Monthly Archives: March 2014

What’s Wrong With Christian Films and Writing? — Post by Mary C. Findley

books nd movies

I recently read an article titled “What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking?” by Nate Fleming. He is a screenwriter, so he has more experience with that specific genre than I do. I am, however, and experienced writer, both of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a Christian of many years. I want to go through his article point by point. You can read here: http://thimblerigsark.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/whats-wrong-with-christian-filmmaking/ . I have serious questions that need answers, because clearly there are things he says that I do not understand, and even words he seems to define in ways I don’t agree with.

Like most people who write commentary, he begins with something positive, applauding some aspects of recent Christian films like God’s Not Dead. He rehearses the grand historical tradition of Christians sponsoring and producing masterpieces in all genres, and yet you can hear a huge “but” coming. There are, in fact, multiple buts on the author’s mind.

He says Christians are limited because they want films to be “safe”. What does he mean by the word safe? I get the impression that he wants films that offend. We wrote a post some time back about the Son of God movie. There is such a painful division every time one of these films called “Christian” comes out. Some support such a film wholeheartedly and attack angrily, with venom and unchristian vigor, anyone who disagrees.  Some express concern over minor or more major points they disagree with. Unbelievers sometimes try to be objective in their reviews but the overwhelming point everyone seems to agree on is that most of these films divide believers and do not change the unsaved. Christians have differing opinions, but Fleming is correct that it’s mostly only Christians who go to or give thoughtful attention to such movies.

Will this change if Christian films are no longer safe? If there are R-rated Christian films, will the unsaved say, “Yay! There’s swearing (or explicit sex, or lurid violence) in that Christian movie! I’ll go see it because it’ll be realistic.”? In the words of the Apostle Paul, “I speak as a fool.” But I am not entirely sure that Fleming doesn’t think this way. As an author, I hear and see many negative books reviews about books that are “too Christian”. Even if the book’s description clearly says it is Christian, it gets attacked for the same “flaws” that Fleming is concerned about. I saw negative reviews on a fictional work because the Christian reader didn’t want the author to address the subject of incestuous rape. So Christians can write in “too Christian” a fashion, or be not Christian enough, or not take enough risks. They can’t win, in other words.

Fleming also ponders the question of “challenging” your faith. What does he mean? Paul admonishes us to inspect the fruits of faith, to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the faith. He also says there are unbelievers posing as believers, and people who are self-deceived, or deceived by others into believing what is false. These are pretty easy to understand. But to challenge a person’s faith is to say, “I don’t believe it’s real, or strong enough, or pure enough … “ Or does it mean that? I have a sneaking suspicion it really means “make Christians miserable”.

Fleming looks forward to Aronofsky’s Noah movie exactly because it won’t conform to Christian guidelines. I confess I am disturbed by that. He says that he expects it to be a blockbuster, and will draw non-Christians in a way Christians cannot do. Fleming wants us to be able to draw the unsaved in to see our films. He repeats that he respects Christian filmmakers. But he wants the pulpit out of the theater. Is he actually demanding that Christian filmmakers be provocative, that they start arguments? He practically begs them to stop giving people answers.

I am already uncomfortable listening to writers in Christian groups who claim to be grappling with these issues. We need to communicate God’s truth to the world. Whatever Fleming believes, presenting the truth of God’s Word is not always safe or comfortable for believers or unbelievers. Why do you think unbelievers twist and pervert and gut the Word when they make movies out of “Bible stories”? Solomon did not become an idolater because of the Queen of Sheba. Quite the opposite. Joseph was not a spoiled brat whose brothers had good reasons for hating him. Even believers attribute ungodly compromise to Esther and even Mordecai every step of the way in the latest retellings of Esther. These same believers insist that Jesus continually “hung out” with sinners.

I am sad to say that the other side of the coin is also true. Some Christians are grossly ignorant of what the Bible does contain. People eat their children. Soldiers disembowel pregnant women. Babies are smashed into rocks. There is a lot about sex in the Bible, good and bad kinds. But the fact is that such material is minimal compared to the overall content. What the Bible has is answers. Sometimes there are sinners sinning, questions raised that aren’t answered right then, and thought– and discussion-provoking events.

There’s a whole mythical belief set about the Bible that has grown up out of some wrongheaded people’s ideas. I don’t know if they are misguided believers or outright deceivers, but they don’t teach the truth about God or how He want’s His message delivered. They clamor to be edgy, to push limits, to strip away boundaries. What they often mean is they want to put the world in their works because that’s what attracts the world. Christian books are filled with flawed, fallen, out-of-control people who cannot govern themselves, have normal relationships, or guide others to spiritual truth. But they are real, insist the writers.

Listen, people: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the World. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”

We cannot be guilty of compromise just by claiming we are going to attract a broader audience. We cannot approach the world on their own terms. We have to approach them on God’s terms, with God’s truth.

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Attitude — Post by Michael J. Findley

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This might just be the sin which destroys American Christianity.

This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are distinguished. No person who fails to practice righteousness and to love his brother is from God. This is the message that you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because what he was doing was evil and his brother’s actions were righteous. (1 John 3:10-12 ISV)

You have probably read this so often that you know what it says without reading it. But do you understand what John is saying?

This is probably the last letter John wrote, therefore, the last book written in the Bible. It closes with the words Little children, keep yourselves away from idols. (1 John 5:21 ISV) An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. Yes, I am certain that you already knew that.

However, John’s point is that when that idol is revealed, made manifest, exposed, we explode in rage. The first child, Cain exploded in rage when his brother’s righteousness exposed his sin. Cain walked and talked with God. He was, to use a modern comparison, a “church member.” He was “raised in the Church.” Yet what he was doing was evil.

Throughout history, great acts of evil were often initiated by the people close to God. Cain’s sins eventually led to the destruction of the entire earth with a universal flood.

God in His mercy and grace saved Noah and his family. Yet their children quickly rebelled against the Lord, corrupted His Word and built a tower which God judged.
When Moses went up to speak to God face to face on Mount Sinai, Aaron and the children of Israel built a golden calf to worship and party around.

Until they were led away into captivity in Babylon, the children of Israel continued to worship idols in high places. Jeroboam I, when he rebelled against Solomon’s son Rehoboam, built golden calves for the Northern Kingdom to worship in Dan and Bethel.

Just before he was stoned by the leaders of the Jews, Stephen pointed out that this idolatrous attitude crucified Jesus. “You stubborn people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors fail to persecute? They killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52-53 ISV)

Dr. John MacArthur had a conference on “Strange Fire” which pointed out how Americans do what they want without any concern for the teaching of the Word of God. This series faced a storm of criticism when it was published. The Church of the United States is filled with unbelievers who do what they want to do and are in control of worship services.

The first time I heard someone tell me that they went to praise services but would not attend or even listen to sermons I told him that his attitude was not that of a believer in Christ Jesus. Since then, I have found this to be a common attitude. Paul told Timothy to Preach the Word, be instant in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. (I Timothy 4:12 MKJV)

Paul also told the Romans that without preaching there was no salvation. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without preaching? (Romans 10:14 MKJV)

Read this blog carefully. What have we set up in our hearts as an idol between us and the Lord Jesus Christ. What are you unwilling to give up to serve Him?

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The ‘Son of God’ Movie: Reflections on Christian Division — Post by Michael J., Mary C., and Victoria Findley

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We may get negative comments on this post, because there are many movies about the Bible and biblical themes that we have not seen, and that’s what we’re going to talk about. But we’re not really going to talk about the movies themselves. We’re going to talk about reactions to them.

Periodically people make movies that have something to do with the Bible. The most recent one is Called Son of God. Here are some of the reviews from people who have seen it.

The following links to a fairly long and detailed review, but it is definitely worth reading.

http://blogs.christianpost.com/abandoned-to-christ/movie-review-son-of-god-is-most-certainly-not-the-son-of-god-20297/

Someone on fb posted this link, and almost immediately got a response that the reviewer must have come looking to find fault with the movie. Michael responded with a quote from the reviewer: (emphasis added) “Prior to entering the theater today, I went in with an open-Bible-mind and open-Spirit-heart. I hoped that this movie was better than the miniseries, but alas, it was not.” Michael also said, “I have not seen the movie, but I do pray that this is an honest statement.”

Kenneth R. Morefield of Christianity Today said, “Watching Son of God was not a dreadful experience, but it wasn’t a particularly inspirational or entertaining one, either.”

Dove Awards said, “This is a movie with a message. It will take you on a powerful, compelling and, in the end, spiritual journey.”

Martin Tsai of the Los Angeles Times said the movie “has the feel of a ‘midseason clip show’. If ‘The Bible (the History Channel series from which this film was made) was CliffsNotes for the Scriptures, Son of God is the cheat sheet. The two-hour film condenses about four hours of what already was hasty television, and it all winds up a little dramatically static.”

The New York Times’ Nicolas Rapold said, “Son of God runs through the scriptural greatest hits of the Passion with the reliability of a Sunday reader … undermining the mysteries of Jesus with the blandness of the filmmaking. … ‘Son of God’ may have hit the mark if part of the goal was to create a portrait flat enough to allow audience members to project their own feelings onto the screen.”

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “the film does thoroughly succeed in one important regard: offering a coherent, viewer-friendly account of the life of Jesus Christ. The movie flies by despite its 138-minute running time, a holy CliffsNotes that packs in all the greatest hits. Never again will a Sunday school student get lower than a C-minus on this material.”

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post “’Son of God’ is nothing if not sincere, its earnest retelling of Jesus’s life story resembling a gentle, pop-up book version of the New Testament, its text reenacted for maximum reassurance and intellectual ease. Don’t expect to see a great film, or even a very good one. Whether you discover a meaningful channel with which to continue your walk with the film’s protagonist, however, is strictly between you and your god.”

Christian Blogger Mike Blackaby said, “It’s just good to have a well-made Christian film out there that gets people excited and interested in Jesus. Here is my bias rearing its ugly head. You’re never going to make a movie about Jesus that pleases everyone, and I’m so tired of the Christians who slam any Christian movie that does not line up with their ‘infallible’ interpretation of how these events went down. So what that Jesus here is kind of portrayed as a surfer-dude hippie, sticking it to the Roman Empire and the Jewish Pharisees? There is going to be artistic interpretation in every work of art, and the producers of this film are not creating a tract, trying to replace Scripture, or writing a theology text book. They are making a movie with the hopes of renewing an interest in Jesus for an American culture that could really use that right now. To that, I say, ‘props to them’. If you’re putting your hope in this movie to fulfill the Great Commission, then you’re misguided.”

These reviews come from believers and unbelievers. We could share many more, and point out that both sides seemed to find technical problems in the presentation and other weaknesses that make the movie flawed at best.

The thing that really stood out about comments from believers, however, was the split opinions. Some thought it was wonderful and saw no fault. Some admitted some imperfections but believed it could be used for God’s glory. Some saw too many flaws, including Scriptural inaccuracies, and recommended avoiding the film.

Our daughter Victoria, who has not seen it but was responding to some who made the charge that it was ‘just a movie’ or that those who pointed out problems were prejudiced, said, “Film producer Mark Burnett says his soon-to-be released movie Son of God will have a wide impact for Christian evangelism as modern technology brings the film about the life of Jesus to remote areas of the world.

“‘We believe in the decades to come, people in remote places will find Jesus through watching this movie on their iPhones,’ Burnett told Newsmax in an exclusive interview.

Victoria continued, “He wanted this to be a message, a doctrinal one that people might watch or see that they would not otherwise pay attention to. But because they do not know the truth or have rejected the truth presented in a different form, I just think that it is very important that the movie present God in the way God wanted Himself to presented, not in a way that is open to the viewers’ interpretation. God does give 4 different presentations of Jesus, through the gospels. I think we just need to be careful of praising those who present Christ, His message, and the Bible in a different light than God intended. (Rev 22:19)”

There was that curious reaction hinted at above, though. One believer would state what he saw as flaws, and another would either say, ‘It’s just a movie, lighten up,’ or leap to the defense of the movie, saying it was a great film and would be greatly used. Along with that opinion would very often come a ‘shame on you’ to those who dared to critique what they saw as the film’s shortcomings. The reviewer would be accused of coming in with an agenda or being prejudiced to dislike it before hand. In some cases, other reviewers called anyone who didn’t love the film idiots.

Many reviewers, believers and unbelievers, admitted that they thought that the film would do very little to convince unbelievers, though the makers clearly stated that they intended it to convince the unsaved in remote places. Believers are flocking to it, even reserving whole theaters to ensure it is the only thing playing there. It is doing well commercially. But who is it reaching? It seems like mostly Christians are seeing it. If the unconverted are watching it, they are not, for the most part, ‘going public’ about being persuaded.

If films like this do not persuade unbelievers, what is their purpose? Christians clamor for clean, family-friendly films, and especially love the idea of those based on the Scriptures. Hollywood rarely listens, churning out films that are often the antithesis of what Christians want to see. They promote the occult, explicit sex, lurid violence, and in one recent Oscar-nominated case, drop the f-bomb over 500 times. But, now and then, it seems Hollywood may be listening when a film like Son of God comes out.

The problem with such films is that they produce division in the body of Christ. Some will say we’ve got that backwards – that certain Christians become divisive when every one of “us” ought to praise and encourage the moviemakers for trying. Christians ought to unite in supporting the attempts to make family-friendly and biblically-inspired films, even if they are not perfect. Those who can’t do that are insulted, attacked, and marginalized.

This sounds disturbingly familiar. It is what liberals and atheists do when they want to dismiss criticisms of Secular Humanist teachings. Richard Dawkins has an Anglican minister friend whom he chastises when the sermons references Adam and Eve as if they are real people. This minister already accepts evolution, but that isn’t enough for Dawkins. The man must not teach any of the Bible as if it is true. Dawkins happily insults and attacks anyone foolish enough to accept that ridiculous book, the Bible.

Now we have two camps of Christians. One stands for the Word of God and says Hollywood must not present a watered-down, incomplete, or downright inaccurate version of the historical events in the Scriptures. But these brothers and sisters in Christ are insulted, called names, and marginalized, by who? By other believers. That second camp will praise and promote anything that has any crumbs of biblical content. It’s true that God can use His Word, even if the vessel of its presentation is flawed. But why attack those who want to purify that vessel? That’s being divisive – to say those Christians should shut their mouths and not criticize.

Is it possible that the world puts out these films to be provocative, as well as to make a buck off the faithful who will flock to see the smallest bit of Bible on the screen? Do they do it to force wedges between the brethren? Do they goad those who must speak out against corruption, and likewise prompt other believers to be ‘more accepting, more loving’, when what they are really doing is rejecting their own fellow believers in favor of that which is not truth?

‘Divide and conquer’ is a very old maxim. And the divide widens with every new ‘biblical’ film that comes out. Christians should be one in the Spirit, but also one in the Truth. Please, consider carefully. Who is really being divisive?

Image from moviepilot.com

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