|Remember this? I wish I didn't...|
Now Downey and Burnett are back, this time with a big-screen production of the life of Christ entitled "Son of God." This movie has been touted by a significant number of famous names both inside and outside the Christian community - everyone from Piers Morgan to Rick Warren - and churches across the country have bought out movie theaters, given away tickets, and promoted this movie as a means to tell others about Christ in a relevant, 21st century way.
I love the idea of using current media to spread the gospel and increase biblical literacy. I also love the idea of the broader culture talking about the life of Christ. But despite this, I can't support this movie, and here is why.
1. The marketing is appalling.
At least with "The Bible" series, you could watch it for free on TV as long as you had the History channel. If you want to see "Son of God," you have to shell out the price of a movie ticket (or find a local church that will shell it out for you). Despite all of the good-intentioned sounding talk from Downey and Burnett, this doesn't square with the notion of having the primary purpose of the movie being a means to share Christ. But even beyond the movie tickets, they are selling a variety of other merchandise, most notably (and most troubling) the items available on www.outreach.com. Here you can purchase a set of four pre-made sermons for your church based on the movie, a DVD curriculum for small groups (with an additional charge for the study guide), and a large number of movie-logo-centered promotional materials. Looking at all of this one might draw the conclusion that the creators of this movie have somehow found a way to get local churches to do their advertising for them, and to pay them for the privilege of doing it! Now maybe that wasn't their intent, but if not, why not give all of this away for free, or for a suggested donation? And why market a whole separate study on who Jesus is, when you could just be encouraging people to read the Bible for themselves? (But then again, why did they make up their own book-based-on-the-movie-based-on-the-Bible?) And yes, it is true that there are also some free resources offered, but even these resources essentially end up promoting the movie, which generates more ticket sales.
|For the pastor who wants more time to spend on the golf course - four sermons for only $49.95!|
I wish I could believe that this wasn't all just a big money-making scheme, but I can't get past the feeling that Christians everywhere are being had. Let's not be naive. Downey and Burnett didn't make "Son of God" as a reaction to the overwhelming popularity of "The Bible" series, taking advantage of a further opportunity to share Christ. This was their plan all along (don't believe me? Read this Vanity article: The Bible Producers Resurrect Jesus). Public interest was created with the free(ish) series, then it was followed up with a big-budget movie - and now churches are paying to help pitch it. Wow. The image of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple pops into my head every time I think of this. Jesus gave the gospel freely. Paul refused to take money for his missionary work so that nobody would question his motives. But when I look at this situation, I can't help but think that this is something entirely different (and if you have evidence otherwise, I'd love to hear it).
2. The notion of such a movie is spiritually questionable for many reasons.
First of all, whenever you try to cut a book with hundreds of pages down into a two hour movie, you end up leaving out some very important things. It's one thing to cut out parts of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, it's another thing to cut out parts of holy writ. Who gets to decide what makes the cut and what doesn't? There probably isn't a sufficient answer to that question. And while I haven't seen "Son of God", I did watch every ever-lovin' minute of The Bible series, and there were a number instances where huge details were left out but then other strange, non-biblical side stories were inserted. Given the common origins, I have no reason to believe this wouldn't happen in the movie.
Second, it's always sticky when you posit a human actor as Christ. I know this has been happening pretty much forever, but seeing all of the marketing with Diogo Morgado's face as the center point instead of something like the cross or the empty tomb smacks of idolatry to me. It also reinforces the fact that Downey and Burnett cast a stud muffin Jesus, despite the fact that the Bible indicates that the historical Jesus was not physically attractive. This is one more evidence that marketing was more important than biblical accuracy, which is disturbing.
Third, just because something gets people talking about Jesus, or talks about Jesus itself, doesn't mean that churches should promote it. There are lots of secular authors, actors, and other types of famous personalities who talk about Jesus but are not committed to a biblical understanding of who He is. Gandhi talked about Jesus. Kanye West talks about Jesus. A-million-and-one chachy TV specials talk about Jesus. But just because someone or something talks about Jesus does not mean that what they say jibes with biblical Christianity and should be supported by the church. Let's not blindly jump on a bandwagon in the name of evangelism without checking to see if the wagon is sturdy first. And, just because God can use a movie to bring people to Christ doesn't mean that the movie itself is necessarily a good thing. God can use anything he wants to bring people to Christ. He can just as easily use a holocaust, drug addiction, a cancer diagnosis, or a car accident to point people toward him. He doesn't need a movie to accomplish his goals.
3. The source is fishy.
I'm willing to bet that many of us remember when Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ came out. Seemingly overnight, Christians around the world became very enthusiastic Mel Gibson fans! But wow, did that enthusiasm ever dwindle when the world began to see the dark side of Mel. Oops. Putting him on a pedestal without ample investigation of his personal beliefs and other aspects of his life proved to be a huge egg-on-our-faces mistake. But will we learn this time around?
Despite what is said in interviews pertaining to The Bible and Son of God, there is significant evidence that Roma Downey, while she may be a lovely person, is not a believer in biblical Christianity. Yes, she talks about Jesus and yes, it sounds like she says many of the things that a Christian would say. But what hasn't been mentioned in interviews (as far as I can tell) is that she also believes in New Age teaching and even graduated from a New Age school in California about the same time she and her husband started working on The Bible series. In addition to this, she has collaborated professionally and participated with the widely-known psychic John Edwards, whose practice of necromancy defies biblical doctrine. Roma may be a fantastic person and she is certainly entitled to her own beliefs, religious and otherwise. However, she should not be mistaken for a Bible believing Christian, nor should it be assumed that her work is biblically sound.
Think I'm being harsh or paranoid? Here are some links to back up what I just said.
A 2009 interview where she demonstrates New Age thought and expresses support for New Age author Eckhart Tolle (who also talks about Jesus a lot, but his own version of Jesus, not the Bible's one):
The New Age school from which she graduated in June of 2009, where they teach (amongst other things) that we are all Divine (which may explain why she has no objection to saying that Jesus is the Son of God... because she believes that we are ALL sons of God):
A recommendation she wrote for a book written about Spiritual Psychology, published in 2010, which displays her New Age understanding of angels and alludes to other unbiblical beliefs:
A 2013 interview where it is stated that work on The Bible series began 4 to 4 1/2 years ago, which would mean she started working on this project right after graduating from USM (which doesn't allow much time for her to form a whole new set of religious beliefs before creating The Bible):
A link to her collaborative work with John Edwards:
A link to an article outlining how Roma believes she talked to her dead mother through John Edwards:
I don't see how anyone who understands what the Bible teaches about the nature of humanity, what angels are, and how God instructs us to interact with the spiritual realm could possibly look at this information and conclude that Roma Downey is the bible-believing Christian that she appears to be in interviews. These are discrepancies that cannot be ignored. If this information is no longer valid and Roma now rejects these beliefs and practices, she owes it to the public (first and foremost to God, really) to tell everyone that she has changed her views. If she has done this somewhere and I am just not aware of it, please let me know and I will eat my words (not really - but I will delete them). But if not, Roma Downey has no business passing herself off as a follower of Christ and Christians have no business promoting her material as if she is someone who holds to the same tenants of faith that they do. Because she doesn't.
So, this is why I can't get behind "Son of God." I'm not saying that you should not see it, but if you do, realize that it's entertainment based on a true story, not the true story itself. Personal viewing aside, though, I will say that if you are a part of a church and you are hoping that this movie will be your big evangelistic thrust... yikes. And if your pastor preaches four pre-prepared sermons that he bought online for $49.95 and came out of a box that looks like a movie poster, it's time to find a new church.
I wish I could support it. I really do. But I just can't.