The story of cinema is the story of God's Spirit working alongside filmmakers helping our newest artform to flourish
In 250 concise devotions on the greatest films of all time, Come & See: A Christian Guide to the Greatest Films of All Time provides a model for how to view film history with your spiritual eyes wide open. Come & See is a comprehensive film history and an inspiring testament to the Spirit’s work in the lives of cinema’s most esteemed artists.
Explore Every Major Filmmaker, Genre, and Movement
Discover God's Spirit at Work Wherever We Find Beauty
Discover New Movies to Love
Love Movies You Already Love Even More
In 2017, my first book, How to Talk to a Movie, had just come out, another book I contributed to was in the final stages of the publication process, and I was beginning to think and pray about what to work on next. I was spending my early morning writing time on odds and ends, trying to be faithful to continue to write even though I didn’t have any goals in mind. I was “hovering over the waters,” to reference my favorite metaphor for creative potential from the beginning of Genesis, wondering what God’s Spirit would next call into being in my writing life.
Then one afternoon while on a walk around Pasadena with my wife, Krista, I came upon a question:
If we watch through the history of cinema will we see God’s Spirit at work in the development of the art form?
It’s a simple question rooted in a belief that God cares about the movies and that God cares about filmmakers, that God is present with artists inspiring them to create, and that when they are faithful to heed the Spirit’s leading – even if they don’t know that they are doing so – they create things that exhibit the goodness of God.
Like any good question, it led to other questions, like:
- Is it correct to ascribe creative inspiration to God’s Spirit even in non-Christian artists?
- What would it look like to see God’s Spirit at work in the movies?
- What about the fact that movies are made by people, and people are a bundle of sacred and sinful tendencies?
- How should I decide what movies to watch to look for this activity?
- Assuming I discover God’s Spirit there, how could I best bear witness to God’s work and encourage others to see and praise it too?
If I could answer those questions, then watching through film history would become like walking through a garden and marveling at the beautiful, true, and good things growing there and saying, “Praise God for that! Praise God for that!” all the while.
And if I could write about it in a way that was compelling and concise, in a way that opened the gates for readers to walk into the garden and see for themselves the wonders of the Spirit’s work at the movies, then that would very much be worth doing. I’ve always likened my first book, How to Talk to a Movie, to the little pamphlet the park ranger hands you when you drive into the National Park. It tells you just enough to get you excited about exploring the park. This new book would be like a trail guide you buy at the bookstore. It wouldn’t be the park itself. The reader would still have to take a hike, but it would be an inspiring and helpful companion as the movie-lover ventured into the wilds of film history.
So I got to work.
First I spent a year reading and writing and talking with pastors and theologians and artists about the Holy Spirit and the arts and creativity so that I could confidently claim that the Holy Spirit is to credit for creative inspiration wherever it occurs. (You can read the result of that year of theological study in the appendix titled "Craft, Commerce, and the Holy Spirit.")
I searched for an answer to that very difficult question about the sinfulness and sacredness of all people by looking at the work of one of cinema’s most talented and notorious filmmakers, D.W. Griffith, who sprouts like an alluring yet poisonous plant near the gates of the garden. If you can reckon honestly with Griffith, you can handle anything and anyone else you find in film history, even Elia Kazan and Bernardo Bertolucci and Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.
Then I returned to film studies to consider what forms the fruits of the Spirit would take at the movies. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control look different in different situations. How would we recognize them on the silver screen? If they are there, they will be there in the way the story is told, not just in the actions of the characters in the stories.
To determine what movies to watch, I took a bunch of lists of “the greatest movies ever made” by a bunch of different groups of filmmakers, film scholars, and film critics from across time and cross-referenced them to find the most commonly praised films. If these are the movies where the highest degree of creative skill is evident, then this is where we should expect to see most clearly the work of the Spirit of God. That list shook out to be about 150 films.
Then I looked at the list of films and asked what was missing, because the problem with any canon is that it tends to repeat the oversights of the past. Movies made by women and Black filmmakers were largely missing from the list. So I did more research and found lists of great films made by women and Black filmmakers and cross-referenced those lists and distilled them into the most frequently named films and worked those films into my other list. This gave me a list of 250 movies from the beginning of film history all the way up to the present day.
The list covered every major film movement, every genre, every style. It included films by every influential filmmaker. It featured every significant technological breakthrough that expanded what was possible in filmmaking. (Technology and the movies have always been intertwined.) It included movies in many, many languages from all over the world. I had seen more than half of the films before, but some of them only once and many years ago. I had a lot of movie watching to do.
But before I could really do that, I had to figure out what shape this writing project would take. I spent a few months trying different ways of writing about these movies looking for a form and voice that would expand the reader’s perspective, not reduce the films down to easy take-aways. This is the difficult task of criticism. In writing about a work of art, it is natural to collapse it into something that can be stated. At its best, criticism is truthful to the effect a work of art has on an individual and opens the reader’s eyes and ears so that the art can have an effect on them too. It’s a kind of clearing away of the noise and a focusing of attention so that the viewer can be enchanted by the work of art.
I found the form. I found the voice. And then I began watching, researching, and writing about the films.
It took me three years to work my way through the entire list. We moved twice. I changed jobs. We had a baby. There was a global pandemic. And throughout all of that, I was getting up at 5AM and either watching movies or researching and writing about them. I say this not to brag, but to note that it took a long time, and my perspective on the world and movies changed quite a bit during the years I was writing this. I hoped all the while that at the end when I looked back over the collection I would find that I had stayed true to the movies and to the signs of God’s Spirit at work in them and not simply journaled my way through a few of the most turbulent years of my life.
When it was finished, I was pleased to find the method and voice I had worked so hard to find early on had kept “me” out of the individual devotions as much as possible. A couple of my favorite books about movies are memoirs about movie-watching, but I did not intend for this to be one of those kinds of books. Rather than record my journey, I wanted this collection to guide others on their own journey through the movies. I think I succeeded.
Each devotion is faithful to the film it focuses on. They do not force Christian values onto the films but rather affirm the ways the movies resonate with the activity of the Spirit of God in the world. They invite the viewer to join with me in praising God for what we see at the movies. Each is like a door opening into a world of wonders. All together, they are a testament to the work of the Spirit of God in the world’s youngest art.
I finished writing this collection of devotions on May 22, 2021. Then I spent the next year and a half revising the devotions, talking with publishers, creating an email subscription version of the material (read more about that below), and preparing this text.
I call the collection Come & See, because it’s the phrase used throughout the New Testament when someone wants to invite someone else to witness what God is up to. I want you to come with me on a journey through film history and see what God has been up to all this time at the movies. I hope it finds absolutely everyone who wants to watch movies with their spiritual eyes wide open and to praise God for what they see.
Praise for Come & See
beautiful, heartfelt, knowledgeable, and hospitable
“Come & See is the single most significant contribution to film viewing with the eyes of faith in my lifetime. Elijah’s writing is beautiful, heartfelt, knowledgeable, and hospitable. I am moved by this truly epic undertaking, all for the love of God and film.”
– Lauralee Farrer, Filmmaker
Come & See offers eleven different paths you can take through film history highlighting significant evidence of God's Spirit at work.
The Greatest Films of All Time
The films included in Come & See are the movies filmmakers, film scholars, and film lovers agree are the most important of all time.
A New Way of Watching Movies
Through concise devotions and model prayers, Come & See reveals a new way of watching movies with your spiritual eyes and ears wide open.