In recent weeks, a spate of movies that touch on biblical issues and spiritual concerns has been released. Serious evangelical Christians can use the perspectives expressed in these films as discussion starters with seekers and skeptics who surely have been to the cinema lately.
The Apostle Paul modeled that ministry approach in Acts 17 when he observed and then utilized aspects of Athenian culture to launch a conversation about Christ in that pagan city.
In Colossians 4:5 he stresses the importance of using every opportunity to cultivate an interest in Christianity among those outside the faith. In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter advises believers to always be alert and prepared for chances to speak of the hope we have. In today's world, we can draw seed thoughts from movie plots to engage people in reflection and then present the biblical world view.
Take "The Lovely Bones," the story of an adolescent girl who is brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor who happens to be a sex offender.
She goes out into a sometimes beautiful, sometimes fuzzy afterlife where she views her family's grief and desire for justice and where she pines away at lost youth and tries to orchestrate her killer's punishment. OK, it's just a motion picture, but its depiction of what happens at death sure is at odds with the biblical description.
For starters, scripture makes it clear that not everybody goes to Heaven when they die. Only those who embrace Christ for salvation will show up there.
Contrary to this film's interpretation, though, the center of attention in Heaven will be God, who will receive worship and adoration forever. Even though the amenities will be indescribably awesome, it will not be simply a zone of self-indulgence. And there'll certainly be no possibilities of visiting with those left behind or somehow influencing earthly events.
Another cinematic piece, "Legion," weaves a tale of God capriciously and angrily deciding to destroy mankind. He sends angels Michael and Gabriel to accomplish the deed, though Michael proceeds to join forces with the frightened human race and thwart God's plan.
This film regrettably throws together bits and pieces of significant biblical themes — God's wrath, the birth of Christ, floods, end-times events, angels and demons — into a tangled mishmash that makes no sense. Worse, it offers up a God who is evil and mean-spirited, perhaps mentally ill. It leaves out the wonderful grace of God in Christ and assumes that God has no foreordained, long-standing plan for what will happen to this world.
How completely opposite all this is to the scriptural presentation of God as omnipotent, omniscient and holy, yet patient, loving and willing for people to repent.
What about "The Book Of Eli," a post-apocalyptic story starring Denzel Washington? In some future time when the world has been largely destroyed, a lone man faces all kinds of dangers. He carries what may be the last copy of the Bible to a place where possibly it might be used in the re-establishment of the earth and culture.
Three cheers for a movie that seemingly exalts the status and significance of the scriptures. Nevertheless, there are problems here. First off, the predicted, ultimate devastation of this planet associated with the second coming of Christ in the last days won't be quite like what's dramatized in this film. At that time, according to the Bible, there will be no second chances for restoration. There will be no possibility of any man-made Renaissance.
Judgment will commence, and then, for believers, a God-directed renovation of this messed-up earth will occur as eternity begins.
Also, you get glimpses in the movie of wrong ways to use the Bible. One evil-hearted individual attempts to steal the book from the wanderer so that he can utilize it to control his band of thugs.
That kind of mind set is with us all the time, isn't it? Sadly, at film's end, the delivered and copied Bible is seen as just one more book among many in a redeveloped library of great works of literature, not as the unique, life-changing book that it is.
Finally, "The Wolfman" opened recently. Here is the popular tale of men who are reduced by a curse to a savage, wolf-like status when the moon is full. The term for it is lycanthropy. Most people don't know that there's a similar story in the Bible, in Daniel 4. No pagan curse and no full moon business but rather an act of God's judgment, after strong warning, against the uncontrolled pride of Babylon's ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. For seven years he lived an animal-like existence until he learned the lesson that before God's sovereignty we are to be humble and grateful and submissive. The lord usually doesn't use methods like that today, but he will definitely get our attention. We would do well as individuals and as a nation to abandon prideful self-seeking and self-will and submit to God, who made us and knows what's best for us.
One of the sins that God hates most is pride, and it is so destructive to human relationships.
The Rev. Tommy Davidson is pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Newport News. He can be reached by e-mail at Graceway51@aol.com.
Religion column: Movies aren't a great place to study Bible
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