God’s Not Dead

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gods_not_dead_big_2I will admit it: I am not a fan of Christian films. It’s not that I’m the anti-christ and hate anything that Christians try to do…it’s just that I don’t really care for bad acting, poor scripts, and stereotypes. Some people say to me, “but the message is so good!” I can’t always agree with that statement because the means of communicating that message are subpar. The same is true of any film.

So when this movie was released, I had an idea of what it was going to be like. Now sure, I loved Hercules and Lois and Clark as a kid, but even Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain weren’t enough to sell me on this movie. I decided to wait to watch the film until I could be as unbiased as possible. After much thought on it, I decided to see if all the praise for the movie was valid or if it was just the usual, “Christians released a movie in theaters and it rocks!”

After waiting about a week since watching it, I decided to give you some thoughts on it. Hopefully these thoughts can be a jumping off point for how we can converse about Christians in entertainment.

***Spoilers below***

1.) Stereotypes do not make characters.

I think this upset me about as much as anything. Before you say to me, “But Caleb, Hollywood constantly stereotypes Christians and people they don’t like. Why can’t we?” Well, simply put: because it’s inexcusable to use a stereotype as a basis for a character — regardless of whether or not that person is a Christian. I don’t like when Christians are stereotyped in film. Unless you are making a satire where stereotypes are used as a blatant exaggeration of flaws in society, then please don’t use stereotypes. All of the philosophy professors were angry atheists who were trying to destroy Christians. You had the Chinese exchange student who’s father was extremely controlling and hated God. You had the Muslim woman who secretly accepted Christ and was abused by her father for doing so. You had the one black guy in the college classroom who referred to himself as J-something or other. The [expletive] girlfriend who doesn’t want her boyfriend to look like a fool. This problem is not with just Christian films…in fact, it tends to be a problem with a lot of films. But it doesn’t make it right. When looking at characters, we can’t use stereotypes to create the characters. We must begin with the character and move forward from there.

I think much of my problem with the characters in this film was that they sounded like they were straight out of a sermon illustration from a pastor. “A young Chinese student travels to America for an education. His father hates Christians and demands control over his son’s life. The Chinese student finds God because of a Christian’s refusal to step down from what he believes. We’re going to play ‘How Great is Our God,’ and if you no longer want to step down from what you believe, I want to encourage you to come forward and for the first time, truly proclaim that our God is great!” We’ve probably all heard something along those lines. The hardest part in creating a character is to not use stereotypes as the bouncing off point for who that person is.

2.) “God’s Not Dead” text messages really do….nothing.

When this film was released, I was receiving texts left and right telling me God’s Not Dead. I was really confused. I mean, not about whether or not God is dead. I know He isn’t. I was confused about why people would send a mass text message…it wasn’t the typical, “hey I don’t know you, but Merry Christmas,” text. It was a text that had a profound statement but with no follow-up. So to one person, I responded, “prove it.” They never did. My fear is that people who watched this movie became super excited and texted all of their friends but when their friends ask, “how do you know He isn’t dead?” they will probably respond with, “well, there’s this one part in the movie where he is talking about evolution and like it’s…you know…like it…well…it’s hard to explain. You’ll just need to see the movie.” Part of me fears that this text message was part of a free marketing ploy. That doesn’t bother me so much because I’ll text people and tell them if I watched a movie I think they should like. The problem I had with this is that, it was emotionally manipulative. There had been a heart-wrenching scene in the movie and now they were saying, “text all your contacts and proclaim that God is not dead!” It was like the 3rd night of church camp all over again. Would we all be able to truly explain ourselves to someone if they responded back to us? Or would we point them to a movie?

3.) The message is just as important as the means. 

I look back to Scripture to where they would build these beautiful temples with gold, silver, the best of wood, and everything you could ever dream about. I look at pictures of some beautiful cathedrals. And then I see our films. Some of the best architecture, art, and music in history was made by Christians to glorify God. Will this film make AFI’s top 100 movie list? Most likely not. How we communicate the message has to be just as important as the message.


 

I could go on and on about circular reasoning used in the film to combat circular reasoning (although, I don’t think it would ever end). Or I could even talk about how the film used the age-old street preacher saying, “if you were struck by a car right now, where would you go when you died?” Or I could talk about how Jesus was used as a band-aid for unresolved story lines. Or I could even talk about how confused I was at the role of Dean Cain in the movie — like seriously. I’m confused about his character. Maybe I will talk about those things in a later post.

I may have been a bit harsh in this post. Here’s why: because I really do want to see Christians succeed. I want to see our message proclaimed as loudly as possible. And when I see it handled like this, it saddens me. All of those resources could’ve went into something greater. All of that time could’ve been spent for something else. Obviously, God can move through anything. He spoke through a donkey once…so I’m sure He can move through anything.

I long for the day when phrases like, “the message is really good,” or “but they love Jesus,” or “their heart was in it,” no longer describe films made by Christians (I also long for the day when Christian film is no longer a genre). Can we work to make something that has a beautiful message and is delivered beautifully? With characters that are so relatable that it almost feels like it is us? With story lines that don’t feel the need to use Jesus as a band-aid because the unresolved issues add the right amount of discomfort? I hope we can.

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Noah & God’s Justice

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NoahThis week, I was able to get to see Noah. I had high expectations going into the film because I am a huge Aronofsky fan. His ability to delve into the psyche of a character is fascinating. That’s what drew me to the film.

Before watching it, I had read a majority of the “controversy” surrounding it. I say it like that because I am pretty certain that at any given time, we, as the church, will pick a wrong battle to fight. We tend to make mountains out of molehills. Since Aronofsky is an atheist, we began preparing our rebuttal for whatever film we saw from him. Even if the film was 100% accurate, we were ready to make our case as to why the film was not 100% accurate. Most had their minds made up before the film was even released.

And then we wonder why people claim Christians are full of hate?

I’m not going to dive into a piece by piece dissection of the film. To do that to any kind of film does a disservice to the work of art. So I tend to steer clear of those kind of reviews of films. Most people who write those kinds of reviews are usually the kind of people who do not appreciate art or culture as much as they want to be right and want to make sure that everyone knows that they are right.

Instead, I want to highlight what I think this film displays beautifully: the justice of God. After Noah receives the vision from God as to what He is going to do to the world, you begin to sense in him a disturbance. But wouldn’t you be disturbed if you knew what was going to happen to the entire world?

As a child, I think I misread Noah. I read it as this wonderful story of happiness and singing animals. There was even a rainbow at the end. In reality, it is this horribly destructive story that shows the justice of God. That should disturb us. That should shake us to our foundations. That should cause us a sense of uneasiness. Because God’s justice will never be comfortable to us. We will never fully comprehend His justice because we will never fully comprehend Him.

In my mind, I could never understand why a mass genocide would be necessary. No matter what kind of evil takes place. Try as you may to put it in your own words, but it will never sound right. And we need to be okay with that. We need to understand that there are parts of the Bible that will cause us uneasiness and disturbance. If we read through the Bible and do not have those feelings, I don’t think that means that we’ve finally understood the justice of God as much as it means that we have tried to justify it in our minds (and that is never a good idea).

God demanded justice be served for the way people treated one another, nature, the animals, and ultimately Him. If you’ve heard anything about the film it is probably that Aronofsky works from a position that Noah was the first environmentalist. People were immediately upset because obviously God never said to look after the earth…well except that was His first command to man. What I loved about this element was that it showed that God’s justice demanded a verdict for all of creation. Not just mankind. Everything.

God’s justice is much larger than we can ever comprehend. In the film, it drove Noah to insanity. He was disturbed by everything that had just taken place. And he should have been. God’s justice is not an easy pill to swallow.

So why have we made it that way?

Christ is ultimately the fulfillment of God’s justice. But I fear that doesn’t disturb us as much as it should. A living man, the son of God, had to be killed in order for the justice of God to be fulfilled. I can give you answers as to why this makes sense. I can show you in the Bible why it is the way it is. But in my heart, it is harder for me to comprehend. Maybe that’s a lack of faith. Maybe that’s a lack of understanding. Or maybe that is the difference between mankind and God. We can say the words that make perfect sense but that doesn’t necessarily mean we truly understand and comprehend. And for that, there are no words.

This film helped me see that. It helped me see a glimpse of God’s justice. Is it hard to watch? Yes. Is it disturbing? Yes. And it should be. The more it disturbs and upsets us, the sweeter His mercy and grace is to us. The harder it is for us to explain why things had to happen like that, the more powerful Christ’s sacrifice is to us. We will not fully understand it, but that does not mean that it is meaningless. Far from it. I think the things that we cannot fully understand are the things that are more meaningful.

So yes. Go and watch Noah. It is an incredible film with a powerful story. I mean…it’s not as funny as Evan Almighty, but Russell Crowe is no Steve Carell. Wrestle with God’s justice and wrestle with God’s mercy. Be uncomfortable and at a loss for words. Not everything will be able to be explained. And even if it can be explained, that doesn’t mean we will understand it.

*Oh — and the Nephilites are awesome. Believable? Unlikely. But still, they are awesome.*