Last week, I started some ramblings about the new surge of “Christian” films that have been making it to movie theaters lately, and questioning whether we are once again missing the boat with our approach. It was a discussion that at the time seemed very poignant, but may have actually been quite mundane. (Sometimes it’s hard to gauge when you’re just sending thoughts into the cosmic void known as the “blogosphere”.)
I know I’ve rambled on a bit here, but if you can indulge me just a bit longer, I’d like to pick up the thread for a few minutes (start here if you’re just joining us/me). Specifically, I’d like to share an interesting perspective from a young modern filmmaker I know who happens to be a believer: my son, The Director.
The Director is a walking encyclopedia of film, and he has definite opinions of what makes a film good, and what makes it artful. One of his pet peeves when it comes to film is when a movie’s plot and dialogue are too “on the nose,” as he calls it. He particularly despises when he feels that a film has a specific agenda or message and gets too preachy and heavy-handed with it–and that goes for all films, whether they are made by Christians, liberal groups, or what-have-you. He doesn’t feel that film is the right medium to enclose a sermon because people don’t go to films to be preached at. He has a lot more respect for a film that asks questions than one that claims to have the answers. He believes a film should make you think and arrive at your own conclusions, not tell you what it believes and try to convince you.
I happen to think this is a very valid perspective. I know I find it distasteful when I feel a film is shoving a particular belief down my throat. It’s particularly offensive when the agenda is hidden until you get into the theater and actually see the movie, because you didn’t buy the movie ticket to be broadsided by someone’s agenda. It’s the same concept of paying money for a product that is described a certain way, and when you get it home, it’s something different. Or when you go to a movie whose trailer billed it as a comedy, and when you actually watch it, it’s a tragic romance. False advertising turns people off, no matter what the product happens to be, or how good the product is in its own right.
I think this is a principle that believers who use the movies as a platform to evangelize need to take to heart. In theory, we may think that any public platform is fair game to preach the gospel, but we need to remember three things:
First–we live in a culture where people have been preached to out the wazoo, and in many cases the people doing the preaching haven’t backed their words with actions. This stacks the deck against us somewhat.
Second–we need to remember why people go to the movies. Some go to be entertained. Some go to be inspired, stimulated, and even challenged. Almost never do they go to the movies to be preached at.
Third–simply put, we need to remember that people are paying money to get into our films. (This is important to remember when we fold our sermonizing into a deceptive cloak we are calling “entertainment.”)
Now, does this mean Christians shouldn’t be involved with putting out wholesome entertainment, or films with substance? Not in the least. In principle, we should be in “every man’s world,” as I said before. It’s the method I’m questioning, not the principle. I submit that when we create films with a heavy-handed message, particularly concerning people of faith, we are being insensitive to the culture in which we live. We are a) turning off the non-believers and b) creating something only believers will relate to. We should be learning a few lessons from the past; the last thing we need is to create yet another cultural ghetto. There has to be a better way.
What should that look like? That’s part of my own ongoing questioning about ministry in our world. But what I can say is that once again, I think we can take a hint from Jesus himself.
Jesus was a man who was sensitive to his audience. Occasionally he preached sermons, but you know what he did even more often? He spoke in parables. He told stories that made people think without making the meaning obvious. When His disciples asked Him why He did this, his answer was this:
“To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matt. 13: 10-13, NASB)
You may also notice in reading the parables in the gospels, often Jesus concluded His stories by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus told the truth, but he knew whether his audience was inclined to hear that truth–so He told stories whose truth would be revealed only to those whose hearts were inclined to understand it.
I personally believe we’re once again living in an age in which more hearts are hardened to the truth, and for that reason, plainspokenness often backfires. I think the Christian community would do well to realize this. Media like film, music and books can be vehicles to tell modern-day parables. And just because we aren’t naming Jesus in every other sentence of dialogue–that doesn’t mean He isn’t there. And those with ears to hear–they will hear it.
Just food for thought.