Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Facing the Giant Fireproof Potatoes

Inevitably, when discussing movies with other Christians, someone will start telling me about how great some recent Christian movie was. If I start pointing out some problems with the theology of the movie, the other person usually gets very defensive and thinks I'm being too nit-picky. But my problem with the movie is usually not some minor details or even the bad acting (of which there is usually plenty) but with the basic way in which the movie presents Christianity. For a period of time most Christian movies seemed to teach that if you become a Christian God will rapture you off this planet so that you don't have to suffer with everybody else. More recently, the movies keep the person on the planet but protected from suffering and given plenty of earthly riches as a result of their faith in Christ. Joe has a lousy football team, car dealership, marriage, or farm. Joe decides to turn his life over to Christ. All of a sudden people are giving Joe new cars and money and his football team is winning every game.

What kind of message is this? What happens when your neighbor watches the movie and decides to become a Christian so that he can get rich? What happens when your neighbor doesn't make any financial gains after his conversion? Wouldn't he be right to conclude that Christianity is a big hoax? These movies seem to be a great way to promote atheism. Some one will undoubtedly point to a person that they know who now goes to church or something else as a result of these movies. From my experience these results are very short lived and even if they are long-lasting that still doesn't prove that the message of these movies is true.

The fact is, that these movies present a story that is the exact opposite of the way in which the Bible presents Christianity and the way that the church has historically presented Christianity. Historically, the church has not told the stories of those who became wealthy after becoming Christians but those who suffered martyrdom--those who died for the faith. Jesus' faithfulness resulted in His crucifixion. All but one of the Apostles was martyred. John wasn't martyred but he was exiled. People certainly weren't trying to give him new cars and a higher paying job. Stories about the death of martyrs continued after Apostolic times. Some were converted after witnessing these martyrdoms. Some who led very prosperous lives gave up all that they had to serve the church and some of these people were killed for their faith as well. I'm sure that occasionally a person became a Christian and that they experienced some financial gain afterwards but the story of that person's life did not get told and retold by the church.

Even after the Reformation, the stories of the martyrs continued to be told. Various branches of the church would tell stories of different martyrs but they all told the stories of the martyrs. Some groups considered another group's martyrs to be heretics but they still agreed on the importance of telling the story of the martyrs.

Throughout most periods of history if you told people that they would become wealthy if they became Christians they would laugh at you. In many parts of the world today I think people would still laugh at you. The number of martyrs continues to increase. It's really only in Western civilized countries that Christians are not currently suffering severe persecution. Christians should be making movies about those people who have died for the faith not those who have made some extra money after becoming Christians. Don't try to tell me that the guy who would not deny Christ after being tortured in prison somehow has less faith than the guy whose football team started winning games after he became a Christian. There are some low-budget documentary-style movies out there and one really excellent movie called To End All Wars but there should be more. The stories of the martyrs are extremely interesting--much more interesting than the formulaic stories being pumped out by the Christian film companies.

Christian movies should show us why our faith is something that is important enough to die for. Christian movies should show the world that our faith is something that we are willing to die for. If the Christian faith is portrayed as something that people might kill you for believing and somebody becomes a believer they aren't going to accuse you of false advertising if nobody tries to kill them. But if the Christian faith is presented as a get rich quick scheme and they don't get rich, they have every reason to abandon the faith. Our faith is centered on a bloody, dead Jesus hanging on a cross. This faith was handed down to us by those who were beaten and killed for preaching it. Faith in Christ does not prevent suffering. If you put your faith in Christ your suffering is likely to increase.

The real Jesus is nothing like the Messiah that the Jews were looking for. The Jews wanted a Messiah that would take all their earthly suffering away and defeat their political enemies. This is the same type of Messiah presented in Christian film. The Jewish mistake is understandable based upon their misreading of the Old Testament prophecies (and by conveniently ignoring some of the prophecies). But the Christian film maker who knows about the crucifixion is inexcusable. Of course we all are. Every time we try to make a deal with God or get angry when we see that those who have no faith in Christ seem to have easier lives we do the same thing. As Robert Capon said in his commentary on the Parables:

The work of Jesus in his incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension makes no worldly sense at all. The portrait the Gospels paint is that of a lifeguard who leaps into the surf, swims to the drowning girl, and then, instead of doing a cross-chest carry, drowns with her, revives three days later, and walks off the beach with assurances that everything, including the apparently still-dead girl, is hunky-dory. You do not like that? Neither do I. But I submit that it is--unless we are prepared to ignore both the Gospels and the ensuing two thousand years' worth of tombstones with bodies still under them--very much like what the Man actually said and did.

Praise be to God for sending his only-begotten Son to die for our sin of creating false Messiahs.

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