A gift guide for movie and book lovers

December 6, 2018

It’s the time of year for getting together over the holidays with friends and family; a time to reconnect and reminisce; a time for sharing the love; and a time for giving. In a day and age where we are incredibly disconnected, these instances of being together with each other might be more important than ever.

Amidst all the choices, what will you get your loved ones this year? For those book and movie lovers like myself, here are a few suggestions from this year’s releases. And if you’re looking closely, you’ll see that connection (or the lack of) is a common theme throughout these offerings.


“Leave No Trace”: Based on a true story, this movie (rated PG for thematic material throughout) follows a single father and his teenage daughter as they live completely off the grid, surviving in the cold, wet forests of the Pacific Northwest. As we learn, the veteran father, Will, has had a hard time re-adjusting to civilian life because of PTSD and depression. Connecting with people is something he now seems incapable of doing.

His idyllic existence with his daughter is brought to a halt when they are discovered by authorities, put into social services, and forced to re-integrate. For Will, escaping back to the woods seems like the only viable option, but for his daughter things get complicated when she gets a taste of normal life.

“First Reformed”: Do you like slow movies? Do you cherish ambiguous endings? If so, this movie (Rated R for some disturbing violent images) might be for you. In it, director Paul Schrader (screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”) paints the portrait of a depressed minister, Reverend Toller, trying dutifully to serve his small, dying church. His ministry is essentially supported by local megachurch Abundant Life, a fact he is both grateful and annoyed by.

When a young, pregnant parishioner enters the church, Toller’s life is upended after he is introduced to the woman’s husband, a depressed radical environmentalist who doesn’t want to bring new life into a world that will be virtually uninhabitable due to climate change. Through this encounter Toller further wrestles with faith and doubt as he tries to speak truth to power as well as stave off his own growing despair and isolation. So not exactly Hallmark fare, but for the patient/thoughtful viewer, there are rewards to be had.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Another solid offering is this Fred Rogers documentary (rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language). The film gives a behind-the-scenes look at the man who created the children’s television series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Through interviews and archival footage we get to spend some time in the mind of someone who had a platform and used it to share a message of the dignity and worth of each person, particularly as it regards connecting with children.

And lest we put Rogers on too high a pedestal, I am reminded of the radical kindness shown by Christ himself, who, time and again reminded people to love God and love their neighbor. Indeed, this was a message Mr. Rogers wholly embraced.


Gay Girl, Good God: Writer, speaker, and artist Jackie Hill Perry does not mince words, and her first book is a shining testament to that fact. In it she recounts her life growing up as a girl who was same-sex attracted. Her journey into womanhood was fraught with pain as she endured fatherlessness as well as gender confusion, porn addiction, and the heartache of sinful choices. Then Jesus broke through and changed her heart. On the heels of that changed heart, she found that her desires also began to change by the power of the Holy Spirit. This candid and empathetic memoir is a great witness to the power of the gospel in a person’s life.

Virgil Wander: With his latest novel, renowned author Leif Enger has given us his newest story in a decade. And if you’re interested in the author’s work, the best place to start would be with his incredible debut novel, Peace Like a River. In his latest offering, Enger’s titular Virgil owns a modest movie theater in a small, Midwestern town and leads a quiet, uneventful life. One night while driving, his car careens off an icy road and ends up in a freezing lake. He survives, but his language and memory are not what they used to be. Upon recovery, Virgil enters a new world, starting over in some ways, as he interacts with the quirky, endearing residents of Greenstone, Minn.

No One Ever Asked: Lastly, this is a recent work of fiction by Katie Ganshert that I’ve been inspired by. I most appreciate the subtlety with which she writes as she tells an honest and redemptive tale, but never gets preachy. The story looks at the lives of three very different women trying to navigate a changing school district. A small Missouri town explodes when a low-income school loses its accreditation, and students from that school are bussed into a more affluent, suburban school. Politics, social classes, and racial tensions collide in this tough but moving story. And in the end, it’s the beautiful little moments of grace that ultimately tie these characters together, giving them tools to fight their own prejudice and experience true connection.

These are just a few suggestions from all of this year’s great offerings. Movies and books are great ways to learn about various cultures and be challenged by the themes woven throughout each plot. They also provide a way to connect, whether it’s through watching a movie together, reading a book out loud, or discussing how each one interacts with a Christian worldview. So, grab a book, turn on a movie, and enjoy your family and friends this Christmas.

Erik Parks

Erik Parks is married to author Catherine Parks and has two children. He is a Nashville filmmaker whose debut feature film, “Why We Breathe” is currently in post-production and will be released in 2019. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24