Films and Sermons

I have a confession: I like art museums. For someone with my family background (think Rush Limbaugh and Duck Dynasty) this is no small confession. I will sometimes sneak away on a Friday morning to sit amid the Rothkos and Hoppers and wonder. When I go to the museum, I expect to see art. I expect to see forms and colors combined in imaginative ways. I expect to be challenged, confused, possibly even offended. I expect an invitation to see the world from a different angle. I expect an escape from the matrix.

What I don’t expect is to see the world the way I see it every day. I don’t expect confirmation of my biases or rehearsal of my daily routine. And I certainly don’t expect a Bible study.

Expectations make all the difference. I think expectations have a lot to do with the recent spate of Christian movies. I haven’t seen all of the most recent offerings: War Room, God’s Not Dead, Miracles From Heaven, and the like. But I’ve seen enough to know what they are. They are terrific parables — wonderful life lessons — beautiful sermons. They are pedagogical endeavors, not creative ones.

Recently, I got into a debate with a close friend who was bemoaning what he perceived as a Hollywood vendetta against Christians, as if there is a secret filmmakers society, hatched in pot-smokey back rooms, whose creed is to wage war on all things holy. When this friend goes to see a movie like Exodus or Risen or Last Days In the Desert, he doesn't have the same expectations I have when I go to the museum. He is expecting a Bible study. He's expecting to encounter the story the same way he has always encountered it. 

But there’s another way to look at Hollywood. Rather than disappointment, outrage or suspicion, we could respond with patience and conversation. We could start watching films and stop expecting sermons.

I don’t have anything against sermonizing Christian movies. They encourage a lot of people. But they also confuse us. Like an Olin Mills portrait in an art museum, they cause us to wonder, “Is that art? What is it doing here? And why is it different than everything else?” Until we start viewing secular films for what they are, Christian films will just get in the way of our cultural mission.

One final thought: this confusion might have as much to say about our nation’s church industry as it does about its film industry. It’s easy to confuse the two when entertainment is the goal of both. We have to realize, brothers and sisters, that if we go to the movies and to church for the same reasons, one of those two institutions isn’t doing its job.