Viewing “The Walking Dead” Through a Theological Lens

TWD_S6_KEY_ARTBy Joshua K. Smith

Is All Life Precious?

I am unashamedly and unambiguously a fan of the AMC show The Walking Dead. I was also a fan of the comic that was released many years before the film adaption in 2010, and before every other show on television was about the undead. It is not just the suspense or gore that entices and entertains me, but the way the writers deal with metaphysical and theological issues. Humanity is devoured and consumed by walkers (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), yet there is a core group of people dealing with morality in the apocalypse, seeking to preserve the fragments of humanity left.

While I do not believe that the writers of this show are intentionally writing from a Christian perspective, they often allude to biblical themes. I am often surprised how the writers do not shy away from mentioning the Bible and how it appears to be a non-issue for many viewers. For example, Hershel is very open about his beliefs, and several episodes show him reading Scripture. T-Dog drove a church van to pick up the elderly. Nick (more so in the comic) is very outspoken, to a fault at times, about his beliefs. For the most part, the writers of the show depict these religious characters in a positive light; showing their positive influence on the group.

However, what I found quite intriguing and unusual was a recent episode that dealt with an important theological theme, although it may not have been intentional by the writers. Because of the nature of the show, the characters deal more with ecological preservation and issues (because if resources die out then so do they) than they do with philosophical ones. In the episode “Here’s Not Here,” writer Scott Gimple deals heavily with the notion of whether or not all human life is valuable. This leads to a deeper questioning of why human life is valuable. First, let us consider the episode and then we will examine the correlation between the doctrine of Imago Dei or the image of God.

At first blush, it seems that this episode isn’t going to be more than filler, focusing on a side story that no one is interested in. However, the writers proved my quick observation wrong. This episode follows up to Season Three’s episode “clear.” It focuses primarily on Morgan and introduces Eastman, a former forensic physiologist who was responsible for determining if convicts were able to to re-enter society. What is interesting is Eastman’s worldview, which is influenced by Aikido. Eastman mentions “The Art of Peace” and says, “I have come to believe that all life is precious.”

Eastman’s worldview is strange and foreign in the world that has been devoured by nature. Grace and mercy are no longer ideas, but rather remnants of the old world. Before Aquinas (1225-1274), there was a focus on heavenly things and little to no interest in nature. Of course, this quickly changed through the humanistic elements of the Renaissance, placing nature (the created, man’s body, diversity) above grace (God, unseen influence, man’s soul, unity). More so in the apocalypse, nature has become autonomous from God, and they are forced to revisit the struggle between grace and nature.

Culture may applaud Eastman’s worldview; it’s a conventional synthesis of pluralism and humanism. At best, it is based on relativistic notions of truth. The better question is why is “all life precious” and why should we preserve it? The modern consensus of preservation is based upon selfish motivation to live and pursue “happiness.” However, this still does not address the metaphysical; what gives life meaning and value? For Eastman and modernity, it’s living “rightly” by others, contributing to society. This superficial reasoning does not satisfy the longing for dignity because it is void of truth. The truth is referring to that which has been revealed to us through Christ and the Scriptures.

The Biblical Response to Image

Humanity is made in the image of God. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).'” The very first chapter of the Bible establishes human beings are valuable and precious because of their origin. Until we understand that all humans are made in the image of God, we will not know how to deal with them. It does not matter whether we are in the garden of Eden or the outskirts of Atlanta in the apocalypse; people are valuable because of their maker.

Joshua K. Smith holds a B.A. in Religion and History from William Carey University and Masters of Theological Studies from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D student in Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Measuring Success: One Woman’s Counter-Cultural Path

ManyBeautifulThingsBy Laura Waters Hinson

As an independent filmmaker, I have the privilege of telling stories that you don’t often see coming out of the mainstream media or Hollywood studios. I relish the opportunity to work on projects that take risks—that shine a light on gems beneath unturned stones.

And yet, even I didn’t expect to find such a treasure as the woman I’ve spent the last few years uncovering. Perhaps the greatest unknown hero I’ve encountered, she has taught me about success in ways that couldn’t be more different than what our culture too often celebrates on magazine stands and social media.

In a time when instant gratification is the norm, it is easy to fall in the trap of exalting “self” and measuring success based on personal recognition. Yet during Women’s History Month, I am compelled by the life and vision of Lilias Trotter—a woman most have never heard of, but who is perhaps one of the greatest female artists of her time and whose undiscovered mark in women’s history teaches a beautiful lesson in defining success.

Born in the middle of the 19th century in London, Trotter had an uncommon eye on the world. In an era when women were thought incapable of producing high art, Trotter broke down walls—persuading one of the leading art critics of her time, John Ruskin, to believe she could be “the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal.”

If her art and her contribution as a challenger of cultural bias against female talent were her only legacies, Trotter would be worthy of mention in the annals of women’s history. But art was only the beginning of her story.

Art was Trotter’s talent but it wasn’t her deepest passion. At the height of her work as an artist, she found a strong desire instead to serve marginalized women and children in the then dangerous, isolated world of North Africa. She gave up a dream of artistic success to follow her passion to serve in Algeria as a single woman in the late 1800s.

Trotter’s stunning decision bids us to question the true meaning of success. Could you and I follow an unglamorous conviction at the risk of sacrificing personal wealth and fame? With her artistic legacy on the line, Trotter chose to relentlessly follow her calling, which meant choosing obscurity over celebrity.

Now, Trotter is finally gaining some recognition for both her creative genius and her dedicated life of service. Many Beautiful Things, my film about Trotter, invites the world to experience a life well-lived through her journey. Nearly 100 years after Trotter’s death, her legacy continues to reach untold numbers of people. 

After encountering the character of Trotter, it has changed the way I see my art, and in turn, the way I view success. This transformation has occurred by studying her remarkable viewpoint:

“Measure thy life by loss, not by gain. Not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth. For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice. And he who suffers most, has most to give.” (Lilias Trotter)

Trotter did not judge her worth by the number of people she reached in her lifetime or the number of her paintings that hung in galleries. She teaches me to trust more in what I believe I am called to do, regardless of the outcomes. I do not believe the takeaway from Trotter’s life is that our work should be obscure—I believe what matters is the posture towards our work.

So this Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate the example and the contributions made by this powerful woman who teaches men and women alike to measure their success not by the number of eyes and ears that see their work, but by their character and resolve to chase after meaning and true fulfillment.

laurahinsonLaura Waters Hinson is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and mother of two from Washington, DC. Her work spans a variety of subjects, from street vendors in Washington, DC to female entrepreneurship in Rwanda. Her documentary, As We Forgive, won the 2008 Student Academy Award for best documentary. Her latest film, Many Beautiful Things, is now available to purchase on DVD. For more information, visit

Searching for Jesus: A Q&A with Risen’s Joseph Fiennes

Rome, Italy - February 3, 2016: Joseph Fiennes attends RISEN photocall overlooking Vatican City.

Rome, Italy – February 3, 2016: Joseph Fiennes attends RISEN photocall overlooking Vatican City.

“If I was to take anything away personally from making this film, it’s the concept of redemption and forgiveness and second chances. The second chance for Clavius resonates with me, and I think it might for a lot of people.” — Joseph Fiennes, who plays Roman Military Tribune Clavius in the new movie, Risen

What would it be like to be the Roman military official assigned to find the body of Jesus after it disappears from the tomb after the Crucifixion? Especially, if like the fictional character of Clavius in the new movie Risen, you’re a skeptic, conditioned to follow orders, and certain the body has got to be somewhere?

This is the premise of Risen, a new film from Sony Pictures opening this weekend about the epic biblical story of the Resurrection and the weeks that follow it, as seen through the eyes of an unbelieving high-ranking Roman military tribune. In the style of a true-crime detective novel, Risen presents a compelling cinematic experience, full of mystery, and questions, and whodunits — for the believer and non-believer alike — about the “manhunt that changed the course of history.”

Risen stars Joseph Fiennes, the award-winning actor from Shakespeare in Love, as Clavius, the Roman Military Tribune assigned to find the missing body of Jesus in order to prevent an uprising in Jerusalem. Clavius’ journey inevitably leads him into territory he isn’t entirely prepared for, physically, mentally, or spiritually as he comes closer and closer to the risen Christ.

We spoke with Mr. Fiennes this week about his attraction to the project, how he prepared mentally and physically for the role, and what it was like meeting the Pope earlier this month.

Patheos: What drew you to the role of Clavius and this project overall?

Fiennes: I was essentially given a script and starting reading it, and it wasn’t until about page 30 that I suddenly realized this might be a biblical story, because it read like a detective story. It was like a film noir. And that was a really good way in for me. I thought, this is fresh. And then I put the script down and I thought, even better, it’s a movie that depicts the life of Christ that doesn’t end on that most depressing point of the Crucifixion. It takes us and gives us the final equation, if you like, which few films, if any, have ever tackled, in terms of the Resurrection and then the Ascension. So I thought, this is really compelling and I feel really uplifted by this, and it’s a fresh angle and perspective.

Then I got a meeting with our veteran director Kevin Reynolds. We met at an airport lounge in Madrid and spoke for a number of hours and it was the first time that I can remember that a director just offered me a job in the room there and then. We spoke at length about how we wanted to position this film, in terms of being respectful of our audience but at the same time making it cinematic and engaging for cinephiles as well as for non-believers.

How did you prepare for the role of Clavius, mentally and physically? Was there a certain spiritual preparation for this role, as well?

Well, I looked at it really just through the eyes of Clavius, a Roman Tribune. In many ways, he is spiritual — he prays to his set of Gods, under Roman theology. He probably prayed to Mars.

But me, myself, I just felt I needed to prepare physically and condition myself into the military mindset of that time and age. I read some books and found out that gladiators had lent a lot of their techniques to the Roman army. So I found online a gladiator school where they train novices like myself. But they’re more interesting than that — they call themselves “physical archeologists.” They go and collect information from murals, sculptures, and paintings that depict Roman military warfare, and they breathe life into it from those depictions. So they bring a bit of their imagination but they remain true to the information and the research. And they physicalize it.

So I learned a great deal about what it might have been to be a Roman soldier in that time. And what I found out essentially was that the way they fought was like a brutal surgical machine, this economic brain that would take over parts of the world. They were unforgiving and brutal. It was kind of a like a brutal Swiss clock the way it operated.

So that was my way in. That and working with a detective. I’ve got a couple of kids and I’m terrible at interrogating them when they’re naughty, so I thought, how am I going to interrogate as a Roman soldier? So I asked a detective to help me out. He was wonderful. Those were my ways in and they kind of worked.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) and Lucius (Tom Felton) at the crucifixion of Yeshua.  Calvary. Image courtesy of Rosie Collins

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) and Lucius (Tom Felton) at the crucifixion of Yeshua. Calvary. Image courtesy of Rosie Collins

What was the most challenging part of portraying Clavius?

Here’s one thing about Clavius — you might not like him. This was the big difficulty for me — how could I be part of this death squad, be this man who oversees the crucifixion of Christ? How will an audience come along with me? That was the big challenge for me. I mean, why would they?

I felt that, if we didn’t like him, there had to be some thread that we could identify with and allow us to go on the journey with him… and that for me was that he was a man of truth. He searched for the truth and was true in what he did under the instruction of Pontius Pilate. But I hope that for an audience they would lock onto the idea, here’s a man with integrity. Now he may be conditioned differently from all of us, but he had a sense of moral duty. That was the component I wanted to explore and draw upon.

And then that duty gets confounded and confused with a new set of rules. He can’t break down the disciples in the interrogation. He’s up against something. And then he has this irrevocable moment when he goes to arrest them and there’s a man in the room that shouldn’t be there… and then his world is turned upside down.

But I love that journey of de-conditioning in order to take on a new form of understanding.

Right. And I love, too, that it gives us, the audience, an opportunity to empathize with a character that we may not have been very sympathetic towards before. As a Christian, the Roman Tribune is the enemy! But you needed the audience to care about Clavius, so you ended up opening that character up for us, as well.

That was the challenge. It’s making all these people, even the less-likable characters, human. They become more scary or more complex when you make them human. If I look at brilliant films, such as the performances in Schindler’s List, it’s very real, it’s scary. Spielberg got his actors to do the opposite, the Indiana Jones idea of a Nazi; you’ve made them fully-fledged and they’re more terrifying than the cardboard cut-out because they’re human. I think that’s what we’re trying to do in Risen; make these characters more authentic, and then take the audience on the journey.

What was one of the most enjoyable aspects of playing Clavius?

Most enjoyable, weirdly, both as a character and as an actor, was hanging out with the disciples! Because in preparation, I excluded myself from any of them, especially Yeshua. I wouldn’t have eye contact or any kind of contact with them. They wouldn’t exist for me, nor I for them, probably, while we were shooting. So we remained in character during the filming, so that when we came to cross paths as characters, it was great — as an actor, as well — to share that energy, which was much more upbeat and jovial. They were a very tight unit off-set.

So it was lovely to finally go on a trip with them through the desert and on the sea, and get away from Rome and the military and the kind of suffocating sense of duty and uniforms (of leather)! That was lovely. It was almost like Clavius sheds his armor as he goes on this trip to investigate further this new revelation. I felt both a stripping down of his uniform and his conditioning that led to a kind of ease with this new group.

There was an enjoyment of being in their company after being in the company of death and war.

Was your own faith or belief changed as a result of playing Clavius?

If I was to take anything away personally from playing this character — and you don’t have to be religious to understand this – I think it’s the concept of redemption and forgiveness and second chances. The second chance for Clavius resonates with me and I think it might for a lot of people. Whether a believer or a nonbeliever, this is a hugely enriching component of our evolution, the ability to forgive. Christ forgives Clavius in our story and that was something that stayed with me.

Also, that sense that if you believe in anything, it shifts in and out of focus, the intensity of that belief and that confidence, and I think that Clavius is a little bit of an everyman for us in that regard. He gets to witness the resurrection first-hand and yet he still turns around and asks, is Yeshua a magician, or does he have a twin brother, and how did he do that? And I guess there’s always that part of me, this intellectual side, that we have to almost shut down that voice in our head and tune into that quiet of the greater consciousness, if you like.

There’s been a lot of discussion leading up to the film — as there always is when a biblical story is made into a movie — as to the accuracy of the story and how true it stays to the text. Clavius, for instance, is a fictional character not found in the Bible. How do you think faith viewers will react to that and to the balance that you all aimed to strike in the film around that issue?

I know that our writers, directors and producers have worked hard and diligently with church ministers and faith-based communities in being absolutely respectful of scripture as close as they felt they could, as well as obviously building a film around it. If you don’t want to move away from scripture, then stay with it as a piece of parchment in your hand, but as soon as you get into film, it’s an adaption by virtue of cameras and lenses and lights and casting, and it’s always going to be a little bit different that one has in one’s mind from reading the bible.

But taking that into account, I think there’s been a really lovely balance, and we’ve sought to ask, how do we bring an audience in? How do we invite a new audience and a new generation into this beautiful narrative? So I think inventing a character such as Clavius allows a little bit of distance to the story, without it being too suffocating or overbearing or overtly religious. You get to come in gently to the story.

The movie is clearly aimed at a faith-based audience, but I’m hearing you say that it’s not just for Christians…

No! I would like to think it’s not aimed at any one group. I think it’s aimed at everyone. For me, it would be a huge success if the auditorium was filled with a diverse community. We have so many films that are either so revisionist they switch certain members off, or they become deeply conservative and preachy. For me, here might be the first time that we get a movie which is a pure cinematic experience, which is true and respectful of scripture, and at the same time, is a beautiful piece of entertainment that can be engaging on the conversation of faith, on the story of Christ, and also a huge, high production value movie.

Last question — you got to meet the Pope earlier this month in Rome. What was that like?

Yeah, it was amazing. It was a moving experience. The Pope is an incredibly modern man. I love that he carries his own suitcase to the airplane. I love the idea that he doesn’t stay in the Pope’s palatial palace, but in a very humble dwelling. To me, he’s a man of the people. He’s deeply connected spiritually; I felt that when I met him. He has a great generosity and a sense of great authenticity.

It was very special, and it was lovely that he blessed my family. It was a really beautiful end to what was a very brutal beginning with the gladiators the year before. So to end full circle with the Pope was all that I could ask for.

RISEN opens nationwide Friday, February 19, 2016 — click here to purchase tickets!

Click here for more reviews and conversation at the Patheos Movie Club.

Joseph Fiennes Photo Credit: Luca Dammicco – © 2016 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Risen: Not Just Another Bible Movie


A scene from the new movie, Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes.

There are films that are entertaining. There are films that are soul-stirring. And there are films that are faithful to the source material (when the source material is the Bible, this third category becomes an important one for many believers). It is rare to experience a film that checks one or two of these boxes, let alone all three. Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes and opening in theaters February 19, is a film that definitively inhabits all three categories—it delights the eyes, moves the soul and weaves a story that beautifully balances accuracy and artistry.

To attempt to specify why the film is entertaining (a term with subjective definitions, to be sure), I’ll begin by saying that Risen is masterly crafted—the directing, the writing, the acting—and this craftsmanship enhances the overall experience. While watching the film, I was transported to Jerusalem, Golgotha and Galilee; I felt the sun warm my neck as the swirling sands of the Judaean Desert stuck to my skin and clothes; I noticed my pulse racing at the palpable tension between the Romans, Jews and followers of Yeshua. I watched as actors embodied their characters: Joseph Fiennes as the hardened, skeptical, gladiatorial Clavius; Peter Firth as the exasperated and indulgent Pontius Pilate; and Tom Felton as Lucius, an innocent, ambitious aid whose naiveté succumbs to the merciless lessons of his mentor. Add to these things the compelling plotline of Yeshua’s missing body? Yes, the film more than qualifies as entertaining.

In addition to its entertainment value, Risen is deeply moving and powerful. As a Christian, I’ve grown familiar with the biblical narrative in general and with the Gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection in particular. But, Risen is told from Clavius’ perspective, and he is a Roman Military Tribune who worships Mars, the god of war. This juxtaposition is exquisitely manifested early in the film during the crucifixion scene. When Clavius arrives at Golgotha by order of Pilate, he has little reason to see Yeshua as significant. Yet, as the scene unfolded, I was moved to tears thinking of both the crucified Christ (the agony of defeat) and the resurrected Christ (the glory of victory). After this scene, we continue to journey with Clavius as he seeks the truth. His unique perspective—that of a nonbeliever encountering the inexplicable—makes for a truly powerful film, one that reminds believers of the hope of the resurrected Yeshua, and one that engages and challenges nonbelievers with the story of Yeshua’s death and resurrection.

Another area in which Risen excels is its filmmakers’ commitment to authenticity. Of course, certain liberties were taken to broaden the scope of the story and to deliver a version of events from Clavius’ point of view, but the film showcases people, places, events and passages that are found in Scripture in a manner consistent with the intention of Scripture. We meet the disciples, Mary Magdalene (played by Maria Botto), the Centurion and tomb guards; we see the influence of Rome in Jerusalem; we hear words taken directly from the Gospels. And we are immersed in the historical context of Jerusalem during the weeks following the resurrection. If you’ve avoided “Bible movies” in the past due to the potential distortion of Scripture, I’d encourage you to give Risen a try. The film’s respect for and faithfulness to the biblical narrative is evident.

Risen opens in theaters nationwide on February 19. It’s a film for a variety of audiences—history buffs, movie buffs, believers, nonbelievers. It’s a film for people wrestling with doubt and seeking truth; for the weary and exhausted, but also for the joyful and hopeful. Risen is compelling, engaging and challenging, and it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Mary Lasse is a media consultant and freelance writer. She lives in the greater Chicago area with her husband and two children.

Image courtesy of Sony Films.

Coach Lad: The Real Story of the Coach Portrayed in ‘When The Game Stands Tall’


In his 33 years at De La Salle High School in California, Bob “Coach Lad” Ladouceur became one of the most successful high school coaches in the nation. His 399-25-3 record ranks the most victories in California history, including 29 North Coast Section championships, 17 California State championships and the longest winning streak in the history of high school sports. Five different times, both USA Today and Fox Sports Net voted De La Salle the No. 1 team in the nation; the Spartans finished in the Top 20 every year for the past two decades.

Three times USA Today named Coach Lad National High School Coach of the Year. He was the first NFL National High School Coach of the Year, from among 1,200 nominees. In 2011, he was inducted into the Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame.

Under Coach Lad’s leadership, De La Salle posted win streaks of 34, 44 and 151 games–the latter a national record. More than 80 of Coach Lad’s players received college scholarships; 10 went on to play in the NFL.

Interestingly, Coach Lad’s coaching philosophy and style have remained practical and down to earth. He stresses superior physical conditioning, mastery of football basics, and total commitment to team success, and he’s known for translating lessons from football into daily life. His ability to instill the fundamentals of the sport showed clearly as his players consistently outperformed teams that far outsized them.

Bob first joined the De La Salle school staff as a full-time religious studies teacher, an assignment he held throughout his coaching years and continues today in the wake of his remarkable coaching career.

Check out When The Game Stands Tall in theaters today.

YouTube Preview Image


Post sponsored by When the Game Stands Tall

Watch the Trailer for ‘When The Game Stands Tall’

When the Game Stands Tall opens in theaters everywhere Friday.

What Makes a Great Sports Movie?

What makes a great sports movie?

Is it passion?


Chariots of Fire

Or the invincible spirit of a dreamer?




Is it the courage to get back up?



Or the heart of an unexpected champion?



Or is it all of the above?

Check out When The Game Stands Tall coming to theaters August 22.

YouTube Preview Image

5 Best Coaches in Football Movies

5. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) in Friday Night Lights


4. Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) in Remember the Titans


3. Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pachino) in Any Given Sunday


2. Coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) in We Are Marshall


1. Coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) in Invincible



Check out Jim Caviezel as Coach Bob Ladouceur in When The Game Stands Tall

YouTube Preview Image

Brought to you by our sponsor When the Game Stands Tall.

American Bible Challenge – Watch Host Jeff Foxworthy Talk About His Personal Faith

American Bible Challenge airs on the Game Show Network (GSN) Thursdays at 8/7central

This post is part of a promotional campaign for the American Bible Challenge