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From disapproval to delight

Novels and movies were once generally suspect in evangelical eyes, but now the emphasis is on discernment.

From disapproval to delight

In his pithy way of offering insult without falling into crudeness, Benjamin Disraeli-the Jewish-Christian 19th-century British prime minister who moonlighted as a novelist-once characterized a woman as having "guanoed her mind by reading French novels." That was the general disapproving reaction of the evangelical elite back then to thrillers or romances. (Disraeli said he personally avoided the abyss by authoring 18 fictional works: "When I want to read a novel I write one.")

Early in the 20th century the reaction of many evangelicals to the movies was similar: Don't go to productions viewed as tawdry or (at best) consumers of time that could better be spent at church picnics. But the appeal of lights/camera/action overwhelmed strict separationism, and films were increasingly seen as delights of life like vines and fig trees (some of which produced rotten figs and deserved to wither).

A month ago I asked evangelicals from a variety of fields-some pastors, some writers or directors, some heading political or nonprofit offices, even Tony Campolo and a Texas Supreme Court justice-to answer this question: "What are your favorite novels and movies (up to five of each) published or produced during the past 20 years?"

I chose 20 years simply because this is WORLD's 20th-anniversary year, and did not strictly enforce that limit. I did not have an agenda-other than satisfaction of curiosity-in mind, except that the choice of the word favorite rather than greatest was intentional. Novel and movie favorites are often deeply personal: We can admire some films intellectually but they leave us cold, while others that are deeply flawed still grip us emotionally.

For example, I put on my own favorite five list some pretty nonsensical movies like Field of Dreams and The Family Man, as well as a supremely logical one like The Princess Bride. I've enjoyed reading realistic novels by gritty John Lescroart and grungy George Pelecanos that provide an often-grimy look at San Francisco lawyering and inner-city Washington detective work, but I don't recommend them to general readers and don't consider them "great."

Following another of Disraeli's maxims, "Never complain and never explain," I didn't ask respondents to justify their personal choices, but some did anyway. Dennis Haack, for example, helps Christians develop skill in biblical cultural discernment, and he thoughtfully had Peace Like a River on his list as a "novel depicting a Christian worldview," Magnolia as a film "raising perennial big questions," and The Royal Tennenbaums as a "movie revealing brokenness." (I would agree with that, and would suggest You Can Count on Me as another film implicitly showing our desperate need.)

Matt Ristuccia got into the spirit of "favorites" rather than "greatness" by listing back-to-back the film version of Little Women ("since everyone is allowed one bit of schmaltz, this is mine. Family, growth, loss, and love. It never fails to bring a happy tear to my eye") and The Fugitive (the epitome of an "action/drama film. You can't beat the final vindication of the fugitive. Truth does win out; guilt is exposed").

Here are 30 sets of favorites . . .

Priya Abraham, World reporter

Novels

  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Last King of Scotland, Giles Foden
  • A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

Films

  • Quiz Show
  • The Princess Bride
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Schindler's List

Art A. Ayris, Kingstone Media Group chairman

Novels

  • All things, Grisham and Cussler
  • A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren

Films

  • Amistad
  • A Time to Kill
  • Braveheart
  • Gladiator
  • The Patriot

Jeff Baldwin, Worldview Academy research director

Novels

  • The Children of Men, P.D. James
  • The Samurai, Shusaku Endo
  • Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Films

  • The Winslow Boy
  • Quiz Show
  • Braveheart
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • The Truman Show

Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard executive editor

Novels

  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin

Films

  • The Incredibles
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • United 93
  • Saving Milly (CBS TV movie)

Mindy Belz, World editor

Novels

  • The Second Coming, Walker Percy
  • A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin
  • The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
  • Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons
  • The Odyssey, Homer, as translated by Robert Fagles

Films

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • The Princess Bride
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Amistad or Schindler's List

Bill Boyd, All Saints Presbyterian Church (Austin, Texas) pastor

Novels

  • Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks
  • Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire
  • The Border Trilogy-All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain Cormac McCarthy
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
  • The Wilderking Trilogy-The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, The Way of the Wilderking, Jonathan Rogers

Films

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • X-Men trilogy
  • Mrs. Brown
  • Ever After
  • Life Is Beautiful

Anthony Bradley, Covenant Theological Seminary assistant professor

Novels

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Brothers K, David James Duncan
  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Films

  • Glory
  • Dead Poets Society
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • The Matrix

Tony Campolo, Eastern University professor

Novels

  • Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
  • Paul, Walter Wangerin Jr.

Films

  • Schindler's List
  • Star Wars
  • Ordinary People

Rudy Carrasco, Harambee Christian Family Center executive director

Novels

  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie
  • The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Broker, John Grisham
  • The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy

Films

  • The Matrix
  • U2 Vertigo DVD
  • Snatch
  • The Prince of Egypt
  • Mi Familia

Joe P. Carter, Worldmagblog.com managing editor

Novels

  • All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
  • The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
  • Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  • Holes, Louis Sachar
  • Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman

Films

  • Ponette
  • Groundhog Day
  • Unforgiven
  • Barcelona
  • Dancer in the Dark

Andrew Coffin, WORLD correspondent

Films

  • Miller's Crossing
  • Quiz Show
  • Sense and Sensibility* and Black Hawk Down
  • The Incredibles
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors

*Sense and Sensibility requires some testosterone-heavy balance

William Dembski, Southwestern Seminary research professor

Novels

  • A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
  • Absolute Friends, John le Carré
  • The Company, Robert Littell
  • Glittering Images, Susan Howatch
  • The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins (advertised as nonfiction, but I know fiction when I see it; the protagonist is natural selection)

Films

  • Babette's Feast
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Gladiator
  • The Insider
  • Life Is Beautiful

Scott Derrickson, The Exorcism of Emily Rose writer-director

Novels

  • The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
  • Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
  • Hyperion, Dan Simmons
  • The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

Films

  • Breaking the Waves
  • Wings of Desire
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Seven
  • L.A. Confidential

Brian Godawa, Hollywood screenwriter

Novels

  • Jurassic Park and State of Fear, Michael Crichton
  • Intensity, Dean Koontz
  • The Stand, Stephen King
  • The Last Disciple series, Hank Hanegraaff, Sigmund Brouwer

Films

  • To End All Wars
  • Braveheart
  • The Addiction
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Sense and Sensibility

Tim Goeglein, White House Office of Public Liaison deputy director

Novels

  • The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe
  • The Thanatos Syndrome, Walker Percy
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • Stained Glass, William F. Buckley Jr.
  • A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin

Films

  • The Rookie
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Tender Mercies
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy

George Grant, Christ Community Church (Franklin, Tenn.) co-pastor

Novels

  • Jewel, Bret Lott
  • Falling, Colin Thubron
  • A New Song, Jan Karon
  • Declare, Tim Powers
  • The Last Coin, James Blaylock

Films

  • 1918
  • On Valentine's Day
  • Secondhand Lions
  • The Apostle
  • 84 Charing Cross Road

Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary research professor

Novels

  • This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti
  • Timeline, Michael Crichton
  • The Firm, John Grisham
  • Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy
  • The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum

Films

  • The Return of the King
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • The Hunt for Red October
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark

Denis D. Haack, Ransom Fellowship co-director

Novels

  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  • Peace Like a River, Lief Enger
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • Blankets, Craig Thompson
  • The Brothers K, David James Duncan

Films

  • A Man for All Seasons
  • Run Lola Run
  • Wit
  • Magnolia
  • The Royal Tennenbaums

Paul Hahn, Redeemer Church of Knoxville, Tenn., church planter

Novels

  • The Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O' Brian
  • The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  • Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield
  • Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry

Films

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • The Village
  • Chocolate
  • Unbreakable
  • Notting Hill

Ron Harris, Harris Preston & Partners, LLC managing director

Novels

  • Last of the Breed, Louis L'Amour
  • Runaway Jury, John Grisham
  • The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
  • Sum of All Fears, Tom Clancy
  • Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

Films

  • Braveheart
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Majestic
  • The Return of the King
  • Dances with Wolves

Phillip E. Johnson, University of California-Berkeley professor emeritus

Novels

  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith

Film

  • Amadeus

Timothy Lamer, World managing editor

Novels

  • Those, by Michael Crichton

Films

  • Signs
  • Sophie Scholl
  • The Family Man
  • Glory

R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president

Novels

  • The Thanatos Syndrome, Walker Percy
  • The Children of Men, P.D. James
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

Films

  • The Remains of the Day
  • The Hunt for Red October
  • The Great Raid
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Marvin Olasky, World editor in chief

Novels

  • The Thanatos Syndrome, Walker Percy
  • All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
  • A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
  • John Lescroart novels
  • George Pelecanos novels

Films

  • Cry, the Beloved Country
  • The Princess Bride
  • Field of Dreams
  • Groundhog Day
  • The Family Man

Donna Rice, Enough Is Enough president

Novels

  • Sea Biscuit, Laura Hillenbrand
  • Anything by, John Jakes
  • Beach Music, Pat Conroy
  • Left Behind, Tim F. LaHaye, Jerry B.
  • Jenkins

Films

  • Braveheart
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Gladiator
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Lethal Weapon series

Matthew P. Ristuccia, Westerly Road Church (Princeton, N.J.) senior pastor

Novels

  • Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
  • The Good News from North Haven, Michael Lindvall
  • The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco
  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

Films

  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • The Fugitive
  • Little Women
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Batman Begins

Amy L. Sherman, Sagamore Institute Center on Faith in Communities director

Novels

  • Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
  • Inkheart, Cornelia Funke
  • Mila 18, Leon Uris
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Films

  • Seabiscuit
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • The Power of One
  • Mansfield Park
  • The Green Mile

William H. Smith, Minister and writer (Jackson, Miss.)

Novels

  • Lancelot, Walker Percy
  • Shiloh, Shelby Foote
  • I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe
  • Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
  • The Mitford novels, Jan Karon

Films

  • The Apostle
  • Walk the Line
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • The Straight Story
  • We Were Soldiers Once

Don Willett, The Supreme Court of Texas justice

Novels

  • Those, by Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Scott Turow, and John Grisham

Films

  • Braveheart
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Life Is Beautiful
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Much Ado About Nothing

Lauren F. Winner, Author of Girl Meets God and Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity

Novels

  • The Age of Grief, Jane Smiley
  • Jazz, Toni Morrison
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
  • Mr. Mani, A.B. Yehoshua
  • Monkeys, Susan Minot
Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.