The Passion of the Christ, Expelled, Evan Almighty and The Chronicles of Narnia all share one thing in common: they were marketed in large part by the local church. Pastors found these movies to be such a ray of hope, that they took it upon themselves (with a little encouragement by the studios themselves) to encourage their own flock to, well flock to the theater on opening night. It has become routine for any remotely religious film to push “group rates” for opening weekend tickets. It is clear that the local church has in some sense become a real player in the film industry.
One could argue that it all began with a little movie (that probably shouldn’t have been so little) called Left Behind. It was first released to DVD, in which Kirk Cameron pleaded with Christians to go see the film in theaters so that we could help to show Hollywood that these sorts of things sell. Whether or not Left Behind was the cause, we certainly got what we wanted.
The only question left to ask whether or not this whole thing is a good idea. Of course, many Christians have simply assumed that it couldn’t possibly be bad. Surely, the more influence Christians have over the world, the better, right?
Well, that depends. Let’s consider the nature of the influence the local church now has over Hollywood. It seems that Christians have not so much encouraged Hollywood to include accurate truth-telling in its film as much as it has encouraged a general spiritual message or content in a film. For instance, Evan Almighty is a film in which God is acknowledged and seen as a “good guy.” Yay for us. We like God, and here he’s esteemed. Right?
Not really. God is simply a plot point that spurs Evan on to realize how much good he can do himself. The message of the movie has nothing to do with real salvation. There is no gospel. There’s not even a mere absence of the gospel. Instead, in Evan Almighty, we have a false gospel: “Humans, save yourself. Do good things. That’s what God is really concerned about.”
Of course, Christians know that God saves us by doing much more than encouraging us to love one another. He sacrificed his Son because we stink at love. He saved us because the last thing we can do is save ourselves. Suddenly it becomes very clear why the local church buying tickets at “group rates” to see this film is such an incredibly bad idea.
If you think this problem stops with Evan Almighty, you’re mislead about the nature of our world. James 1:27 warns us to “keep oneself unstained from the world.” James tells us that the world hates Christ and his church. This means that anything the world touches, to some extent, will be problematic. We don’t need James to tell us this. If we’re honest, we can all see real problems with the movies mentioned at the beginning of this post. The system, because it is a part of a flawed world, is flawed itself.
Am I suggesting we avoid film altogether? Of course not. I’m merely suggesting that the local church is not the venue for recommending films and going on field trips to places which may undermine the very things we preach and teach. In Scripture, God gives us a number of things churches ought to be caught up in doing, and film field trips isn’t one of them.
I encourage Christians to go see these films, embrace the good in them and speak against the bad. But please, don’t ask your church to pay for your tickets.