Three faith-based films will get major releases this March. Predictably, the Christian blogosphere is abuzz with.... criticism and outrage. That's right, after spending decades decrying Hollywood's godlessness and lack of values, Christian social critics are now attacking it for attempting to make films with Biblical themes and subjects.
I'm not surprised. I have been involved, in one way or another, with about fifteen faith-based films. The films tend to be rather low-budget and aimed primarily at the evangelical market. From the beginning, I fully expected radical atheists to mock and ridicule them. However, I was not prepared for the venomous attacks I would received from, what my screenwriting partner Tim Ratajczak called, "The Haters." The Haters tend to be narrow-minded Christian commentators with a judgmental agenda. Usually, they focus on one or two divisive issues within the church and seek to destroy anything that is not in total agreement with them. These issues tend to be irrelevant to the greater Christian themes of grace and salvation.
For example, people have been warned against seeing my film "Sarah's Choice" because they say it is heretical because God no longer speaks to people in dreams and visions. Really? Well, they better tell God to stop it then. Other people criticized my film "Hidden Secrets" because a Jewish character quoted the Bible and, heaven forbid, it wasn't from the King James version. Come on. Do you really think most Jewish people read the King James translation of the Bible? Get real. These complaints are typical. I could give you dozens of examples. It's ridiculous. Even if these critics agree with 98% of the sentiments expressed in the film, they will tear it down on the basis of the disputed 2%. It makes you wonder what team they're on!
I recently read someone attacking the film "Son of God" online because the screenwriter didn't choose to include the voice of God booming from heaven after Jesus' baptism. He said that was a sign that the filmmakers were robbing Jesus of his divinity and making him just another man. Really? Well, if that was their intention, maybe they shouldn't have called the film "Son of God." That's kind of contradictory, don't you think?
My most heretical sin came in the film "The Encounter: Paradise Lost." In the film, Jesus has the nerve to say that a person who died of a drug overdose went to heaven. You can imagine the outrage: A sinner entering heaven! And, you know what, they would be one hundred percent correct in their outrage if our entry into heaven was dependent upon our own personal righteousness. Fortunately, it isn't. There's this little thing called grace that cleanses us of our sins and bestows upon us the righteousness of Christ himself. I strongly suggest people who don't see a place for sinners in heaven to check out this little book called the Bible. You might've heard of it. It talks quite a bit about grace and forgiveness. Strangely, God has no problem forgiving us our sins, but too many Christians have a problem forgiving others of sins that they haven't personally committed themselves. That's why they can offer an alcoholic grace. After all, who hasn't had a drink? But a heroin addict? That person's a degenerate! And, hey, pre-marital sex happens. We can forgive that. But homosexuality? Never! I'm grateful one day I'll be judged by God and not by some of my fellow Christians.
Another common complaint from critics is that films add or subtract things from the Biblical accounts. The upcoming film "Noah" is being heavily castigated for that. And why not? After all, who would do such a dastardly and evil thing? Hmmm. Let me think. How about your pastor? Each week, your pastor reads a passage from the Bible and then expounds upon it, in his own words, in his sermon. Doesn't he add examples and illustrations not found in the Biblical text? Does he ever ask you to imagine what people mentioned in the Bible where doing and thinking when certain incidents and events occurred? Look folks, the Bible was not written in script form. No matter how faithful you attempt to make your adaptation, you will always be adding and subtracting things. Just like your pastor does. Every Sunday.
"The Book of Esther," a film I edited that was written by my friend Tim Ratajczak and directed by David A.R. White, has been highly-criticized for adding and subtracting things from the Biblical account. Practically all of the "changes" were made as a result of budgetary concerns. None of them altered the theme or theology of the book. Personally, I don't think 90% of the viewers would have noticed the changes if it weren't for an unnecessary disclaimer at the start of the film. Dozens of people have commented on NetFlix that the Bible is good enough as it is and that filmmakers shouldn't add or subtract anything from it. Of course, the changes are so subtle that few of these critics could actually point out any examples....
I am going to give "Son of God," "Noah" and "God's not Dead" the benefit of the doubt. Particularly "God's Not Dead." I had a long and fruitful association with its production company. I also know the screenwriters. They are committed Christians with a strong sense of ministry. I doubt they would include anything heretical in their original script, despite some narrow-minded, dogmatic criticism it just received from a somewhat well-known evangelist.
Folks, if you want more Christian films, you have to support Christian films. Once upon a time, Hollywood made Biblical blockbusters with effortless ease. It's not as easy as it used to be for them now because fewer people in Hollywood know the language anymore. And that's not entirely because Hollywood has turned its back on Christianity. For decades, Christians have turned their back on Hollywood. Christian leaders have discouraged their followers from engaging Hollywood -- aside from the occasional protest and boycott. The studios see the size of the Christian audience and they want to reach it. Let's help them, and, hopefully, the more films they make, the better and they will become.
I don't demand 100% theological orthodoxy from my entertainment. One of my favorite depictions of the life of Christ remains "Jesus Christ Superstar." The theology is terrible but its music and passion still inspire me, and the tension between the ideas it presents and my own beliefs has led to greater understanding on my part. I'm not scared or threatened by it.
I am often reminded of the words of one of my producers, an avowed atheist who nonetheless saw the value in one of my scripts. After the long process of production, post-production and eventual release of the film, we were walking together and he said, "You know, I've discovered there are two kinds of Christians: The love kind and the other kind."
I try not to be the other kind.
Though it doesn't look like I'm succeeding here.