Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Unregenerate and "Gospel Art"

Justin Taylor had noted Tim Challies’ post about the coming movie The End of the Spear and that Chad Allen–who plays both Nate Saint and Steve Saint–is a homosexual. However, Justin concludes in his article “The End of the Spear: Is the Messenger the Message?” that to him, it wasn’t that much of a “big deal.” I, of course, have great respect for Justin Taylor. However, I find it sad that he would say something like this, and must disagree with him. I know that Justin is reasonable, and if he reads this post it is my hope that he would reconsider his statements (by the way, as a note to the readers, besides Alan Kurschner I am unaware of the opinions of the other contributors of Triablogue and must state that this posts represents solely my opinion on the matter). Justin writes:


But I have trouble seeing the big deal here. Film acting is a sophisticated form of make-believe. Good-looking people who talk and memorize well are paid lots of money to act out stories. In my mind, the main issue is whether they do a good job with the task.

Most of Hollywood is out of step with most of America. But at the same time, most of us simply don’t care about the political or moral views of Hollywood. What does Sean Penn think about the Iraqi insurgency? What does Alec Baldwin think about the President’s legitimacy? What does Tim Robbins think about civil liberties? What does Barbra Streisand think about the ethics of House Republicans? Few care! Most of us want to send them a copy of Laura Ingraham’s appropriately titled book: Shut Up and Sing.

On a personal level, of course, I wish that Chad Allen would find satisfaction in the way that God has designed him. But in watching the film, my concern will be with whether or not he is doing his vocation well. As one commentator pointed out on Tim’s site, Ian Charleson–who famously played Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire–was gay. (He died of AIDS in 1990.) But I don’t believe that the messenger is the message.


His argument seems to be as follows:

1. Film acting is a sophisticated form of make-believe.
2. Most people don’t care about the “person” behind the actor
3. Precedent: it has been done in the past, and not many have objected
4. The messenger is not the message

We must ask this question: what is the movie attempting to represent? Is it attempting to merely represent an occurrence in history, or is it attempting to represent the gospel message? From the way that Christians, pastors, and many ministries are promoting this movie, I would strongly conclude that they are interpreting the latter to be the case. But let’s assume for the moment that the former is the case; that is, that this movie does not wish to represent the Christian principles on which the actual historical occurrence is based, but is merely representing the occurrence. Then why the statement, “I don’t believe that the messenger is the message”? What is “the message”? In other words, if we are to interpret this movie as simply intending on conveying historical fact, then what message is Justin concerned about preserving? Obviously, he is indeed concerned about preserving this message. Otherwise, he wouldn’t make this statement. Is the message merely that both Steve and Nate Saint were Christians, or is it more than that? If this movie purely intends to represent history accurately, then whatever actors play the parts is irrelevant as long as they correctly portray the situation. But if this is Justin’s viewpoint on the movie, then it would have been much better of him to clarify this. In addition, he must establish that this is indeed the purpose of the movie, and that Christians are wrong to interpret it in the way they do in the first place.

However, I believe there is much reason to conclude that this movie intends to represent not just the people of the occurrence (Steve and Nate Saint), but the principles for which they lived. For instance, the mission of Every Tribe Entertainment is “To create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth.” Truth is a risky word to use, and anyone who uses it must do so with great care. What is the truth that ETE is wishing to inspire in its audience? As Christians, we affirm that the gospel is truth. If ETE wishes to inspire anything that is contrary to the gospel, then that in itself is cause for objection to their portrayal of this story. But Christians around the nation are interpreting this movie evangelistically. They see it as an opportunity. I believe I would be correct in stating that ETE views it in the same manner.

If this is the case, then here we have a problem. Justin sates, “But I don’t believe that the messenger is the message.” Why not? While we can say that proudly, it would simply be untrue. We don’t live in a society that will ever focus solely on the “message” that is produced without examining the messenger. For instance, non-Calvinist simply cannot help but attack the person of John Calvin. Why is this? This is the society in which we live. Therefore, the effect can only be negative. It can only be for the worse. It was simply unwise for ETE to choose the actor they did (the amount of people who object is proof of this). In fact, Jason Janz has shown that this choice will be quite detrimental.

In the comments section, Justin asked this question:


So just for clarification: to be consistent, you would say that non-Christians may never portray Christians in films or theatre. Is that right?


Actually, yes, I do believe that is right. I believe it is always unwise to choose the unregenerate for main roles in films with an evangelistic purpose.

But we should note one thing: there is this unspoken argument in the mind of Justin when he asks this question. He expects the reader to answer “no,” so that he can then rebut with a “why is this person’s sin greater?” argument. But we aren’t talking about the Judgment seat of Christ, in which case all sin is equally condemnable. Rather, we are talking about whether or not someone who is a loudly self-proclaimed God-hater (in deed, at least) should be a good choice for someone who is going to represent truth. All unregenerate suppress the truth. But should someone who is publicly known for not only doing so, but promoting others who act the same be the conduit for the gospel message? I believe it is pretty fair to answer with “no,” and I believe a conclusion of “it’s no big deal” is simply unwise.

Evan May.

[By the way, it should be noted that my disagreement with Justin is based solely on my love for the gospel and not any desire in me to create disunity.]

1 comment:

  1. Nice observations. The fact the actor portraying Nate Saint is a homosexual rights activist has soured some of my anticipation of the movie.

    However, this is not to say that God's message won't still go out. After all, Paul makes the comment in Philippians:

    Phi 1:15 Some, to be sure, preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will.
    Phi 1:16 These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;
    Phi 1:17 the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me trouble in my imprisonment.
    Phi 1:18 What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice

    So then, if the message is accurate, then we should praise God for that. Of course, knowing Hollywood's reputation I am skeptical. I also think they should have made a better choice in picking the actor. However, since we are to give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5), if any of the Message of the Gospel goes out, then I will rejoice.