Category Archives: Movies

Don’t Let ‘Em Fool You

Churches Love Da Vinci Code

I read The Da Vinci Code about three years ago. Long before it was a soon-to-be-released motion picture blockbuster. Long before it was the latest controversy keeping church members up in arms. Long before it was the hottest sermon topic to come along since Jabez. Back then, The Da Vinci Code was just a bestselling suspense yarn.

The Code is definitely a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down. The book has it all: a globe-trotting chase, fast-paced action, strange conspiracy theories, some interesting historical threads, and lots of cryptic codes and puzzles to chew on. It’s what you would get if you combined Mission Impossible with Oliver Stone with the Travel Channel with the History Channel with a Sudoku book. I really enjoyed reading it.

I am an evangelical Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. I have dedicated my life to serving Him. Nothing I read in The Da Vinci Code rattled my faith. But I don’t form my religious beliefs from the content of popular fiction. Is there anybody who does that?

I often hear people claim that The Da Vinci Code says this or that about Jesus. That’s overstating the case. The Da Vinci Code serves up a fictional tale in which members of two cloak-and-dagger organizations, the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, believe Jesus took a wife and had a child and perhaps even promoted goddess worship. In the fictional story, at least some higher-ups in the Catholic church know the Priory’s secret, and will do almost anything to keep the secret from being revealed. The Da Vinci Code isn’t about Jesus Christ, it is about the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, and a few members of the Catholic Church.

Does Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments “say” that God’s people ought to be kept in slavery, just because Pharoah attempts to do so in that film? Does The Godfather “say” that people ought to devote their lives to crime, since most of the characters in that story are criminals? Does Shrek “say” that all green monsters are cute, especially if they speak with a Scottish brogue?

Unlike the fictional Priory of Sion in Brown’s book, the real Priory of Sion is apparently only a few decades old. Of course, the notion that an ancient line of French kings traced its lineage back to Christ is balderdash. So The Da Vinci Code is not a good source of historical information about Christ or about secret societies. Did somebody say that it is?

A story that has some Catholic bureaucrats involved in murder and intrigue is perhaps offensive to some Catholics. But I’m not a Catholic, I’m not a member of Opus Dei, I’m not a member of the Priory of Sion, and I’m not a member of any fraternal organization, secret or otherwise. Unless you are, what’s all the fuss?

But I’m not surprised that The Da Vinci Code has caused such a buzz among even non-Catholic churches and Christians. The modern evangelical church is quickly becoming the most market-driven organization in history. Even authors and movie makers have some artistic motivations behind their craft. But what is driving the churches’ excitement to jump on the Da Vinci Code bandwagon? Nothing but sheer marketing appeal. Modern church leaders seize upon any and every marketing ploy to draw attention, keep the auditoriums full, and sell their latest books. Churches are inundating us with books, tapes, magazine articles, and TV and radio broadcasts “debunking” The Da Vinci Code. Many churches are featuring special Da Vinci Code sermons from the pulpit. I’m sure some are throwing in popcorn and Twizzlers for good measure. The evangelical church (at least in the U.S.) is quickly losing its identity in its mindless haste to be whatever it needs to be each day to keep the attention of an easily distracted public. To churches, The Da Vinci Code is just this season’s hot church marketing gimmick.

I remember when the church existed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to be on the cutting edge of movie and book reviews. And I remember when a piece of popular fiction was considered a good way to while away a few hours, but not something to make the center of our focus and energy in the church.

Better brace yourselves. Superman Returns is scheduled for theatrical release on June 30. Long before anybody ever heard of Dan Brown, the parallels between the Superman tale and the story of Christ have been noted. Coming to earth from another place in the heavens. Able to do amazing feats mere mortals cannot do. Standing for truth and justice. Determined to save the human race.

Churches can’t coast on The Da Vinci Code ride forever. And we sure know that nobody’s going to show up for church just to hear a 2,000-year-old message drawn from an ancient Scriptural text. So it’s definitely not too soon to start gearing up for the next big church event. It’s time to start cranking out the “Superman Uncaped” books and planning those sermon series on “The Real Superman.” As the great theologian P.T. Barnum once said, “Every crowd has a silver lining.”

Hollywood’s Latest Moses (and Other Great Caucasians of the Bible)

I watched the first installment of ABC’s two-part mini-series, The Ten Commandments, last night. It covered the 80-year period from baby Moses in the basket to the parting of the Red Sea. The second half, beginning after the Jews exited Egypt and culminating in Moses’ trip to the mountaintop, airs tonight.

Although the title was obviously borrowed from Cecil B. DeMille’s classic Charlton Heston vehicle — a smart marketing move, to suggest that it is a remake of the 1956 classic — I detected no direct connections between the two versions. The 2006 movie has a new script and fills in the blanks of the biblical account in different ways.

I had low expectations for this film. After all, some recent made-for-TV movies of biblical stories have been pretty pitiful. Remember the 1999 Noah’s Ark, starring Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen? It was absurd. How about the 1999 Jesus, with Jeremy Sisto as the Lord and Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene? He was the most fun-loving Jesus ever committed to film — always smiling, cracking jokes, a regular cut-up. He came off as a really nice guy, but not a Christ, the Son of the living God.

Prior to last night’s viewing of The Ten Comandments, I read a couple of reviews. Both critics complained that Moses was too weak and whiny (no Charlton Heston) and the movie too boring. So, I wasn’t expecting much.

Perhaps due to my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. ABC’s Moses is fairly good. I enjoyed it, and I look forward to watching the conclusion tonight. Sure, nitpickers can always point out details in a Bible movie that differ from the inspired text. But on all the important points, The Ten Commandments is in line with the Exodus account. Producer Robert Halmi Sr. said, “This will be the most biblically accurate telling of the story to date. I insisted on accuracy.” Good to know that was his goal, and he did relatively well at achieving it.

I do not think actor Dougray Scott’s Moses was wimpy. The Bible record tells us that Moses was a stammering melancholy, fearful and unsure of himself. However, he must have possessed latent leadership qualities, which God knew would emerge when circumstances required them. Scott struck the right balance, communicating Moses’ fear as well as his faith and forcefulness.

I do have two complaints, and I do not think these are minor details. First, why is Moses white (Dougray Scott was born in Scotland)? Come on. This is the 21st century. Are we still so xenophobic that we must recast every Bible character, from Jesus on down, as a Caucasian? When we will be ready to accept an Abraham, a Moses, or a Jesus who is Semitic?

(Sidebar: I came across this: “What Colour Was Jesus?” Good piece. Would you be able to bow down before and worship a Jesus who looks like this?)

Also, the Bible says Moses was 80 years old when he led his people to freedom. Dougray Scott is 40, and he looks it in this movie. At least in the 1956 version they dyed Heston’s hair and beard gray to indicate he had joined the senior class. In 2006, they just decided to skip over that little detail. Apparently the producer and director believe we want all of our Bible heroes to be middle-aged Caucasians, and they’re not going to let the facts get in the way of giving us what we want.

Despite those gripes, The Ten Commandments is worth watching, and it is certainly far better than most of the mindless junk on television. Christians who always complain about “Hollywood” should be grateful when they serve us movies like this one. The Ten Commandments is a Hallmark Entertainment production and is being broadcast by ABC.

Prince Caspian for Christmas 2007?

The Chronicles of Narnia: LWW is having a phenomenal run at the box office: $248 million so far during 5 weeks of release (and that’s just the U.S. box office; the total is twice that worldwide). Some moviegoers have enjoyed making this the battle of the Lion v. the Ape. King Kong is also doing extremely well, although so far the lion is out front. Kong’s take in its first four weeks is $193 million. Keep in mind that Kong’s 3+-hour length means fewer screenings daily, so its revenues by necessity are on a slower track than the typical 90-minute to 2-hour movie (Chronicles is 2 hours, 7 minutes).

I enjoyed both movies. The special effects in King Kong were amazing – better, I think, than anything Star Wars ever threw our way. I enjoyed Chronicles more than I expected to. I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy tales, but LWW has interesting characters in an interesting story. The allegory-of-Christ element, of course, makes Chronicles especially interesting to us believers. I’ll definitely be there for the sequel (which this Narnia site says will be Prince Caspian for Christmas 2007).


Can a Christian Be Demon Possessed?

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose was in theaters in September 2005 and now has been released on DVD. The movie was a successful conversation piece; it raised the spiritual consciousness of many and allowed more to ask questions about the spiritual aspect of life. I enjoyed it just as a movie, and I do not require movies to be theologically, historically or scientifically correct, unless the issuers claim such accuracy or truthfulness.

However, when a movie engenders discussion, some truth is probably called for, at least in the discussion. Especially does that seem true when discussing God’s limitations on the power of Satan.

Could a Christian girl be possessed by Satan or by a demon?

One of the leading commentaries on the Scriptures on this subject is by Merrill F. Unger, Demons in the World Today (Tyndale, 1972). Unger is known among Christians for his handbook, but this book is interesting, too. Some of Unger’s anecdotes are interesting but hard to judge as to value, simply because the subjective experience of someone else is hard to empathically assimilate. The Scriptures differ in that the Holy Spirit makes empathic assimilation possible. But Unger’s arguments from Scripture are intellectually satisfying. Unger died in 1980 and this book has been reissued under another title.

Unger’s argument is that a Christian, which by definition is someone indwelt by the Holy Spirit, cannot be possessed by Satan or by a demon, because the Holy Spirit will not share. Thus, if the movie Emily Rose was a Christian, which she seemed to be, then she could not be possessed by Satan or by a demon, because the Holy Spirit would not countenance an on-site competitor. Likewise, Christians can be reassured of their immunity to Satanic or demonic possession. Therefore, the premise of the movie was not Biblically sound, entertaining though it might have otherwise been, and would not be cause for fear on the part of Christians regarding unrestrained Satanic or demonic power to control the mind, body or soul of the Christian.

But, for non-Christians, the movie might very well be a warning. 2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12 (NIV): “…every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.” The word “every” is ad infinitum, bearing of no exception, and so, too, might be the potential evil.

Top 100 Spiritual Movies

The Arts & Faith website has posted its “Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films.” My first question: Who is Arts & Faith? The site describes itself as “the best place on the Web for discussion of Christian faith, the arts, and much more.” With a little noodling around, I found that someone named Alan Thomas runs the site, but I can’t find one detail on his site or elsewhere about him. Christianity Today is satisfied with his credentials, given their recent publication of the list, with some commentary. I love movies, and I love lists, so I checked out A&F’s Top 100. Some comments:

(1) I have never heard of the (supposed) No. 1 spiritual film of all time: Rosetta. It is a Belgian film (1999) about the teen daughter of an alcoholic mother. Guess I’ll have to rent it.

(2) Second film on the list is a 1928 silent movie about Joan of Arc. I went looking for Roger Ebert’s review of that movie, and he raves, so guess I’ll rent it too.

(3) Actually, I had only heard of two of the top 10 on the list: all of which are foreign language films (5 French, 1 Polish, 2 Danish, 1 Italian, 1 Japanese).

(4) In other words, French-speaking nations have made half of the ten most spiritually significant films of all time. I didn’t know those French were so spiritual.

(5) The first U.S. film on the list is No. 11, 1997’s “The Apostle,” starring Robert Duvall. I love that movie.

(6) Other more recognizable films on the list include, “The Mission,” “Dead Man Walking,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Passion of the Christ,” “Tender Mercies,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” and “Schindler’s List.” They are all in the top 50. I’ll let you check out the rest of the Top 100 list for yourself.