If you’ve been following the arts-and-faith debate for any length of time, then you know that there is a strong, strong impulse on the part of some of the faithful to either reject the arts as something scary and ambiguous or to embrace the arts for purely utilitarian reasons. Art, it is often felt, must have a clear message — ideally one that furthers “our” agenda — and if the message in any given work of art isn’t clear, then it is something to be avoided and distrusted, lest it take us off-message.
Thus, in some corners of the evangelical world, people are permitted to produce or consume film and music only as a “tool”. You want to play rock’n’roll? Give your songs evangelistic lyrics. You want to go see the latest Star Wars movie? Okay, so long as you’re approaching it like a research trip so that you can explain to your friends the differences between the light side of the Force and the Triune God.
I speak here as one who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s and responded to more than one altar call at a Christian concert. Maybe things have changed since then, maybe not. But whenever a new movie with “faith-based” appeal comes along, I always seem to hear the same old concepts. Even Mel Gibson, who is definitely not an evangelical (he belongs to a sect that literally thinks it’s more Catholic than the Pope), told evangelical leaders that he hoped The Passion of the Christ had “the power to evangelize.” He knew that that was the sort of sales pitch that they would respond to.
And so we come to Risen, the movie about two Roman officers who go looking for the missing body of Jesus. Sony Pictures has released a new featurette that focuses not on the people who made the film but on a pastor who has endorsed it — and, as it happens, the pastor in question (Craig Groeschel, who reportedly leads “the largest church in the United States”) uses a fair bit of evangelical jargon. E.g.:
What’s exciting is we have more faith-based films that we can actually support today, and I really believe, as Christians and as the Church, that we should support these, not just in going to them, but when we see one that can impact people who are not Christians, the even better thing to do is to say, “I want to go and I want to bring somebody with me.” We’re here to make disciples, and so when we see something that really is a tool, not only do we want to support it, but we want to leverage it to try to help other people experience the power of the gospel through a means of communication that goes broader than our own ability, just with the spoken words.
I wonder how the filmmakers feel about being told that their movie is a “tool” that can be “leveraged”. Me, I go to these movies hoping to experience familiar stories from unfamiliar points of view, to immerse myself in another world and to empathize with characters who are different from me, and that’s all I’d ask of anyone else.
Anyway, here is the featurette itself:
There is also a “Risen movie resources” website that has a page devoted to “ministry tools”, including an “outreach church kit” with a five-week sermon plan that will allow pastors to promote the film as they preach. Make of it all what you will.
Here’s a question: Would all these “outreach” materials still exist if the filmmakers had left in the subplot about the Roman main character’s Jewish mistress?
Check out earlier trailers and other videos here:
- The first trailer (April 29, 2015)
- The second trailer (August 28, 2015)
- The second trailer with updated release date (November 5, 2015)
- The ‘Clavius’ Journey’ and ‘Key Leaders’ featurettes (December 10, 2015)
- The ‘On Set & Behind the Scenes of RISEN’ featurette (December 15, 2015)