Risen: Movies, Faith, and the Bible

There’s an old saying you’re probably familiar with: “All that glitters is not gold.” It’s an idiomatic reminder that appearances are not everything and often do not reveal the true nature of a thing. To be honest, that’s often how I feel when Hollywood tries to put the Bible on the silver screen. It may glitter but it certainly isn’t gold! Recent adaptations—actually, it’s probably more accurate to say recent rewrites—like that of Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, are a painful reminder of that. Not only have they been box office flops but they have failed entirely in biblical accuracy. Despite the repeated failures of Hollywood I will admit my interest was piqued with headlines of the recently released movie, Risen.

As an unofficial sequel to Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, this recent release looks at the story of the resurrection from the perspective of a skeptic. Like a detective mystery set in ancient times, the movie centers around a Roman soldier named Clavius and his aide, a young and zealous soldier named Lucius, as they are tasked by Pontius Pilate to investigate the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. Critics are divided, but audiences seem to appreciate this unique faith-based biblical epic.

The resurrection is at the very heart of the message of the gospel. The Apostle Paul emphasized this when he said: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). So, as a Christian and one who loves movies, I cannot help but wonder if this movie is a friend or foe to that message. Now, for the sake of full disclosure I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie. Nor do I plan to. While that probably means I cannot offer a scene-by-scene review—which is fine by me—it doesn’t mean I can’t think biblically about the approach, method, and value of a movie like this. And from that perspective I think there’s enough to warrant a note of caution to would-be moviegoers.

In the first place, I think viewers need to check their expectations. Maybe it’s just me, but every time a movie like this comes out I hear in Christian circles how it will revive a cultural respect for the tenets of the faith. But will it? I don’t think so. Perhaps you remember the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus both of whom died. While Lazarus went to Abraham’s side the rich man went to Hades. There in the torment of eternal fire the rich man begs that he be allowed to return to his father’s house and warn his brothers being fully convinced that if someone from the dead goes to them they would repent. His request is met with strong words: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Hollywood—even on its best day—can say no more and certainly nothing better than what the Bible already says. If the written Word is not enough to convince a skeptic, the movie theater will never do a better job.

In the second place, I think viewers need to respect revelation. We have an insatiable desire to try and fill in the blanks where God has been silent. Long ago Moses warned “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). This movie, which is largely a piece of historical-fiction, attempts to fill in the blanks with speculation and “what ifs.” We know that the soldiers trembled and became like dead men, that some of the guards told the chief priests who bribed them to fabricate a story about the empty tomb, and that this falsified report spread among the Jews (Matthew 28:4-15). Beyond that we know nothing of Roman detectives, investigations, and manhunts—on that the Bible is silent and we need to respect its silence. Our faith isn’t based on speculation, vain curiosity, and what ifs, but on the revealed Word of God which gives us all things necessary for faith and life, and equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

In the third place viewers need to think about the appropriateness of images of Christ. I know this isn’t going to be popular among many and it will probably put me on the fringe–although I will note it’s a thoroughly Presbyterian principle. Perhaps it’s not something you have thought much about, but there are good and biblical reasons to think that pictures of Jesus are sinful. I know it’s said that because he had a human body and because he was visible to the physical senses a picture helps us understand the reality of the incarnation. But here’s my point. Every thought and impression we have of Jesus should be accompanied with the respect and even worshipful attitude that he deserves. That is to say, a Christian should never think, speak, or read about Jesus with anything less than honor and worship. That is, in part, the point of the third commandment–we aren’t to have any “vain” thoughts about God (Exodus 20:7). Anything less than worshipful thoughts about Jesus are vain thoughts. So pictures–like the ones in this movie that depict Jesus as crucified and resurrected–if they are to be used, must be viewed and used in a worshipful sense. But, we are forbidden by God in the second commandment to worship him through the use of images (Exodus 20:4-6).

Finally, viewers need to remember the drama of the resurrection isn’t a cinematic experience. Sure, it may glitter as only the silver screen can, but the real power of the resurrection is experienced every Lord’s Day as God’s people gather for worship. It is there that he is bringing together a community of people who are raised and seated with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5-6). It is there that Christ is presented before our eyes as crucified in the preaching of the Word (Galatians 3:1) and in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is there that he gives faith to believe to the salvation of body and soul (Romans 10:17). It is there that he meets with us and we with him as he confirms again and again that the tomb is empty and we worship a living Savior. That may not be the thing that movies are made of, but it’s through these ordinary means that he manifests his resurrection power.

35 Comments

  1. John February 24, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    And with this statement, “for the sake of full disclosure I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie. Nor do I plan to”. Seriously mate just go a view it for what it is before writing about it.

    • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 8:06 am #

      Hey John! Thanks for stopping by. Again, as I stated in the post I don’t think anything I’ve said requires that I see the movie. I’m not offering a point-by-point analysis of the content but setting a pattern of how one might think about a movie like this. Do you think any of my comments requires the necessity of seeing it?

      Cheers!

    • Riley February 24, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

      In humility, I believe where the author stands is that to “fashion an image or likeness” of Christ is something to be avoided. That God is particular about that kind of thing. Not that anyone goes to heaven for not doing it, but the point remains – the conviction that to make an image of something and claim it to represent Christ (God) is displeasing to God is not a new one. I am making the choice not to see the movie for that very reason. I would not have my kids watch it either, and for the same reason.

      • Kevin February 26, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

        The second part of the second commandment is key to the first part: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” For starters, I highly doubt that the makers of the movie intended to worship the movie itself, or the portrayals of Jesus. Secondly, those who watch the movie, the vast majority of them claiming to be Christians, neither made the movie (image), nor intend to worship the portrayal of Jesus. So it would appear to me that you would not be in violation of the 2nd commandment by watching the movie.

        • Kyle Borg February 26, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

          Kevin,
          Thanks for stopping by and the interaction here. The point that the Reformed tradition has always made regarding pictures of Christ is that if permissible they would demand worship because any thoughts of Jesus that are less than worshipful are vain and in contradiction to the third commandment. So the issue isn’t whether they would “intend” to worship him, the issue is by virtue of it being a depiction of Christ worship would be given. As John Calvin said on this issue, our hearts are perpetual idol factories.

          I know this isn’t a popular conviction in the evangelical world. Whether one agrees or disagrees, however, I hope it can be recognized that while fringe in a contemporary world, it has been held universally by Reformed and Presbyterian churches and has roots to the earliest years of Christianity. Cheers!

    • John February 25, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      Hi Kyle, Okay no worries about setting a pattern of how might think about a movie, it would be interesting to read your thoughts about the actual movie if you did venture to see it.
      Grace 2 U

  2. Wayne Wilson February 24, 2016 at 8:49 am #

    To any who might object by saying: “I don’t have worshipful thoughts about Jesus while watching this movie,” I would simply ask: “Then do you dishonor him by thinking too low of him?”

    I’m not sure what this question means, but if it means “Did the film take away worshipful thoughts about Jesus because it replaced Him with an actor?” then I would say that I did have worshipful thoughts about Jesus while watching “Risen” but these thoughts were distinctly separate from the actor portraying Him. There is not the slightest inclination to confuse the two. And I was thankful that a Hollywood film was careful to preserve the essential truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

    That said, I agree that often the Christian media cling to any small blessing like “Risen” and blow the benefits of it all out of proportion. That says more about a culture of hype the church has bought into than it does an individual work of art. And that’s what film is…art, with all that this entails. If people enjoy it for what it is, and nothing more, that is a blessing.

    • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 9:24 am #

      Hey Wayne! Thanks for stopping by. Sorry if what I said didn’t make much sense. In the spirit of friendly discourse I’ll try to clarify. There is power in pictures. Even as you said, you left the cinema with worshipful thoughts about Jesus and, I trust I’m not going beyond what you’ve said, that is, at least in part, because of the pictorial representations of him on the screen. I don’t think it matters so much if you identify the actor with Jesus himself, the actor who is a pictorial representation of Jesus is being used as a medium to facilitate worship. And *if* one allows for pictures of Jesus that would be the only appropriate way to look at pictures. To look at a picture of Jesus and *not* have worshipful thoughts would, in itself, be sinful because you’re not thinking upon Jesus as you ought to. But as I understand it (and the whole of the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition to which I belong) using pictorial representations of Jesus to facilitate worship is against the second commandment. Again, I know this puts me on the fringe among modern evangelicals but this view is not without precedence. If you’re interested in further reflection, I’d suggest reading John Calvin in his “Institutes” on this, the Reformed Confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms and the Heidelberg Catechism, and more recently J.I. Packer’s book “Knowing God,” and Danny Hyde’s book “In Living Color.”

      Blessings!

      PS: I did a quick edit on the OP to try and reflect this thought better.

      • Bradley February 24, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

        “But as I understand it (and the whole of the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition to which I belong) using pictorial representations of Jesus to facilitate worship is against the second commandment.”
        I have a very hard time understanding why the written word, music, and art (not representing Christ) that facilitates worship is any different than representational art. We can make those things “idols” just as much as representational art. Given all the areas that are so obviously sinful in our daily walk, seems like an odd thing to make seeing a movie depicting Christ sinful.

        • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

          Bradley, thanks for stopping by! I don’t know if you’re looking for a dialogue, but can I ask two questions: 1) Do you think we are to only worship God in the way he has commanded? 2) Would you agree that the second commandment forbids the worship of God through pictorial representations?
          Cheers!

  3. Andrew February 24, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    “Now, for the sake of full disclosure I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie. Nor do I plan to.” I understand the disclaimer that this is not a scene-by-scene analysis of the movie. However, most of your objections below can’t actually be fairly explored without seeing the movie. I hope you’ll consider why below.

    POINT 1 “Hollywood—even on its best day—can say no more and certainly nothing better than what the Bible already says. If the written Word is not enough to convince a skeptic, the movie theater will never do a better job.” I don’t think the movie is claiming to replace the Bible. And I agree that people should not expect this movie to make the case for the resurrection an open and shut case for the skeptic. I would not say to anyone, “bring your atheist friend here, as it will convince them.” However, what it does do is to make people think, and make the point that whatever happened in Jerusalem changed everyone who looked into it. We cannot stay the same.

    POINT 2 “In the second place, I think viewers need to respect revelation. We have an insatiable desire to try and fill in the blanks where God has been silent.” This is clearly one of the points you cannot make without seeing the movie. My view on this is that the movie is faithful to the gospel accounts. No “filling in the blanks”. The scenes involving Jesus and the apostles are all faithful to the gospel accounts. Aside from the use of a fictional character to observe the events, the guts of the story is from the gospels.

    POINT 3 “In the third place viewers need to think about the appropriateness of images of Christ.” This is your strongest point. I too struggle with this one. But you should know that in this film, there is no invented dialogue of Jesus. And the focus is really on the people around him (as opposed to the Mel Gibson Passion movie in which Jesus was the main character). In terms of screen time and dialogue, Jesus is a “minor character”. But yes, I agree that there is a tension for us with respect to the portrayal of Jesus. Since you probably wont see the movie, you should know that Jesus was played without fanfare or goofiness or embellishment. Further, there was no effort to show the actual Resurrection, which was a good conscious and intentional decision, probably informed by this concern.

    POINT 4 “Finally, viewers need to remember the drama of the resurrection isn’t a cinematic experience.” By that logic, we should also stop singing about the Resurrection because “the resurrection isn’t a musical experience.” “Sure, it may glitter as only the silver screen can, but the real power of the resurrection is experienced every Lord’s Day as God’s people gather for worship.” Would this objection apply if someone watched this movie on Saturday afternoon and went to church on Sunday, as they do every Sunday? The movie makes no claims to be a means of grace, and moviegoers should be sophisticated enough to not consider the experience of watching the movie as a means of grace in lieu of corporate worship.

    Overall, the film is well done. Its fidelity to the gospel accounts is commendable in light of recent “Bible” movies. The filmmakers are also careful to avoid using “special effects” to make their point, but rather just relies on the facts and how a determined Pagan might go about trying to disprove claims of the resurrection. I was happy to support it and am happy to recommend it to others.

    • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      Andrew,
      Thanks for stopping by and your careful reflections. I appreciate them. I’m not entirely sure what angle you’re coming at it from, however. If you’re interested in responding to the content of each point that’s one thing. But you said you were providing reasons why my points necessitate watching the movie. That’s what I don’t get:

      POINT 1: This had less to do with Hollywood’s intention and more to do with the attitude that often accompanies the fanfare of faith-based movies. I’m not sure I have to watch the movie to make this observation. Right?

      POINT 2: Do I need to watch the movie to know that its genre is historical-fiction?

      POINT 3: My concern isn’t simply with a respectful portrayal of Jesus–it’s with any portrayal at all. Again, do I need to see the movie before I’m convinced by the Bible that pictorial representations of Jesus aren’t biblical?

      POINT 4: Your non-sequitur aside, do I need to watch the movie in order to know the resurrection power at work when I gather for worship on the Lord’s Day?

      Cheers!

      • Andrew February 24, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

        Thanks for the quick response Kyle. Not sure what you mean about my angle, but my last paragraph sums up my views of the movie. I did see it, and I liked it for the reasons noted in my first comment.

        So your points are:
        1. Christians should lower expectations when seeing “religious” or “apologetic” movies. Right, you don’t need to see the movie to make the point. But until you see it, how can you discourage people or dampen enthusiasm for a well meaning film that actually is on the same “side” of the issue as you? What am I missing, other than you telling (who?) to calm down? I have surely not read as much about you regarding the fanfare around this movie (your blog post was forwarded to me after I posted a favorable comment online, and I probably read one other review). So if there is overwrought excitement around this movie, fair enough, “calm down” indeed. Van til has not returned to film an apologetic.

        2. So you would be against any Bible movie that is a “historical fiction”, as a matter of principle. In that case, a verbatim reading of the text by an actor on film would not even satisfy this standard. A movie, by definition, is visible and audible, and the Bible is written. So any attempt to put the Bible on film (or even a recorded medium) should be suspect by this standard, as a facial expression here, an inflection of the voice there, a movement of the camera there, a musical score, are all “filling in the blanks”. Are you now expanding your critique to discourage all movies based on the Bible? You would throw out many wonderful babies with the bathwater, sadly.

        3. I agree that portrayal of Jesus is always going to be an issue, but I would not go so far as to say that any portrayal is problematic. As I noted, in this case, Jesus had very little screen time, and the focus was on the responses of those around him. Also, I appreciate how the film makers resisted an urge to show the resurrection and ascension using special effects. The resurrection happens “off screen”. Upon further reflection, the few scenes showing Jesus were meant to show he was really dead and then really alive. They don’t even show Jesus preaching any post-Resurrection sermons.

        4. We both agree that “the real power of the resurrection is experienced every Lord’s day”. So I suppose I just don’t get what your concern is here. If people watch the movie and don’t “use” it for worship, or in lieu of the divine service on the Lord’s day, what again is the concern? Nothing on the screen would do violence to our views of the means of grace. If you are worried that someone might show this movie on Sunday morning instead of preaching, prayer and the sacraments, then I would agree with your concern.

        A few points to be sure:
        I appreciate your site and your work. Thank you. Sorry that my first commentary on your site is an engagement like this, as opposed to one of simple gratitude. Thank you for your work and engagement with culture. And thank you for humoring this commentary and responding as you did.

        I’ll admit I had a “gut” reaction to the “I didn’t see the movie but” caveat. Too many memories of “that student” in every class who started opining with “I didn’t do the assigned reading but here’s what I think…” You do make several points that don’t require a viewing of the movie, and I accept that I overstated my concern with that caveat. However, if you are addressing a specific film (as opposed to the “Bible Movie Historical Fiction Genre” in general), then it would help to actually watch that film. Your blog post presents itself as a response to a particular movie in theaters now, as opposed to your general thoughts on filmic portrayals of the Bible (which would be more appropriate). Do you mean to discourage a parent doing Internet research on whether this specific movie is appropriate to take their family to? If not, I would suggest that should consider whether your post has this effect.

        Some of the excitement around it (to your point number one) is the “breath of fresh air” that “big Hollywood” has financed, released, and distributed a film that tries to be true to the Biblical text. We are quick to criticize the “Noahs” of the world, that I wonder how much we should be just as quick to encourage films that actually do try to present the gospel accounts faithfully (guarding against a violation of the 2nd commandment).

        You know what, I would love to see that scene-by-scene interaction if you ever decide to see the movie. I promise it’s not Noah.

        Thank you again. And cheers to you.

        • Ryan February 24, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

          Andrew, I had a comment all lined up ready to post and you go and spoil it and say most of what I was going to say.

          That said I would like to add a few thoughts:

          I agree, I am sad that my first comment isn’t a positive thanks, and as a blog writer myself, I know what it is to write something I care about. So thanks for taking the time and bravery to write about your convictions. That said, I do feel that your article did more in its content to undermine the point you were trying to make by attempting to address too many topics that require much more consideration, and with the misleading title followed by the “famous” “I didn’t watch it but…” comment.

          I wanted to bring up what I think may be considered at best an inconsistency in your argument. You said we should honor mystery in Scripture (I totally agree), yet you then seem to criticize the movie for taking liberty filling in the gaps. First, isn’t this what all art does? Second, isn’t this what all theological tombs do? If it isn’t legitimate to fill in any gaps, ever…should we all throw out all our theological books?

          You then go on to make claims like “Every thought and impression we have of Jesus should be accompanied with the respect and even worshipful attitude that he deserves. That is to say, a Christian should never, think, speak, or read about Jesus with anything less than honor and worship.” And “Anything less than worshipful thoughts about Jesus are vain thoughts.” Ok, but isn’t that you reading in the gaps? Where are the verses that explicitly state this? (I’m not saying I don’t agree with your over all sentiment, just pointing out that you are doing just the thing you seemed against earlier.) This seems to be saying, correct me if I am wrong, but every time I think about Jesus, hear his name, read it, (view an actor on screen or in a play) I must immediately be drawn to worship? Where is this in Scripture explicitly taught or are you filling in gaps here? Can you see how this would work out in practical living? Try telling someone about Jesus in between your spontaneous worship of Jesus every time His name is mentioned.

          I think you are expecting too much from the artistic expressions of Biblical truth and Characters, they are not meant to be worship experiences, unless you mean a very broad interpretation of worship, which would include everything I do as worship. I think you miss the point of art, as a means to minister to the heart (for right or wrong), and seem to be blending together the worship of God with the expression and communication of His truth in all different forms.

          I don’t think Jesus would be against using stories to communicate Biblical truth, as He taught in parables, so I don’t think the concept of Biblically based movies or themes is out, hence the only discussion should revolve around whether we can have an image of Jesus whether painted, or actor portrayed.

          Trust me, I struggle hard to make sure my world view is informed and submitted to Scripture and not by my culture (which doesn’t guarantee it isn’t in places), but I find the Scriptural arguments for the no-pictures-of-Jesus (or actors)-ever-position to be quite a strain of exegesis and possibly a straining at a nat (don’t get me wrong I am against the worship of any image). C’mon are we to really believe that at every image we see, it means we are worshiping that image? Why is it that if I see an image of Jesus it defacto means I must immediately be worshiping the image, but if I see an image of a pomegranate, no one accuses me of worshiping the pomegranate (cough, God decreed the use of pomegranate images in His worship, cough)? Am I the only one who sees an inconsistency here? How is one image an idol, and the other just fine, or are you taking the woodenly literal interpretation that we should have no images of any of nature ever as explicit written in Scripture?

          If the fear is that Jesus in an image must mean Idol worship, than any image must mean Idol worship.

          My gut reaction to your article, is that you are leaning into a view that will (not a logically slippery slope) end in Christians not being allowed to participate (create or view) any art that has anything to do with Scripture, and are backhandedly criticizing all the Christians who have viewed any movie, or image of Jesus as idol worshipers who need to repent.

          • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

            Ryan,
            Thanks for your kinds words and for stopping by. You’ve said a lot…not sure I’ll be able to interact on every point.

            1. I think there is a qualitative difference between interpreting the Scriptures–which is what a good theological book ought to do–and writing an apocryphal piece of fiction. So I guess I’m not seeing my inconsistency. Help?

            2. Other than my third point which raises the concern I have over pictures of Jesus as being sinful, there’s nothing in my other three points that prohibits anyone from watching the movie. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything in my other three points that should even be objectionable. It’s true that Hollywood will not usher in a revival, right? It’s true that our faith doesn’t rest in “what-ifs,” right? It’s true that the power of the resurrection is actually experienced in worship, right? Those are my points. And since movies are such a powerful medium of communication I do think Christians need to reflect on what they’re exposing themselves to and beware of the subtle temptation to make a faith-based movie like this more than it is. Is that a disagreeable point?

            3. As to the pictures of Jesus if you think the exegesis is strain can I honestly ask if you’ve exposed yourself to the exegesis? If not, I’d highly recommend reading John Calvin on this in his “Institutes,” J.I. Packer has a chapter on it in “Knowing God,” and Danny Hyde has written an excellent book, “In Living Color.” I might add, that looking at a pomegranate need not be cause for worship for the simple reason that nothing about that pomegranate demands worshipful thoughts. However, any conception I have of God *ought* to lead me to worship or my thoughts of him are not with the reverence due to his name (see Exodus 20:7).

            Blessings!

        • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

          Andrew,
          Thanks for your comments and engagement! Don’t know if you’re looking for a point-by-point dialogue. If so, let me know. Otherwise I’ll let you have the last word 🙂
          Blessings!
          -kyle

          • Ryan February 24, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

            You commented on my comment, which was a comment on Andrew’s comment..which was…hehe you see where it is going 😉

  4. MB February 24, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    These comments make me think there is a deficient understanding of the Reformed Regulative Principle of Worship. I’m suspicious that they come from YRR folks.

    • Ryan February 24, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

      Please explain more. Simply calling people names or labeling them in a group is unhelpful to any discussion. I don’t see how the RRPoW has anything to do with this discussion, I don’t see anyone here arguing that we should use images of Jesus in our worship of Him on Sunday. The RRPoW doesn’t regulate the enjoyment of art or story or other cultural creations and interaction (we must go other places to address those). Unless, like I said before, the argument that everything we do is worship is on the table…

      • MB February 25, 2016 at 6:08 am #

        Like I said you don’t understand the RPW, particularly as it applies to images of God/Christ. The second commandment not only forbids the worship of images, it forbids the making of any images of God.

  5. Ryan February 24, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    I have an honest question. If seeing (again not worshiping) images of Jesus, in print or in acting, is really the breaking of the 2nd commandment, why do so many (including myself) have no hint of conscience (until someone who thinks it is speaks up)? I mean, I have a hit of conscience when I realize I am worshiping something other than God, so commandments 1 and 2 are covered. I have a hit of conscience if I ever speak out of turn about God or even say God (which isn’t his name by the way just His title) when not addressing him, that covers commandment 3. I feel bad if I have to work on Sunday (not technically the Sabbath), but that covers number 4. If I am disrespectful to my parents, yup I feel guilt, that’s 5. I haven’t murdered, but I have been angry and felt bad, 6 down. Lust yes, actual act no, but 7 falls too. Felt bad even at age 5 when I stole a pack of gum, so there goes 8. I’m a liar, so 9 is gone. And i’m definitely envious and know it, so there goes 10.

    I know that we sin all the time and our consciences are not pricked, but idol worship seems to be a big deal, you would think if all the other commandments affect me, I would feel guilty about seeing the Passion, but instead I found myself wanting to worship Jesus more, with tears flowing (one of the few times I’ve cried in my life), and no I wasn’t picturing the actor in my head while I worshiped.

    • Kyle Borg February 24, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

      Ryan,

      Interesting question. I’m quite convinced there are any number of sins I commit every day that I don’t feel convicted about. But my feeling is not the ultimate litmus test of what is or isn’t sin. In fact, in my own life I often pray that the Lord would forgive me even of those sins that I don’t recognize and in the spirit of Psalm 139 earnestly plead with him to search me and know my innermost thoughts. I am daily dependent on God to discern my errors and hidden faults (Psalm 19:12). One way the Holy Spirit does that is through an increasing knowledge of his law–since sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).

      The Apostle Paul’s own experience is fascinating in this regard. As a Pharisee of Pharisees he probably had very little reason to think he should feel guilty about certain things. But what does he say? “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7). A greater knowledge of the law brings a greater conviction of sin.

      I don’t want to make any presumptions on why you haven’t felt guilt about images of Jesus. But, since you asked, I’ll encourage you in two ways: 1) Your not being pricked is not definitive proof that pictures of Jesus aren’t sinful; 2) A study of the breadth and width of the Ten Commandments may help you, as it helped me, understand the duty God requires. A good place to start is with Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 99 where I think there are good interpretive rules laid out for how to properly understand them.

      Blessings!

      • Ryan February 24, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

        Thanks!

  6. Nick February 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    I do appreciate this, Kyle, and I believe it is thoughtful, especially the bit about images of Christ, which caused me some pause.

    I would, probably, push back on this particular quote: “Hollywood—even on its best day—can say no more and certainly nothing better than what the Bible already says. If the written Word is not enough to convince a skeptic, the movie theater will never do a better job.” You use the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to make your point. And while I don’t think this is what you’re saying, it seems the logical conclusion to the argument you’ve made is that skill is irrelevant to others’ salvation. I doubt you’d say there’s no need for skilled preachers for the conversion of others, would you? If nothing could be said “better” than the English translation of our Bibles, do we then stand up and read from scripture each week and leave the preaching alone?

    Again, I don’t think this is where you’re wanting to go, but I suppose that’s why I’m pushing you toward it – I think it’s selective reasoning that could be used against other valuable ministry means.

    Thanks,
    Nick

    • Kyle Borg February 26, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

      Nick,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate them!

      Here’s how I’d approach an answer. First, the context of my point is simply this, that viewers should check their expectations–don’t make a movie more than it actually is. On this point I don’t think it’s sinful to watch the movie just a caution. A caution, I think, that is necessary because of the inherent power of movies. But even the power of Hollywood is not a better witness than the Bible. I don’t think there’s anything objectionable in that, is there? Secondly, I’d say preaching is a “valuable ministry” precisely because God has promised to work through preaching to bring about salvation (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 1:21, James 1:21). Hollywood and movies have no such promises attached to them and so we can have no expectation that it will. Personally, I don’t think a movie is a “valuable means of ministry,” but even if someone does, I hope a distinction can be made between that and something like preaching. Preaching isn’t a “one-among-many,” and the act of preaching is qualitatively different than the writing, directing, filming, and watching of an apocryphal movie like that of Clavius. Third, while I would viciously argue for a skilled pulpit, the power of preaching is not in the skill of the preacher. It’s power is in the Spirit working through faithfulness to the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:4).

      So, I guess I don’t see the selective reasoning working here. Any thoughts?
      Cheers!

      • Nick February 26, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

        I don’t mean to do any harm to the special place of preaching, specifically toward conversion. But I don’t believe conversion was in question, it was whether a piece of art could “revive a cultural respect for the tenets of the faith”. Certainly Augustine’s City of God did so, though it wasn’t preaching per se. I could point to modern artists who’ve done the same, specifically in literature (I’d also note that though these may not have ‘sealed the deal’ toward conversion, the works of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Conner, Marilynn Robinson, Tolkien, etc. have certainly pushed many along toward that end).

        Also, I agree that of course Hollywood could not (and perhaps should not, I’m undecided) viably add to what scripture says regarding the resurrection. But I’m not sure I understand the language of whether Hollywood is “better than” the Bible? Those categories seem confusing to me. Is preaching “better than” the Bible? I wouldn’t know how to begin answering that question, because I suppose I’d never pit them in a competition. Is art “better than” the Bible? Well…no I suppose not, but what’s the point of asking?

        I think what I’m contending is something against what you more clearly stated in the last line, there – “the power of the pulpit is not in the skill of the preacher.” Now take that at face value: do you really believe it? Ultimately, of course, conversion comes from the Lord. But do we really believe that Spurgeon’s exceptional numbers of conversions were simply non-sequitors from his exceptional skill as a preacher? As a committed reformed preacher, I’m very comfortable saying God is responsible for any conversion. But I’m also perfectly comfortable saying the power of the pulpit is, indeed, in the power of the preacher. Why not?

  7. Brad March 25, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    Pro Tip: Don’t review movies you haven’t seen, books you haven’t read, symphonies you haven’t heard, or food you haven’t tasted. You just make Christians look stupid.

    • Kyle Borg March 25, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

      Brad,
      Thanks for stopping by! I trust you read the post which actually wasn’t a review of the movie itself but guiding principles as to how Christians should approach movies like this. Thanks again for stopping by!
      Best,
      Kyle

  8. Debinson March 30, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    Thank you very much for your great review. I do not want to dirty my soul with this movie either and agree with your reasoning. I must add that you wrote your reasoning out very well. People also don’t realise the amount of inverted symbolic meanings that are placed in movies for your subconscious to pick up.

    May our Father bless your boldness.

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