“Son of God,” “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead” each created a stir at the box office (and on blogs) already this year. And “Heaven is For Real” had a great opening weekend, coming in behind only “Captain America.” It’s been a busy season for Christian-themed movies, and everybody’s talking about them.
Your friends all saw “Noah.” Your small group planned an outing to view “God’s Not Dead,” and invited non-Christians to watch the movie with them. All this sounded like a great idea until you read a blog calling these movies heretical, warning Christians against worldly influences, and shaming you for supporting these blasphemous productions. Now what seemed like missional opportunities for fellowship, outreach, and redemptive conversations make you wonder if you are denying your faith and disappointing your Savior.
To complicate matters, respected Bible teachers are weighing in on the subject with no unifying voice to be heard. Your scales of decision teeter toward whichever opinion you heard most recently. As a Christ-follower you have the ability to make your own decision concerning the appropriateness of any faith-based movie. The following are suggestions to help you exercise your faith and reason when it comes to whether or not you should view these movies at home or the theater. But first, remember two things:
Some Christians are against everything. As you read reviews remember that overly cynical Christians speak out against anything and everything. They believe that godliness comes through pointing out the least hint of error, and they somehow serve the kingdom by warning others. If they spot a “non-biblical” moment in a movie, the entire movie should be cast into the abyss, along with the actors, directors, producers, and college student who brought donuts to the set. Beware – the cynic’s definition of non-biblical and yours may differ. For the cynic, non-biblical most often refers to a scene or line that cannot be found in the Bible. For most everyone else, non-biblical refers to a scene or line that stands in opposition to biblical material.
Some Christians embrace anything. The polar opposite of the cynic is the Christian who embraces anything and is enamored with what they call “new perspectives.” By new perspectives, they mean a new approach to telling the story of Jesus; by a new approach to telling the story of Jesus, they mean adjusting the story in order to suit personal tastes, agendas or presuppositions.
So, how do you decide? You are not a cynic, nor do you embrace anything stamped with the word “Christian.” You do wish to view biblically-based movies, making certain you do not open yourself to negative influences. The following are four questions to ask before, during, and after the movie.
1. Does this movie support or negate the need for a Savior? The Bible has a theme –God’s holiness confronts man’s sinfulness in love, redeeming him through the sacrifice of the Son. Scripture is clear that man is hopeless without God’s grace-filled intervention into life and eternity. Any faith-based movie must espouse the biblical motif of exclusive redemption. We tread into dangerous waters when a movie hints that man, apart from God, can better his life or eternity.
2. Does this movie contradict Scripture, implicitly or explicitly? The Bible is our final voice of truth and authority. If a so-called faith-based movie contradicts Scripture at any point, we must acknowledge its folly.
Some faith-based movies include scenes or dialogue that the Bible does not. For example, in “The Passion of the Christ,” the character of Jesus “invents” the table and chairs (and his mother says she doesn’t think it will catch on). We know Jesus most likely did not invent the table and chairs, but does this make the movie blasphemous? In my opinion, no. It does not contradict Scripture, nor does it teach a false belief affecting the salvation of others. In some ways, this is no different than a pastor postulating the words Jesus wrote in the sand just before declaring, “He who is without sin cast the first stone,” because there is no proof to support any opinion.
On the other hand many films do openly contradict the Bible. Case in point: NBC’s 1999 miniseries “Noah’s Ark.” The show is replete with contra-biblical material. Take for example the episode in which Lot (Abraham’s nephew) attacks the ark. Any student of the Bible knows that Lot appears generations after the flood and God promises to destroy everything except those on the ark. We must acknowledge this movie, and others like it, explicitly contradict Scripture.
3. Is the goal of this movie to teach Biblical doctrine or rebuff Christian thinking?Is there a Christian who has not seen “Courageous”? Probably so. Should they see it? Probably so. I am not a paid actor, nor paid spokesperson, but “Courageous” is a very good example of a biblically-based, faith-based movie. From beginning to end, the movie affirms Scripture. Actors are portrayed as fallen and each success is connected to God’s grace and the Spirit’s activity. The movie teaches the biblical doctrine of integrity, while offering grace to those who fall short. There are moments of uncommon (or unrealistic) divine activity, but that is not outside the realm of biblical possibility.
But not all movies featuring Christian philosophies are meant to support those philosophies. Let’s go old school. Remember reading, then watching, “Inherit the Wind” somewhere around your sophomore year of high school? If you were a church kid, the movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial made you question your Christian faith. Had your pastor and Sunday School teachers ushered you into the world of idiotic, close-minded bigotry “Inherit the Wind” assigned your faith? The movie featured the Christian doctrine of creationism, but the intent was not to paint an objective presentation of the facts. Instead, the film was written with the sole intent of defacing the Christian belief of creationism, and should be viewed with the understanding that you are not interacting with facts, but a movie as one-sided as the belief it presumes to confront.
4. Is the Spirit affirming this movie or rebuking it? The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit affirms that which is right and warns against that which is wrong. Jesus told His disciples that the Spirit would lead them into all truth. Believers enjoy the privilege of direct communication with the Father through the Spirit.
As you watch a faith-based movie (or one that claims to be), ask the Father to shed light into what you are watching. Pray that the Lord will affirm the truth, reject the falsehood, all while leading you to a Spirit-led conclusion about what you saw.
I’ve come to this conclusion about this season’s faith-based movies: I have determined to capitalize on Hollywood’s venture. If they choose to produce and release these films, the church should be part of the conversation that follows. Let’s forego the protests and boycotts in order that we might interact with those who have been exposed to the Bible at the movies, but need to hear the true gospel.
Mark Mohler is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Marion, Ill.