Monday, March 31, 2014

Hollywood Floods State of Exasperation


It's the state in which many North American evangelicals find themselves when Biblically-themed movies are released from Hollywood.

It never fails - from the Last Temptation of Christ and the Passion of the Christ to Son of God and, now, Noah, conservative Christians immediately begin bickering amongst ourselves.  We bicker regarding the theological merits of each one.  And whether self-respecting Christ-followers should pay good money to go see them.  Even if we admit that, yeah, the movie is full of heresies, we still feel entitled to go see it and evaluate it on its cinematic merits.

As if a movie's cinematic merits account for as much value as its Biblical accuracy!  Some people might say that in any other context, assuming such a thing means we're lowering our standards.  Even though cinematography did not exist when the Bible was written, it's safe to say that any move that does not portray the Gospel or any aspect of it in a God-honoring fashion is not worthy of our patronage.

Although... perhaps the fact that we evangelicals have so many different ideas about what constitutes "honoring God" should be more troubling to us than the content of these controversial movies.

I offer my opinions on a variety of subjects, but I am not a movie critic.  For me, a good movie is one that lets me escape my troubles for an hour or so, preferably with some clever slapstick humor and some witty satire.  There aren't many stories from the Bible that can be adapted into such a screenplay.  So since your taste in movies is likely broader than mine, you'll be happy to know that I'm not going to try and foist a movie review on you.

But every time one of these Christian-themed releases comes out, I find myself bewildered.  Not exasperated, like the legions of evangelicals who are arguing all over the place about whether to go and see such-and-such movie or not.  I simply get bewildered.  Why do we assume Hollywood wants to get the Bible right?  Why should we assume that we have the right to expect Hollywood to get the Bible right?

As much as conservative evangelicals rail against entitlements in politics, it seems that many of us feel entitled to watch movies that don't insult our doctrinal sensibilities.  At their heart, isn't that the pulse behind all of the discussions, arguments, evaluations, editorializing, reviewing, and hard feelings behind movies like Russell Crowe's Noah?  That evangelicals have a right to be entertained by movies, to see them regardless of what anybody else warns about them, and even the right to not be offended when movies "creatively" adapt Bible stories and characters for the big screen?

How much of this is part of the entitlement of fun that North American evangelicals have honed over decades of affluence?  We enjoy paid vacations, the relatively new invention of eight-hour workdays, taxpayer-funded parks, relatively affordable airfare, and professional athletics, DVRs, personal computers, and the reclining chair, just like unsaved heathens do.  How many other Christ-followers around this globe enjoy such sophisticated First World diversions?

I know self-professing Christ-followers who can rattle off entire sports team rosters from twenty years ago, or plots from the most obscure movies, but who have to hunt up verses in their Bible, instead of being able to recall God's Word as effortlessly as their favorite pop culture data.

Hey, I haven't memorized the Bible either, but then again, I can't remember my own driver's license number, let alone sports rosters or movie plots.  Scientists say we humans utilize only a fraction of our brains, and I don't deny that in my case.  I will readily confess that until spoiled North Americans like me are forced to memorize scripture, instead of being able to rely on any number of translations readily available on bookshelves in our homes, or on our personal communication devices, few of us will commit the time it takes to memorize scripture.

But that's not my point.  The point is that just as we feel entitled to have God's Word at our fingertips, if not tucked within the memory folds of our brain, we feel entitled to enjoy a movie like Noah simply because it's a much-heralded blockbuster.  And if we don't enjoy it, we should be able to blame it on comparatively insignificant reasons, such as dowdy special effects, or mediocre acting.  But Hollywood forbid that we feel compelled to blame it on how the purity of God's holy, inspired Word was disrespected.

This past weekend, Noah opened at the top of the box office, grossing an estimated $44 million upon its release.  It had already raked in $95 million overseas, where it has been met with far less critical theological scrutiny - which perhaps should have been a clue right there for North American evangelicals wondering if its theology was worth the price of admission.  Noah cost only $130 million to make, so its producer, Paramount Pictures, has already earned its money back, thanks in no small part to legions of evangelicals who I know packed theaters this past weekend to see what all the fuss was about.  How do I know?  From all of the reviews posted on Christian websites, and even my own circle of friends.

Indeed, I realize my viewpoint is quite unpopular, since it seems as though every other Christ-follower I know in North America loves to go to the movies.  But I just don't get it:  why the infatuation with them?  Especially when it comes to products made disproportionately by a pop-culture industry that historically has displayed little interest in Biblical inerrancy?  I can understand going to the movies for a rainy Saturday afternoon diversion, but why do evangelicals insist on perpetuating high expectations when it comes to Hollywood's interpretation of what are supposed to be our sacred scriptures?

And why do the people who apparently feel compelled to write positive reviews of the cinematography for Christian websites apparently feel compelled to rationalize that Hollywood's depiction of sin and man's depravity has been authentically captured by Hollywood?  Do we need a movie version of Noah or Last Temptation to describe depravity creatively?  By digesting how awful Hollywood can make immorality appear, are we somehow comforted by the idea that since we don't act like those people in the movies, we're somehow better than they are?

You and I don't slaughter, rape, pillage, and defame God (at least, not publicly).  But one, single, solitary sin in any of us would be enough for God to turn His face from us, and banish us to an eternity in Hell.  And it wouldn't matter whether that sin was murder, or eating one too many Krispy-Kreme donuts.

Folks, we're talking h-o-l-i-n-e-s-s here.  Holy.  That's what God is.  And what we're supposed to be, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, movies are mere entertainment.  A way to kill a couple of hours.  Nothing particularly wrong with that, but consider the contrast between the two:  God.  A movie.  And we think we're entitled to have the two meet up pretty closely with each other?  After all, isn't that what we're saying when we complain about movies like Noah?

Our world has deeper problems than whether or not we get to go see a movie like Noah.  Or even whether we should see it.  Our world even has deeper problems than however heretical Noah may be.


If you're trying to redeem the time - and money - you spent ostensibly hoping to redeem Hollywood by patronizing a movie like Noah, then give up.  Might there be reasons why God didn't appoint Christ's time on Earth to take place during our audio-visual age?  Maybe I'm not culturally sophisticated, but I don't think I spend enough time reading the Book, let alone watching its movie version.

Then, too, some Christians postulate that we need to protect Biblically illiterate moviegoers from Hollywood's bad portrayals of theology.  However, I suspect that if we were as concerned about not portraying bad theology in our own lives, as we are with advocating for good theology in the movies, our Biblically illiterate society would suffer far less.

Do we honor God by deciding to go and watch controversial movies about Him and His people?  And then struggling to find something good about the experience?  Perhaps, but might we demonstrate less hedonism on our part if we decide to honor God by not bothering to see such movies in the first place?

Not out of piety, of course.  But to live in a better state than exasperation.

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