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Do “heathens” make better Christian films?5 min read

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My favorite writer, Ted Dekker linked to an article entitled “Why Heathens make the best Christian Movies” on his blog last year. It raises tons of interesting points that those seeking to engage culture with Christianity through entertainment (books, film, music, etc.) should take to heart.

I don’t want to quote the entire article, but there is so much there that is worthy of an audience (especially with, but not exclusively, Christians). Here are some of the best excerpts:

Parables, Not Propaganda
Jesus began many of his parables with the phrase, “The kingdom of God is like …” (He used this construct twelve times in the Gospel of Matthew alone.) In the book All the Parables of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer explains, “Because of His infinity, God had to condescend to those things with which man was familiar in order to convey the sublime revelation of His will.” Jesus’s parables allowed his audience to understand heavenly principles in earthly terms. He would even respond to questions with parables—instead of stating the answer outright, he would allow his audience to make the connections themselves.

Christian filmmakers seem to dislike mystery. Rather than using Jesus’s construct, “The kingdom of God is like … ,” their films often proclaim, “The kingdom of God is.” Nothing is left to the imagination. Audiences are not allowed to make their own connections; they are told what to think. In his book True Believers Don’t Ask Why, John Fischer characterizes this attitude as: “Jesus is the answer; therefore nothing can be left unanswered.” This approach, no matter how sincere, rings false to audiences and leaves them feeling manipulated.

“Do You Have Eyes but Fail to See?”
The film Joshua, adapted by Christian filmmakers from a popular Christian book, poses the question, “What if Jesus’s incarnation occurred in modern times?” Unfortunately the filmmakers’ answer seems to be “Jesus came to make nice people nicer” (to quote my friend and colleague Craig Detweiler). Christian artists seem more interested in propagating warm fuzzies than dealing with tough questions. (If King David were alive in twenty-first-century America, would his psalms make it past the gatekeepers of the Christian music industry?)

Perhaps the problem can be attributed to the fact that many evangelicals believe it’s a sin to question God. But this notion is not scriptural. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, one who struggles with God—after his all-night wrestling match with the angel at Peniel. We are allowed to wrestle with God. Yet where are our stories about people of faith who struggle with God?

The Wonders of God
Sometimes it’s difficult for those of us who grew up in the church to truly appreciate the wonders, ironies, and paradoxes inherent in our faith. God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Christ was both man and God. These are not small claims! But for those of us who believe them, they become so second nature that they sometimes seem like it.

You can see this kind of wonder in The Prince of Egypt, an animated film from DreamWorks, a company owned by three secular Jews: Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. In one scene, we see the burning bush reflected in Moses’s eyes as he realizes for the first time that this is YHWH, the Great I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sequence is everything it should be: ethereal, beautiful, and mysterious.

The Need for Redemption
In our post-modern, relativistic world, non-Christians often deny the existence of good and evil and the notion of sin. Yet, non-Christians are often more successful than Christians at representing sin in film.

This may be true because non-Christians are more likely to acknowledge the void within the human soul. French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” C. S. Lewis used the German word Sehnsucht to describe a deep, inner longing for the “other.” Even such disparate sources as Jean-Paul Sartre and twelve-step recovery programs acknowledge this “God-shaped hole” in our hearts.

We Christians believe this void is the result of original sin, the rift in our union with God, and that our yearning for completion is a sign of our need for redemption, or reunification with God. Yet we are reticent to show this on screen. Our protagonists must be better than good; they are flawless, and inhumanly so. We are afraid that merely depicting sin is an endorsement of sin.

I could go for days on this topic – Evangelical Christianity’s obsession with mediocrity, our disapproval of any doubt or questions, our sanitized flannelgraph version of Jesus and our unwillingness to confront sin on any level, especially in our own life, except with a protest sign and a petition. However, I will avoid this temptation and let you come to and express your own conclusions to this topic. But whatever you do, please go and read the entire article.