In The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, a six-part TV series that aired on the National Geographic Channel beginning April 3, 2016, the actor who has played God himself interviews a range of religious authorities in a quest to explore the nature of the divine. One of those authorities is Fuller’s Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture Kutter Callaway, who entered into conversation with Mr. Freeman on the question of evil. Dr. Callaway reflects on the experience below.
As a faculty member at Fuller whose primary area of research and teaching has to do with the theological significance of television, film, and contemporary culture, I often find myself stumbling over God in the most unexpected places. My forthcoming book Watching TV Religiously, in fact, explores the many ways that God is already at work in and through the current proliferation of television programs and increasingly diverse options for viewing.
So it should not come as a surprise to me when this divine activity makes itself explicit. Yet I'm often taken aback by this continued interest in God in an otherwise material world. In spite of the many voices announcing the end of religion and faith in modern society, we can't seem to shake God from our consciousness. To borrow a phrase from philosopher Charles Taylor, contemporary culture is “haunted by transcendence.” I believe it is this very “haunted-ness” that both inspires and animates a TV production like the National Geographic Channel's The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. It is also what generates so much public interest in a television program about God in a context that is supposedly so “secularized.”
Spurred by his own personal questions about God and the various religious communities who lay claim to this God or gods, Morgan Freeman produced the six-part series as a way of exploring the phenomenon of belief in the modern world. I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Freeman to discuss the Christian understanding of evil, Satan, and original sin. I did so not simply to meet the man who actually plays God (!), but as my feeble attempt to articulate the value and significance of the Christian narrative in the midst of a world in which the Christian story is but one among many, many others.
As I reflect upon my conversation with Freeman and the production as a whole, it strikes me that this is a position in which the Christian community will increasingly find itself. Participating in endeavors like this will make many of us uncomfortable because we often won’t have control: over the terms of the conversation, who our “target audience” is, what the final project will look like. And yet we are being asked to contribute something to a conversation taking place in contemporary culture from which the church has long been absent, in part because it hasn't aligned with our ready-made agenda. From a theological perspective, it's a conversation that God initiated and continues to sustain with or without our involvement. But it is one that we are nevertheless called to enter with wit, wisdom, and creativity.
So watch The Story of God. Watch it to learn something about how other religious traditions understand God. Watch it to gain some insight into the modern world's fascination with the divine. Watch it with friends and family members who might also be interested in the conversation. But most of all, watch it as a means for developing your capacity to see and hear the many ways in which we might collaborate with God's ongoing project in the world.
Kutter Callaway’s discussion with Morgan Freeman on Episode 5—“Why Does Evil Exist?”—aired Sunday, May 1, on the National Geographic Channel. Learn more at the channel's website.