When one thinks of faith-based films, more often than not, we think of one of two types of films: Biblical films or evangelistic films. The history of Biblical films is relatively long, the spectrum wide and the challenges of successfully presenting this profound, rich, well-known story are many.
Biblical Films had their beginnings with short films in 1897s, only one year after the advent of film. Films such as France’s Lear’s Passion (1897) and America’s The Horitz Passion Play (1897), were the forerunners to one of the first feature-length Jesus films, the silent 1912 film From the Manger to the Cross. From those early days, the genre quickly splintered into many different expressions of Biblical stories or Christian faith, with the best well known being the Cecil B. DeMille Biblical epics (10 Commandments -1923, King of Kings -1927) and the more recent Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Passion of the Christ (2004).
Evangelistic films, often highly didactic with explicit Gospel messaging, have their origin in churches, Christian organizations and/or Christian filmmakers. Beginning with the silent Passion films, to Rev. James Friedrich’s The Great Commandment (1939) to 1972’s Thief in the Night and the most viewed film of all time The Jesus Film (1979), through to the Kendrick Brothers films such as Fireproof (2008) or Courageous (2011); Christians have long used film to share their faith. These overtly Christian films benefit the Body of Christ, by supporting Christian’s beliefs and providing an opportunity for believers to invite their unchurched friends to hear the Gospel presented in a “neutral” environment. However, often the offerings of many evangelistic films are narrow, with little theological depth; proving to be quite anemic as a cultural change-agent.
The question arises, are these films merely evangelistic vehicles or religious art? Michael Bird wrote in the Cambridge Journals, “Within the discussion of religious art there arises the fascinating question of how art can engender the awareness of those special, hierophanous moments in culture where the sacred dimension breaks through into an otherwise profane experience. How does the artist render visible that which is inherently invisible?” In the Book of Matthew, Jesus rebukes the “sign-seeking” hypocritical leaders by saying, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16.1-3). Jesus’ criticism stems from their seeking heavenly signs merely from the obvious visible sights. If they truly desired a fuller revelation from the Spirit of God, they should seek a glimpse into the spiritual realm. How often do we in the Christian community want things laid out for us very clearly, looking for understanding solely from the tangible, earthly plain?
I have experienced numerous “aha” moments of spiritual insight while engaged in a compelling cinematic story. In my experience the most powerful theological understanding in film comes, not from the obvious “religious-centric” sources, but from different, unexpected, frequently non-Christian film moments. My friend Dr. Craig Detweiler writes, “General revelation is a term created by theologians to describe the experience of God available to all people. Such revelations may arrive as a word, a thought, a vision, a touch, or a feeling. These divine breakthroughs wake us, surprise us, reassure us that we are not alone. The power of general revelation often resides in God’s ability to sneak up on us, to speak through unlikely people or unexpected situations.”
In PART THREE I’ll offer some examples of films that might just spark moments of theological revelation.
FOX News declared 2014 the year of the Christian film. But what is a Christian film? Is a Biblical film always a Christian film? What does the term faith-based film mean? Are faith-based films synonymous with family films? Can God speak to us through a secular, “non-Christian” film? Over the next weeks I will explore all of these issues as I set out “Looking for God in faith-based films.” But first let’s go back a bit and lay some ground work.
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17.16-7)
As the Apostle Paul arrives in the City of Athens, he looks for the center of the cultural conversation. The Jews and devout, “God fearing” people are meeting in a religious forum within the synagogue. But those who didn’t embrace theism, as well as the shapers of the ideology of the day, were gathered in the Athenian Starbucks of yesteryear, the marketplace. Here Paul places himself in the midst of public discourse, first listening, then reasoning from a position of his Christian faith. Looking for a link between their cultural beliefs and his Christian beliefs, Paul finds it in the line of statutes to their numerous gods. Paul used their story of a statute to an unknown god as the foundation of God’s story. Where are today’s culture’s stories being told?
Plato once said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” The most powerful and influential forum for expressing our viewpoints are the stories told through medias such as film, television and digital media. Hollywood’s influence on our culture can hardly be overestimated, the movie industry’s products, for better or worse, influence the way people perceive the world and their place in it. The stories contained in cinema capture our imaginations, inspire and encourage us, help us deal with our fears in an unthreatening way, show us how to laugh at our human fragilities and insecurities. We emphasize with stories, because stories humanize a truth.
How did Jesus give us truths of the Kingdom of God or convey important theological truth? “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13.34). A parable is an earthly story that relates a spiritual truth. Just as Jesus enter mankind’s world physically – “became flesh and dwelled among us” – Jesus also entered our world contextually. Jesus would set up a world and invite us in to experience His truth. Professor Rob Johnston writes, “Parables provide stories drawn from everyday life that capture the attention of their viewers/hearers by focusing on what is not usually seen, teasing their recipients into an active engagement with them through their open-endedness. In this way, Jesus’ parables caused those present to see life in a new way. So, too, do movies.”
One of my greatest comedy influences and certainly the primary inspiration for the comedy style of my comedy team Isaac Air Freight was Stan Freberg. I first began listening to his records when I was about 10 years old. Soon I had every sketch, every record memorized. Freberg’s most popular sketch was his 1953 Dragnet parody, St. George and the Dragonet. Freberg’s irreverent take on the series produced the fastest-selling single in history — more than 1 million copies in three weeks and earned its mastermind a gold record. Later his sketch became the template for the Isaac Air Freight sketch Jerusalem Dragnet. Freberg was also the voice of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent on the Beany and Cecil Show…which I watched daily as a kid.
Freberg’s satiric vision made him an idol to fans as diverse as the Beatles, Anthony Hopkins, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Barry Hansen, the radio host and musicologist known as Dr. Demento (who our comedy team performed with in our early days), said that Freberg’s spoofs “were the true forerunners of the satirical style of National Lampoon and ‘Saturday Night Live.'”
In 1988, I had the pleasure of having Stan Freberg as a guest on the radio show I hosted with my life-long friend, Bob Bennett. He was a great guest and wonderful Christian man. Stan Freberg passed away on Tuesday April 6th at the age of 88.
God bless Stan Freberg.
A new book from Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is fascinating in its portrayal of Pixar’s history of successes and failures, and insightful in its boiling down of Pixar experience into transferable principles.
From the book, here are 18 lessons we can learn from the culture of Pixar:
By: Dan Rupple
1) What is Christian Comedy?
This is a question that, no matter how many times you define it, it continually comes up. Personally, my definition is always changing, so it might be a good thing that it remains fluid.
So often we get stuck when we try to define Christian comedy in terms of how many times we say “Jesus”? How clean we work? Where we perform?
Or how explicitly we present Christian Content?
From my perspective:
A Christian Comedian is someone who works in the craft of comedy
and is walking in relationship with God.
Why do I say that?
Great comedy is always based in the truth of human experience,
if not, it won’t connect with the audience.
And that truth usually struggles with what it means to be human.
As a Christian we have a unique perspective on that truth.
God’s presence is in our lives, shapes our values, our behavior, our character, our worldview, our purpose and our motivation of why we do what we do.
And the closer we walk with Christ, Christian truth, either explicitly or implicitly, permeates all we say or do,
and that’s what marks us as a Christian Comedian.
2) Comedy Matters
In the book of Exodus, God is calling the Children of Israel to build the tabernacle.
And He tells Moses to gather the carpenters, the stoneworkers/masonry
and the skilled craftsmen… the artists.
Because if something is going to represent the presence of God,
it needs to be a great work of art.
God places a high call on the Artist.
And comedy is amongst the most important callings.
Drama will oftentimes look at man’s strengths and helps us dream about what we can be.
But comedy operates secure in the knowledge of man’s imperfections: our insecurity, awkwardness, cowardness, uncertainty, pride, jealousy, fear
– all the core attributes of comedy.
Comedy helps us live with who we are.
Jesus said, “We will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Comedy is the art of telling the truth about what it’s like to be human.
And we get to do it from a perspective of the Creator Himself.
3) Put in the Work
Great sports legends: Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, Peyton Manning, Greg Maddox, Tony Gwynn… there is a reason they are iconic legends. It’s not ONLY because of exceptional skills.
But they practice the most, work the hardest.
They are the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave.
To excel in comedy, we must have the same dedication to our craft.
A comedian must have an audience. It’s probably the only art form that can’t be done alone.
Perform wherever they will give you a stage.
Write as often as you can.
Study the greats.
Attend conferences or seminars.
Remain a student.
Don’t just think you can rely on talent alone,
There is always someone who is just as talented; who works harder that will pass you by.
4) Build a Life Beyond Comedy
Living in So Cal, I’ve seen so many actors, musicians, comedian who put their whole life and their whole identity into their careers.
Sadly, they are devastated by their first rejection.
In this business you’ll receive a NO, infinitely more times than a YES.
If your life is broader than the narrow label of comedian…
if you’ve built a rich family life, social life, church life, recreational life…
it is easier to weather the inevitable rejection or a bad night.
And, the richer you are as a person, the richer your comedy is.
5) Understand And Accept The Scope Of God’s Call On Your Life As A Comedian.
God had set Moses apart as the leader of the Children of Israel.
The people challenged Moses – “Who do you think you are?
Who put you in charge? I didn’t vote for you.”
“It is God who places people in the Body of Christ according to His will.”
Only Moses could be Moses.
Only Tim Hawkins is called to be Tim Hawkins.
Only Chonda is called to be Chonda.
Only Anita Renfroe is called to be Anita Renfroe.
But only YOU are called to be YOU.
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
6) Recognize The Difference Between Striving And Persistence
We live in a constant tension between:
Being diligent, working hard to build the career God has called you to,
raising awareness that we’re out there.
We didn’t get into this business nor will we survive if we’re the unknown,
anonymous comedian (unless you put a bag over your head).
But the other side of the coin is spending every last drop of energy on self-serving, self- seeking, self promotion.
Striving relentlessly to obtain the career you want for yourself.
Endlessly trying to kick down a door that you’ve knocked on 500 times before
that God never intended to open for you anyway.
I don’t know exactly where this very grey line is,
but I do know when I’m striving for something God doesn’t have for me.
And when I’m walking in God’s favor
and I just need to persevere through obstacles that are in my way.
Now, living in the INFORMATION AGE of Social Media, it’s further complicated,
because you can build, shape and market a career, than has no basis in reality.
But a warning: If we are all about marketing and there is no substance there,
eventually people will find there’s no there there.
You’ll get a reputation real quick as a hack or phony.
Let the excellence of your craft and the heart of a servant build your reputation.
7) What Makes A Great Comedian?
Jesus continually said, “You have heard it said, but I said….”
And the crowds said, “Never has a man spoken like this.”
They marveled at his words and deeds.
A BAD or hack comic is somebody whose tired, obvious material is aimed at totally exhausted targets without any kind of tweak or fresh angle on it.
A great comedian offers a totally relatable, but never thought of from that
inventive, creative, funny, unique view of the world.
And because we know the God who sees things in a completely different and compelling way than mankind does, the Christian comedian should be amongst the best of the comedians.
We have been given a gift: A Comedy Mind.
You are wired by God to see life through a comedic lens.
And it’s our job and calling to use comedy to testify to God’s truth.
Have you ever had a backstage pass to a high profile event? That color-coded pass is exclusive permission to mingle with the behind the scenes insiders, the movers and shakers, the power brokers, maybe even the celebrity voices of the event. But even with this right of entry, eventually you will most likely come to a closed door, manned by a refrigerator of a man in a blue and yellow windbreaker. He tells you in an authoritative voice, “Beyond this point you need a yellow pass, bucko.” It’s with dismay that you are look down upon your once revered pass to reveal that it’s a disappointing blue. “The yellow pass gives you TOTAL ACCESS,” the guard informs you. Broken-heartedly you make your way back to the crew craft table of Cheez-Its and M&Ms.
During my time at CBS, I had the opportunity to supervise many high visibility broadcasts – The Price is Right, Letterman, The Prime Time Emmys. My position not only afforded me total access, but I literally held the keys to the studio. I could go anywhere I pleased with complete authority.
The other day, at a Christian leaders’ meeting, a dear friend of mine posed a thought-provoking question: Is our presence enough? Good question. In terms of impacting lives for the Kingdom or being about our assignment of making disciples of all men, is it enough to just show up? Is it enough to be a silent witness? Is our sheer presence enough to make a difference?
After a lot of contemplation and reflection, I’ve landed upon the belief that our presence isn’t enough, but God’s Presence through us is!
As I began my tenure at CBS, the first year or two, upon God’s direction I was a quiet (differing greatly from a silent) witness. Daily I devoted myself to connecting with my co-laborers, building trust, demonstrating care and concern, and hopefully reflecting the integrity and values of a Christian man. After this season, in short order God opened the doors to talk and sometimes pray with many of my now friends. Sometimes the influence came by what I said, sometimes it was what I did, but I hoped I always reflected God’s heart. And God’s Presence was always in abundance.
What made the difference? As I journeyed to work each day, I would pray “missionally.” I would ask God to govern over my words and actions. I gave Him total access to whatever the day would bring. And I believe that God shows up in direct proportion to the access we give him into our lives. The more we are mindful of God’s presence around us, the more we yield to the leading of His Spirit, the more we ask God to use us to demonstrate His love to those He brings across our path, the more His Presence is revealed around us.
Don’t just show up. See each day as an opportunity to be about the Father’s business. Enter each day with intentionality. And give Him TOTAL ACCESS. My presence can do little, but His Presence can do all things. It is His Presence that empowers me beyond the well-intentioned, kind-hearted humanitarian.
Is my presence enough? NO. Is His? More than enough.
I’ve been approached by a number of people wondering if they should see the new film NOAH or not. The mere asking of the question tells me that the film is already meeting a bit of its purpose…to get people talking. Hopefully those outside of the church will find it as compelling and thought-provoking as those of us inside the church. In addressing this question, I believe that first and foremost, believers should follow their convictions before the Lord. If you feel that this film might be offensive or a compromised approach to the inherent Word of God, I would highly recommend that you avoid this film.
My hope is that this film would provide the Christian community a wonderful opportunity to engage in a cultural conversation about a Biblical account (possibly liberal take) that brings up issues such as the nature of God, judgement, sin and redemption. If family, friends or co-workers are talking about it, shouldn’t the people of God be part of that discussion? Whatever approach you chose to take, I would strongly urge that any criticism be based upon informed (ie. actually seeing the film) opinions.
For those of you who are curious, skeptical or concerned about the film “Noah” might want to watch this film done by my friend Phil Cooke, capsulizing what many Christian leaders (who have actually seen the film) are saying.
Since the birth of digital media in 2005, I’ve had the pleasure of serving numerous church movements and ministry organizations in their various media aspirations. In recent years, as I enter into consultations or speak at their conferences, I find myself talking increasingly less about the usage of technology and media and focusing far more upon understanding the way in which the digital audience engages and consumes media. When we change our gaze away from the “how do” to the “why do” audiences connect with media in the manner in which they do, we are presented fascinating insights into the way contemporary culture wants to “do church.”
I am a Baby Boomer, part of the TV Generation, raised in front of the tube, my picture window to the world. The way in which I engaged with the predominate media of my age was the appointment TV model. At the scheduled time of 8pm on a Thursday night, I would hypnotically walk into my four-walled, living room, sit back on the barca lounger, and passively watch a one way, monologue being broadcasted into my home, by a singular entity, which in this case was a broadcast network. At the conclusion of the program, thirty minutes later, I would compliantly ascend from my comfy chair and commence my departure from the familiar room.
Now, in large part, isn’t that how we do church? We dutifully keep our prescheduled Sunday at 10am appointment at our local church building. We expectantly enter the sanctuary, get settled in our favorite pew, then after an inspiring overture of worship, we passively (with the exception of an occasional “amen”) listen to a one-way monologue, which we call sermons, then politely walk out.
Today’s emerging, millennial generation is a digital generation. How do they engage with the fast developing digital technology? They are not bound to a stationary screen or pre-determined time. They are, throughout their day, whenever and wherever they desire, actively interacting with a multi-sourced, global dialogue on a wide variety of mobile devices.
…meanwhile the church continues to offer a TV model, Analog Church to a Digital Generation!
Now, before you stop reading, I am not advocating throwing the current worship model out with the proverbial bath water. I’m not preaching a gospel of “Instead of…” but the good news of “In addition to…” In future blogs, we’ll explore the chasm that lies between cyber space, digital connections and same space, human interaction. And I’ll offer some ways in which the church can stand in the gap and, presumptuously, regain a bit of our relevancy. My hope is that we will discover a number of things we can do to give place for “digital model” interactivity within today’s appointment church service, as well as deepen our understanding of why these shifts are crucial.
Let us hear your thoughts….
Producer extraordinaire Mark Burnett – creator of Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank and The Bible was our honored guest at the closing night of the Windrider Forum at the Sundance Film Festival. Mark previewed his up-coming film, Son of God. Son of God is the first film representation of the full life of Christ to come to the big screen in over 50 years (Passion of the Christ focused solely upon the Jesus’ crucifixion). Following the screening Mark graciously answered questions from the crowd of film and seminary students. Throughout the night I had the privilege of having a few nuggets of time with Mark. During the screening I helped produce a half-hour interview segment with him. Then following the screening, we attended a private reception with Mark at the home of one of our Park City friends. At the reception Mark told the both revealing and oftentimes hysterical stories of how he got some of his iconic programs made.
My take-aways from my time with him made me admire him all the more.
He is a man who deeply loves God. Mark is committed to serving His Kingdom and keeps his family a top priority. God has allowed him to build a reality show empire, one that certainly affords Mark the luxury of just enjoying his success and sail off into the sunset. But he is pushing even harder to make sure that he uses the platforms that God has given him for God’s glory. As we re-entered the auditorium at the conclusion of the film, I stood by Mark, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him lift his hands and silently pray for the film’s impact upon the crowd.
He is a man of passion, diligence and perseverance. You would think that once Survivor took the TV world by storm, that every television door would be wide open to him, and that he could get anything made that he wanted. But Hollywood doesn’t work that way. There is little equity from past successes. Everything has to be earned afresh. As Mark rehearsed the hoops he jumped through to get The Apprentice, The Voice and certainly The Bible green-lit and placed on a network television schedule, you see a man who goes after each new project with the same passion and perseverance he must have had when he was striving to get his first production Eco-Challenge on cable television.
I am thankful for my time with Mark and an impactful glimpse into the character and Christian commitment of one of the most successful producers in television history. As I continue, and many of you as well, upon my journey of media making, let me keep my faith in Jesus Christ at the forefront and remain steadfast in the calling God has place upon my life.
THANKSGIVING 2013: Whether it was serving up a meal and a hug to the lonely or offering a word of encouragement around a family Thanksgiving table, it’s wonderful to see so many extending hope, care and love to others. Made me think of David in 2 Samuel 17 when he is on the run from his enemy and hiding in the wilderness:
When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi… Machir… and Barzillai… brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”
God has created us for and placed us into community. And when we find ourselves in the darkest wilderness, it is the family of faith who come along side to bring us sustenance, rest and renewed strength for the journey.
When I first saw Monty Python back in the early 70’s, I saw comedy in a whole new, absurdist, irreverent light. In many ways, Python brought to comedy, much of what the Beatles brought to music. To this day, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” remains one of my favorite films of all time…certainly one of the most quotable. While I primarily would disagree with their worldviews, in my work with Isaac Air Freight, I often tried to emulate the way they would shine a light on the foolishness and absurdity of some of culture’s values. But not coming from a place of arrogance or superiority, but of inclusiveness; that I’m just a foolish. The only true wisdom comes from above.
Today, my favorite comedy group, announced they’re reuniting…and the people Rejoiced!!! Wonder when asked, why they were getting back together, if they answered, “I’m not dead yet.”
Today in 1975, Saturday Night Live premiered on NBC. It has gone from brilliantly inventive to hysterically funny to horrifically bad, but there is no denying its lasting effect upon American comedy and our culture at large. Not to mention the wealth of comedy talent it launched.
Do you remember who was the host that night 38 years ago?
For bonus points: Who were the musical guests?
Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it. -Harold Kushner
For all of my friends growing weary of the WAIT:
In the Book of Habakkuk, Habukkuk cries out to God:
“How long O’Lord?”
First God replies, “Watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”
God’s at work behind the scenes to do something far beyond anything we could ask or imagine.
Then God says, “For the vision still awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end and will not prove false. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come and will not delay.”
God is true to His promises. Stand firm in waiting and He makes all things beautiful in His time!
I DID IT!!! I finally fully entered the digital age. I cancelled our land line phone! The only ones who have called us on it for the past 3 years are telemarketers…NOW who you gonna call during dinner???
The funniest part of the story is right in the middle of talking with the AT&T operator, getting the final instructions and confirmation numbers…THE PHONE WENT DEAD! THEY CANCELLED THE LINE! Really? You couldn’t wait 20 more seconds? I think I already paid for today.
I recently finished reading through the Book of Acts for the umpteenth time. Ever notice how un-climatically it ends? I have. Now I believe that God’s word is perfect. And God, the ultimate storyteller, writes everything with purpose, so what’s the deal with the ending of Acts? The book starts like a great, riveting adventure novel… then it just kind of trails off. Doesn’t build to a conclusion, no resolution, Paul is just awaiting trial in Rome. In writing circles we would say that it doesn’t have a third act. I’m thinking that’s the point! WE, His church, His people are to live out the third act! “Even greater works you will do!” Our lives are continuing the Acts of the Apostles. We’re writing Act Three!
“The Bible” is getting its sequel. NBC said Monday it was teaming with producer Mark Burnett on the follow-up to this spring’s popular cable miniseries “The Bible” from Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey. This is a pretty significant jump to go from the cable network the History Channel to a major broadcaster NBC.\
New York Times
NBC Nabs Mark Burnett’s ‘Bible’ Sequel
Project is first under new longform programming initiative
By Andrea Morabito — Broadcasting & Cable, 7/1/2013 12:37:44 PM
NBC is partnering with prolific producer Mark Burnett [and wife Roma Downey] on [their] follow-up project to The Bible miniseries as the first title in the network’s new longform programming initiative.
A.D.: Beyond the Bible (working title) is the sequel to the 10-part The Bible that aired on History this spring to huge ratings, with its premiere drawing 13.1 million total viewers. The next iteration will begin after Jesus’ betrayal and death, when his disciples take a stand against Rome and the local authorities.
Burnett will executive produce the project with his wife and Bible collaborator Roma Downey and Richard Bedser in a coproduction between LightWorkers Media, Hearst Productions and Universal Television. Burnett is already producer of NBC’s The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice.
“I followed the development process of The Bible closely with Mark and knew that the story was far from over after Christ’s Crucifixion. In fact, what happened in the aftermath — which is essentially the beginning of Christianity — is utterly fascinating,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt. “The day after The Bible premiered, I told Mark we were on board with no hesitation for the follow-up miniseries. This will be attention-getting in every way, and we’re proud to continue our association with Mark which has just grown exponentially from The Voice.”
NBC last month hired ABC’s Quinn Taylor to head a new longform programming group as executive VP of movies, miniseries and international coproductions like Hannibal, Crossbones and the upcoming Camp.
The Writer’s Guild named its 101 Best Written TV Shows. While I don’t necessarily agree with the order in all cases, the list does include all of my all-time favorite shows. Did your favorite shows make the list???