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.
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.