There have been a spate of television shows and even movies about God, religion, and Bible-"based" themes over the past few years. As America has pushed forward rather quickly into a post-Christian culture that no longer accepts the basic tenets of Christianity as truth, let alone accepting Christianity's high ideals for which to strive, a strange juxtaposition has arisen with the growth in the number of shows and movies about the Bible, Jesus and the church he birthed. Recently, Hollywood gave us "Noah" a couple of years ago but the only connection to the Bible story was the spelling of the name "Noah" and a lot a rain. We also have Moses portrayed in "Exodus: Gods and Kings," which garnered a whopping 1 star from the NY Times as being awfully written and terribly acted.
Television has jumped in with Roma Downy's "AD- The Bible Continues" on NBC, "Finding Jesus" on CNN, Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Jesus," and "The Dovekeepers" recent mini-series. The Weather Channel also had a show on weather catastrophes in the Bible. Apparently, Hollywood has an interest either in propagating religious belief, destroying religious credibility with bible-based shows that are no where near the bible story but are accepted by the general public (who have almost no bible literacy) as true, or producers, financiers, etc. who think they can make money on it. My guess is that all these are true at the motivation level depending on the individuals involved.
So is the interest in Bible based shows good or bad for the church, for the Christian, and for the Kingdom? The answer is a solid "yes" and a definite "no." When a person who is searching to fill that "God shaped vacuum in their heart" (B. Pascal), and finds truth about God's love for him in the Bible, in a friend's testimony, or even in a television show about Jesus, then, yes, that is a good thing. These shows can pique interest, arouse curiosity, confirm Godly suspicions, and point toward Truth that redeems and frees from sin. These shows can be wonderfully entertaining with an uplifting message, a warning against neglecting truth, a reminder of spiritual values and forces, an invitation to explore the God of love and to be prepared in light of His righteous judgement. They can bring hope to life and ease fears about life or death.
However, when truth is sacrificed for dramatic effect, when the story is twisted according to political correctness or public opinion polls, when faith is portrayed as bigoted, hateful, or solely another power or money grab then the results can be horrible. If a person or society who has high faith in the medium of the movie, sees his or her beloved movies showing faith, church, Christian, or Christ as destructive or irrelevant, then the results can be eternally damning. There is even a subtle problem when a show or movie is done well and tries to maintain or project Biblical meaning or truth. The person watching the show can at the end say, "that was good; that was informative; I believe that; I was entertained." If that is all that happens that too can be harmful. Truth is to be followed by repentance, if that is what is needed; compassion, if that is what is needed; service, if that is what is needed; and justice, as that is always is called for.
The ultimate question is: do Bible-based shows lead the lost sinner to repent and move toward faith in Christ or at least ask questions along those lines? Do the shows inspire the individual believer to a deeper faith and desire to live out the righteousness of Christ either through cleansing from evils or greater commitment to truth? Does the show motivate the church to seek to serve the hurting world around them? Do the shows lead to a greater commitment to justice for the least, lost, and lonely? Does hope abound? Is God honored?
I don't personally believe that these Bible themed stories should be solely, merely entertaining. There are some mediums that provide this break, this refreshment that can add flavor, joy and respite to our lives. Within their stories are often a principle or truth that is very biblical, either implied or picked up subtlety in the telling of the tale. (A couple of examples: Its a Wonderful Life; Captains Courageous; We're No Angels; Life with Father; Tender Mercies; Places in the Heart; and every superhero movie has a "savior" theme.) The stakes are too high, however, for faith-based, bible-based shows. They must engage the individual on deeper levels, and some do. It is a powerful medium when used well.
So what to do? Here are my suggestions:
Know your bible. Study it yourself. You can then know if the movie or tv show is on track, even if they do add a few dramatic twists.
Pray for your culture, especially the lost and for your testimony in it. Your experience of Jesus is powerful.
Be ready for and look to engage your neighbor or culture in loving, kind, and informative conversations. These movies can provide a wonderful opening and starting point for dialogue.
Be firm in your stance and oh, so respectful and merciful to others who do not share your perspective.
If it is good, say so, not just because it is "Christian" but if the quality, production, acting, directing, cinematography is of a good quality. If it stinks, don't make excuses for it.
And remember, the church doesn't need Hollywood for us to be relevant, meaningful, and accepted. Hollywood needs us to be faithful, prayerful, joyful, hopeful, merciful, smart, just, insightful, and truthful. We are already relevant because the King loves us; we have meaning because Jesus died and rose to give us abundant, meaningful life; He has already accepted us. Our lives are based on and blessed by Him. The greatest witness to this world will come from the church that really believes those aforementioned truths, not from the silver screen. When done right, the silver screen merely reflects what we already know.
Hooray for Hollywood: yes, no, and sometimes,
We pray for Hollywood: yes.