By Tyler Edwards
Oil and water—that’s Christianity and Hollywood. The two just do not appear to mix. Hollywood shapes culture. The church is supposed to transform culture. It seems like a match made in California. However, the potential opportunities for a partnership between church and Hollywood are actually endless.
Bible Movie Trend
Last year something crazy happened—Hollywood made movies based off biblical stories. It’s certainly not the first time: Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments seemed to go over pretty well. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was a huge success, making more than $610 million worldwide. Even that wasn’t a massive budget. The Passion was a $30 million project made by a man of faith.
Darren Aronofsky opened Pandora’s box with his movie Noah. It was a $125 million production combining a Bible story with a major Hollywood budget. Ridley Scott’s Exodus followed suit, becoming the next big budget Bible movie of recent times. That’s not all. Now the wheels are in motion. Movies focused on Pontius Pilate and Mary the mother of Jesus are adding to the long line of Bible stories set to be turned into major Hollywood movies. The age of Bible movies is at hand.
This should have been cause for universal celebration within the church. Bible stories are getting told on the big screen in a big way. This way people who don’t already go to church might watch them. But not everyone has been happy about this.
A lot of Christians have reacted poorly to this flood of Bible movies because the movies aren’t being made by Christians. Here’s the deal: ministers like me would be terrible movie directors. Any movie we make would end up being a 90-plus-minute sermon illustration. Why don’t we like the idea of non-Christians making Christian movies? An atheist realized that a Bible story was interesting enough to invest $125 million into making it. That means non-Christians are reading the Bible. (It’s terrible, I know. We should protest on every street corner until all atheists swear to never do that again. I tease.)
This is where it gets funny—with Noah some Christians were surprised that the movie didn’t follow the Bible story word for word. Really? We didn’t see that coming? No movie has ever perfectly followed a book. Movies will always take artistic license. I’ve heard so many Christians ranting and raving about how terrible it is that these movies are being made.
It’s difficult to live in a world that is not our home. That does not excuse our poor behavior. Jesus gave us a mission. That mission is to share the gospel so that the world can be transformed by the love and grace of God. We can’t change a world that we don’t understand. We can’t change a world that we aren’t in.
The Church’s Response
As movies ingrain themselves more and more in our culture, the church’s response has been to imitate. Christians began making small budget, overtly religious films. Can we just be honest for a minute? Many of the movies we’ve made are not very good. They may have good messages, but as films they have been cheesy, low quality, and unappealing. At times Christian art has been so focused on being Christian that it has neglected the art. We have the greatest message in the world, but sometimes when we try to put it into a movie, the production quality gets lost. Christian films may lack the authentic feel that relates to people outside of the conservative church group. Hollywood knows how to make movies people want to see. How should we as Christians respond to a secular industry taking such interest in our holy book?
1. Take the win.
Hollywood is making movies about the Bible. Non-Christian, unchurched people are going to see them. You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to share your faith with someone without it seeming like you’re trying to shove your beliefs down their throats. Hollywood just gave you a conversation starter.
“Hey, have you seen the movie Noah? Did you watch Exodus? What did you think about them?” Movies engage culture. They are a nonthreatening way to communicate a message. Even if the movie isn’t perfect, it still gets people talking. Complaining about this would be like a farmer complaining that his crop harvested itself. As a result of these movies, you don’t have chase down opportunities; the opportunities will come to you.
2. Accept artistic license.
If you don’t know what that means you are probably one of the people who is upset because the movies aren’t a perfect retelling of the Bible story. It’s not going to be perfect. Movies take liberties. Sometimes they take too many or unnecessary liberties. When bringing a story to life in which you don’t know every detail, a director has to fill in some gaps to make the story feel genuine. Also Hollywood isn’t looking to make a video Bible. They want to tell an engaging and exciting story that will make money. Just because they are making a Bible movie doesn’t mean they stopped caring about the profits.
You don’t have to like it. But I see it positively: the opportunity these movies present us with is worth putting up with some inaccuracies. Don’t rage against them. Use them. Everybody knows when a movie is based on a book, the book is better. Use that to encourage people to read the Bible for themselves.
3. Don’t worry about who made it.
The fact that a Hollywood studio made a Bible movie means there is a chance it could get a different audience than Christian studio films. God has always used unworthy people to do his work. Peter was a coward. Paul was a murderer. God can use whomever he wants for his glory. We should rejoice that even those who are far from God are reading his Word.
4. Help transform Hollywood.
We need more Christians in the media capital mixing love for Christ and the greatest story in history with the tools to tell it well. Imagine having the training and resources to make high quality productions of biblical stories. Isn’t the point of the mission of Jesus to go into the world and transform it with the message of the love of God?
5. Get real.
Because the Bible is a holy book, we may forget that the people in it were broken and had messy lives. There is sex, murder, drunkenness, and more. I’m not promoting being unnecessarily graphic in content, but when we water down the reality of the depravity of human behavior we steal the relevance from our story.
Our Mars Hill
In Acts 17 Paul preached at Mars Hill in Athens. It’s the only recorded sermon of Paul’s where he doesn’t quote Scripture. When standing before the intellectual leaders of his day, Paul preached a sermon with no Bible in it. He used pagan gods to teach the truth of God. It makes me wonder: What if these movies are our Mars Hill?
Hollywood has handed us a conversation starter on a silver platter. We couldn’t ask for a sweeter set up. Let’s not act like a bunch of angry rhinos. The reason some non-Christians don’t like us is that we are hypocrites. We talk about love more than Nicolas Sparks. We show it less than Hannibal Lecter. When we rant and rave about things like this, it is a palpable contradiction to the love we claim to profess.
So let’s not get angry about movies like Noah or Exodus. Instead of complaining we should try to find the opportunity in everything. We should either use the opportunity created by Hollywood or take the opportunity to create something people want to talk about. The world is demonstrating an interest in the message of God. So even if we don’t like the movies, we can use the platform. Let’s appreciate the gift.
Tyler Edwards is a writer and the lead pastor of Crossover Church in South Carolina (tyler-edwards.org).