In the first part of this series, I wrote about the cultural mandate from God to seek dominion in the realm of movies. I pointed out that there are two approaches to dominion: separation and infiltration. I concluded that the otherwise good intentions of separationists are Biblically dubious and have actually produced a Christian ghetto of movies that are less than influential on the culture.
I have three more concerns about the separationist method.
First, while compromise and corruption are the charges often leveled against those who would infiltrate Hollywood for Christ, in reality, compromise and corruption also occur in “Christian movies.” It’s just compromise and corruption in a different direction.
If one makes a “Christian movie,” one is often pressured by “Christian powerbrokers” to avoid realistic harsh language and harsh situations, bow to denominational prejudices, spell out the Gospel in a verbal literal way, show someone “accepting” Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior,” wrap up all problems in a tidy package, and make sure Bible verses are quoted chapter and verse. The “name of Jesus” often becomes an artificial panacea for all problems. All these elements together create an unrealistic picture of life and how God applies to it. They result in bad storytelling and simplistic, unrealistic, disingenuous portrayals of humanity. Such compromise and corruption spoils the truth and is just as morally dishonorable as the pressure to compromise in Hollywood.
The image of God is not necessarily the image of Christian subculture. What “Christian film company” would ever make a movie of the Song of Solomon? Would a Christian teetotaler ever depict Jesus turning water into wine? Would you ever see a fundamentalist film with King David dancing in nothing but an ephod? Or an Amish adaptation of the book of Judges?
My second concern is with the lack of quality storytelling in separationist circles. Because of the overemphasis of content over form, “Christian films” often result in just plain bad stories and bad acting because in these movies “the message is more important than the medium.” Quality and excellence in storytelling are neglected, sacrificed on the altar of didacticism. Christian movies have a notorious reputation and legacy of bad acting and bad storytelling precisely because they have elevated word over image, and content over form, rather than holding them equally valuable. This is why they are too often preachy and sermonizing. It isn’t the Gospel that is offending unbelievers in this subculture; more often than not, it’s the lack of excellence.
I am also concerned with the very definition of “Christian movies” as a separate phenomenon. What makes a movie “Christian” anyway? Do all the actors and filmmakers have to be Christians? Or just the distribution company? Is it quoting a Bible verse? Is it having the name “Jesus” in it?
Is a movie about family being more important than career, and honesty over lying, a Christian movie (Liar, Liar)? Is a movie elevating marriage and degrading adultery a Christian movie (Fatal Attraction)? Is a movie elevating God as worthy of worship and fornication as selfish a Christian movie (Bruce Almighty)? Is a movie about keeping the Sabbath a Christian movie (Chariots of Fire)? Is a movie about the evils of murder and theft and coveting a Christian movie (The Ladykillers)? None of these movies is theologically perfect, but all of them do promote values from the Ten Commandments. Yet all of these movies are Hollywood movies, not “Christian movies.”
In contrast, some “Christian movies” like Joshua and Left Behind contain a false “love Gospel” that promotes an unbiblical God who is only concerned about love but not hell or sin. It is the ancient Marcionite heresy in a postmodern regurgitation. Will the real Christian movie please stand up?
Separationists are no doubt sincere and genuinely seek to honor God. But the actual results leave much to be desired.
In contrast to the separationist, the infiltrationist believes that Hollywood is a part of culture that Christians should reform, just like anything else. They want to see Hollywood movies that honor God and truth, just like they want to see the media, science, politics and education glorify God.
They realize that like leaven in bread, this takes time. It may take generations. Change will happen in incremental steps. We don’t “take Hollywood for Jesus,” do our prayer walks, and watch the walls fall down before us. The infiltrator believes that God’s exhortation to “come out from among them and be ye separate” is not a command to create a separate Christian subculture, but to stand out by our characterwithin their midst.
It’s not just about Christians getting “our” movies made. It’s about sharing our faith with Hollywood people who get saved, who then share Christ with other Hollywood people, who then make movies that glorify God. A multiplication effect. The Great Commission applied.
One criticism of infiltration is that the believer sins by being “unequally yoked” with unbelievers in the film business (1 Cor. 6:14). By working with unbelievers in Hollywood, believers mingle light with darkness and righteousness with unrighteousness. This is a dubious application of Scripture. While I certainly believe that this Biblical yoking command applies to covenant or intimate relationships like marriage and maybe business partnership, Paul gives us no warrant to believe that it applies to all business employment, movie making included.
Paul told the Corinthians that when he said not to associate with immoral people, he did not mean the people of the world, like coveters, swindlers and idolaters, for then they would have to go out of this world. What he meant was not to associate with so-called Christians who are immoral (1 Cor. 5:9-11, “...I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator...”). The rhetorical implication is clear: Avoiding association with unbelievers is absolutely impossible and not intended by God. We must be in the world, not of it, and not out of it either. We can associate with coveters, swindlers and idolaters on a social or business level, without engaging in such sin ourselves. We can infiltrate Hollywood.
Of course, there is a valid concern about working in such close relationship with unbelievers. Christians will indeed be tempted to run with them in their excess and dissipation, or disobey God in some way. This is surely a danger and warrants caution on the part of the Christian who may consider himself or herself above the temptation. Pride surely comes before a fall (Pr. 16:18), bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor. 15:33), and those who consider themselves stronger had better watch themselves (Gal. 6:1).
Too often Christians look for a rationalization for being involved in Hollywood, not because they have a vision to bring salt, light and leaven into that dungeon of darkness, but because they are worldly, unspiritual babies and want to salve their own consciences from the fleshly disobedience they are living.
In part three, we will look at the effect on content that Christians can have while dealing with the effect content may have on Christians.
- Brian Godawa
Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars (www.toendallwarsmovie.com). Most recently, he has been hired to adapt best-selling author Frank Peretti’s supernatural thriller, The Visitation, for producer Ralph Winter. Mr. Godawa’s articles on movies and philosophy have been published in magazines around the world. His scripts have won multiple awards in screenplay competitions. He travels around the United States teaching on movies and culture to colleges, churches and community groups. His book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) is in its 7th printing. His website, www.godawa.com, contains more of his cinematic, theological and philosophical musings.