SWBTS General 2

Christians as a marketing niche

March 19th, 2014 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor in Chief / comments

The TEXAN turned down an ad for the upcoming Noah movie starring Russell Crowe. We’d heard enough stuff about the altering of the story and had enough doubts about other content to make us pass. When it comes to movies we have a “when in doubt, don’t” attitude. There are companies that market popular movies to Christian audiences, but some of the efforts are clumsy or even goofy. The first such effort I remember had to do with a television miniseries about a nuclear exchange that devastated the country (“The Day After”). The network provided discussion questions to help youth ministers deal with the trauma kids would experience after the broadcast. Shortly thereafter I got a similar packet for an R-rated western about a preacher who straightened things out with a Colt revolver. The entertainment industry doesn’t get Christians, especially those of us who believe the Bible to be God’s perfect revelation of himself.

Back to Noah. I’ve read with interest the articles discussing the response of Christians to a movie almost no one has seen yet. The director, Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) was mortified that anyone would suggest, after a preview screening, that he change the movie to accommodate biblical literalists. The reports of those who’ve seen it suggest that the movie not only (understandably) fills the biblical narrative with drama not recorded in Scripture but also changes the message a bit to accommodate modern sensibilities regarding environmentalism and overpopulation. I’m not sure if all that is true but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t think it will annoy me as much as clumsy propaganda like “Avatar” does. 

I really like some of Russell Crowe’s movies. “Cinderella Man,” “Master and Commander” and “A Beautiful Mind” are “watch ‘em again” movies at my house. The idea that the story of Noah, or even some version of it, would be given a modern treatment with amazing special effects sounds pretty cool to me. Of course I expect I’ll be disappointed that the biblical story was not grand enough for Mr. Aronofsky. He could tell it with only modest embellishments but he won’t do that and will not understand why we care.

The reason I’m not offended is that the director is making no claim to represent the plain message of Scripture. He, like many of our co-religionists, feels free to make the text say what he thinks it should say. I look forward to seeing the movie but I’m not taking a bus full of church people to it as an alternative to Bible study. My hope is that it will be a ripping adventure story well played. If that is not to your taste, skip it, but also skip that vast majority of movies that play loose with the details of history.

A second issue has to do with Christians as a market. I’m uncomfortable with being a marketing niche for movies, music, TV or even books. For one thing it implies that Christian art is only for Christians, and along with it, the truth that it carries. Sometimes Christian art has been marketed with the assumption that it could not compete in terms of excellence with other books, music, etc. This has often been true and a few careers have flourished based on this “ghettoizing” of Christian culture. But imagine the calculus of Newton or the portraits of Rembrandt or the concerti of Bach, or the fiction of Tolkien or Chesterton relegated that little “religious” niche of the book store or gallery. Each of these works had religious intent—were founded on biblical assumptions about truth, virtue and beauty. But Western culture owns them in a way it will not own most modern musicians and writers who believe in Jesus.

But other artists have a religious message. Artists who scoff at reality or the ability to know what’s true are making a religious statement. I recently went into a small bookstore that featured the works of neo-atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris under the subject “science and nature.” Atheism was to the bookstore owner simply the truth. That is a religious statement. Imagine the chaos of grouping every writer, painter and musician in sections according to his worldview. But in this country we do that only with Christians. Thus you’ll find Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” in the religion section but not the counterpoint, anti-religious children’s books of Philip Pullman (a movie called “The Golden Compass” was based on his books).

Where were we? Oh yes, the Noah movie. Of course I’d love to see the stories of Noah, Joseph, Caleb, Deborah, Gideon and other heroes told well and with respect to the Author of the story. I guess Christians are going to have to make those movies. In the meantime, I don’t expect non-Christians to treat the Bible as true or historical—especially not in a day when most who call themselves “Christian” and many who call themselves “Baptist” similarly disrespect it. We embarrass ourselves when we freak out because the lost and liberal do not understand the Bible. Of course they don’t; neither did we when we ourselves were lost and liberal.