Has Hollywood found Jesus?
But in all fairness, Hollywood hasn’t been looking for Jesus. What Hollywood wants is profits. Paying customers are the life blood of every moneymaking enterprise, and every business tries to cater to consumers.
Last year found Hollywood executives scrambling to understand why several movies that not only represented Christian values but went so far as to mention Jesus by name were showing huge strength at the box office. The little movie I directed, “Heaven Is for Real,” cost $15 million, grossed more than $100 million at the box office, and pulled off the rare feat of taking first place all three home video segments, becoming one of Sony’s most profitable movies of the year.
That fact isn’t discussed much, but it’s true.
Churches, particularly those that believe they have a responsibility to address the overall culture of the country, have had a hand in this success, lending their significant weight to the marketing effort. Christian families have welcomed the opportunity to go to movies as a family and find entertainment that respects the sincere search for faith and a deeper relationship with God.
Hollywood decision-makers want to understand the Christian, otherwise known as the “faith-based” audience. By any measure, this is a good thing. Those of us who seek to be followers of Jesus would do well to be as motivated to understand those who see themselves as outside the faith.
It’s fair to say that Hollywood has only a vague notion of what constitutes a faith-based movie. This, too, is quite natural, considering the fact that Christians often draw distinctions among themselves, dividing into denominations and identifying as outsiders those who don’t follow their particular conventions.
There were some pastors within the very denomination that I grew up in who denounced “Heaven Is for Real” as being too inclusive, too accepting of possible differences in doctrine, too neglectful of what these particular pastors saw as the essentials of salvation. But I still see them as my brothers.
All of us know agnostics who are fully in the grip of love while authentically wrestling with faith, much like the man who pleaded with Jesus, “Lord, help Thou my unbelief!” And all of us know people who profess Christianity and yet seem mainly motivated by fear and hate.
But neither group makes me doubt Christ. And I must agree with C.S. Lewis’s admonition: The young man who comes home from college and announces that he is an atheist may be closer to Christ than he has ever been.
Let me put my cards face up on the table and say that I am all-in with Jesus.
He is the Christ, the son of the living God. I will also tell you that those are grand words — the grandest of words — but what they mean, to you or to me, is not so easy to unravel. I don’t view my life as the finest example, and I have never thought it was appropriate for anyone to judge Jesus by what they see in me. I would much more readily suggest that they judge Jesus by what they see — and don’t see — in themselves.
Which brings us back to movies, and raises the question: What is a Christian movie?
To again reference Lewis: Christian literature is not produced by a committee of bishops who have decided to pursue writing; it is an artistic manifestation of Christians who are writers. I am far from the only Christian who is a writer or director working in the movie business.
Christ is alive in the world. His work goes on. His work is under attack within the church as well as within the broader culture. This is nothing new.
I have been in churches on Easter Sunday when an orchestra played grandiose music and a large crowd wore elegant clothes and a minister delivered an eloquent sermon that never made a single direct reference to Jesus, his life on earth or his resurrection. I not only found this cowardly, I found it akin to Peter’s denial that he didn’t know Jesus. (I shouldn’t be quick to blame, however; there is some of Peter’s cowardice in all of us.)
I don’t expect movies to preach Jesus. That isn’t the business of movies. It’s not that movies don’t want to uplift, inspire and touch people emotionally. All that is good business, and it sells tickets.
But I am appreciative and encouraged when followers of Jesus are portrayed as sensitive, thoughtful, courageous and loving, rather than as bigots, the way those wearing crosses have so often been depicted in the past.
I believe most Christians also share with me the conviction that my relationship with Jesus is up to me — and as the old spiritual says, “You gotta walk that lonesome valley; you gotta walk it by yourself.”
Randall Wallace is the Oscar®-nominated creative force behind the epic storytelling of such critical and box-office hits as Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, Secretariat, and Heaven Is For Real.