Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Read the Book, Skip the Movie(s)

I've been asked by several faithful, gospel-concerned folks if they should see the new Son of God movie. Others have asked my thoughts on the upcoming Noah movie. As a general rule I do not tell other believers what they can and cannot do when it comes to matters of conscience. Having spent some time among legalistic Christians, I do not want to speak on an issue unless the Scripture speaks – either directly or in principle. So, if you hoped to get a “don’t go see it” or “yes, go watch the movie” directive, you will be disappointed. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. Rather, I will share with you a couple of reasons that I have decided against seeing both films.

First, any depiction of Jesus falls short of the real thing. It seems to me that if the Jesus of the Bible was accurately portrayed, half of those in the theater watching the film would want him crucified by the end of the film. After all, isn't that what really happened? Add to that the second commandment warns us against making idols (graven images). An idol is something that stands in the place of something else. We think of it as little wooden or metal images that represent a god. When it comes to film, the idol is just as real. We have an actor standing in the place of the real thing. That should give us pause. For many of us who saw the Passion of the Christ, when we think of Jesus, we think of Jim Caviezel. We cannot help it. And, that is one of the key problems with idols. We end up focusing on the pale imitation rather than the real thing.

Second, artists take too much poetic license with biblical material. I’m not attempting to be overly legalistic here, I promise. But, anytime there is a film adaptation of written material, there is the temptation (and general practice) of making the literature work better on film. It happened in a very popular movie recently. In Lone Survivor – the book – the rescue of Marcus Luttrell is pretty tame. He is walked up the side of a mountain by his host. He has tea with the man he was sent to kill. And he is found by Army Rangers who are scouring the mountain looking for him. In the movie, however, that just “doesn't play.” In the movie, Marcus is rescued as helicopter gunships strafe the village where he is located. The same thing happens in Son of God. Jesus didn't have a 13th woman disciple in the Bible, but he does in the movie. He didn't go into Lazarus’ tomb and cradle him to raise him from the dead, but he does in the movie. Jesus didn't look like a Calvin Klein underwear model and speak with a British accent, but he does in the movie. And on and on it goes.

But, you may protest, couldn't this movie be a tool to introduce people to Jesus? Well, I suppose. God can – and often does – use all sorts of things to speak to people. I remember one time he used a donkey to speak to Balaam. Though I am not sure that is his preferred method. If you decide to use this film to introduce people to Jesus, remember that the Jesus you end up pointing them to in the Bible is not the one they saw on the movie screen. The one in the Bible talks a lot more about sin and judgment and the fact he is God in the flesh than the one on screen does. The Jesus in the Bible demands your life. He demands that you leave everything and everyone for his sake. The Jesus of the Bible feels far less like a buddy than the Jesus in Son of God. Ultimately, my fear is that your friends may want Diogo Morgado’s Jesus to be their Savior rather than the Jesus of the Bible.

The issue of artistic license certainly applies to the Noah movie as well. Pre-release reviews have indicated that about the only thing in common with the biblical story is a guy named Noah, a boat, some animals and rain. Other than that, the depiction of why God destroyed the earth, God’s call on Noah’s life, God’s deliverance of Noah, and the like are far from biblically accurate. Indeed, several reviewers have indicated the theology is downright pagan.

Going to see either of these films does not make you a good Christian or a bad Christian. I’m afraid that too many Christians will see these movies for all the wrong reasons. The pressure of other Christians – especially through social media – who tell you that Christians need to see these films in order to prove something to Hollywood can be tremendous. Such people have their priorities mixed up. Our allegiance isn’t to Hollywood or to a Christian subculture that wants cheap imitations of Hollywood. Our allegiance is to the Jesus of the Bible. Our allegiance is to Christ, who I meet (and see) by faith, not on film. At the end of the day, I guess it comes down to the fact that I want my understanding of Jesus to be informed by the Bible, not Hollywood. So, I guess I’d say, read the book, skip the movie.

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