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SOWING THE GOOD SEED
An Editorial About Christian Filmmaking
Written by Mitch Robbins
 
Hollywood has come a long way since the earlier years of filmmaking! It's come all the way from "The Ten Commandments" to "The Ten monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers". From "Ben Hur" to "Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi". From "The Robe" to "The Rats". From "The Greatest Story Ever Told" to "Alien Resurrection". How should Christians respond to the good, the bad and the ugly that comes out of Hollywood?
 
Jesus calls the church to make an impact on the world (Matthew 5:13-16). When we fail to fulfill this responsibility, the exact opposite happens; the world begins having more and more impact on the church. This is what has happened in the relationship between Hollywood and the church. In the early years of the film industry, Christian men and women actively sought to influence the content and the quality of the films being made. Then, in the late 1950's and early 1960's, much of the church in America began to withdraw from society. Many Christians abdicated their responsibility to be salt and light in the world. As a result, Hollywood became darker and darker and many movies made today have few, if any, redeeming qualities.

Two extreme reactions to this deterioration in the film industry are seen in the church today. Some Christians have strong convictions against movies in general, and because of this have completely abandoned the media. While not necessarily wrong in itself, (it is quite understandable as a matter of fact), this can easily lead to a condemnation of everything involved with filmmaking, thus throwing out the good with the bad. We as Christians need to oppose sin and corruption, but we need to love and pray for the people involved. When we witness for the Lord and someone shows an interest in making a real change in their life through a commitment to Jesus, we don't slap them down just because their response is not perfect or fully mature. Instead, we encourage them and help bring instruction from God's word with love and humility. We should do no less for those in the film and television industry as we pray for them and share Christ with them. ("…knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Romans 2:4) ("Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine." II Timothy 4:2)

At the opposite extreme, some Christians are indiscriminately embracing many films that are blatantly immoral and anti-Christ. Some even excuse the lewd and blasphemous content by saying, "it's only entertainment", or "I can handle it". It's difficult to bring positive change to the filmmaking industry when Christians spend their time and money supporting movies that promote immoral and blasphemous behavior. There's no excuse for Christians supporting such movies! These Christians need to wake up and realize that this rationalization is compromising our witness to non-Christians and bringing discredit to the name of Jesus. Scripture clearly instructs us not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2), and Ephesians 5:11 tells us to have no part in the deeds of darkness but rather to expose them.

Christians should not abandon the film and video industry, nor should they indiscriminately embrace every movie that comes out. There are at least two ways that the church can have a positive influence on society and on the filmmaking industry. First, Christians can seek to directly influence the producers, directors, actors, etc. when the door is open to do this. Second, they can work toward providing an alternative to the productions coming out of Hollywood through independent Christian filmmaking.

The church can attempt to directly influence Hollywood when the opportunity is available. This was the situation when DreamWorks decided to produce The Prince of Egypt, the feature-length animated film on the life of Moses. The studio consulted with evangelical Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, in an attempt to make the project faithful to the Bible and respectful of the religious beliefs of these groups. The result was a film that was morally upright and artistically well done. Concessions were made to Muslims, so the film was not doctrinally pure from a Christian point of view, but overall this Biblically-based story was handled in a tasteful and reverent manner. While not really a box-office hit - "America's immoral majority was just not that interested in going to a movie about God's lawgiver" - it had a decent showing, earning $85 million in the theater release. (quote from "Wandering In The Desert", by Gene Edward Veith, an article about The Prince of Egypt appearing in the February 6, 1999 issue of World Magazine)

We at Top Secret Productions sense God's calling upon us to impact society in a positive way by providing an alternative to the standard fare coming out of Hollywood. While we pray for those who attempt to directly influence Hollywood, we believe that providing an alternative is the most effective way to positively influence society. By producing films that are technically and artistically excellent, with uplifting stories and believable characters, we believe we can be an influence for good in the filmmaking industry and in society as a whole.

We say that we want to reach the world for Christ, but Hollywood has already reached the world. The problem is they've reached the world with the messages of New Age Relativism, Darwinism, Socialism, Marxism, Buddhism, Shamanism, Occultism, Paganism and Atheism.

People in the popular media say that we're living in the Star Wars generation. So many people have seen the films that it has formed a common link between people and cultures around the world. George Lucas, the producer of the Star Wars movies, in a recent New Yorker interview said, "There's always a lesson to be learned. … Traditionally, we get them from church, the family, art and in the modern world we get them from the media - from movies." Jason Ruspini, the webmaster of the unofficial "Star Wars Home Page" said, "It was natural that my generation would latch onto these stories. They were much more attractive and appropriate than the ancient myths of Judeo-Christian theology. How could these draconian and antiquated stories possibly compete with the majesty and scope of the Star Wars universe?" Obviously, as Christians we do not agree with these conclusions, but the influence of the Star Wars movies cannot be denied.

However, what the media doesn't tell us is that there's another film that has been seen by more people and translated into more languages than all of the Star Wars movies combined. That film is "The Jesus Film". PrayerNet Newsletter, put out by U.S. Prayer Track and Eddie and Alice Smith reported the following information about this amazing film:

  • "The Jesus Film" is twenty years old. It features no major stars. It's not even the best movie about Jesus Christ from an artistic viewpoint.
  • Yet, at least 1.5 billion people in more than 220 countries have seen "The Jesus Film" in theaters, on television, on video and many times by watching the film projected onto portable screens, sheets or walls.
  • "Jesus" has been dubbed into more than 450 languages, making it the most widely translated production in film history. Hundreds more are in the works.
  • More than 800 mission agencies now partner with "The Jesus film" project to evangelize the lost. More than 2,000 film teams devote themselves exclusively to screening "Jesus" for people around the world - often in the face of violent opposition.
  • More than 73 million people have publicly declared their decision to follow Christ after seeing the film.

What makes this film so special? It was a film that was made and distributed by men and women who heard the call of God to produce this picture and were obedient. They trusted God and strove to dedicate their best effort in the making of this film. That's the key! Hear the call! Obey in faith! Give God your very best work! Then trust Him to touch peoples lives!

From time to time, other Christian films have also made a dramatic impact in the world. (e.g. "The Cross and the Switchblade", "A Time to Run", "The Hiding Place" and others). In recent years, there has even been a surge of new Christian films from Christian filmmakers that may be the start of another dramatic increase in people won to Christ. In general though, some of our Christian films seem to be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to capturing peoples attention. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important message in the world and is the only message that can truly set people free and bring them eternal life. However, this message is often presented in a way that makes people question its real value.

Some Christian films are nothing more than quickly produced, preachy, soap operas that attempt to win people by the shear weight of words. Others seem to have as their main goal to scare the devil out of their audiences with the threat of God's judgment. Of course, presenting the word of God is vital to any Christian film and healthy dose of the fear of God is definitely needed in our society today. However, many Christian families are reluctant to ask friends and neighbors to view Christian films or videos with them because they're too embarrassed. Not by the message of the Gospel, but by the low technical quality of the film presenting it.

Christian films have been effective in winning people to Christ. Nevertheless, how much more effective would they have been if we had taken the time to do it right? We need Christian investors who love God and are willing to use what God has blessed them with to bless others. We need Christian producers who have a vision and a call from God to reach people for Christ. We need Christian directors who see life through heaven's eyes and can capture it on film. We need Christian artists whose work reflects the glory of God's creation. We need Christian actors and actresses who can create believable characters on the screen. We need Christian composers who lift our souls with their music. We need Christian writers who can refine a story, fill out the characters, fix the dialogue, work on the conflicts, and build to an exciting and inspiring ending. We need Christian technicians of every description. What would Christian filmmaking be like today if we had not ignored the high quality, technical aspects found in Hollywood films and trained ourselves to be as good or better at movie making than Hollywood is?

If God has truly called us to make films for Christ, then it seems only right that we should strive to make the best films that we can. Our God is the God of creation. He has placed in His people a desire to be creative as well. Christian films should show the highest level of excellence both technically and artistically. After all, we've got the edge! If we are obedient and faithful to God's calling, He will bless the works of our hands. The very thought of that should be enough to make us stand up and shout, "when do we start?"

The world is not only looking to movies for entertainment. Many are also looking to them for enlightenment, encouragement, excitement, comfort, justification and redemption. They feel that if they can escape the real world for a couple of hours, things will be different when they return. Movies tell them that this is the way life works. However, this is something that no movie (not even a Christian movie) can do for them. Only Jesus Christ can bring the reality of these things to people and deliver them from the real cause of all of their problems - sin.

Christian films and films based on Christian principals can never replace the anointed preaching of the Gospel by those sent into the harvest by Christ. However, Christian films are excellent tools for preparing the soil of a person's life for the good seed of the Gospel. People can repent and turn to Christ while watching a Christian film, and many do. However, many times it still takes a preacher or a Christian friend to bring people to that life changing decision to follow Jesus.

Many people remember Christ's parable of the sower being about the good seed of the Gospel. When the seed fell on good soil it grew and produced much fruit. But this parable has much more to say about the soil than it does about the seed. Often Christians forget that before the good seed of the Gospel can be effectively sown into people's lives, the soil must be prepared. Christian films and films based on Christian values and principles are great for tilling the soil as well as for planting the seed of the Gospel. They can help people see their problems more clearly and recognize the need for real change in their lives. When people see Christian principles played out on the screen and see believable characters responding to the word of God, their hearts may be a little more receptive the next time someone shares the Gospel with them.

There are good Christian filmmakers around the world who have answered God's call on their lives. Some are non-profit organizations and some are not. There is no "best" way to organize a Christian filmmaking company. What matters is for each company or ministry to follow what God is saying in their hearts. I believe that God wants Top Secret Productions, Inc. to be a for profit organization that competes head-to-head in the marketplace with Hollywood for the heart and soul of America.

It may seem foolish for God to have called me to start Top Secret Productions. I have no formal training in filmmaking. I don't have any real contacts in the film industry. I'm not rich enough to just go out and hire well-known people who will let me ride their reputation to success. The vision for Top Secret Productions is truly amazing, but, to be honest, sometimes the whole idea scares me! Maybe these are the very reasons God put the vision and the desire in my heart. He knew that if I didn't completely depend on Him for the wisdom, resources and real faith, the whole endeavor would fail. It is abundantly clear to me that without Christ I can do nothing!

In April of 1997 I left the world of computer programming and consulting. Since then I have dedicated all of my time and effort into learning everything I can about the aesthetic and technical aspects of filmmaking. One could study a lifetime and never learn everything there is to know but God has been faithful and provided the opportunities to gain in wisdom, knowledge and experience. I have had the privilege of working with many talented people. I've seen how the Holy Spirit can move hearts and lives through the proper use of quality film and video productions.

God has placed many different people in His Church - the Body of Christ. We are not all called to work in Christian filmmaking. However, some have been given talents and resources that God wants to use to further His Kingdom in this way. Hollywood has reached the world with their message, but it's not too late! Like our nation's founding fathers, who sacrificed everything for what they believed in, we as Christians in the film industry need to pledge to God our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor in order to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to America and the world.

"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." Isaiah 6:8

Copyright 1999
Mitch Robbins