The year is 2014. Many faith-based movies are scheduled to be released, including Son of God (February 28th), God’s Not Dead (March 21st), Noah (March 28th), Heaven Is Real (April 16th), Left Behind (September 11th), and Exodus (December 12th). (I think that it is probably a stretch to call Noah and Exodus “faith-based”, but the basic stories have their origin in Biblical narrative.) A number of other movies are scheduled to be released as well, including Divergent (March 21st), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4th), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2nd), X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23rd), Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1st), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (November 21st), and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (December 17th). Would it surprise you that I am more looking forward to the second list than the first list? Well, I am. Let me explain.
Before I do explain, though, I want to make sure that I emphasize that I am not telling you or anyone else what they should like or see. I am merely explaining my own perspective. I never want to poo-poo what another person finds value in. Also, I should emphasize that I am sharing my own opinion, not that of The Church of the Nazarene, Rocky Mountain District Church of the Nazarene, or Bitterroot Valley Church of the Nazarene. There are possibly other individuals in those organizations who will agree with me, and there are likely many who will disagree.
Three years ago, I was planning on attending a concert in Missoula called “The Rock and Worship Roadshow”. It included a number of musicians and bands, including Lecrae, Thousand Foot Krutch, Jars of Clay, and Mercy Me. Other than Jars of Clay, I was not a big fan of any of the bands, but the ticket was only $10, so why not? My brother saw the same concert in Colorado Springs about a week beforehand, and he was raving to me on facebook about how great Lecrae was. He was excited for me to go to the concert and experience this rapper myself. He was sure that I would love it. Well . . . I respect Lecrae and what he does, but I don’t like rap. I’m not anti-rap. It just isn’t my cup of tea. It has nothing to do with race. Some of my favorite musicians are Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk. I’m just not into rap.
There seems to be an expectation in church culture that everything produced as Christian should be embraced. I do not share this expectation. I like what I like, and I don’t like what I don’t like. And actually, I tend to prefer that the Gospel be communicated and shared incarnationally rather than through media produced specifically for Christians. What do I mean by “incarnationally”? Thanks for asking! Let me explain.
Christian theology, deriving from Scripture, teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully human. God took humanity upon Himself, truly became human (not just in appearance). This is what is known as the incarnation. God presented Himself to us within our own setting and culture, in a way that we could understand Him and have relationship with Him. Things that are incarnational are things that similarly present the Gospel in such a way that they can be understood within the culture that it is being presented to. Let me explain further with an example from the Apostle Paul.
Acts 17 tells of a period that Paul spent in the city of Athens. He initially went there to wait for his team to catch up with him, but when he observed all of the pagan religions and philosophies around him, he couldn’t help but share the Gospel. He was eventually called before the city council to give an account of what he was doing. He used that opportunity to continue sharing the Gospel. Unlike Peter in Acts 2, who shared the Gospel to a bunch of Jews by telling them how Jesus fulfilled their anticipation of a Messiah, Paul used examples from the Athenians own culture to tell them about Christ. He used an altar “To An Unknown God”, and he used two lines of Athenian poetry that were originally in reference to Zeus and reapplied them to the true God. He did not neglect telling them about Jesus and His resurrection, but he understood that presenting the Gospel to the Athenians from a Hebrew perspective (as Peter did in Acts 2) would mean nothing to them. The Athenians were not Hebrew; they were Greek. In order to accept the Gospel, they needed it presented in a way that they could understand and relate to. This is what I mean by “incarnational”.
When I look at faith-based movies, for the most part I do not see anything that is incarnational. I see movies that are made specifically for Christians. There is nothing wrong with this. I am glad that movies are being produced that contain good messages and wholesome values. But when I imagine myself being a non-Christian, I see nothing that will draw me to the theater to see them. Why would someone who doesn’t believe in God want to see a movie called God’s Not Dead? Why would someone who does not believe in Heaven have any interest in seeing a movie called Heaven is Real? I know that I wouldn’t.
I do want to give faith-based movies some props, though. They have come a long ways from fifteen years ago. Not only is the eschatology in the original Left Behind movies terrible, they are some of the cheesiest movies that I have ever seen. Quality-wise, Son of God is light years ahead of the Jesus movie. I just do not see any real evangelical value in most faith-based movies. Sure, they are great for giving those who already believe warm-fuzzies (and there is nothing wrong with that), but I do not see what value they have for us in fulfilling our mission.
When it comes to media, I prefer media that is either produced by Christians but not as “Christian” or even media that is produced by non-Christians but still contain strong messages through which the Gospel can be shared. Alison Krauss & Union Station is one of my favorite bands. They are Christians, and some of their songs are very Christian-themed, but they are not a “Christian” band. Another one of my favorite bands is Mumford & Sons. The status of their faith is up in the air, but there is no doubt that many of their lyrics reflect Christian principles. One of my favorite lines comes from the song “Roll Away Your Stone”:
It seems that all my bridges have been burned, but you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with the restart.
Absolutely beautiful words! Or even Lecrae (who I mentioned above) or Switchfoot (another one of my favorite bands), both of whom are identified as “Christian” artists. Both Lecrae and Switchfoot tour with non-Christian bands/musicians, giving them the opportunity to share “wholesome” music with those who might not normally be exposed to it.
When it comes to movies, I believe that I can be more effective in sharing the Gospel with something like The Hunger Games than I can God’s Not Dead. Plus, and I’m just being honest here, I find the former to be more entertaining than the latter. I’m sure God’s Not Dead is a great movie, and I’m sure that I will see it eventually. I just do not feel a burning conviction that I have to see it just because it is a faith-based movie. If you want to see it, great! More power to you! I absolutely support you in doing so! I just also encourage you to find opportunities to engage the broken world where they are at, within the context of the culture. This is what the Great Commission calls us to do, this is what God Himself did for us, and this is what it means to be incarnational.
Finally, I want to stress that the best form of evangelism is not handing someone a tract, a Bible, or inviting them to watch a movie. The best form of evangelism is in the example of our own lives: How God has transformed us by His indwelling Holy Spirit, and how we live out the Christ-life by bringing restoration to brokenness. God’s love, working in our lives, is His love letter to the broken world, and it is that same love that will see His Kingdom come.