, with the Beatles, and with music going on, and it just seemed to be this really intensely meaningful thing that kept happening again and again. I went and saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with my best friend five times, and we had these deep discussions about what this thing meant, and what this thing meant. When I got into seminary, we didn’t have a TV when I was in seminary, until my parents gave us a little set. But, we’d go over to the childrens minister’s house, and he did have a TV, and this was when “The Simpsons” was first on, and we’d just go over there Thursday nights, watch Simpsons, and then have theological discussions, and it just seemed to me that popular culture is taken so much for granted, but there’s so much meaning there, and it became clearer and clearer to me that this is where most people do their meaning making, is in dialog with popular culture, that’s where people are constructing their worldviews. And, I think we ignore that at our peril, at the cost of being kind of weird, alien, irrelevant, odd, archaic, whatevers in the eyes of the rest of the world. We’re not speaking their language.
BA: Well, we’ll be talking quite a bit about popular culture in this interview, so let’s define if we can a little more clearly what popular culture is. When we talk about popular culture, what exactly are we talking about?
TT: That’s a really good question, and it’s really difficult to define what popular culture is, or there’s a good deal of debate about how to define popular culture. There’s a really strong tradition that a lot of Christians kind of find themselves in, which differentiates “high culture” as sort of the real culture, and then popular culture as cultural wanna be or esthetically degraded popular culture, or “bad culture,” “unculture,” “nonculture.” And I think that’s a really unhelpful way of dividing up the cultural pie, so to speak. I find a much more interesting and helpful way by defining popular culture as “the culture that hits us in the everyday.” Culture’s who’s venues of reception or place where everyday people hang out, rather than sort of culture’s sacred spaces. Places like museums, or places like concert halls, where people speak in hushed voices and kind of look at culture with reverence. That’s not what I mean, I mean the other stuff, the stuff that we’re getting in prime time, the stuff that we get on the web, the stuff that we hear on the radio, the stuff that surrounds us, the stuff that lives where people live, that’s what I mean when I talk about popular culture.
BA: You’ve mentioned how this is where a lot of people live, and this is where they’re forming their ideas and interacting. Can you talk a little bit more about why having a good grasp or an understanding of popular culture is important? Why emphasizing it from a Christian view is important?
TT: It’s the world where our friends and neighbors and kids live, and some of us live there too. It’s a place where these stories are told that tell of hope, and love, and desperation, and betrayal, and salvation, and damnation, and all of that, that’s where people sort of figure out what life is all about. Believe it or not, people don’t go to the bible, most people in the West don’t go to the bible to figure out what’s going on, they go to the movies, or the television, or the songs, and those things kind of affect them. There’s a culture critic named Bill Romanowski works at Calvin College, and he wrote a book called, “Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture.” And in it, he says that popular culture gives us maps or templates of what reality’s supposed to be like. What is my first kiss going to be like, feel like? Well, that’s the first kiss you see in the movies. What is my love life gonna look like? What’s courage look like? What’s hope look like? All of these things are displayed for us in popular culture, and we find meaning there. Most of our culture finds meaning there, that’s where the center of gravity has shifted, in a sense from traditional religion to popular culture. If we want to know what our friends and neighbors are thinking and feeling, we’ve got to go there. That’s just the great commission, isn’t it? Go where the people are, be with them, enter their world. Don’t sit back in your churches all comfortable and nice and expect them to come to you. They’re not going to, you have to be where they are, and popular culture is where they are.
BA: Well, that’s good. Now Ted, you’ve written a new book on this topic of popular culture, and apologetics, and even titled it, Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective. So, what’s the goal, and what’s with this title anyway?
TT: The thing with the title is I’m just a real aficionado of lame puns. If you ask my friends and especially my family, they will tell you I am the Genghis Khan of inflicting pain through puns. And so, when I hear something that sounds like a good word that I can moosh together and then I’ll go for it. And popologetics is simply apologetics and the popular culture. The over-arching good throughout the book is to get apologetics and popular culture into conversation so that Christians who are interested in dealing with unbelief, that’s what apologetics is, it’s speaking the truth to unbelief, will understand how to incorporate popular culture into that, and people who are interested in popular culture, which as I’ve argued, is where most of the people are living and making their meaning today, will be able to do it with an apologetical edge. That is, not just saying, “I like this, or I don’t like this,” but what does this mean? How does it function as an alternative religion? How does it create systems of meaning that people inhabit and find hope in?
BA: Now, in your book, do you engage with the idea of the messages that are carried within movies or popular television shows? I mean, when we think about maybe some of our favorite TV series we like them for their entertainment value, but at the same time we might cringe when they’re just interwoven with just these blatant messages, just pumpin’ right across the screen, kind of like, here’s the right view to have about this issue or that issue or the other. So, is that one of the things you deal with in the book as far as sort of how we think through those things?
TT: Yes, that’s exactly it. Christians, especially American evangelical Christians think in terms of this issue, or that issue. You know, what is this show saying about abortion or gay marriage or whatever? And that’s important, but I want to get people thinking more deeply than that. What sort of worldview is being proposed? What sort of imaginative world is being projected by this piece of popular culture? Through its style and through its message. Through both content, and the way that content is spun in terms of lighting, or in terms of music used, or in terms of all sorts of things that make up the style of the piece? And then, how do I respond to that worldview? How do I respond to this imaginative world? As a Christian, what do I say back? What truth is there to be heard? Because, I believe strongly that popular culture gives some truth, some goodness to us, but also where are the idols? How is that truth held in unrighteousness? How is kind of pressed down, ala Romans 1:18 and following? And how do I deal with that? How do I unpack that? How do I deconstruct that?
BA: Now, when we’re engaging with popular culture, you’ve mentioned some of the things that are the benefits and the reasons why we need to be culturally aware and be able to kind of interpret the messages that we’re hearing, but interact with others and allow those things maybe to start conversations and things like that. But, when we have this goal of engaging with popular culture, are there maybe some limits that we’d want to define saying, “Well, here’s what this engagement can do, and here’s really what it cannot do?
TT: Yeah, yeah sure. I hear two questions there, and maybe that’s just my imagination. But, one is, “Are there limits in our engagement to popular culture, is there popular culture that we shouldn’t engage?” And two, “Are there limits to the effectiveness of this type of engagement?” And the answer is, “Yes,” and “Yes.” There are definitely limits to what we ought to engage. I think that has to do with the places where the idols of our own hearts are strongest. You don’t feed those idols. If you have a problem, if you find yourself tempted by sexual content, then stay away from movies that have real strong sexual content. If you find yourself really burdened by violence, then stay away from horror films and things that are more violent. You don’t want to mess up your heart in the quest to engage popular culture. Not every Christian is supposed to engage every piece of popular culture. I would say, you should not withdraw from popular culture, all of popular culture, and try to go back to your safe Christian cubby and only deal with Christian popular culture, ‘cause I think that’s a cop out. But, you do need to guard your heart, that’s the first thing. The second is, “Is there limits to the effectiveness of this sort of engagement with popular culture?” And, of course, it is good for some things, it’s good for talking about human issues with people, of raising issues. It’s especially effective at dealing with heart issues that would be really threatening if you raise them in a direct way with a non-Christian, because dealing with something that’s on a screen or coming over the radio and talking about that rather than saying, “Oh, I see this thing in your life, let’s talk about that.” That’s sort of pinning them down like a bug and they may be very uncomfortable with that. But, if you want to talk about an issue that some character in a movie’s struggling with, that’s a different thing and people be a lot more able to talk about it. But like all apologetics, the limitation is, where is this person heartwise? How much has the spirit been active? You can lead the apologetical horse to water, but you can’t make them drink, you can’t make people believe. So, it’s great for starting conversations and getting people into a different way of thinking, but it can’t do everything. It certainly can’t replace real relationship with people, I mean that’s where the gospel flourishes, is in relationship.
BA: You’ve mentioned some of the things that engaging with popular culture can’t do, and one of the parts of your book talks about maybe some of the wrong ways that Christians have typically responded to popular culture. And maybe you could talk about some of those.
TT: All of them boil down essentially to a question of balance. I think that it is right and good to see popular culture as a mixture of good and bad, a mixture of God’s common grace to unbelievers, which we should pay attention to, and idolatry which twists that grace in all sorts of interesting ways. I think that Christians go wrong they focus on one or the others to the exclusion of the other. So, for instance, there’s a lot of especially evangelical Christians out there who just see culture as a cesspool of sin and debauchery and just say, “Yuck, can’t deal with that, hid the children.” You know, “Peggy bar the door.” That sort of response. And that’s just, there is yucky stuff in popular culture, but, there’s also some, it just completely misses the grace that’s there. And, it sort of misses the subtlety of idolatry as well. I think we need to deal with, the stuff that’s, what I mean by the subtlety of idolatry, the family-friendly stuff is just as idol-laden as, you know, “Temptation Island,” or whatever. They’re just family-friendly idols, and I think a lot of evangelicals miss that. We need to be able to deal with wordviews, not just run away from content elements, like this piece of sex, or that piece of sex. It overlooks the context. Christians are offended by nudity. Well, nudity means different things in different movies. The example I use in the book is, nudity in the movie “Schindler’s List,” and nudity in the movie “Show Girls.” Both contain lots of female nudity, but they mean completely different things. In Schindler’s List, it’s a witness to historical tragedy where women were degraded. In Show Girls, it’s there for titillation, and it’s serving a very exploitative purpose, that’s not happening in Schindler’s List. Now, neither movie would be appropriate for a thirteen year old, or a fifteen year old, for that matter. But, we can’t say that it’s not, that both movies are not appropriate for Christians. I would say that Schindler’s List is probably something that Christians should see. Show Girls, you would have to be a really special case to see that movie. Especially if you’re a guy and be able to engage with that. So, it’s just you know, popular culture is full of sin, is just too blunt an instrument to really deal well with popular culture. On the other hand, there’s a whole school of thought kind of more connected with the emergent church in post modernism which says popular culture is just the world of God, full stop, and whatever yucky stuff we find in it, we just need to deal with the voice of God in popular culture because that’s where theology need to be, needs to do it’s work. Whatever else is going on, we need to read the bible through the lens of popular culture. And, I think that’s a very dangerous place to go, because it undermines the authority of the bible by making it sort of a slave to pop cultural categories. So, in those ways, it can get unbalanced, our understanding of popular culture. Another one that I deal with is sort of this insistence on high culture, low culture distinction. And the saying of, only Bach, and Brahms, and Beethoven, and Shakespeare, and all these are real culture, and the other stuff is just sort of trivial and esthetically degraded. I think that that just paints with too broad a brush. We need to be looking into popular culture, not dismissing it, not deriding it, but seeing what’s good there and responding to that as well as responding with a critical eye. But of course, all of this, all of these things, are better than what most Christians do, which is not to think about popular culture at all. Just kind of enjoy it, it’s there, it’s trivial, it doesn’t have any effect on me, I’m above it, it doesn’t really have anything to do with my spiritual life. Popular culture is spiritual, and you need to understand the sort of spiritual impact it makes in terms of presenting alternative worldviews, alternative perspectives on life that you need to wrestle with. I don’t think it’s a luxury for Christians just to enjoy popular culture without thinking, you cannot switch off your brain when it comes to popular culture.
BA: Well, you definitely are making the case in the book, you know, giving people sort of a tool set of how to think that maybe instead of telling them what to think about popular culture. What are some of the key tools, if you will, for thinking through what we see in popular culture? For example, maybe when we see the latest movie?
TT: Well, in the book, the heart of the book is really boiling down this perspective that I’m presenting into five handy dandy points or questions you can ask of any piece of popular culture that comes at you. First is, what’s the story? Because, ninety-eight percent of the popular culture out there, with the exception of dubstep and techno music and things like that is at least narrative based. So, you ask, what’s the story? And those of you out there in Youtube land, or on the radio or where this is going to play, if you’re an English major, that was not time wasted. You are the type of people who know how to deal with stories. You know how to look for plot points, and character archs, and all those sort of thing. So, just understand what the story is. The second is, understand, so, first question, what is the story? The second question is, where am I? That is, what is the imaginative world projected by this story? And here you’re asking questions about what is the style with which this story is presented? What are the tricks of the trade that are used to present this story in a particular sort of style? Things like, in a movie, camera angles, and music, and lighting, and color schemes, and all that sort of stuff. And music, it would be, you know, what’s the tempo? What’s the instrumentation? What are the cord changes. You know, if you want to know how a piece of popular culture means, you have to understand the structures through which it means. And that means education yourself about that. So you want to know the style, you also want to know in this step two of where am I, you also want to know what is the spiritual and moral world that is assumed in this? So you just ask questions, what sorts of things in this world make relationships work? What make them fail? What’s salvation? What’s damnation? What’s cool? Is it even important to be cool? Is it important to be uncool? And you just ask question after question until you get a feeling that you know this place, that this place is familiar to you. You sort of know the rules that govern this world. Thirdly, you say, what’s good, and true, and beautiful about this imaginative world that I’m asked to inhabit for the next three minutes for a pop song, or two hours for a movie? And, you start thinking about what elements of this story is my heart drawn to as a Christian? Because that’s where God has shown His common grace through this piece of popular culture. And they will be there, I call them fragments of grace, or footprints of God, you know, these are evidence that God exists within this unchristian piece of popular culture, which is really cool. So, you look for them, and you say, “Okay, I like this.” You know, a detective’s thirst for justice. Or a couple’s longing for true love and commitment. Or something like that. And you look for them and you say, “what makes this gracious, not according to this imaginative world, but according to God’s story?” What is it about this that points to God? That’s the third point, what’s the story? What world am I in? What’s true and good and beautiful? And then the fourth key is, “what is bad and ugly and perverse about this world?” Where does this world lie? Because, of course, nonChristian popular culture isn’t simply truth, and beauty, and butterflies, and bunnies, and rainbows. It’s also about taking the good things of God, and twisting them into the service of an idol. So here you’re looking for the idol. What is the idolatry at work in this piece of popular culture? Is it, you know, you find that one girl, or you find that one guy, and life will be fantastic and meaningful, and you’ll be fulfilled, and you’ll be better than you ever thought you could be, and so forth and so on. Or, is it about money? You know, is it a commercialism? Is it, you have this thing and life will be good? Or, is it about self-esteem? You know, if you just believe in yourself, then life can be great. So, what you’re looking for is how these pieces of common grace are captured and twisted into a non-theistic context. How they are held captive to something that does not glorify God, but glorifies some aspect of the created existence. Some thing that you’re being asked to orbit around, like a planet orbits around the sun. Whatever that thing is, that you’re being asked to functionally worship, that’s the idol. You know, in “Avatar,” it was the created goodness of the world. Nature became a kind of god. So, that’s the fourth, and you deconstruct that idol, you ask questions of it that show the idol as a fraud, because it promises certain things to people, but it cannot deliver. You start getting into the presuppositions that animate this world and show how the idol falls apart once you start deconstructing it at the pre-suppositional level, and for those of you who are into Van Til, this is where you bring out your pre0suppositional apologetics, and you work at that until the idol falls apart. And then fifthly, you want to ask the question, “how does the gospel respond?” How does the gospel respond to the specific promises made by this idol that it could not fulfill? And here, you need to not think about the gospel, as Jesus died for my individual sins two thousand years ago, and was raised for my justification, that’s the center of the gospel, but the gospel is as wide as it is broad and comprehensive as all of the universe. You know, that’s 2 Corinthians 5:17? You know, if anyone is in Christ, the NIV and RSV says, “He is a new creation.” That’s a bad translation. It is literally in the Greek, if anyone is in Christ, there’s a new creation. It just says, new creation. In other words, when somebody becomes new in Christ, when somebody becomes connected to Christ, they become part of the new creation, and everything’s different for them. Therefore, Christians have a new perspective on death, on life, on parenting, on children, on love, on sex, on entertainment, on whatever. It’s whatever this fictional world promises, how does the gospel give the reality? How does the gospel fulfill the promise? So, those five things. I’ve just saved you the time and effort of going and buying the book. I mean, if you think that’s confusing, you can go get it yourself, but these five questions, What’s the story? Where am I? (that is, the world of the story.) What’s good and true and beautiful? What’s bad and perverse and deceptive, and how can I undermine that idol? And fifthly, how does the gospel respond?
BA: Well, you know I think that should be an incentive to get the book, because, you know, the content you’re just sharing there is so helpful. As you were going through the five points, in my own mind, and thinking through, you know, popular TV series, and maybe asking the questions of that series, and it is very enlightening and useful, so I hope people pick this up. Now, I know that in the book you also develop, talk about developing, a theology of popular culture. Is that the same thing of what you’ve kind of shared with us there? Or, is this sort of a different angle?
TT: It’s sort of the foundation from which that method springs. When I say a theology of popular culture, I want to really be careful to distinguish it from a pop cultural theology. That’s not what I’m doing. What I try to do, in the first part of the book is just laying foundations and saying, “okay, let’s get our thinking straight about what popular culture is, what world view is and stuff like that.” And, one chapter, a pretty long chapter, I just lay out what does the bible say about what we now call popular culture? And that means, what does the bible say about the culture? What does the bible say about who we are as culture makers, as culture receivers? What does it say about the religious power of culture? And so, I just kind of lay out what those themes are, specifically in terms of creation, fall, redemption. So that, when I critique other people’s approaches to popular culture, I can say, “now you see that doesn’t match up, because this is what popular culture isn’t according to the bible, I think this approach goes astray with what the bible calls popular culture.” And then, so we get our cultural theology, we lay out a basic theology of culture, and then what makes popular culture different from just culture in general. And from that, there’s a whole bunch you can say about what popular culture is, it’s a type of worship. It was designed to serve, it’s been twisted by sin, but it’s got these remnants of goodness in it, and it’s therefore very complex, that sort of thing. So, without laying that groundwork, I don’t feel like I could have, I wouldn’t have been as confident in laying out, here are these five points, because the method flows from the theology.
BA: Well then, you’ve got your theology, your method, and then you go into practical ways that we can use popular culture as a means of engagement. Can you give us some examples of practical ways we can do that?
TT: Sure, I mean the one that springs to mind is have movie nights. Have movie discussion nights. I’m a college lecturer, and so I invite my students back to my house once every two weeks for a movie discussion night. I may try to do that with a TV series this fall, I’m thinking about it. But, you just come back and you watch movies and you talk about ‘em, and you can get into some really interesting discussions just doing that. Or listening parties. Or, if you don’t want to organize something that organized, if you don’t want to have something that organized, then you can just go out with a friend and it’ll come up in conversation. And because you’ve already thought about it, you’ll have some interesting things to say. And you can have these great discussions, and backs and forth with a friend over coffee. Or a friend in dinner. Or by the water cooler at your work, as long as you’re not kind of blowing off work. There’s just a lot of opportunities for talking about popular culture. Especially things that are pieces of popular culture, of the cultural moment. Things that are, you know, the “It” movie right now. If you haven’t seen “Dark Night Rises,” then you’re missing out because that’s the IT thing right now. That’s the summer block buster that’s ripping up the box offices. You know, what’s the show that everybody’s watching? What’s the song or the artist that everybody’s listening too? What’s the web content that everybody seems to be talking about? And thinking creatively and critically about these things so that you’re not just saying, “Oh, that’s stupid, or that’s sinful.” But you have something to say that somebody will have to say, “Huh? You know, that really has me thinking.” A long time ago I did a, we did a movie called, a movie by the Cohen brothers for a movie night, called “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” And we talked about his narrative process and all that sort of stuff. And we just went on and on and this one girl, I think she was Serbian, you know, she said, “huh, now you’ve got me thinking.” You know, and it was like oh, oh, we wouldn’t want to do, that would we? You know, but that’s what you want to do. It may not result in a Philippian jailor experience, falling down on the knees saying, “please, tell me what I must do to be saved.” But, it may just be, “huh, I never thought about it that way before. That’s something I have to think about more.” I think if you’ve gotten somebody there, that’s a win. You know, that’s the Holy Spirit kind of making the little grey cells cogitate more than they otherwise would have.
BA: What do you think are some of the best movies you’ve found just to be really apologetically loaded, if you will, the ones that you’d go back to if you were planning a fresh new movie night and you knew these people hadn’t seen these movies? What ones would you want to reach for?
TT: Oh, Brian, that’s like asking me which Is my favorite child. It’s really hard. But, the short answer, and the kind of update answer, because I’m not a good blogger, but if you go to our website, www.turnau.cz I’ve got something posted there called the movie night kit. And there is like a hundred or a hundred and fifty capsule blurbs of movies that we’ve used in the past, and we’ve used well. And there are oh, man just so many. If you’ve got a lot a lot of time, and you’re not offended by language, “Magnolia,” jumps out. Oh, of course, “Tree of Life,” it’s really hard to go wrong with that one, if you’ve got people who can have the patience to deal with the kind of weird story structure, and the pacing of the movie. Oh, when “Avengers” comes to video, you know I’m doing that one. Gotta do Avengers. Joss Whedon’s just such an interesting writer. “Dark Knight Rises,” we’ll be talking about that again, “Star Wars,” it’s, no, I was almost going to say, “it’s almost easier to find things that aren’t worth talking about,” but I need to retract that immediately. I think in principle, you can talk just about any movie out there if you dig deep enough. But, there are movies that tend to be more thoughtful, tend to be more provocative in terms of the questions they raise. I would steer clear of issue movies, because they tend to be very dogmatic and interested less in story than in getting my viewpoint over so that you think the way that I think, and that’s just kind of overbearing. But there are certain genres that I don’t gravitate towards, ‘cause they seem kind of fluffy to me, like I’m not a big fan of romcoms, romantic comedies, although, you get somebody else with a real affection for that genre, and you can have a great discussion about when “Harry Met Sally.” But, even then, one of the best movie nights we had was “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which is essentially a scifi romatic comedy, right? But because it dealt so brutally honestly with relationships, we had a really good conversation with it. So, I don’t know, that’s a very unsatisfactory answer, there’s just so many, there’s so many colors in the rainbow, so many aspects to creation, so many good movies out there, that it’s hard to just name a couple. I would say for your listeners, one of the movies that really kind of turn you on, that you say, Oh, I loved that movie! And chances are, if it made you feel like that, it’s probably a good movie to share with other people. You have to understand why you’re all lit up like that. If it was like, if it was just, Oh, the explosions were just so epic, then maybe not, that’s not going to be the best thing. But if it was, you know, I really thought this movie was honest, and asked some interesting questions, I didn’t agree with everything in it, but man, I loved this character, then you just need to do some more thinking about that movie, and that’s the one you should talk about.
BA: Well, one of my worldview teachers used to teach us about when we’re watching movies, how we should be mindful of their meanings in the worldview that’s, coming across there, and one of the students would say sometimes, “now you’re ruined movies for me,” they can’t watch a movie and enjoy it, and I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, I think you’re just talking about being mindful and doesn’t this just sort of open up a whole new dimension of movies for you?
TT: It does, but I also want to give fair credit to that student who is kind of frustrated, I think that is, especially for overly-analytical types like me, that’s a danger we can run into. I remember going to “The Fisher King,” it was a movie directed by Terry Gilliam, one of the Pythons. It was a great movie, great discussion movie, we’ve used. But my wife and I went to see it when I was in seminary, and as soon as we came out, I started talking about how the movie’s worldview is basically romantic, and it has this romanticist fascination with the madman, and she just said, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! I just need time to enjoy the movie, can’t you give me that, please?!” You know, and I was like, “Oh, okay.” And then after a little while longer, we were able to talk about the movie. And that’s just different personalities. She needs to take things in, let them kind of settle for a little bit and then she’s ready to talk about it, but the general point, I’d say, is, and Robert K. Johnston, in his book, “Real Theology” makes this point, that you need to be able to let a movie speak on it’s own terms. You need to actually take a posture of listening for a little while. It doesn’t mean you abandon your biblical worldview or anything like that, but you just listen to what the movie has to say, without immediately pouncing and pounding on it. And then, after you’ve done that, then you start thinking about how do I respond to this movie? You need to let yourself get into the world of the movie and experience that, and then you can step back and say, “okay where have I been, what’s this journey on?” Which is why when we do movie nights, we always, always, always, watch the movie twice, at least twice, both because we want to screen for quality, one of my rules of thumb is I will not, I will not inflict a movie upon my students, once that I cannot sit through happily twice. But, so you let yourself think through the movie, but I think at that point, you get far more enjoyment by thinking through the movie as if it were meaningful, as if it were somebody human trying to tell you something that’s really important to them, and worth listening to, and worth thinking about, and worth critiquing, if there’s some messed up things in there. So, I want to say to your person who is like, “Oh, you’ve ruined movies,” it’s not going to ruin the movie if you allow yourself to hear the movie first, and then you deepen your enjoyment of the movie by critically engaging with it as a Christian.
BA: We’re going to begin to wrap up now, so I wonder if you would have any words of advice for those who are interested in studying apologetics, and what advice would you want to give to apologists today?
TT: The short advice I would want to give to apologists today is that the field of popular culture is ripe, and there is a lot of things that are worthy of apologetical engagement happening right under your noses. At the risk of offending some of your readers, does, the man on the street really care about Thomas’s five cosmological arguments? Chances are, not really! But, is he interested in, “Game of Thrones?” Yeah, because that’s where, that’s where moral issues are being worked out. And I want to give a, nudity on Game of Thrones, sexual content, beware, beware, but if that stuff doesn’t bother you, then that’s what you should be lookin’ at. The stuff that’s happening in popular culture is where people are interested. And you meet people where they are, you don’t make people trudge across the desert of theology to find you where you are. You, you need to go to them. Yeah, and resources, what would you get into? For understanding popular culture, besides my own book, I think Bill Romanowski’s book “Eyes Wide Open” is really good. Brian Godawa has a book out called “Hollywood Worldviews.” Which, it’s been out for a while, and it’s really quite good about thinking about worldviews and movies. There are, there are other apologetically oriented thoughts out there. I would say Van Til’s a hard read, but I don’t think he’s appreciated enough today. Greg Bahnsen has some works out that are very, very helpful in acquainting people with Van Til’s system of thought without, Van Til was not the greatest communicator, but his ideas I think are so very helpful for critiquing worldviews and deconstructing them, and showing the power, the cognitive intellectual, emotional, spiritual power of the gospel. So, I’d say, find things by Bahnsen, Romanowski, and Godawa, and present company included.
BA: Well, very good, I definitely want to point people to your book Ted, but what was your website again so that people can find your resources there?
TT: You can find it either at popologetics.com or turnau.cz because I live in the Czech Republic. And you can find the introduction, the table of contents and the introduction, are there for you to peruse. Then, chapter one is posted at PNR’s website, which is prpbooks.com, and just put in Popologetics in the little search bar at the upper left, and you can find a pdf of chapter one. And, there is, the college I teach at put out an early version of chapter two, and that’s an online journal “East of the West,” and that is at www.eotwonline.net. And then just put in my last name or something and, turnau, or something, and you’ll find chapter two. So, basically, you’ve got three chapters of material without even having to pay anything, which should help.
BA: Alright, well, I’ll definitely link to those things at the blog post, but Ted, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you today, thanks for taking the time to do the interview.
TT: It’s been my honor, Brian, blessings to you.