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

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Evangelical Suckers

Thoughts on Christians, movies and film making.

I don't think I can add much more to the story rolling across the blogsphere about Chad Allen, the gay activist who was cast to play the part of martyred missionary, Nate Saint, in the new film End of the Spear. Jason Janz has the full report here for those who have not read it. The Sharper Iron guys are also doing a fine job tracking the coverage.

I heard about Allen's involvement with the film a long time ago, perhaps the spring of 2005. I was disturbed when I learned about the casting decision, but the way I understood it, the film company was ignorant of Allen's lifestyle choices when they hired him, until he went on Larry King Live and proceeded to get into a contentious interchange with John MacArthur about whether sodomy was unnatural or not. Apparently, I was mistaken; and the film producers knew at the outset of Allen's homosexual activism, even to the point that Allen himself was surprised he was being cast by an evangelical film company to play the role of an evangelical missionary.

I won't belabor the point about a homosexual activist pretending to be a Bible believing Christian. Others can articulate it way better than myself. I can say I am disgusted that Focus on the Family and other Pro-family groups who usually carry on about gays taking over the world and eating our children, are strangely silent. Why hasn't James Dobson gone to the airwaves to interrupt his normal programming schedule with a special Focus on the Family broadcast addressing this issue? Why haven't I received an hysterical letter condemning this movie from the American Family Association? Perhaps they are forth coming.

Those things aside, what I always shake my head at is how evangelical Christians believe that in order to gain an audience and find an appeal with the heathen film goers, they have to produce a film that has Christianized themes running through it, but stops way short of presenting any kind of genuine gospel presentation. In my opinion, Christians and film making don't mix.

Apparently, it is assumed the heathen film goer will utterly turn away from an outward and blatant film with an openly gospel presentation. So, what evangelicals do instead is produce movies with "christianized themes" in them. The heathen film goer is then lured (some my say "tricked") into watching the movie and it is believed he or she will catch on to the christianized themes and then be interested in going to Church, where the heathen can then hear a "smashmouth" outright gospel presentation, be convicted of his or her sin and become a Christian. At least that is the idea. Churches, in turn, produce literature in conjunction with the film that ask pertinent questions pertaining to the christianized themes that is suppose to open a dialog with the heathen film goer to sneak the gospel in through the back door, as it were.

Christians can be such dopes sometimes. Evangelical suckers. Do they really believe movies with subliminal Christian themes will be a catalyst to move an unbeliever hostile to religion down an aisle to make a decision for Jesus?

I was told the movie "To End All Wars" was suppose to be a powerful film presenting the gospel. At least that is how it was sold on Hank's BAM show when he interviewed the writer for the screen play, Brian Godawa. Apart from one scene in which a main character is crucified by the Japanese soldiers, the movie was hardly a film portraying the gospel. It presented morality, but not necessarily Christian morality.

And what about Christians who try to hunt down Christian ideas in regular secular movies? Take for instance "The Matrix." The film has a few allusions to Christian ideas, but to suggest that it was a movie with overt Christian themes is ridiculous. It had allusions to several world religions. And to think about all the youth group leaders who took their junior high schoolers to the Saturday afternoon showing of the sequel to the Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded, believing the movie would be this big conversation starter to present a four spiritual laws tract out in the theater lobby, only to be scandalized by the orgy scene 20 minutes into the film. I could laugh if it were not so serious.

Christians need to realize Hollywood does not care for them, nor their values. All evangelicals are to Hollywood is another means to make a buck, so they throw them a few sugar sticks with these allegedly wholesome religious films designed to just present enough of what Christians are familiar with, but hold back so as not to offend everyone else. And sadly, the Christian community laps it up.

Why is that? Let me suggest a couple of reasons:

First, a good portion of American evangelicals are theologically and biblically illiterate. They don't have a correct understanding of man's sin and how it impacts the totality of his thinking. A "christianized movie" that lacks any genuine gospel presentation will not convince the sinner of his sin and his need to repent and turn to Christ. Yet, these illiterate Christians truly believe that if a TV program or movie has a character reading a Bible verse or a character making a comment about his faith, that is a clear gospel presentation.

Secondly, Christians hold to the erroneous idea that in order to gain an audience with today's world, they have to give the appearance of being relevant with our culture. In relation to movies, this is manifested in at least two ways:

1) The Christians who make what really amounts to a secular movie with subtle christianized themes. Again, the movie "To End All Wars" is a good example. The film is basically a WW 2 prison film about British and American soldiers held captive in a Japanese camp who were forced to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle. It is full of brutality and cursing. But running through the film is a thread of forgiveness and personal sacrifice for others. In the mind of the film makers, they really believe this film presents Christian morality, even though there is no gospel presentation and if you were to watch the "making of" documentary on the DVD, none of the actors saw the movie in this way.

2) Those Christians who think they have to see every movie made so they can comment upon it from a "Christian worldview." This is a trend I see among many evangelicals who want to be culturally relevant. They believe that in order to be taken serious in the eyes of the secular world as a cultural critic, they have to subject themselves to every filthy and violent film vomited out by Hollywood while quoting Francis Schaffer at the same time. Personally, I don't see why I need to subject myself to the bloodsoaked, pornographic snuf film, Hostel, in order to frame it with my Christian worldview as a bloodsoaked pornographic snuf film. Do I really need to go watch the sodomy of Brokeback Mountain before I can talk with a worldly person as to the film's detriment upon our society?

Believe me, I like movies. I own several favorites on DVD. I don't tell Christians to not go to movies or rent films; I allow them to discern and make that decision for themselves. And, I occasionally like some evangelical films that do make an attempt to present the gospel, even if they are painfully embarrassing to watch. But please, let the American evangelical public stop pretending to think Hollywood is going to release a truly Christian film. It is not going to happen, even from independent film makers like the one who made End of the Spear.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Ken Abbott said...

FOTF has reviewed the film: http://www.pluggedinonline.com/movies/movies/a0002501.cfm

No mention is made of the casting controversy. The reviewer disagrees with part of your criticism in that he thinks the gospel was clearly presented, but not in English words--more of a combination of tribal language and actions.

This is not to defend FOTF or James Dobson, just to point out that the organization has not ignored the movie. Ted Baehr's MovieGuide site is also very positive about this film, and he's usually one to nail producers for things with which he disagrees.

9:32 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Stephen A Morse said...

I cannot believe that you could be so mean spirited (wink wink)!!
When will we get the picture? I was in seminary when Matrix came out. My carpool friends talked and talked and talked about the gospel presentation throughout that movie! They were so big on it that I actually thought that I ought to use it for an illustration! I went out and rented it... then as I watched it I was astonished... what were they thinking? I would never use it.
I believe that until pastors and ministers get their heads on straight and begin to actuall have minds captivated by the mind of Christ the churches will remain in conformity to the world!
God help us!

9:49 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger C-train said...

I must admit that when I was 11 or 12 and saw the X-Men episode where Wolverine read a Bible verse I got excited and started shouting, "MOM, MOM! Wolverine is a Christian!" It was one of the happiest moments of my young life.
-Now however, I no longer believe Wolverine to be a Christian.

10:19 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Highland Host said...

My mother watched 'The Matrix', and while she didn't like the wall-to-wall use of bad language, she still rented 'Matrix Reloaded' (But tellingly did not go to see it at the cinema). After watching 'Matrix Reloaded' she remarked:

"I had a suspicion it would be like this. All that black leather in the original..."

11:02 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

C-Train,
Funny you should mention the X Men. I can recall a guy telling me one time that the X-men cartoon had to be written by Christians because in one episode, Wolverine preaches the gospel. I was stunned. "Really, preaches the gospel?" "Oh yes," said my friend, "the gospel is all through out this one episode." So, he pulls out the DVD (actually a JPEG burned to a disk) and shows me this episode where Wolverine reads one passage from the Psalms. Yep, Christ is all through that X Men show.

Fred

11:32 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Joanna Martens said...

You make an interesting point(s). However, don't underestimate what God will use...

9:10 PM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Stephen A Morse said...

9 digits - God used Judas, Herod, and Pilate but no one will argue for a class on betrayal, pornography, and cowardice.

7:29 AM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger ThirstyDavid said...

The argument that "God can use it" is so weak. Stephen already made this point, but Scripture makes it very clear that God used the sale of Joseph into slavery for good, but no one would claim that his brothers were right to do it.

Great article. I've added it to my Required Reading list.

8:22 AM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger Joanna Martens said...

Regarding your comment about there never going to be a truly Christian film made- first of all, I am not sure what you define as a Christian film. Presenting the Bible straight forward Billy Graham-style probably won't get alot of attention. Christian filmmakers (and yes there are a few, successful professionals in Hollywood)maybe should ask themselves different questions. Why do we need a savior after all? -because of our deep rooted inherent sinful nature. Exposing this on film, such as one trying to attempt a "Utopian culture turns cult" would present the deep evilness of humans, while destroying the lie that people are "inherently good" and "culture is what corrupts."
What about attacking issues about stereotype Christians venting over homosexuals exposing the sin and error in both lives?
It is endless the opportunities to present truth to the world. Getting people to think about who they are and why they were created will open doors and (by God's grace) open hearts for others to plant seeds...

1:29 PM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger Peter D. Nelson said...

Fred I think you got it right when you wrote: "In my opinion, Christians and film making don't mix." And I think the reasons for that is that film making by and large is considered entertainment and the gospel isn't entertainment.

12:33 PM, January 22, 2006  
Blogger centuri0n said...

Freddy:

Bingo. You nailed it.

9:10 AM, January 23, 2006  
Blogger Robin Eckhardt said...

Sad to say, I believe most American Christians have no confidence in the simple gospel - disguise it, jazz it up, even make subtle changes to the message and we believe people will respond!

Yes, we should preach the whole council of God (the gospel) and we should have confidence that Christ will save the people whom the Father has called.

2:45 PM, October 08, 2006  

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