Ethos Education

Chronicle: Are rules a help or a hindrance in making the most of life?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Identify different sources of authority for Christians.
  • Reflect on influence of worldview in making moral decisions.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the case for breaking rules.
  • Identify and evaluate different attitudes towards rules and authority from a film clip.
  • Evaluate the merits of the Ten Commandments.
  • Evaluate Christian rules for life from the Bible.
  • Analyse the demands of Jesus’ approach to rules.
  • Consider whether obeying the letter of the law is harder or easier than obeying the spirit of the law.
  • Synthesise learning by identifying some rules that apply in modern life, and suggesting the difference between complying with the letter and the spirit of those rules.


Write up the phrase ‘Rules are made to be broken’ on the board. Ask the students whether they agree or disagree with this statement. Ask them to suggest some rules which are commonly disregarded. Here are some examples:

  • Rules about speed limits on roads.
  • Rules against running in school corridors.
  • Rules against smoking in public buildings.
  • Rules against illegally downloading music or taping friends’ CDs.

Lead a discussion about whether it is right or wrong to break those rules. Under what circumstances might it be right to break a rule?

Explain that in this lesson you will be thinking about Christian moral teaching, and asking how Christians apply their own rules and beliefs to making moral decisions.


Introduce the clip from the film Chronicle (20th Century Fox, 2012, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain to the students that three high school friends, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) have all somehow acquired super-human powers of telekinesis. This clip occurs at a time when they are still exploring the limits of their abilities. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the uses they put their abilities to throughout the clip, and the argument that takes place towards the end.

  • Start time:       0.21.38 (beginning of chapter 7 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.27.17
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 39 seconds

The clip starts with Andrew saying, ‘Stop, stop, stop right here!’ before they play pranks in a supermarket. It ends after Steve says, ‘Matt’s right, we need rules.’ Please note that the clip includes numerous instances of swearing. If you feel that this is inappropriate for your students, you could start the clip at 0.25.58 with the boys dragging the other driver out of the river (you will need to explain that another car was tailgating the boys, and that Andrew used his powers to sweep the other vehicle off the road and into the river). This shorter clip gives the argument at the end, but doesn’t provide such a full context of how the boys’ apparently harmless pranks suddenly spiralled out of control without rules to guide them in their conduct.

Ask the students whether they think Matt is right – do the boys need rules to contain their powers? What difference would rules make to their situation? Are the rules Matt suggests – don’t use their powers on living things; don’t use them when they are angry, don’t use them in public – good, bad or indifferent? Why do the students think that Andrew is resistant to Matt’s rules? How do the students think they might have reacted in Andrew’s position?

There are two separate strands of thought to tease out from the clip. First of all, that rules would have helped to prevent things from escalating from ‘harmless’ fun to something life-threatening, because they would have provided a safety buffer from the more lethal consequences of the boys’ powers. Secondly, it is arguable that Andrew isn’t rejecting the idea of rules so much as Matt’s authority to be the one who sets the rules (although it’s also arguable that Andrew may reject the idea of any rules to limit his actions).

Ask the students who they think should be responsible for setting rules in any given situation. Draw out the relationship between rule-setting and authority, and the importance that authority is exercised by people who are worthy of that authority.

Explain that for many Christians, the Bible (while not being ‘a rule book’) provides them with the framework they use for determining the rules and values that they live by. If you have already covered the basis of the Bible’s authority for Christians in another module, remind the students of it here. If not, briefly summarise by explaining that Christians regard the Bible as being more than just a book written by men, but as the inspired word of God: that is, God’s word as communicated to and recorded by human writers. In different ways, Christians regard the Bible as having God’s authority.

Give out copies of the Rules worksheet. Working individually, or in pairs or small groups, ask the students to complete the two blank columns. Some answers in the first column (‘What does this mean?’) may seem to be an exercise in stating the obvious, but ask the students to put each of these rules into their own words. Others (such as the one about turning the other cheek) mean something significantly different than the obvious literal interpretation. In the second column, students should try to think of a situation where the rule should not apply. Here is a list of the rules from the worksheet, for your reference:

  • Do not steal (Exodus 20:15)
  • Do not murder (Exodus 20:13)
  • Do not tell lies about others (Exodus 20:16)
  • Be faithful in marriage (Exodus 20:14)
  • When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off (Matt 6:1)
  • If someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let them slap your other cheek (Matt 5:39)
  • Love each other (John 13:34)
  • Obey the rulers who have authority over you (Romans 13:1)
  • Don’t ill treat someone who has ill-treated you (Romans 12:17)
  • Stop being bitter and angry with others (Ephesians 4:31)

Take feedback once the students have completed the task, and allow some time for discussion of any interesting differences of opinion.

Explain to the class that they have just been involved in the same kind of decision making process that Christians go through when they are deciding how to apply the Bible in a given situation. Much depends on how the commands are interpreted.

Point out that when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he answered: ‘The most important one says: ”People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The second most important commandment says: ”Love others as much as you love yourself.” No other commandment is more important than these.’ (Mark 12:29-31).

Explain that Jesus is cutting through all the detail of the rules that God’s people tried to live by, and gets to the heart of the matter. Focusing on the detail can mean missing the point (‘it says I have to turn the other cheek if he hits my face, but there’s nothing that says I can’t retaliate if he kicks me instead’). Jesus pointed people to the spirit of the rules – the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not to provide a list of do’s and don’ts (although they do read as a list of do’s and don’ts) but to help God’s people to live in a right relationship with God – a point that can be illustrated by the fact that the first commandment begins with a reminder of God’s relationship with his people: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ Love – for God and for others – is a guiding principle in how the Bible says people should live in a right relationship with God.

Saint Augustine summed up the principle that Jesus is talking about like this: ‘Love God and do what you like’, because if somebody genuinely loves God, they would want to please him and so would voluntarily seek to keep the rules and guidelines that he had laid down.

Ask the students if they think that this approach to rules can work. What would the world be like if everyone wanted to live like this? Would it make life better or worse? Would they like others to treat them like this? Would they like to treat others in this way?

Jesus’ words are at the same time easier to obey than following a set of rules, and also much more challenging. Read Matthew 5:17-20 to the class. Explain that Jesus goes on to take six specific instructions from the Old Testament, and show how his approach demands more from his followers than a ‘letter of the law’ approach. Break into small groups. Ask each group to take one or more of these sections (you choose who does which section, to make sure that the whole passage is covered) and report back to the rest of the class on how Jesus demands more than the letter of the law. The sections are verses 21-26, 27-30, 31-32, 33-37, 38-42 and 43-48.


Ask the students to make a list of the different sets of rules that apply to people today. For example, laws set by parliament; school rules; the Highway Code; rules made by parents for their own children. Ask the students to come up with at least four categories of rule, and at least two examples of rules in that category. For each rule, ask the students to write a literal interpretation of the rule as well as a suggestion of how somebody might behave if they were trying to apply Jesus’ principles of ‘love God and love other people’ to the rule.


  • A copy of Chronicle and the means to play it.
  • Rules worksheet.
  • Bibles.

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