“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Jack Valenti, the famed World War 2 hero, presidential consultant, and former Motion Picture Association chairman, once compared movie moguls to politicians: “There’s an egocentric quality about both; there is a very sensitive awareness of the public attitude because you live or die on public favor or disfavor.”
Valenti’s comments reflect the reality that both entertainers and elected public servants make deliberate attempts to stir emotions and develop attachments with a clamoring public. They are willing to compromise morals for fame and trade privacy for personal honor. While our favorite celebrities appear natural on screen, each appearance is carefully measured for maximum Neilson ratings or ticket sales.
Looking at these focal points of public fixation also tells us something about our society. Especially with movies, if the product in the theater doesn’t hit a nerve, the effort will flop. However, those that are successful actually create a feedback loop where particular sentiments are echoed by the crowd as art imitates life and life imitates art.
As Christians, we need to be on our guard and vigilant. We have to remember we are constantly being manipulated to participate in the hype or buy the latest fad. The result can be wasted money, compromised morals, or a skewed emphasis on “social” justice rather than God’s ultimate justice.
Yet, Christians shouldn’t be keeping our heads in the sand either. When we contend for the faith, we have to know our enemy. When Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes in Acts 14, they needed to know enough about the pagan deities to respond to the claim. Similarly in Acts 17, Paul began his gospel presentation by addressing heretical comments transcribed on the side of an Athenian statue. Contemporarily, missionary martyr Jim Elliott supplemented his studies with “reprobate readings” such as the philosopher Neitzsche, the novelist Poe, or the poet Masefield to keep from falling into “stereotyped or “conventional” understandings of the world.
Today, the focus of the culture has shifted from poets and philosophers to the cinema. As Derek leads us through the month of July in a series of sermons referencing film stories, we should never forget that the story of Jesus is what should be anchored to our souls. Jesus’ story is one of humbly and heroically solving a universal problem by offering a universal solution in a narrative punctuated with perfect wisdom and teaching.
Most other stories, and especially most movies, are perverse permutations of the perfect story with needless violence, snark, or eroticism, to appeal to the bored masses. The movie hero saves the day, but he uses violence. We cheer. Someone uses their talents for good, but the good guy can’t resist the temptation to get a little revenge. We applaud. Epic freedom is achieved as foes are conquered, but the Hollywood producers just can’t resist adding a free love undertone. Our perspective skews that much more.
Yet analyzing these cultural pieces will give us a place to start within our “present evil world.” We will identify some of the good that exists within the art that we consume and identify which pieces of gospel knowledge haven’t yet been rejected by the culture at-large. This perspective should present an enjoyable frame for understanding some of the Bible’s teachings that haven’t been rejected by the world and provide a place to start as we talk to our friends and neighbors about our Savior’s perfect story.