FRANK: Hey, Sam, what's up?
SAM: Nothing…. Hey, did you see that movie Deep
FRANK: Yeah, that was really weird!
SAM: Really? I loved it. It told the story of a spaceship named
Messiah that saves the world from destruction when an asteroid is headed toward
Earth. But do you know what was my favorite part?
SAM: The part where Morgan Freeman, who plays the U.S.
President, tells the nation that he believes in God and asks everyone to pray
to Him. (There's a pause as Frank thinks about what Sam has
SAM: Hey, Frank, what do you think about God?
FRANK: I don't really know. What about you? …
Christian apologist C.S. Lewis began his scholarly career as an
argumentative agnostic. Lewis' studies of ancient and medieval literature and
myths, however, led him to eventually accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
This was because, as Lewis explained, he found that many of these ancient and
medieval literary texts contained all or part of an archetypal story of a
redemptive savior, a unique literary mythic device which drove Lewis to the
conclusion that these ancient stories were clues God had planted in many
cultures to point to His redemptive work through Jesus Christ.
Just as many great philosophers and thinkers of the past like Lewis and
Augustine came to know the truth of Jesus Christ through pagan literature,
there is the potential today for many men and women to come to know Jesus
Christ through secular movies.
Many Christians know the tremendous evangelistic impact of the
JESUS film. Campus Crusade for Christ has been showing the film around
the world to millions of people, many of whom have accepted Jesus as a result.
What many Christians do not realize is that the JESUS film was originally
distributed by Warner Bros. and produced by film financier John Heyman, who is
responsible for financing more than 100 Academy Award nominated movies,
including Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
Although produced and distributed by the Hollywood entertainment industry,
it is easy to understand how the JESUS film would lead people to Jesus
Christ because it clearly presents the gospel, as do many other Hollywood epics
such as Jesus of Nazareth, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and King of
What is even more intriguing is that many Hollywood movies that do not focus
on the story of Jesus have also brought people to a saving knowledge of Jesus
Christ. One of the leading distributors of Christian videos was a high level
executive in the oil business when the movie Ben Hur opened his eyes
to the gospel. The great Hollywood movie A Man Called Peter not only
led many people to Jesus Christ but also inspired many young men to enter into
the ministry. A film produced by the late Dodi Fayed, Chariots of
Fire, is known to be the catalyst of many viewers' decisions to follow
Christ. It is clear from this and other examples that the medium of film has
unbelievable potential to help evangelize if we ask the right questions and
help others do the same.
Obviously, you will lose credibility if you read Christian elements into
every story that comes along. Just because some movies have redemptive elements
and themes does not mean that you should necessarily watch them.
Let's face it, though, a lot of the time, Christians see the same movies as
everyone else. So, if you find that you and a non-believing friend have seen
the same film, you might be able to use it for God's purposes.
In fact, there is even a name for the technique: film evangelism.
FRANK: Sam, you're never going to believe this. I took another
look at Deep Impact.
SAM: Yeah, that's a movie packed with
SAM: Yeah, those guys in the spaceship, Messiah, gave up their
lives so that millions would be saved. I don't know if I could be that strong.
Someone did that for me a long time ago.
FRANK: Really? Incredible. No one's ever done that for me
SAM: That's where you're wrong, Frank. About 2,000 years ago, in
a little town named Bethlehem …
Good news hunting
The key to effective film evangelism involves asking the right questions.
Many movies are loaded with messages. Learning how to discover these messages
will help you use these movies to reach your friends for Christ.
Asking the right questions requires a working knowledge of how movies
communicate and entertain. Developing discernment requires comparing the
messages you discover from the questions you ask with the biblical standards
and principles of the Christian worldview.
There are two types of questions that will help you in your film
Ascertainment questions -- which help isolate elements,
evidence, meaning, point-of-view and worldview in a particular mass media
Discernment questions -- which help compare the answers to
our ascertainment questions with the biblical standard.
Sample ascertainment question: Who is the
Usually the easiest question for anyone to answer about a movie is: Who is
the hero or heroine?
For our purposes, we can conclude that in most cases, especially as far as
popular entertainment is concerned, the hero is the main character who is the
focus of the story.
However, knowing the name of the hero is not enough to be discerning. To
understand who the hero is we must analyze the hero's bone structure.
The bone structure of any character is the combination of all the
characteristics that make up the character. In analyzing a character's bone
structure, we need to look at the following: physical characteristics,
background, psychological characteristics and religious characteristics.
One of the most easily identifiable characters in Christian literature is
the Holy Fool. Being There, Forrest Gump and even The Truman
Show are good examples of the Holy Fool, who in many ways conforms to
Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 3:18: Do not deceive yourselves. If any one
of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a
"fool" so that he may become wise (NIV).
Not only is God's grace evident in the simple faith life of the Holy Fool,
as shown by Chauncey Gardner's "ability" to walk on water in Being
There; but also, as Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, a fool can
speak truth that seems too simplistic for people who are wise in the ways of
the world. Forrest Gump demonstrates this with profound insight into
predestination and free will as he summarizes the condition of man at the end
of his story.
In the next movie you watch, locate the hero or heroine and describe his or
her character traits.
Sample discernment question: What kind of role model is the
The next task is to see if the individual is a worthy role model. It is not
safe to assume that the heroes of today's movies are positive role models. Even
where the premise is positive and the morals in the story reflect a Christian
worldview, we must ask the question: Is the hero compatible with a biblical
Redemptive heroes, who, like Jesus, lay down their lives for others--even
their enemies--are quite common in Hollywood movies. In Saving Private
Ryan *, Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, lays down his life for
Private Ryan, whom he hardly knows, as well as for all those who will be saved
by his preventing the bridge from falling into German hands. In
Braveheart *, William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, dies to give his fellow Scots freedom
from oppression. At the moment of his death, Wallace is almost a Christ figure
who incarnates Jesus' torture and death. This symbolism was intended by the
writer of Braveheart, Randall Wallace, a committed Christian who
attended seminary. If you watch Braveheart, you will see many
incarnational, redemptive and sacramental elements.
The hero of Titanic, Jack, is very much a secular savior. He
rescues Rose from suicide, he comforts her, he loves her, and, eventually, he
gives his life for her. In discussing his saving acts, on mission Christians
who have seen Titanic will want to contrast Jack with the real Savior,
Jesus Christ, Who died even for His enemies (unlike Jack who fought with his
enemies) and Who never took advantage of anyone (whereas Jack is sexually
intimate with Rose in her moment of instability and weakness).
As you can see from the dialogue in this article, Christ-like role models
are the simplest way of reaching non-believers for Christ. As we saw from the
imaginary discussion between Sam (believer) and Frank (non-believer), Jesus can
be shared relatively easily using these films as a catalyst. Thanks guys.
SAM: Don't mention it!
FRANK: Hey, our pleasure!
Outtakes and trailers
The Truman Show is filled with opportunities for evangelism because
of its allegories. The movie portrays an artificial world of lies designed by
the media to capitalize on the innocence of unsuspecting Truman (the Holy
Fool). This media artifice is controlled by a director who plays God, and whose
name, Christoff, suggests a rip off of the true Christ. The key to
understanding this movie comes in the scene in which Truman's rescuer prays to
God, asking Him to help Truman make the right choice and escape from his false
reality. Her prayer is the turning point in the movie. The turning point of a
movie is often where we can pick up on opportunities for evangelism. So it is
in The Truman Show.
Victor Hugo's great Christian novel Les Miserables has been made
into several movies and a stage musical. Once again, the way to understand this
parable is to ask what is the pivotal scene in the story. The pivotal scene is
when the bishop wins Jean Valjean's freedom by saying that he gave Jean his
silver. This redemptive act of grace transforms Jean from a criminal/sinner
into a redeemed man. The conflict in Les Mis is grace as manifest in
Jean's born-again life versus law as manifest in the police inspector Javert's
legalism. Les Miserables' central plot of man's legalism vs. God's
grace provides a wonderful chance to share the truth with others.
Many movies provide other insights into salvation. Saving Private
Ryan ends with Ryan asking his wife if he has been a good man. He seems to
ask this question out of despair, perhaps because he realizes, as God tells us
in the Bible, that no man is good. The fact that no man is good, no matter how
hard he may try, is the very reason he needs a Savior in the person of Jesus
Christ, who died for those who were not good so that they may be redeemed from
being condemned to death. As we know, there are only two ways to get to heaven:
1) Never sin, which is impossible; or, 2) Ask God to forgive us of our sin,
admit we're wrong and request salvation from death, which Jesus conquered on
the cross. No easy task, but one is far simpler than the other. Perhaps you can
share this with non-believing friends, beginning the dialogue by asking whether
they consider themselves to be "good."
Some movies have evangelistic themes. Tender Mercies shows that
true love can lead a fallen country singer to Jesus Christ. The
Apostle portrays a preacher's struggle with sin and its consequences
against the backdrop of his forthright preaching of the gospel.
Other films show moral principles that can help people understand the truth.
Sense and Sensibility argues forcefully for a wholesome, biblical,
uplifting love as opposed to the senseless romantic love that is all too often
gone with a whim.
In Deep Impact, the president confesses his belief in God,
scripture is read, and Robert Duvall's character sacrifices himself to save the
world, noting as he does so, that he will be joining his wife in heaven.
On December 18, 1998, The Prince of Egypt was released by
DreamWorks. The magnificent animated feature film presents part of the life of
Moses. In many ways, it is a modern animated remake of The Ten Commandments.
Early in the production process, Jeffrey Katzenberg asked my assistance as he
sought to make The Prince of Egypt theologically sound. I brought into
the production several theologians whose advice was incorporated into the
scripting of the movie. Eventually, after the theologians had worked on the
movie, Jeffrey invited Christian leaders to view the movie and give their
The Prince of Egypt is a biblical epic that offers great
opportunities for film evangelism. Moses clearly prefigures Jesus Christ in the
way he is presented in The Prince of Egypt, and God is clearly the
Sovereign Power in The Prince of Egypt. Just as God uses Moses to lead
the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, God sent His only begotten Son,
Jesus, to lead mankind out of bondage to sin and death. By asking the right
questions in light of your Christian faith, you can use The Prince of
Egypt to tell your friends about the Prince of Peace.
Finding your personal fit for evangelism
In a previous issue, On Mission asked: Do you go to movies? Instead of
simply talking about the stars or action in recent movies, bring up the
spiritual element of the films. Many of today's films offer opinions about
matters of faith or at least the search for Someone beyond ourselves.
Of course, if you don't watch movies, you can't do this.
If you do, you need to ask the right questions when you watch movies so you can
help others answer the right questions about life--questions that would lead to
a personal, saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
In previous centuries, "entertainment" was a once-in-a-while thing. Someone
might have read aloud or played a musical instrument or there might have been
an occasional visit to the theater. Today, many people's use of the media bears
no resemblance to those occasional happenings. It is not separate from the
daily routine--it is the daily routine.
God's standards have not changed. His expectation for us is that we will try
to bring each thought into captivity and be good stewards of the time He has
given us on this earth. Remember, the goal is to bring every thought into
captivity. It is a lifelong challenge and an eternal command. When we know and
follow Him, He makes us "more than conquerors" in Christ.
* Both Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart warrant a
caution for sensitive viewers and children because of the graphically violent
nature of both films.
Dr. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission,
publishes MovieGuide, hosts a radio program and critiques motion pictures and
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