Acting on faith, Detweiler found place in the arts
Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
One viewing of the 1965 movie classic “The Sound of Music” is all it took to set the trajectory of Dr. Craig Detweiler’s life.
Although the film holds a special place in millions of hearts around the world, its impact on Detweiler at a young age hit a little closer to home.
“I was shocked that one of the characters, Uncle Max, had the last name of Detweiler,” he reflected. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s Detweilers in the movies? I didn’t know about this.’”
From an early age, his mother, Jill Barnett Detweiler, planted the entertainment seed with regular trips to the theatre to catch the latest Disney movie. He became an avid media consumer and built a career as a writer, producer, director and educator of the arts.
But movies are only half of Detweiler’s story.
The other half was propelled by his Christian faith and a determination to find his calling. It started in high school through his participation in Young Life, leading Detweiler on a profound and impactful journey on a road less traveled – combining faith and cinema.
His deep love for two seemingly distant worlds gave his education a major role in bringing it all together. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, master’s degrees in divinity and fine arts, and a doctoral degree in theology and culture.
“I understood that following Jesus was a relational commitment to a person and a community that manifested itself in beautiful, vibrant ways,” he said. “I think I’ve always been trying to reconcile how God spoke to me so clearly and compellingly through things like music, movies and the arts. Seminary was a way to develop a theology that aligned with
my lived experience.”
His spiritual journey not only helped solidify God’s calling for him, it introduced him to his wife, Dr. Caroline Cicero. They met at a volunteer youth ministry program and have been married 30 years, giving Cicero a front-row seat for Detweiler’s academic and industry milestones.
“He would tell you that films are part of what his Christian experience has been,” she said. “It wasn’t something new. Although I didn’t know when we married each other that he would be getting into the arts as a career, it was always something that interested us.”
That attraction to the arts was passed down to their children. Zoey works in an art museum, and Theo plays tenor saxophone.
“We have a creative spirit we have to pursue in whatever form it is,” Cicero said. That spirit led him to GCU, a move she considers nothing short of exciting.
“He was told when he decided to become a Christian that he had to throw his artistic interests away, that he had to shove those in a drawer, and that is not true,” she said.
“Craig has spent 30 or 40 years trying to bring those things back together, studying how the arts and creativity work in a Christian setting and what that means.
“I think people on campus can be excited that he will be really interested in their personal faith and wellness in the future and whatever creative industry they are in has to offer them.”
In addition to establishing himself in Hollywood, Detweiler also has left a lasting impact on education by leading the arts programs at Pepperdine and Biola universities.
Former student Camille Tucker, who notably wrote “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” biopic for Lifetime, says learning from Detweiler has had a positive impact on her life as well as her career.
“I feel like Craig is somebody who is able to inspire people and to provide a safe space for people to experiment with their creativity, their artistry and their stories,” she said. “I’m really, really happy for him because I’ve been a student of his. I’m just aware of how inspiring Craig is. He has a great vision and a desire to equip students to be able to thrive and succeed in the entertainment industry.
“He will help students to overcome any fears or doubts that they have and to help them find their creative voice or where they fit in the arts.”
Since taking Detweiler’s Media in Ministry course at Fuller Seminary in the mid-2000s, Tucker has continued to view him as a mentor but also a collaborator and friend. The pair is working on a script telling the story of Wallace “Wally” Triplett, the first African-American draftee to play in the NFL.
It’s the kind of mentorship that could change someone’s life for the better, and Tucker has experienced it firsthand.
“I think that as artists we can all be sensitive at times, and sometimes we can wonder, ‘Should I do this? Should I not do this? Am I good? Am I not good?’” she said. “When you have somebody who gives you the room, facilities, opportunities, equipment and the resources to experiment, that’s where you actually begin to find your voice or to find your place. Craig is just really great at that.
“You guys are really blessed to have him.”
GCU staff writer Ashlee Larrison can be reached at 602-639-8488 or at [email protected]
How Craig Detweiler plotted his course
- 1985: Graduated from Davidson College with bachelor’s degree in English
- 1985-87: Worked as English teacher for college students in Tokyo
- 1993: Graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with master’s in divinity
- 1996: Earned Master’s of Fine Arts from University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts
- 1996: Wrote, directed and produced first film, “Williams Syndrome: A Highly Musical Species”
- 1999: Wrote, directed and produced Disney Channel’s “The Duke”
- 2005: Co-founded The Windrider Forum, an educational experience for Christian students at the Sundance Film Festival
- 2007: Graduated with Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary
- 2016: Named Variety’s “Mentor of the Year” while teaching at Pepperdine University
- 2021: Named dean of GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production
(Re)integrate podcast: Taking Your Faith to the Movies