Fellow Christians, Could We Please Stop Whining over Movies?


NoahSo, the highly anticipated, much derided Noah is playing in theaters now, and no, I’ve not seen it. I’m not avoiding it, per se. I’m just not a big fan of spending $30 for overpriced tickets and popcorn… unless it happens to be a new Star TrekStar Wars, or Tolkien movie. Then I’m there front and center of that 3D IMAX theater with my big tub of $15 popcorn and soda. But I digress…

Beyond the mere movie, I’ve been entertaining myself with all the commentary, much of it negative, from fellow Christians. To be honest, I don’t know whether to sit back and laugh, throw up in disgust, or hide in embarrassment.

It’s like we have this HUGE, insurmountable hang-up with… of all things… movies. When a movie comes out that brushes even slightly against our faith, good or bad, we lose all composure and go berserk.

If it’s something like The Passion of the Christ or that new movie God’s Not Dead, we go gaga over it! We tell all our friends about it. We preach highly marketed sermon series about it. We buy out whole theaters to get as many of our heathen friends there as possible in order to convert them. I mean, it’s as if movie manna has descended from the heavens into the chaotic moral decadency of Hollywood, and we gobble it up for all it’s worth. Hallelujah! It’s about time we have some God-glorifying, holy movies to watch. Pass that $15 popcorn my way.

But… let’s say it’s a movie like The Da Vinci Code or the new Noah movie. Shrieks of terror and disgust… How dare those atheistic, money-grubbing Hollywood types make a mockery of our faith! Oh, no… Those poor, ignorant, unsuspecting, unbelieving masses will go and see this piece of heretical trash and become indoctrinated with un-Christian, unbiblical views. Lord have mercy! Bar the theater doors! Sound the alarm! And whatever you do, don’t go see that movie, or it will ruin your faith forever!!!

<sigh…>

Could I interject a little bit of sanity here? I’ll begin with four words. Calm down. Stop whining.

Before you jump on a movie bandwagon, either for a wonderfully godly movie you love or a movie produced by minions of the Antichrist, let’s consider a few things and then re-examine our approach to movies.

Movies aren’t as culturally impactful as we think they are. In a world fully saturated with media, social networking, and instant communication, one 15-second video or a meme could impact the culture more than a multi-million dollar movie. Even then, our media saturated minds have in increasingly short memory span. That electrifyingly hot thing now will be forgotten within a few news cycles. Example: remember Gangnam Style? Seems like forever ago, doesn’t it? So, we need not fret or get too gleeful about the latest-greatest movie to hit the theaters. They will soon be relics of the past.

Information is everywhere. We need to stop fretting about the masses being misinformed by a movie. Most Christians think we’re still in the Modern world in which information is controlled and disseminated by a few institutional sources like school books, clergy, Walter Cronkite, and of course, Hollywood. It’s time we wake up to the reality of the 21st century information superhighway. People can get information about anything, anytime, anywhere. If I want to know the diet of a giant squid, the history of pre-Columbian South America, or the biblical story of Noah, I pick up my iPhone and find what I want in seconds. That reality still fascinates me. All that to say, people who really want to know the correct biblical stories or what orthodox Christian theology has to say can find it without a whole lot of effort. One short-lived movie is not going to leave the masses misinformed, unless they just don’t care. The later is most likely the case.

Even bad movies are great opportunities… if we stop having hissy fits. God has a way of redeeming even the worst things for life-giving good. So let me suggest a strategy for engaging movies that inaccurately portray Scripture and Christian theology: conversation. The world doesn’t want to be preached to about how bad its movies are, but people do enjoy an engaging conversation.

When The Da Vinci Code was released, the star of the film, Tom Hanks, purportedly had this to say to churches, “If they put up a sign saying: This Wednesday we’re discussing the gospel, 12 people show up. But if a sign says: This Wednesday we’re discussing The Da Vinci Code, 800 people show up.” And that’s precisely what many wise churches did. Instead of howling heresy at the movie’s treatment of Jesus, they took the opportunity to reach out and include people in a conversation about the film which included sharing accurate Christian history and biblical theology.

What if we took this same approach to Noah. Everyone knows the story, but most take for granted why the story was told and what it truly reveals about God, humanity, creation, and covenant. Imagine that…

Movies don’t change lives; relationships do. Movies, good ones or bad ones, don’t bring droves of people to the faith, and neither do they lead them away. Relationships make the difference, either in a positive, life-giving way, or a negative, life-diminishing way. I came to faith in Christ, not through a movie, a book, a religious tract, or a sermon. I came to faith through my positive interactions with Christians. And yes, great sermons, good books, including the Bible, and other Christian media helped. But when it came down to it, seeing and sampling Christ in other people is what led me to faith.

And this stands as a warning, too. When the world sees Christians having a cow over movies like Noah, well, you can imagine what they’re thinking. I mean, who wants to identify with a paranoid, reactionary, judgmental group of people? (Oh sure, let me sign up for that happy cruise.) But, open, engaging, humble, inviting, warm, peaceable, joy-filled, loving people… that’s hard to pass up.

*******

It’s time for us Christians to take a breath and calm down about media. Media is definitely a huge part of our lives and does have a hand in shaping what we think, what we see, and what we value. So let’s take a cue from Jesus who told us to use the worlds’ means for good, and intentionally, humbly engage folks through the things they watch and observe. Movies like Noah, while biblically and theologically inaccurate, can be a gift if we know how to use that gift productively.

 

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18 Comments

Filed under Rants

18 responses to “Fellow Christians, Could We Please Stop Whining over Movies?

  1. Debbie

    Thank you, Pastor Chris. I know this will be a topic at our women’s bible study tomorrow morning, because one of the ladies has already been on FB ranting about how offensive the movie was. Now I can calmly direct her to your blog instead of suggesting that she get a grip. Seriously, thanks.

    • You’re welcome, Debbie! Hopefully the lady in your Bible study won’t see my approach as not alarmist enough. Some folks feel a need to lash out anyway. But I’m hopeful you’ll be able to share a different perspective that will make a difference.

    • Barbara

      Chris, I am “that lady that has been on FB ranting about how offensive the movie was and “no, I am not going to “get a grip.” I think I’ll throw up in disgust, and “no I don’t think I have gone berserk.” I have seen “Noah” and I do not believe it has ruined my faith forever. You say we can have an engaging conversation about our views, but then if we do, are you going to tell me to “calm down, stop whining?” I do agree with you that movies do not change lives; that relationships do. I do want to be engaged by “humble, inviting, warm, peaceable, joy-filled, loving people,” but when I express my views I do NOT want to be told to “calm down, stop whining to get a grip,” or that I am having a “hissy fit.” I think your article is condensing and hypocritical and in no way is productive. I will continue to “be on FB ranting about how offensive the movie was.”

      • Hello Barbara-

        It’s not a question of having a critical view of the Noah movie. You certainly can, and when I see it, I’m sure I’ll have critical things to say about it, too. But it is indeed a question of how we disagree with something, especially a movie. Simply railing against it in anger won’t accomplish much. But, we can take our critical views of something in the culture and turn it into an opportunity to positively engage folks who are not Christians.

        For example, when The Da Vinci Code came out, I read the book and saw the movie. I thought the revisionist history and theology were horrible. But I also saw how popular the book and movie were. So, I took it as an opportunity to engage people who saw it, have conversation with them, and at the same time, pass along good history, theology, and Christology. Had I just railed against it in shrieks of anger and disgust, I would not have had the opportunity.

        Also, Barbara, there was obviously some satire and hyperbole in my post. At times I exaggerated a point in order to make a point. If you recall, Jesus did the same thing several times in the Sermon on the Mount. I’m not saying I’m Jesus, but I’m in good company with a biblical approach to teaching.

      • Carol

        ISTM that there are two responses to something that pulls us out of our often too small comfort zones-polemics and dialogue. Polemics always sheds more heat than light.

        America magazine has an unusually reflective critique of the Noah movie:
        http://americamagazine.org/water-time

      • “Polemics always shed more heat than light.” I like that a lot, Carol. Thank you!

  2. Edmund Metheny

    The movie “Noah” is a composite of, say, a dozen or so people’s take on an ancient myth – a take with the main goal of creating a blockbuster movie, not of making an accurate retelling of the myth. Because the goal here is “make a movie that grosses lots and lots of money” and not “accurately retell an important myth of a particular faith in a way that emphasizes the lessons taught by that myth” there are bound to be some ideas and concepts that come across differently.

    • True dat! However, I will say that there is a growing market for faith-based movie making. Noah didn’t need to be that way; it is what it is. But I think it would have done almost as well if the movie faithfully depicted Scripture and theology. It could have done that without being preachy or didactic, too.

      • Edmund Metheny

        The key word there is “almost”. Most movie productions owe their primary allegiance to the people who put up the money to make the movie. So their very first priority is “make the most money possible for the stakeholders”.

        Controversy = free publicity in the world of cinema. A few changes to get the film into the eye of the media is probably worth millions in publicity.

        If Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) really wanted to tank this film, the very best thing they could have done was shut up about it and simply not go see it.

        All in all my best guess (as a total amateur film buff) is that this film’s alterations to the original myth, coupled with the pre-release publicity designed to make the film look controversial, worked exactly as intended – generating a good media buzz and delivering a lot of eye candy.

  3. Pastor, I like your thinking!
    Thank you…

  4. Carol Dworkowski

    Perhaps you might enjoy this:

    New post on The Upside Down World

    Exegesis and Why Noah Isn’t a Jewish Hero
    by Rebecca Trotter
    So . . . heard any good exegesis lately? What’s an exegesis, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t ask. Too bad. I’m going to tell you anyways.) Exegesis is simply the practice of explaining a section of text from the bible. So, a lot of sermons include exegesis because they start with the text and then offer an explanation as to their meaning.

    A good exegesis is a thing to make the heart sing. My favorite are the ones that show you something in the text you never noticed or understood before. Typically these explanations draw on what the preacher knows about the history, the cultures involved, the language and nuances which aren’t clear in translation, other Christian’s interpretations, the text’s relationship with other texts. It should also be spiritually astute. And it should always be humble enough to offer a possible way to read the text, not the only possible way. That’s not asking much, now is it?

    I’m not sure that the wider public really appreciates what it takes to teach (or explain or exegete) scripture well. But even a two bit preacher with no education and terrible theology has devoted more time to studying scripture than the average person has ever devoted to any idea in their life. Obviously, this is no barrier to preaching some really stupid, dull and idiotic stuff from the pulpit. But we’re all merely human. We’ll have to trust that God can get it all sorted out eventually.

    One of the things I’m going to start doing is passing along clips of really good exegesis that I come across. Because I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ll like them as much as I do. Because we’re geeky like that. No, actually because they’re really good. And if you have to be geeky to see that, so be it.

    Anyhow, I’ll just start with the insight of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the role, character of and errors of Noah in the bible (it’s not your typical exegesis, I suppose. But close enough):

    the principal distinction between Noah on one hand and Moses and Abraham on the other is that Noah accepts God’s judgement. . .

    Noah is not a hero in Jewish lore. The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

    Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.”

    This is a traditional explanation of why Noah is not the father of the Jewish people. . .

    he failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. Noah is a fundamentalist. He’s a religious extremist. God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

    ‘God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity’

    It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience.

    The word “Islam” means “obedience before God” or “submission before God.” Soren Kierkegaard the great Danish theologian sums up Christianity as being a “leap of faith.”

    Judaism has no leap of faith. “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God.” You see none of that in Noah. Neither in the Torah or in this film, so in that regard, this movie portrays this very well. No other religion does this, they would see this as heresy. It’s amazing, it’s breathtaking!

    ‘A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience’

    See? Isn’t that cool. It’s from this interview in The Times of Israel magazine on the movie Noah. HT to the blog BLT (Bible, Literature, Translation)

    Rebecca Trotter | March 31, 2014

  5. Jen

    Chris,
    Thanks for articulating many of the thoughts/emotions I have when things like this happen.

    The other thing that I find so frustrating about the “Christian” anger expressed towards movies is how silent and seemingly indifferent the “Christian” voice is over issues that really matter. Where is the public outcry over the more than 21,000 people who die everyday of hunger or hunger related issues, where is the public outcry over people dying from preventable diseases? Where is the outcry of the rate of teen suicide or the epidemic in human trafficking?

    Why is it that when the “Christian” voice is heard in the media, it’s over such stupid piddly stuff? Why isn’t it ever over something that actually matters to God? Is it because movies are safe, all we have to do in response is rant and boycott and then we can feel like we’ve fulfilled our “Christian” duty? But if we lend our voice to true injustice, it might actually require something of us? We might actually have to care, or get invested, or change our lives in order to effect change? Maybe we Christians need to spend a little more time evaluating our own priorities.

    • I find it’s easier to express moral outrage over the things that offend our personal sensibilities. The big stuff– the stuff that really matters– we conveniently isolate ourselves from. And you’re right: when we do that we come across as awfully petty and squinty-eyed, ignoring the larger elephants in the room! I’m glad you’re not that way.

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