Friday, February 23, 2007

"Amazing Glaze"

In recent days leading up to the release of Amazing Grace the movie, I've been able to see the evangelical marketing machine in high gear from a vantage point that's a little more up-close-and-personal than usual. Prominent evangelical leaders seem to be saying that this is a great movie and that we have a moral obligation to go see it this weekend to show Hollywood that clean, Christian-themed films can be profitable and to encourage a wider release in coming weeks.

I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who would prefer to see more movies produced like Amazing Grace and fewer like just about anything else currently in the theaters. But I'll toss a little thought out there. When a secular publication like the Wall Street Journal is arguing that Hollywood has emasculated the evangelical core of the story, should evangelicals be cheering? Should we be less discriminating than secular newspapers? Are we so addicted to feeding at the table of American culture that we'll treat scraps like a feast?


Donette said...

Interesting, for sure. I hate to say that I'm not suprised. Take "One Night with the King" being marketed as a love story and the whole "End of the Spear" debaucle and this becomes just one more example of Evangelicals clammering to get a piece of the Hollywood $$$ pie.

I'm not saying that I am against rooting for a clean movie once in a while, just ask Hollywood for that - a clean movie - instead of expecting them to showcase organized religion in glowing pictures. And if a Christian is going to make a movie, market it as clean entertainment instead of duping everyone into seeing it because it is overtly "Christian." I've been disappointed too many times, and I think I've finally learned my lesson.

Ryan Martin said...

The evangelical lust for entertainment is profoundly irrational and animal. We are like the woman who never leaves the abusive "partner."

Brian said...

Indeed, I thought this movie was going to be a good one; having read Piper's bio on Wilberforce I was eager to see it, but now I am not sure about forking out the funds to do so. Sad to hear the reviews coming out.

Keith said...

Come on now. You're calling for discernment by making statements like: "Should we be less discerning than secular newspapers?"

The article you mention comes from an OPINION page and the author, Charlotte Allen, is a professed Christian editor for Beliefnet.

Allen appears to be Roman Catholic, but even a cursory reading of her articles reveals that she is not "secular" and she is no fan of liberalized, non-supernatural "religion."

So, the discernment you are praising was not authored by a secular newspaper. It was printed by such a paper, but that's a different matter -- newspapers like to print controversial articles in their opinion pages.

I'm no fan or supporter of crass marketing or of Christian hyperventilating over the release of moral movies. I also do not think that Christians have a moral obligation to attend this or any movie (I never have seen The Passion -- gasp).

Further, I have not yet seen Amazing Grace, so I don't know whether or not it inappropriately plays down Wilberforce's faith.

Nevertheless, as you implied, a movie like this has to be better than much if not most of what Hollywood usually puts out. So, surely, we should at least be open to supporting such efforts and working toward making them even better in the future.

Anybody can criticize -- it's not that hard. It is hard to actually DO.

G-Knee said...

I liked the movie!

Ben said...

This USA Today article includes some specifics about the reductionistic Wilberforce portrayed in the movie, including some comments from the deliberate nature of the reductionism from an evangelical involved in the project.

I'm not arguing that it's a bad movie. I'm not arguing that you shouldn't see it. That would be rather hypocritical.

But Keith, your statement that "we should at least be open to supporting such efforts and working toward making them even better in the future" is only meaningful if we have the same understanding of "we." If you're talking about we as in churches and evangelicalism as a movement, then I disagree.

On the other hand, if "we" is believers working in the movie industry, then I wouldn't argue too much. Phil Anschutz believes this is a worthwhile pursuit for his investments, and I hope he is right and effective, even though I'm skeptical.

My point is that the increasingly popular ecclesiastical marketing strategy is misguided and unwise.

Finally, your analysis of the WSJ piece is well taken. Technically, the paper is not arguing, but presenting a view. My response would be that I wonder whether evangelical leadership is discriminating enough to consider both sides of this discussion.

Keith said...

"We" would be those of us who share one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

The church's assembly for formal,liturgical worship in word and sacrament should not become a venue for crass marketing and advertising. And the evangelical church (as well as other branches) has too often been guilty of such. For that repentance is in order.

However, the church's leaders are called to shepherd the flock -- to lead them into green pastures and beside quiet waters. So, unless all movies should be avoided, it's conceivable that these shepherds might ocassionally mention things like "This movie is good for this reason . . . it's the kind of entertainment we should support and encourage."

The sheep in the flock are also called to encourage one another toward righteousness, so they might say similar things.

Are such actions the actions of "the churches" or of "believers"? I don't know how you'd answer, but I'd answer, "yes." I don't see how "the churches" and "believers" can be completely and hermetically separated.

Finally, I must confess that I naturally share your skepticism regarding artistic, cultural, and eclesiastical progress. Haven't seen much in my lifetime. To me it looks like every step forward is accompanied by one or more steps backward.

But, I wonder, is such skepticism biblical or godly? Or, is it the product of a lack of courage and faith?

Ben said...


I always appreciate your comments. You definitely challenge my thinking in a helpful way.

I do think that to suggest that a pastor should comment on entertainment presupposes that a church should be in the work of endorsing entertainment as a valid pursuit. I'm not sure that's the church's role. I do think there are ways to lead people to think about things without that sort of endorsement.

And I wouldn't say that my skepticism is biblical or godly or faithless or cowardly. I simply think it's honest to say that I haven't figured everything out, but I have doubts, which I do not believe are unreasonable.

Keith said...


I wasn't trying to accuse you of cowardice or faithlessness. Sorry if that came accross.

I appreciate your honesty in revealing that you just don't know about some things. I don't either.

What I was trying to say is that we ought to consider why we don't have certainty about things.

Is it because I just have not had time to learned enough yet? Or, because I'm simple? Or, because I'm not willing to DO the actions that certainty would call for? Or, because God's promises seem too difficult to believe? These, and maybe some other reasons, have to be on the table.

Further, I think it can help to deal with things in absolute/antithetical form. Is entertainment ever acceptable or is it always unacceptable? If it is always unacceptable, then pastors/church should say avoid it. If it is ever acceptable, then pastors should say how to use it properly. Christ is Lord of all.

Again, that doesn't mean I'm endorsing the specific (superficial, embarassing, crass, etc.) techniques used by many mainstream evangelicals. It doesn't mean we need to be ridiculous and come up with an 11th commandment: "Thou shalt attend this movie so that the market will produce more like it."

It does mean that while we can distinguish between the pastor and the church, and while we can distinguish between the parishoners and the church -- we cannot separate them.

It also means, as C.S. Lewis said (paraphrasing): Christians "are not, in fact, going to read nothing . . . if you don't read good books, you will read bad ones. If you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions, you will fall into sensual satisfactions." And, I think we could add -- you will watch good movies or you will watch bad movies.

I guess I'm just arguing for hope -- even though I often feel like things are hopeless -- and for the hard work that is required for making things better.

Come to think of it -- isn't that what Wilberforce did?


Keith said...

"Is it because I just have not had time to learned enough yet? Or, because I'm simple?"

Well, either I haven't had time to learned enough grammar or I'm simple or both.