Saturday, May 3, 2014

A "Christian" Movie Tetrad

This post is two weeks overdue, but time has not allowed. Even if I had posted two weeks ago, I would not be able to do justice to this subject, but I want to put a few of paragraphs together regarding each of the four "Christian" movies that have come out over the last two months. That said, please note this post is longer than my usual posts.

Before I proceed, let me say I do not claim to be a movie expert. In fact, having been to these four movies probably exceeds the number of movies I went to in 2013 and maybe 2012. I like movies, and often watch them from a critical standpoint, at least theologically. Movies have an enormous impact on our culture and well-written movies can truly "stir the soul". Unfortunately, during this season of my life (now working on my dissertation), time and money don't allow for much movie time.

So, a few thoughts on each of these four movies follows. My intention is not necessarily to give anything about each movie away, yet I am not intentionally avoiding plot spoilers. Therefore, read at your own risk.

The Son of God

This movie should have the highest expectations as it relates to being biblically correct. After all, it is about the "author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12.2)  Personally, I have no problem with scenes that include possibilities that are not a part of the text. For instance, Barabbas is standing nearby as Jesus refutes attempts to discredit Him (Barabbas cries out "No taxes" when Jesus says to pay to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's). However, when the Bible does speak, the film should be accurate. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is at night, but Nicodemus comes during the day (see John 1). This may be insignificant to some, but subtle differences elsewhere might be considered insignificant, yet are much bigger. For instance, Peter's great confession is that Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, but Scripture reveals even more - He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Ok, the movie is called the Son of God, but the distinction here is great. I could (perhaps should) say more, but for now, I leave it at this. I will give kudos to the producer for one thing regarding this movie (and the entirety of the Bible mini-series). Seeing the emotions of certain characters such as Barabbas was quite intriguing. Whether real or imagined, this did bring the Bible alive (I especially remember Lot in the mini-series). The highlight of the movie though was the end. After seeing the entire movie the conclusion goes back through a series of flashbacks from the movie...but whereas the movie begins with the Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?" being directed at the disciples...the second time (at the end), it is directed at the audience. The audience must deal with this issue.

So that is the highlight...the lowlight is that there is no discussion of repentance.


What a firestorm this movie created. Of course, it is a biblical story, and one I believe to be true. But thankfully, I was asked to go in with an open mind. And I did. (This served me well in Heaven is for Real as well even though I was not asked to do so for that movie). At the outset of Noah we are introduced to The Watchers. Wait, what? That isn't in the Bible. Ok, well some might say it relates to the Nephilim, but the term Watchers is specifically from the book of Enoch. This book is not considered a part of the Bible (the Canon) except by a couple of groups in Ethiopia and Eritrea (both in northeast Africa).

Having this little bit of information from the outset allowed me to watch the movie from an entirely different perspective. Frankly, I enjoyed the movie, and moreso knowing I wasn't going to have to defend a Christian aspect to it. Yes, Noah is a biblical account, but if the movie had been named after another well-known account of a flood (Gilgamesh) would we care? I understand that liberties were taken as far as Noah's daughters-in-law, but again, the idea of a biblically accurate story was shot minutes into the film after The Watchers were introduced.

As for the stowaway on the boat, well, that was too much...except what if the man was a metaphor for sin? This thought was prompted by Devon Sons. Of course, sin is in the hearts of mankind, but this thought is interesting as we certainly see how the impact of this "sin" (man) grew on the son (by deception) had over time. (Thanks Devon.)

In reality, the perception many people (including myself) have of the account of Noah is usually based upon some picture painted for us in Sunday School, or in a mobile above a crib (with a boat that looked nothing like what the Bible describes). In fact, one aspect of the movie I liked the most was the destruction of the land (due to sin), and the miraculous growth from the seed from Eden. True? Probably not, but I wasn't there, so I can't be 100% sure since it isn't mentioned in the Bible either way.

Unfortunately, most of us think we know more about the Bible than we really do. And our presuppositions often lead to criticize others when we don't know the whole story (Quick, how many pairs of animals and birds were on the boat? - see Genesis 7.2-3 for God's idea on "clean animals").

So, again, I am grateful that I entered with an open mind. And I am more thankful that The Watchers were introduced so early. It changed the dynamics of the movie for me. While the movie had many components present in the biblical account, it certainly was not a Bible story.

God's Not Dead

This was another movie that had a lot of hype - at least among Christians. As a former youth minister, I warned former students against the issue that was the basic premise of this movie - your faith will be challenged in college. But challenge is not all bad because too many kids leave home with their parents' faith, not their own. The challenges faced can help their own faith be forged if a foundation has been established. Unfortunately, as the rest of this part of the post discusses, many (most?) parents are satisfied if/when their child "asks Jesus into their heart" (which really isn't a biblical concept). We are to follow Jesus.

The movie certainly showed the courage of the protagonist and the impact it had on others (the Asian classmate). But, as others have pointed out, each of the main "non-Christians" were depicted in such a way that we were meant to hate them. Wait? We, as Christians, are to hate them? Maybe that is somewhat of a reach, but let's face it, the movie certainly did not want us to like these people. Maybe your world is different than the one I live in (and some parts of the world are), but in my world, it can be difficult to distinguish those who are "saved" from those who are "lost". And while America (my "world "& the setting for this movie) is becoming increasingly hostile to living our faith openly, not everyone is out to destroy Christians - yet!

Unfortunately, the movie was so predictable that when the young blogger got cancer, the only question was who would lead her to the Lord. In fact, of all the main antagonists, we are supposed to believe that only one did not "get saved". This is somewhat the problem with Christianity today, we focus on getting people saved, rather than promoting eternal life (not just a moment - a life that begins now) and making disciples. This movie showed the challenge of "following Jesus" (at least for one student), which is what we are to do. Getting "saved" is a part of that process, but too many people consider that the end, when, in fact, it is the beginning. I do not fault the movie for not showing how these newly "saved" person's lives were different afterward - that wasn't the purpose of the movie. Yet, while we should celebrate when people do come to the Lord, we must not be content. My first thought was what is the next step for them. I hope if it was real life, someone would have picked up the ball.

God certainly is not dead. And this movie was not a dud (for a believer). The movie may have shown some Christians what challenges may await college freshman, but it was likely less effective than these other movies for generating quality discussion - partly due to its predictability, and partly due to its caricature of all unbelievers.

Heaven is for Real

First, I have not read the book. I repeat, I have not read the book. What I am writing is based on the movie only - and only on one viewing. Some of what I have heard from the book might drastically change this post. However, I have not read the book, and do not plan to do so - at least, not anytime soon (dissertation takes priority). Truly, as I drove to this movie, I had both guns loaded ready to tear it apart, but remembering I went into Noah with a more open mind, I decided to tone down my attitude a bit.

I saw this movie on the afternoon the day after it was released. Students would have still been in school, but there were many school-age children there - with their mothers. In fact, just moments before the previews, there were about 30 people in the theatre - aged 8 to 80, but only two males, including myself. It evened out a little through the previews, but probably 60-70 people and maybe 15 males. It made me wonder, do only women care if heaven is real?

Two major points from this movie stand out - first, the boy had a vision...he did not die. I believe near-death experiences are possible. I also believe that people have died and returned (Paul). But I will take my theology from Paul before I will a 4 year old boy. Yet, when it is determined that the boy did not die, this softened my stance (remember, above I said I tried to go in with an open mind - as difficult as it was). In the Bible, we know Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John had visions and what they described is difficult to understand (read Ezekiel 1)!

It should also be noted that much of what was seen was unmentioned (e.g. Paul didn't describe what he saw, Daniel had to seal up his visions, etc.). I have a hard time reconciling what I think about heaven with what was described in the movie. But it is hard to definitively refute anything in the movie - at least what I remember (Again, I have only seen it once, and purportedly the boy says he had wings - although this may be from the book. I don't remember that phrase mentioned in the movie. I certainly don't believe that humans become angels - they are two separate creations).

The other major point is that the father is a pastor. Having not read the book, I did not know this, although it becomes evident early in the movie. Personally, as a pastor, I love the humanity of this character. He is a real person - so am I. Our calling as pastors may set us apart in one sense, as humans we have the same struggles as others - although these struggles are often intensified because of directed attacks by the enemy.

The reason for the importance of the father's profession is that he obviously struggles with what he believes against what his son is saying. The down side is that his knowledge is inferred. A couple of scenes from the pulpit show a Bible, and in one I believe he reads from it. But to the best of my memory, there is no direct reference to the foundation for his beliefs. What verses cause his issue? Again, if my son were to tell me he had such a vision, I would want to believe Him. I would wrestle to reconcile the matter much as this father/pastor did. But I also believe that my conversations would be laced with Scripture (1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, etc). Instead, we never see him pick up, or carry a Bible apart from at the pulpit. Yes, it is a movie, but wouldn't that make it more realistic - to see or hear, specifically why he is struggling rather than just inferring it.

Do I believe the events of the movie? Honestly, that question doesn't matter. I do believe heaven is for real, but I am not worried about being in heaven...a new heaven and earth awaits (Revelation 21), and my desire is to be with Jesus, not to be in heaven. My desire is for life eternal, a life that I can experience now, not just waiting for a future time in heaven.

I do believe that God can do, and does, things I will never understand. Not only that I don't understand why they are done, but not understand what is done. Thus, is it possible that a young boy had such a vision? Yes, it is possible. But I will not build my theology on a book other than the Bible. Is this narrow-minded? Maybe, but Jesus said enter by the narrow gate. The wide gate leads to destruction. (Matthew 7.13). My reason is that there are many books that are meant to deceive. This book may not be one of them, but only the Bible has been able to withstand the critics for nearly 2000 years. Why? God does not lie (Titus 1:2). People might - especially when profit is involved.

In conclusion, I want to point to one overwhelmingly positive aspect to these movies. People are talking about matters of faith. Yes, there are errors, but before errors can be corrected, discussion needs to be possible. If nothing else, these movies have opened the door for a great deal of discussion. There are accounts that online sites/apps have seen an increase of reading from Genesis 6-9 of 250-300% . Reading the Bible is a good thing. If people are reading, discussing, learning, discovering truth, etc from having seen any, or all, of these movies, that is a positive thing. Should these movies be trusted as the truth? No! Jesus said He was the truth (John 14.6). Jesus is the Word (John 1.1). Thus the Word is truth. And we should find our truth from the word not from Hollywood, not from our own thoughts, and not even from a preacher (or blogger). Each of us should examine Scripture for ourselves, with guidance from the Holy Spirit and others who seek God's truth to learn not only what God's Word says, but how to apply it to our lives.

When we do this, God can use us to show others that even Noah, though a righteous man, needed a Savior. That Savior, the Christ, the risen Son of God is not dead. He defeated death, not only showing us the way to a real heaven, but granting eternal life to all who truly believe.

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