Hollywood has been rocked by yet another low-budget, faith-based film that has blown past so many of their high-priced worldly offerings. This last weekend, “I Can Only Imagine,” an overtly Christian movie without a single curse word and starring Dennis Quaid, raked in $17 million, finishing third in total take.
That blew away the highly publicized overtly gay Love, Simon ($12 million) movie’s second weekend which showed on almost 1,000 more screens nationwide. And it even eclipsed Disney’s budget-busting A Wrinkle in Time, ($16 million) despite its star power of Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, and it enjoying 2,300 more screens.
This continues to happen, of course. And it leaves a lot of folks wondering when Hollywood will ever learn. Faith-based movies, from independently produced low-budget films like Fireproof or God’s Not Dead, to record-setting masterpieces like Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel’s The Passion of the Christ, do incredibly well and rarely miss. And in an industry that has been producing more sequels and reboots than anything original, having apparently run out of ideas, the Bible offers a treasure trove of incredible epic movie making possibilities.
“The Bible contains dozens and dozens of potential billion dollar blockbuster films. But Hollywood won’t go anywhere near the best selling book of all time – except to mock it, as it did with Noah – because of its blind hatred of religious people.”
While I agree wholeheartedly with Walsh’s assessment, I have to be honest and admit that I’ve really changed my perspective in recent years and frankly don’t want Hollywood producing any Bible blockbusters. Not because I don’t think they’d make fabulous and inspiring movies if they were done right. But precisely because I know they won’t be, and the damage that can do is immense. The Gospel of Jesus is often threatened more by slightly false representations than it is blatant and obvious opposition.
For proof of what I mean, take the new television sitcom on CBS called, Living Biblically. Ironically one of the first responders to Walsh’s tweet cited this show as evidence that Hollywood is producing quality Bible-themed material. And the very fact that a culture of biblically illiterate people can actually believe that what is represented in Living Biblically is truly what living biblically is all about, demonstrates the problem.
The plot is fairly simple: the lead character finds his life in turmoil after his best friend dies and his wife reveals she is pregnant. He decides to go through a “life detox” by living his life completely obediently to Biblical teaching. Except the way the Hollywood producers of this CBS sitcom depict living according to Biblical teaching is not at all what it means to live according to Biblical teaching.
While chucking a rock at an adulterous coworker, and cautiously wearing the same color of thread gets laughs, it completely confuses Scriptural teaching that requires no such behavior from Christian believers. Further, it tragically fosters a festering misconception in our culture that the Bible is merely a rule book, rather than a divine account of God’s eternal struggle to redeem the souls of the created humans He loves so dearly.
Even with the perfect set-up, Hollywood producers swing and miss. In one of the first episodes of Living Biblically, the lead character’s priest (“Father Gene”) scoffs at his idea of living according to the laws of Scripture saying, “It’s not possible.” He’s right, of course. But not for the reasons he conveys. According to Gene, living in accordance with the Bible’s law is impossible because the laws are so kooky and out of date.
But that’s not why. The Bible tells us we can’t live at peace and in complete obedience to the law because our hearts are rebellious and sinful. The very best we can offer in regard to total obedience is “as filthy rags.” This awareness is woven throughout every book and chapter of Scripture, leading climactically to the moment our sin-laden desperation met God’s grace-giving salvation in the sacrificial death of Jesus.
Living Biblically then, truly means prostrating your sinful self before the foot of the cross and submitting humbly and gratefully to the unmerited gift of redemption that comes through the blood shed on it.
Until those writing screenplays in Hollywood grasp that truth themselves, I would much prefer they not misrepresent the greatest story ever told, thereby cheapening its power. The message of salvation in Christ alone is something the world needs to hear – and it’s best carried by those who have experienced it, whether they have big budgets and special effects or not.