by Stephen Blackmon
Toward the end of last year I found myself in a surprising conundrum; a new problem created by my old and established plans. I love movies. Well, nearly all of us love movies (good ones at least). But I loved the idea of making movies. I’m a filmmaker. I’ve been a writer since I was young, but some 15 years ago I decided that I wanted to become a filmmaker. A few years before that I gave my life to God and became a Christian. Now, mind you, I didn’t just become your ‘let’s go to church on Sunday’ Christian. I was radical. I was one of those kind that are really irritating – have something to say and a scripture to quote about everything, right or wrong.
I was extreme (extremely young), and full of zeal (though I couldn’t spell wisdom). I believe the scientific term is ‘full of piss and vinegar’. I just knew that everything I was going to do would be for the sole purpose of shouting the name of Jesus from the rooftops. So of course, when I realized that I wanted to become a filmmaker, I knew I wanted to become a Christian Filmmaker. It was simple. 2+2. Right?
Well, God’s been doing an unforeseen thing in my life over the last five years or so. He has utterly destroyed my previous definition of Christian (along with much of my other theology); particularly in regards to what actually serves Him, and He’s been redefining things. For one, He began to point out the difference between talking about Him, and talking about what He wants to talk about. See I, along with many of the ‘young, zealous, spitfire’ believers out there,……always thought that He was what He always wanted to talk about – especially with anyone who had not openly claimed to be an active Christian. I’d always thought that was paramount. That was first. But what I’ve come to understand about Him is that action comes first. Love. Help. Provision. Not talk. He loves on us. He loves on us some more. He gives us things we need. Then we talk. I began to see that God wants to talk about things that are going to help our lives…. be that with believers, or with people who don’t like or trust church, don’t trust God and most definitely don’t trust Christians. Many have a lot of good reasons not to trust or like Christians. For a lot of people, this is a time when trust needs to be rebuilt; re-earned.
So what does this have to do with Hollywood?
As I began to think about this new direction for communication, I began to think about how best to love people with my films. How can I make movies that talk about the things God wants to talk about; movies that help people make their lives better (along with being very entertaining, because who really wants to see a boring, substandard preachy movie?). Not too long ago I got into a discussion with someone about Christian films, and we began to talk about analyzing them. The person I spoke with made reference to sitting at a table with a bible open checking to make sure that everything in the movie was scripturally accurate. Well, I guess that is how you can make a Christian film… or make sure that a film is “Christian.” We can make sure there aren’t any curse words. We can make sure the theology of the film is spot on. We can analyze the life and lifestyle of the person making the film to make sure they’re not a smoker, or living with someone or a homosexual. Once we do all of these things, we have a better chance of getting distribution into the Christian bookstores and such. But I had to ask myself: are these the primary issues for God? Are those the things that determine whether or not God can speak, or is speaking? Are those the things that determine whether or not God’s message can help someone? Then I had to ask myself: what movies have impacted me?
I’ve seen a lot of movies. I’ve seen a lot of Christian films. And I’ve seen a lot of movies that were far from Christian. The films that impacted me most weren’t as much focused on Jesus and trying to communicate the message of salvation, as they were displaying the principles that He teaches; self-sacrificial love, grace over legalism and religion, faith, purpose, unity.
I’ve heard it argued that Star Wars is based on Buddhism. Well, Buddist or not, there is more of Jesus’ message of love in Luke Skywalker’s deliverance of Darth Vader through love in the climax of Return of the Jedi than in the great majority of “Christian” movies I’ve seen.
Santa Claus learned more about the difference between grace and justice in the movie Fred Claus than I may have seen anyone learn in any other film.
Don’t get me started on the Matrix, or Book of Eli, or Stranger Than Fiction. These days I believe that far too many so called “Christians”, believers, get so caught up on the manor of delivery and the rules of Christian culture that we forget to focus on the message, and whether or not it is accessible to the people who need to hear it. I mean to make it accessible.
One of the ministries that I’m a fan of is called Mars Hill. And I love this piece that they posted on their site. It said:
“The Biblical narrative is filled with God speaking to his people through unexpected sources. Burning bushes. Donkeys. The godless Chaldeans. These stories within the larger story open our eyes to the reality God has no use for the line between the sacred and the secular that we use to validate or discredit things within our culture. God is working in and through all kinds of people, in all kinds of places. No matter the source