Whenever I go to a fast-food joint, I do not expect to eat a healthy meal. I do not expect the hamburger patties to be made of premium beef, or, really, even beef at all. Neither do I expect the ingredients to be hand-selected or even fresh. I expect junk food. What is the point of eating junk food at all if it is not junk food? It’s all about your expectations. I would be a fool to expect something from something that exists to be the antithesis of that thing I expect.
So it is with Every Tribe Entertainment. Now, before I begin my discussion, it would be a good thing to take a step back for a brief exercise crucial for my point. I know it may sound a bit sarcastic, but I have a point here. Let’s say the name of this fine Christian institution three times. Ready?
Every Tribe Entertainment.
Every Tribe Entertainment.
Every Tribe Entertainment.
For those of you who don’t know, Every Tribe Entertainment produced the new movie The End of the Spear, a movie about the missionary endeavors of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, and the rest of the men who gave their lives in an attempt to evangelize the Waodani people. Jason Janz at Sharperiron.org has raised objections about ETE’s hiring a person who practices and promotes homosexuality to play the part of Nate Saint. Now Jason has added an article articulating his biggest problem with The End of the Spear: the “Gospel message was truncated.”
In order to make his point, of course, the underlying assumption must be that motion pictures may legitimately be used for evangelistic purposes. Before I discuss this, however, I would like first to say a couple things about the studio itself. Here is an organization, by its very name, that wants to “entertain” every tribe. For a moment, let us assume the unassumable: that movies should be used for gospel proclamation. Do we really want an organization whose mission is “to create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth [?]” to be articulating the gospel at all? Do we want people to be entertained into salvation? Of course, I must be fair here. ETE says that it wants to do more than just entertain (though certainly no less than this); they desire to “bring to life stories of courage and strength of the human spirit. Courage, tolerance, mercy, forgiveness, faith and love. We base our film choices on what we hope to inspire rather than what we hope to sell.” Fine. They stand firmly in the American “evangelical” tradition of the reduction of Christianity. As J. Gresham Machen would remind us, their mission statement is not Christian. It is, at best (I shudder to say it), a kind of advocation of general morality. The point here is that we should not expect an institution devoted to entertainment to give the Gospel, because a presentation of the Gospel and entertainment do not go together. I am not angry to find that my Big Mac does not come with medium-well prime rib in between the three buns, lettuce and special sauce.
I would like to add one more unrelated note. I think we ought to think twice before we believe that a movie about the death of these missionaries should be made (assuming, of course, that motion picture dramas should be made at all). I have not seen the movie, which I acknowledge opens me up to great ignorance on this (I did watch half the trailer!), but I believe that a motion picture reenacting the martyrdom of missionaries is near blasphemy. Here is the recreation of the brutal slaying of these courageous men for the entertainment of the regenerate and unregenerate alike. We are, I believe, spitting on their tombs to revel in this kind of violence, even if the overall point is somehow to portray the virtue of these men. Would we desire to see a reenacting of the lions eating our Christian fathers? Or perhaps Polycarp burning at the stake? Why do we want to see these kinds of things? Why do they bring us enjoyment or even entertainment value? How true the words of Augustine ring today, who wrote in his Confessions,
“At that time, in my wretchedness, I loved to grieve; and I sought for things to grieve about. In another man’s misery, even though it was feigned and impersonated on the stage, that performance of the actor pleased me best and attracted me most powerfully which moved me to tears. What marvel then was it that an unhappy sheep, straying from thy flock and impatient of thy care, I became infected with a foul disease? This is the reason for my love of griefs: that they would not probe into me too deeply (for I did not love to suffer in myself such things as I loved to look at), and they were the sort of grief which came from hearing those fictions, which affected only the surface of my emotion. Still, just as if they had been poisoned fingernails, their scratching was followed by inflammation, swelling, putrefaction, and corruption. Such was my life! But was it life, O my God?”
The real issue, however, is the underlying premise of Jason’s remarks: that motion pictures should be used for evangelism. As I said, this assumption is a given throughout nearly the entire article. I am pleased that Jason is considering the remarks of A. W. Tozer on the religious motion picture. Yet I propose that Janz is inconsistent with his remarks in the first four-fifths of the article and his fifth point. He begins his article with a pretty good defense of clearly communicating through preaching the specific content of the Gospel. He provides a good defense of “words” over images and preaching the content of the gospel and communicating the gospel thoroughly. He rightly emphasizes the work of God in evangelization rather than “focusing on the recipient” and becoming “man-centered.” He keenly observes the emotional power of motion pictures and the tendency of this medium to manipulate a decision in evangelism. He notes the necessity of using “clear words” and the content of the gospel. These were all good remarks, and I am glad that he made them. Many of the things he said reminded me of things that I have been concerned to communicate here at Immoderate, and I am glad that we have come to similar yet independent conclusions on these matters. More people need to be saying these things, and I am glad Jason is one of them.
He then, however, seems to contradict these points he made centering on the clear communication Gospel through preaching. He says that he believes a movie can “aid in proclaiming the Gospel.” Huh? The good Christian films, he says, were the ones not made for the “big screen.” He will later all but contradict this statement as well. He conveniently gives his justification for the use of films in evangelism: the effectiveness of the “Jesus Film Project.” Evidently he witnessed its being used (with preaching) to see “hundreds” coming to Christ in Africa. I do not necessarily doubt the truthfulness of his story, but this is, in a word, pragmatism. I am truly baffled by the fact that Jason Janz, who has attended fundamentalist seminaries, and seems to embrace much of what it means to be a conservative evangelical, and who had just finished articulating the supposed dangers of the “seeker” bent in ETE would offer this kind of a basis for use of movies in evangelism.
My question to Jason, with respect, is What is the difference between you and them? You criticize ETE of using whatever means necessary to evangelize, but then you believe that motion pictures and dramas may be used for evangelism? What warrant do you have from Scripture or anywhere else to take such a liberty in the Lord’s work? Jason has criticized those who defended the movie by saying they “minimize the effectiveness of preaching” and “God’s primary ordained means of communicating his good news.” He criticized the movie representative and movie company because he “disparaged preaching.” Yet he believes that movies can be used to “aid in proclaiming the Gospel”? This does appear to be inconsistent. Jason has big problems with their using whatever means necessary for evangelism (in this case by their abandoning preaching for “story”), yet he “baptizes” his own justification for movies because of what he supposes to be the “effectiveness” of movies. ETE would argue that their method is justified in the results it produces. Jason seems to have put himself on similar ground.
After defending the use of movies in evangelism, he rightly muses that “if . . . Christian drama and the Christian message are so mutually exclusive, then Christians ought to opt out of the industry entirely.” In other words, Christians should probably not be producing movies for the the general theater-going public. This is surely a good (though inadequate) point, until he then goes on nearly to deny it. Janz follows this warning with two examples of movies he believes were able to incorporate the Christian message in a drama and still “engage the medium” (i.e., produce the film for a wide audience). His first example is God and Generals, and he lists the instances of uncompromised “spiritual content.” Jason had just finished chastising the The End of the Spear for not mentioning the Gospel in total, including “the blood atonement,” yet the instances of “spiritual content” he lauds in Gods and Generals do not include any aspect of the gospel, including the “blood atonement” he demands from The End of the Spear. Then he mentions the virtue of the movie Luther; this movie does speak of the blood atonement. He concludes, “So, one can produce a film that proclaims the Gospel and does not compromise the story to the point that it’s a shadow of what it once was.” Jason, what exactly is your position on the use of motion pictures and the Gospel?
I realize that at this point it is necessary for me to articulate some actual reasons why movies should not be used in evangelism. I intend to say some things concerning this in the coming days, and I will tip my hand that the majority of my remarks will come from A. W. Tozer’s The Menace of the Religious Movie. For the time being, I will simply say that the use of drama in evangelism has no warrant from Scripture, which remark will hopefully temporarily suffice.
You can read my continued response here.