In this post I want to suggest a way in which film can utilize what C.S. Lewis called “the narrative qualities of the [in this case, moving] picture” to teach listening as a significant hermeneutic posture. I want to draw attention to the way in which narrative qualities of art can theologically instruct us to go beyond consensus so that we might listen more carefully to the outside voice.
Nearing Easter Sunday of Holy Week 2014, I sat down with my children, as they were watching Derek Hayes and Stanislav Sokolov’s 2000 film, The Miracle Maker. I was suddenly struck by an exchange between Jairus, the Jewish Temple priest and Cleopas. Witnessing the unfolding of Jairus’ family crisis concerning his daughter’s weakening vitality, Cleopas carefully, yet with a subtle confidence suggests, “I think we should listen to this Jesus [fully aware that Jesus stands far removed from the consensus].” Without refrain he continued: “no one ever lost their soul by listening to a lie . Only by believing it and following it. But if he [i.e. Jesus] speaks the truth; we have nothing to fear from the truth, do we?” Immediately, a second temple priest asserts in a resonant tone of suspicion, “we must question Jesus and see how he defends himself.”
One may sympathize with the second priest in the film, who wants nothing more than consensus to provide a means for discerning truth, but as the story unfolds, his hermeneutic of suspicion lacks the very openness that is essential for reception, reminding one of D.Z. Philips’ promptings to be “suspicious about suspicion.”
Keeping this in mind, David Brown has put the right amount of pressure on Jürgen Habermas’ “consensus theory of truth” for failing to take into account past developments, not to mention creating little room for voices outside of consensus. For Brown, “even if this is the best way of discovering the truth, there is more to truth than simply human agreement. Not only is there a world independent of that consensus, there is a God independent of that world.” In a stronger sense, we hear the words of the character, Cleopas and realize that cultivating a listening disposition is a more promising way forward regarding hermeneutic theory in theology and the arts.
It was Hans-Georg Gadamer who argued that hermeneutics not only touched on areas of interpreting art, but more emphatically, that hermeneutics “embrace[s] the whole sphere of art and its complex questions. Every work of art, not only literature, must be understood like any other text that requires understanding, and this kind of understanding has to be acquired. This gives hermeneutical consciousness a comprehensiveness that surpasses even that of aesthetic consciousness. Aesthetics has to be absorbed into hermeneutics.”
But how does such understanding take place? For Gadamer, listening was primary for understanding. Following Gadamer, Anthony Thiselton relates that in the practice of hermeneutics “what one has to exercise above all is the ear, the sensitivity for perceiving prior determinations, anticipations, and imprints that reside in concepts.” Closely associated, is the way in which C.S. Lewis proposed surrender as a key turn towards reception: “The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out).”
The type of listening I am advocating in hermeneutical discussions between theology and art is aptly described by Sarah Coakley as “more subtle,” “more difficult,” “less hostile and triumphant,” “a form of practiced dispossession in the Spirit to the emergence of a truth which may surprise, inform, or disturb by terms just as the interruption of the speech by the Spirit in prayer.” Perhaps, we can learn to say along with the cinematic character Cleopas, “I think we should listen.”
 C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961). 16.
 Derek Hayes and Stanislav Sokolov, “The Miracle Maker,” (United Kingdom: Icon Film Distribution, 2000).
 D.Z. Phillips, Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 2001). 23.
 David Brown, Continental Philosophy and Modern Theology: An Engagement (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987). 147.
 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 2011). Earlier in TM, Gadamer attempted to establish the “ontology” of the picture. 137. He observed: “the divine becomes picturable only through the word and image. Thus the religious picture has an exemplary significance.” 137.
 Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007). xvii.
 Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism. 19.
 Sarah Coakley, “Reconceiving ‘Natural Theology’: Meaning, Sacrifice, and God,” in Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology (YouTube Video, 1:14:39, 2012).
 Sokolov, “The Miracle Maker.”