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Hollywood and the Bible

January 14, 2014

If there is any city in America that evangelicals think of as the antitheses of everything holy it is Hollywood.  We’ve given it the title of “den of iniquity” and use that term to describe all that goes on there.  The term is not new, Kitty Carlisle said, back in the early 1950s “My mother thought Hollywood was a den of iniquity and people came to terrible bad ends there.” 

The only city that comes close to Hollywood as a target of negative evangelical rhetoric is Las Vegas, which we usually call “sin city” to keep the two distinct.  I’ve always felt that Las Vegas plays Gomorrah to Hollywood’s Sodom; sort of like the lesser known but just as evil twin.   So what is Hollywood doing in 2014 which is being called “Hollywood’s year of the Bible?”  And what should we think about it?

First the overview.  This year Hollywood is releasing five movies with Biblical themes.  Noah staring Russell Crowe is one of them and we will see if he can be catapulted to Charlton Heston-like fame as a result.  The Son of God, by the producers of the wildly successful History Channel series The Bible, is coming too.  In fact, if you saw the series you will recognize the movie because it was shot with the same actors as the same time.  We also expect Pontius Pilate starring Brad Pitt, a fairly unique bit of casting; Exodus starring Christian Bale (maybe he can be Charlton Heston) and Mary, Mother of Christ where they have chosen a relatively unknown, Israel-born Odeya Rush, to play Mary.

That is five Bible-themed movies in one year.  It seems like a throwback to the 1950s where, after The Ten Commandments, Hollywood cranked out Biblical epics with regularity.  There are even two religious-theme movies that sort of belong in this crowd.  One is Heaven is for Real, based on the best-selling book, and the other is a remake of Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage, which many believe is Bible-themed and others are equally sure it is not.  Just what is going on here?

Well, the short answer is obvious, Hollywood thinks they can make money, presumably because the mini-series The Bible was so popular.  There is nothing new in this.  Hollywood began doing Bible movies in the silent film era and they have always had a profit motive for doing so.  So what do you think of this onslaught?  Here are some of my thoughts.

–          It doesn’t bother me that they are doing this for profit.  I’ve never asked or wanted to have Hollywood be an arm of the church.  I see this as no different then the Christian publishing and music industries.

–          We can expect that some of the story lines will give some Christians heartburn.  I know that they will add to or even change some of the details of the Scripture stories to make them more dramatic.  The Bible tends to tell stories in pretty slim detail.  Even Noah, which takes 77 verses to tell, quite detailed by Bible standards, is not enough script to base a two-hour movie on.  There is sure to be controversy on these additions and adaptations.

–          Hollywood is not the church.  As such we can’t subcontract evangelism to them or be upset if we don’t think they are presenting the Gospel accurately.  It’s not their job.

–          Generally it is a good thing to get people thinking about the Bible.  While I don’t think it likely that anyone will fall on their knees and accept Christ during Pontius Pilate it never hurts to make people wonder, perhaps even cause some to look up the actual passages in the Bible.

–          I think we should take some unbelievers to the movies.  Evangelicals have had a tendency to go to religious-themed movies in a flock.  These movies might give us opportunities to break that pattern.  If any positive PR comes from this stuff it will be because we engaged our non-Christian friends after them.  (Footnote:  Please, please, please, do not use these movies as occasions for public ranting.)  Which leads me to my last point as sort of prediction.

–          Some evangelicals will be furious about some or all of these movies.  So I will close with a request – as these movies come to the screen, if you hear jaw-dropingly ridiculous complaints from your fellow-evangelicals do your best to calm them down.  Even if, and I doubt it will, it turns out that these movies were deliberately mocking of our faith, keep Genesis 50:20 in your mind.

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”  Genesis 50:20 ASV.


From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. We might also notice that many of the complaints will come from people who will never bother to watch the movie. They will base their complaints on the observations of other people who also will not have seen the movie.

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