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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, January 23, 2006

Evangelical Suckers Redux

Further thoughts on Christians, Movies and Film Making

I read a lot of mixed reviews on many different evangelical blogs over the last four days reflecting upon the movie, The End of the Spear. Last week, I noted in my entry on this subject that I believe this movie is further proof Hollywood production houses are inept in portraying the genuine Christian faith, let alone events from Church History. The recent movie, Luther, fell into the ballpark, but even it mangled some of the facts relating Luther'’s life.

Granted, Every Tribe Entertainment who produced this film is primarily located in Oklahoma City and not Hollywood or Burbank (they have an office in Studio City), but there certainly exists a Hollywood worldview permeating the film. From the careless casting of an outspoken homosexual activist, to the elimination of the Christian gospel these missionaries lived and died for, the situation appears to be another attempt to make a quasi-religious film that appeals to middle America, red state evangelicals, while separating itself from the authenticity of Christianity so as not to be too confrontive and black and white.

As I was reading and listening to reviews of the movie, I had further random thoughts I would like to share.

First, I have to confess being annoyed by many Christian bloggers I respect, and whose blogs I read with regularity, who view the objections to this film voiced by other Christians like Jason Janz of Sharper Iron as being petty, narrow minded and silly. A young gal left her comments on one blog I read who concluded by stating, "This is the first I've heard of this controversy and I find it completely ridiculous."

Ridiculous? Is she not troubled by a very public homosexual activist using this role as a platform to bolster his activism? Just the fact an outspoken homosexual was even picked to play the role of a beloved missionary martyr is terrible enough, but his making this into some example of how the gay community and evangelicals can lay aside differences and work together just beats all.

What about the dumbing down of the gospel message? On the Friday the movie opened, I heard three reviews from what would be considered conservative talk radio heroes: Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt's resident movie critic, Emmet of the Unblinking Eye. The one phrase each of them used to describe this film: It was not preachy. In other words, they liked the fact the gospel was not in your face. The movie just told a story, it was not attempting to proselytize or convert anyone, and Emmet even noted how he appreciated the way the movie did not make Christianity the only way to heaven.

But is not preaching the gospel to unreached people groups what Nate Saint and his buddies were all about? Being preachy is what these boys did. For this movie to expunge the gospel from this movie to the point it is not recognizable and lost people can feel comfortable attending without having Jesus thrown in their face, is in my mind tantamount to historical revisionism. These same conservative talkers were outraged with CBS re-writing Ronald Regan's presidency with a mini-series, so I know they are sensitive to fast and loose handling of historical fact. Christians, however, should be ashamed of themselves over the compromise the movie makes. Are these believers of the opinion that it could be ok to make a movie about Jesus, take out all His preaching about being the only way to God and play down His miracles, just to reach the lost and make worldly wise movie goer feel comfortable when watching it?

Much of this dumbing down of the gospel is summarized by the mission statement of Every Tribe Entertainment which states,

To create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope and truth.

Note the words "broad audience." That is code word for regular, unchurched movie goer who won't spend his money on a movie with overly Christian themes so we need to down play those themes so as to have mass appeal and earn our money back. Even more irritating is the words "inspires hope and truth." Truth, as I understand it, doesn't mean you intentionally alter the factuality of people's character and historical events just so you won't come across to the broad audience as being preachy. In my mind, the sentence is self contradictory and self refuting.

I am sorely disappointed Steve Saint has squandered an opportunity to really present the saving, redeeming message of Jesus Christ. Now, to be fair, I will admit I base my opinion upon an hour long interview I heard Mr. Saint give, along with one of the producers, on the Michael Medved Radio program the Thursday before the movie opened nation wide. I would like to be corrected as misjudging him based upon one interview, but I will say that I was saddened with what I heard. Basically, the two talked about the movie, even once briefly touching on the Allen controversy, as well as re-tell the true story about the missionaries being killed and their families living with the tribe to bring them to the Lord. Steve Saint even had Mincayani, the man who speared his father to death, sitting with him during the interview.

Here we have one of the most powerful testimonies of God's saving grace and redemption that demonstrates how Christianity is much more than just one of the meaningful religion in the world, but shows clearly how the living Christ really transforms murderous, violent individuals. Additionally, how grace can extend forgiveness to violent murders by the families of those murdered. Christianity is true, because of the true supernatural source for its power to save and transform. Here the Christian has a national platform to present to a captive and intrigued audience the fundamental ability of God to change sinners. Ashamedly, however, none of this was discussed. The close Mr. Saint came was an allusion to the recent Narnia movie and the so-called "deeper magic" Aslan the Lion references, but this is make believe. Why didn't he go to Colossians 1:13 "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the son of his love," or 1Corinthianss 6:11 (with verses 9-10 as context) "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." It is a travesty the Christian faith was ignored in this instance.

Some commenters have asked, "But don't you believe God can use this movie?" It is not really a matter of what God can and cannot do. God can do anything He wants. The better question would be, "Given the circumstance surrounding the principle actor in the film and dishonest portrayal of these missionaries, is this a film a God honoring Christian community can get behind and support?" At this point, I cannot.

Other folks have asked if whether or not we should boycott the film. Like I stated in my previous entry, I personally would not tell anyone not to go see it. When it comes out on DVD, more than likely I will watch it. Boycotts are for the most part worthless. Occasionally they may get the attention of the those being boycotted. My concern is that the Christian community be informed of these problems with the movie before going into it blindly. (Assuming the Christian community even cares). If a Christian takes an unbelieving friend to see it, then the friend discovers Allen's gay activism, this could cause confusion. Christians must be made aware of this so as to be prepared to answer questions if such a scenario arises.

Then lastly, I am not saying Christians should not be involved in film making. I personally would like to see more believers make quality films, with emphasis on quality. Painfully, a good majority of Christian films are just terrible to watch. You have the card board acting (unless of course you can find some has-been TV actor to join your cast), the annoying sound tracks, the horrendous theology weaving through the film. Moreover, I would also not say Christians have to make films explicitly evangelistic. In other words, the idea that if you are a Christian film maker, you are required to have an evangelistic presentation. I have a friend who makes Christian films and he argues along these lines. I disagree. Christians can make movies about a variety of non-evangelistic subjects. I just ask that they represent those subjects truthfully, according to historical fact. In the case of The End of The Spear, I don't believe the film makers presented the lives of these missionaries in a truthful manner by putting the gospel way into the background. If anything, it marginalizes their reputation and trivializes their death.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Matt Privett said...

I will admit to not having seen the movie yet. I, like you, will probably rent it when it comes out. But, like you as well, I have read many a review of the film. I say all of that to say this:

If what I've read about the movie is true, then the Chad Allen controversy is secondary to the lack of a clear gospel presentation. I agree completely with your views on Christians not having to make purely evangelistic films, but you are absolutely right in making movies that represent events truthfully.

Well said.

5:30 PM, January 23, 2006  
Blogger Joanna Martens said...

Have you seen Spear yet?

3:28 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

9digits,
No. I probably will not until it comes out on DVD in a few months. I hope you don't think I am in error of listing some criticism just because I haven't; Perhaps I am misinterpreting your question.

My criticisms have been things I have heard personally (the Saint interview for instance) and the very public scandal of Chad Allen playing in this film. I don't believe I need to see the film in order to comment on those issues.

6:38 AM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Dawson said...

Guys, this was a biopic, not a tract. Respect Steve Saint enough to let him make whatever kind of movie he wants. It is his story, after all.

First point: Your entire premise that Saint portrays a watered-down Gospel is both speculative (you haven't seen the film) and subjective.

Second point: I watched Spear and thought the Gospel was clearly portrayed, not just from watching the missionaries preach themselves, but also in the redemptive story of the tribesmen and Saint himself. There was no alter call at the end, but I'm not certain there should have been. Demonstrating the gospel is often most powerful than simply speaking it.

Third, even if Saint took liberties with the events - even broad liberties - you have to understand that this is what seperates documentaries from adaptations, or more broadly, history from narrative. If you dog on Saint for this, how can you not get on Gibson for taking liberties in the Passion? Your beef would be with the genre, not with Saints' particular addition.

Final point: Al Mohler made the suggestion that Chad Allen would be the least qualified person to portray Saint because of his real-life gay agenda. But there's no basis to this. And, really, can't be. Are we saying Saint could have only been portrayed by a Christian? That's ignoring exactly the point of acting - being someone you're not. If Allen can't portray Saint because he's not a Christian, that leads down a road that leaves the entire acting profession out of work.

You say (and Mohler agrees) that casting Allen for this role was careless. On the contrary, I think Allen was a great fit. He plied his craft very, very well in this movie. If his homosexual agenda (which was absolutely nowhere in this movie) in his life outside the film ruined it for you, know that it's been spoiled for you. But the spoiling agent wasn't from within the movie, but from without.

In the end, we're talking about two different things - I'm talking about a movie and you are talking about... the culture war, encroaching gay agenda, something, but not a movie.

7:24 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Thanks Dawson for the comments. If I could respond,

Guys, this was a biopic, not a tract. Respect Steve Saint enough to let him make whatever kind of movie he wants. It is his story, after all.

(Fred) I agree that Steve can make the story in any way he wishes. My concern is he does so in an accurate way.

First point: Your entire premise that Saint portrays a watered-down Gospel is both speculative (you haven't seen the film) and subjective.

AND

Second point: I watched Spear and thought the Gospel was clearly portrayed, not just from watching the missionaries preach themselves, but also in the redemptive story of the tribesmen and Saint himself. There was no alter call at the end, but I'm not certain there should have been. Demonstrating the gospel is often most powerful than simply speaking it.


(Fred) Granted I have not seen the film, but the disappointment I have heard from many corners of the Christian community on how this movie waters down the gospel contradicts your assertions.

In fact, in the hospital, I heard three independent testimonies from three different Christian friends visiting me that the movie was a severe let down as to the history they studied concerning these missionaries. One friend told me there was no sobriety displayed on the part of the missionaries as to what they were doing, and another was bothered that unless you knew a head of time the story, there was no true understanding of redemption experienced by this tribe. If the gospel is clearly portrayed in this film, could I take a lost friend who would normally not attend Church and he would walk away from that movie with the sense of divine salvation? That being, Christ died and rose to redeem sinners and grants supernatural forgiveness?

Third, even if Saint took liberties with the events - even broad liberties - you have to understand that this is what seperates documentaries from adaptations, or more broadly, history from narrative. If you dog on Saint for this, how can you not get on Gibson for taking liberties in the Passion? Your beef would be with the genre, not with Saints' particular addition.

(Fred) I was not blogging when the Passion was released, but I did have a beef with the liberties Gibson took with the film. Particularly the weaving in of Roman Catholic mythology with Mary. Even with an adaptation, one needs to be true to details. These 5 men lived Christ. No one should have walked away from this movie thinking it was just an inspiring story. They should have gotten a glimpse of what true Christianity is all about.

Final point: Al Mohler made the suggestion that Chad Allen would be the least qualified person to portray Saint because of his real-life gay agenda. But there's no basis to this. And, really, can't be. Are we saying Saint could have only been portrayed by a Christian? That's ignoring exactly the point of acting - being someone you're not. If Allen can't portray Saint because he's not a Christian, that leads down a road that leaves the entire acting profession out of work.

(fred) In this instance, I think you are sincerely wrong. Does only a Christian need to play this role? I would agree with you that no, a Christian does not need to play Nate Saint. The problem with Allen, however, is exactly what Mohler pointed out in his article: his overt activism gets in the way. When I watch X-Men or Lord of the Rings, I do not think of Ian McClellan as a gay man, because he does not use his roles as a spring board to promote his homosexual perversion. Allen has used this role in a public way to promote some feigned cooperation between Christian evangelicals and the Gay community. This should be extremely problematic for a Bible believing Christian.

Am I telling people to stay away from this movie? No. I may see it in the future. My concerns were three fold:

1. Christians need to be made aware of Allen using this opportunity to promote his activism.

2. The lack of any serious portrayal by the movie as to who these men really were.

3. Christians fawning over this movie as if it truly is a Christian film.

In my estimation, another actor without the baggage could have been hired for this role who would had done a good job, if not better. More than likely, ETE had a budget to spend on actors and Allen fell into their price range.

I further believe the producers, as well as Saint, were severely naïve of the potential controversy over choosing a Gay activist to play a beloved missionary.

8:26 AM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger Dawson said...

Fred... thanks for responding. It's hard to argue with you right now because I can't argue with you about the actual movie, only your friends interpretation of it. This puts me in a difficult situation, for I don't know your friends.

To that end... I do know one thing: Folks who have generally studied about a subject or have read the book prior to seeing a movie are often disspointed. But too often they confuse their dissapointment with the work for the entire medium. A movie can not be as in depth as a history text or a novel. These are the cold hard restraints of the medium.

I have no idea what your friend was criticising when he claimed there to be no sobriety concerning the task. The screenplay paints Saint's motive as love and his mood as quite sober when he leaves his family for the last time.

Your say of your friend that he "was bothered that unless you knew a head of time the story, there was no true understanding of redemption experienced by this tribe." I simply disagree with your friend. I went in a group of about 20 from my Sunday School. None of us had ever heard of Waodonis or anything more about Saint's story than that he dies in the end.

What understanding did we leave with? Perhaps one not as broad and deep as your friends who have studied Saint, but the redemption of the Waodoni was unmistakable. We sat and talked for an hour and a half about how this movie convicts us that our default setting as American believers is to say strange distant savages no more deserve to hear the Gospel of Christ than they could possibly understand and receive it.

For us, the film was a call to repentence that we so narrowed our worldview so as to exclude folks who needed, desperately needed to hear the Gospel of Christ.

What does that have to do with Chad Allen? Absolutely nothing - and that's my point. I'm glad they cast Allen. His portrayal of Saint helped in part lead us to re-examine our own lives. And I'm glad I didn't read this blog first because that would have tainted the experience.

You write that Ian McKellen's roles in XMen and LoTR don't bother you because he's not using them as a sounding board to profligate his activism. But you're wrong - he is. It's just that you haven't encountered it, thus you haven't been spoiled. McKellen actively promotes Stonewall, an English gay-rights lobbying group he helped found. He's interwoven his existance as an actor with his zeal as an activist.

If Allen's activism gets in the way of your potential enjoyment of EotS, then now McKellen's activism must spoil your enjoyment of the Two Towers. But of course, it won't, because you saw Two Towers before you knew he was a gay-rights activist and thus when you look at the screen you see Gandalf the Grey, not Gandalf the Pink.

The only way that it makes sense which you saw first is that you (me, everyone) have a mental hangup with this. I'll admit it. I don't want to know anything about actors because my goal is to remember the characters they portray, not the ones who play the roles.

You close with three points and I will address them:

1) Christians who read you, Janz and others also need to be aware: Allen's activism comes out on Larry King Live, not in the film. To that extent the problem is external.

2) Believe what you want to believe, but I could not disagree more. I found the portrayals to be subtle, sincere and real - not watered down.

3) Don't misunderstand me - I'm not fawning here. I enjoyed a great many movies more. But try as you may, by the strenght of your over reaction, you can't balance the scales. Finally, I'll say that I will be happy if I don't have to endure another "Christian Movie" another "Christian Book" or another "Christian Book" as if Christian is an adjective. Instead, give me films, books and movies that clearly portray the Gospel.

8:17 AM, February 01, 2006  

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