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Into the Dark

Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century

series: Cultural Exegesis

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"Applying both professional acumen and autobiographical wisdom, the author gleans insights regarding transcendence in films. . . . Reading this book is akin to enjoying a sumptuous feast with a thoughtful, witty, engaging connoisseur who knows the menu and loves to eat. . . . Highly recommended."--T. Lindvall, Choice

In Into the Dark, Craig Detweiler, a well-respected film expert and media spokesperson on Hollywood and Christianity, examines forty-five twenty-first-century films that resonate theologically--from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Little Miss Sunshine--offering groundbreaking insight into their scriptural connections and theological applications.

Detweiler uses the IMDb, the wildly popular Internet Movie Database, to select today's most influential contemporary films. Into the Dark dissects the theology of everyday life, exploring the work of the Spirit of God in creation and redemption to discuss "general revelation" through cinema and sometimes unlikely filmmakers.

"Memory, community, and imagination offer a strong starting place for theological reflection," Detweiler writes. Driven by the art of the films, Into the Dark opens up lively discussion topics, including anthropology, the problem of evil, sin, interconnectivity, postmodern relationships, ethics, fantasy, and communities in crisis. Notable movies discussed include Gladiator, United 93, Million Dollar Baby, and Walk the Line.

This book is recommended for college and seminary students in film, theology, and communications courses as well as pastors, film fans, and those interested in Christianity and the cinema.

About the series: The Cultural Exegesis series provides methodological and foundational studies that address the way to engage culture theologically. Each volume works within a specific cultural discipline, illustrating and embodying the theory behind cultural engagement. By providing the appropriate tools, these books equip the reader to engage and interpret the surrounding culture responsibly.


"Craig Detweiler's Into the Dark is a passionate, thoughtful assessment of the spiritual aspects of cinema. Detweiler provides a refreshingly open-minded engagement with Hollywood, insisting on an integrative approach to general revelation wherein the cinematic 'good, true, and beautiful' are broadly defined and broadly discovered. It is uncommon to hear Christians speak of mass entertainment as 'a form of Mass, a common grace,' as Detweiler does, but such a perspective is sorely needed and appropriately provocative."--Brett McCracken, film critic for Christianity Today and Relevant

"Soak a brain in billions of digital bytes of filmic splendor and an equal amount of dynamic theology, awaken it to the 'sudden and miraculous grace' available at the intersection of faith and film, and you've got Craig Detweiler's tour de force. A brilliant, timely, and useful piece of work from the only brain that could have produced it!"--Dick Staub, author, The Culturally Savvy Christian and Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters, and host of The Kindling's Muse

"Hallelujah! What a refreshing book. Rather than the usual fruitless wholesale condemnation of modern culture, Craig Detweiler has delivered a theologically truthful and joyous exploration of one of the most powerful forces in today's overwhelmingly visual society--the movies."--Valerie Mayhew, former television writer; the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and Art, Fuller Theological Seminary

"I was humbled and inspired by Craig Detweiler's encyclopedic work. As a Christian screenwriter in postmodern Hollywood, I struggle every day to find the intersection between my faith and my craft. Into the Dark illuminates many such points of cohesion but in places one wouldn't think--or even dare--to look. Detweiler could have easily restricted his analysis to softer cinema: the anemic family dramas or self-important epics that try to pass as spiritual fare. Instead he chose to find wisdom in film's most profound shadows. As a result, Into the Dark does more than inform; it invites us to open our eyes and discover the divine in even the most brutal of movies."--Matt Greenberg, screenwriter of 1408, Reign of Fire, and the film adaptation of The Screwtape Letters

"Craig Detweiler is right when he says that film is a source of divine revelation. Into the Dark takes readers on a journey to discover how God is helping us understand our true identity, community, and divine history within popular culture. No Christian scholar, student, or film buff should be without this book. I highly recommend this amazing, divine journey into the dark."--David Bruce, webmaster, Hollywood Jesus

"Many books on the intersection of Christian theology and popular culture cut to the chase of cultural engagement without taking the time to develop the plotline of theological method. Thankfully, Craig Detweiler takes the time to explicate his method before engaging some of the most compelling films of our day. I've had the pleasure of sitting in a movie theater with Craig and of talking about the film over a cup of coffee afterward. Now you have that chance, too, with Into the Dark. I can think of no better companion than Craig to help us reflect on the most important storytelling medium of our time."--Tony Jones, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and national coordinator of Emergent Village

The Author

  1. Craig Detweiler

    Craig Detweiler

    Craig Detweiler (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is an author, award-winning filmmaker, and cultural commentator who has been featured in the New York Times and on CNN, NPR, Fox News, and ABC's Nightline. He formerly served...

    Continue reading about Craig Detweiler


"It's the author's perspective that makes his book stand out--along with his PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary, Detweiler is also the co-director of the school's Reel Spirituality Institute, and has even penned several Hollywood screenplays. His knowledge of subtle filmmaking techniques, cinematography, and plot devices help you read between the lines of some favorite films to see the deeper meanings."

"Detweiler delivers one of the more successful and substantial theological interpretations of contemporary movies, mining film for spiritual meaning. . . . [He] brings his theological expertise to bear on such recent works as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Million Dollar Baby, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Besides their impressive entertainment value, these films and several others are rich in God language and religious significance. Why, some may wonder, do we need to reflect upon films so intensely? The answer is that we don't, but if we are grasping for meaning in our culture, as Detweiler contends, movies are a fine place to start looking for God."--Publishers Weekly

"This unique book skillfully combines popular movies with evangelical principles. . . . Recommended for larger public and seminary libraries."--John-Leonard Berg, Library Journal

"Craig Detweiler might be the closest thing we have to an expert on the convergence of film and faith. . . . Into the Dark finds grand themes such as identity, community, and history present in this century's most important films. Detweiler effortlessly exegetes the films in question, effectively connecting their subject matter to the greatness of God and the brokenness of mankind."--Scott McClellan, Collide

"A very great summer read, a fun and well written book of stories, which, to be honest, deserves to be announced as a BookNotes Really Important Book. Craig Detweiler has just released a substantial and refreshing new book on movies. . . . It is in the fabulous series about which we've raved here before, a series called 'cultural exegesis.' It is a very enjoyable book, very smart and . . . truly a very helpful contribution to our formation of the Christian mind, and a Christian assessment of the current contemporary context. (Preachers, pastors, teachers, parents, are you listening?) . . . His insights are nearly brilliant at times and a wide array of Christian film critics and Hollywood workers have raved about it. Although he is deeply theological (his PhD is from Fuller) he is very open-minded and positive about the common grace of these popular and influential stories. . . . Detweiler's bit of 'reel revelation' is a great addition to any library on the interface of film and faith, and a very mature guide to your movie viewing enjoyment."--Byron Borger,

"Detweiler has done work on pop culture before, and is well equipped to offer Christian insights into the most regarded films of our times. . . . Fascinating and highly recommended."--Byron Borger,

"This is a very interesting book that is culturally relevant. Author Craig Detweiler is a respected film expert and in this book he examines forty-five films from our era that have spiritual implications. He spends much time with each film mining for spiritual meaning. As Christians, we often find much wrong with Hollywood. Detweiler looks at it from a different perspective and I must say this book made me think . . . and I will certainly be looking for spiritual nuggets in any future films I see. . . . Worth reading."--John Chadwick,

"A scholarly yet accessible book for the film buff who has always suspected that there's something more to good movies than just entertainment, or for the Christian seeking to understand where God is working in the world outside the church walls."--Corene Israel, Relevant

"The world of theology and film studies may well be the most popular and fastest-growing field in theological education. We have seen a rush of books to the shelves. . . . Some of these texts offer brilliant interpretations of much-loved films and television programs. Fewer still offer significant contributions to theological study. Even fewer manage to walk that fine [line] where film criticism and theology inform and illuminate one another. Craig Detweiler's latest book, Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century, is one of those rare texts. . . . Few writers in this field so clearly and directly outline their theological methodology for interacting with film the way that Detweiler does. . . . Into the Dark should now be one of the first resources to which students of theology and film turn. It is insightful and entertaining. Detweiler's theology and film criticism also evidence a keen perception of the state of our contemporary society. . . . His book can and should be employed in the classroom and the congregation. His thematic divisions just beg for application in church film clubs or seminary courses."--Pop Theology

"Part cultural exegesis, part re-imagination of hermeneutical approach, Into the Dark invites readers to reconsider the category of general revelation through a cinematic canon of some of the most meaningful films to emerge already in the 21st century. . . . One of the most refreshing aspects of Detweiler's work is that he has not merely picked films that he finds personally meaningful or that are overtly significant theologically. As it is, his canon of films is decided democratically through the consensus of the movie watching community that rates the films on the IMDb. . . . His work calls us to be engaged audiences of the scriptures and popular films. By holding these two in cohesion he calls on Christians to reclaim the role of the Spirit and general revelation in our hermeneutics and theology."--Daniel Tidwell,

"Besides identifying hopes and fears of the millennial generation, this volume should equip the careful reader to do his or her own cultural exegesis."--Leadership Journal

"In this fresh critique of contemporary cinema, the author illumines the shadowy recesses of the caverns of film. . . . This volume captures the eternal sunshine and sacred epiphanies in a diverse selection of fascinating films that are part of the new popular canon. Applying both professional acumen and autobiographical wisdom, the author gleans insights regarding transcendence in films like Memento and the cult surprise Donnie Darko. Underlying his interpretation of themes of memory, identity, community, and nostalgia is a theology of experience that functions to reveal evocative spiritual themes in these iconic films. Of special delight is Detweiler's opening of the fantasy worlds of Pixar's The Incredibles and Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Reading this book is akin to enjoying a sumptuous feast with a thoughtful, witty, engaging connoisseur who knows the menu and loves to eat. . . . Highly recommended. All readers, all levels."--T. Lindvall, Choice

"An excellent resource for ministers, small group leaders or casual film goers."--Adrian Drayton, Insights

"[Detweiler's] personal story of faith combines with his knowledge of cinema to yield rich insights. . . . Detweiler's insightful look at current film will be a useful voice in the theology of culture discussion."--Mark Parker, Christian Chronicle

"A contagious celebration of cinema as both art form and general revelation. Using six contemporary films as his foundation, Detweiler builds an argument for the sacred and redemptive qualities of even profane films. . . . You will no doubt be spirited away by the playfulness of his prose and the sweep of his film-historical grasp."--Anthony Sacramone, First Things

"Balancing sober Christian discernment with the imaginative sensitivities of an avid and unbiased fan, Detweiler presents illuminating reflections on God's presence in contemporary film and, at the same time, models how more Christians might take the light of truth with them into the cinema's darkness."--Taylor Worley, Theological Book Review

"This is a well-written book. It will probably appeal most to folks who have seen some of the movies mentioned. Detweiler deals in some detail with 45 films. One can argue with his choice of the IMDb as his canon, but it is the one that allows for the broadest input. . . . I believe Detweiler is on the right track. If we are open to the culture around us, we may hear God's Spirit at work there and find points of contact with people who are rarely, if ever, in church."--Gerald A. Butler, Congregations

"Into the Dark challenges the church to look outside its walls at what is playing on the screens of the world. . . . This book is an excellent guide to that task. It is recommended to seminary students in courses on theology and culture as well as to pastors who want to shepherd the people outside their congregations."--William T. Purinton, Trinity Journal

"[A] refreshing book. . . . Detweiler reverses the pedagogical trend of using movies as concrete examples by surveying the top films of the past nine years and asking how and where God is present in each film. . . . Detweiler is a rare combination of artist and theologian. . . . While theologians tend to approach the intersection of theology and film from the perspective of academic theology, Detweiler is able to approach film as a filmmaker with theological training. This difference is key. . . . IMDB's list of the top twenty-five movies of the twenty-first century is markedly diverse and proves to be a rich resource for Detweiler. . . . His talent for locating theological connections between such a diverse group of films is his great strength. . . . His thoughtful reflection gives rise to insightful theological discoveries. . . . He cannot divorce his own revelatory experience of God through film from his insight into who God is and how God functions in the world. And, in the end, that is why this book works."--Adam Hearlson, Cultural Encounters

"Detweiler has provided a masterful resource on the topic of general revelation. . . . His knowledge of contemporary films is impressive, and for even the casual observer, he gives filmmaker's insights which cause one to reexamine films already viewed. . . . This is a book which can be used in a number of settings. It can serve as a primary text for contemporary culture, and also as a supplemental text for basic theology and practical theology. . . . [Detweiler] writes in a manner which makes his work not only readable, but informative. . . . He is uniquely qualified to bring an evangelical voice to a field which has often been viewed as profane and something to be rejected. . . . Detweiler has given the Christian community a means of correctly observing the culture and engaging in dialog regarding timeless themes which speak to the soul of man."--Doug Barcalow, Journal of Youth Ministry

"An excellent read. Detweiler brings his passion for the cinema together with his strong Christian faith in order to uncover the revelatory power of film that is a source of divine revelation. . . . His enthusiasm is contagious and after reading his commentaries of contemporary films, such as Donnie Darko and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I found myself reflecting on my own viewing and interpretation on the films. The pairing of theology and film is truly conversational--the readings are not imposed and explore the genuine connections between the two disciplines. . . . The experience of general revelation is conveyed in an accessible and convincing manner. . . . This is an invaluable read for those who are interested in the interdisciplinary aspects of theology and film and is an effective balance of personal anecdote and theory."--Rena Arya, Theological Book Review