Perhaps you are considering screening A Matter of Faith at your church or encouraging your people to use the big screen release as an opportunity to evangelize your community. The producers of the film make convincing arguments why you should. After all, people do remember movies long after they’ve forgotten your sermons. And the most effective church in your area is the movie theater. This is the medium that our culture understands and we need to use it to communicate the gospel. This is what you will be approached with from Rich Christiano. This is what I heard on Wednesday.
I do not doubt for a moment Mr. Christiano’s sincerity. His passion for the lost is evident. When he called in after the screening his passion was so evident that none of us who are writing reviews wanted to pipe up with a criticism because doing so would have been insulting. In fact, I am sure that these reviews will be seen as insulting. I suppose that comes with the territory of critique. Rich Christiano makes movies because he wants to use the medium to reach the lost and that desire is sincere.
I will not encourage my church to see this movie and I will not be encouraging anyone to use this evangelistically. Pastor, you need to think about the reputation of the Lord and His gospel amongst the lost. When evolution is illustrated as evolving from simple life forms (an egg) to complex (a chicken), it’s intellectually dishonest. No evolutionist would use such an example because the egg and the chicken are the same species. The chicken and the egg argument–while an engaging way of introducing the question of origins–is not an example of complex life forms coming from simple life forms in the sense that evolution teaches it. It is a closer representation of Harry Anderson’s old character of Night Court fame. I am sure Mr. Christiano knows that evolution does not teach that the egg and the chicken are an example of macroevolution as do some who have endorsed the movie. Intellectual dishonesty does not glorify the Lord.
When the gotcha line of the movie is an earnest Christian student asking his evolutionist friend if his parents, grandparents or great grandparents looked like apes’well, what else can I say? We were laughing because of the absurdity of the argument while many others in the room laughed at the cheap one-liner. As funny as it is to insult an evolutionist, what if the student’s parents DID look like apes? Would that prove anything? Of course not. However, with this most basic of evidential appeals the Christian sets himself up for failure. The fact that the evolutionist student had nothing to say in response shows how out of touch the writers are with present day college students. Our evangelistic methodology matters. Insulting the opponent is not the way to answer those who oppose us with gentleness and respect (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
The pastors and other church representatives were given a promotional DVD which included this exchange as a great way to promote the movie. If you think that at least some of your youth will NOT use that kind of line with their evolutionist friends, you don’t understand the way media works. I am sure there are youth who will see through this in spite of what they’ve been fed. I sure hope so anyway. Judging from the popularity of the hit God’s Not Dead amongst Christian youth, color me unconfident.
Let’s stop for a moment and imagine that I did promote this movie. Widely. Let’s further imagine that some of my church members came as well as my atheist friends.
Think about the response of the atheists. Their first question to me would be, Jon, do you really think that’s a fair representation of what I believe regarding evolution? Or perhaps they would ask, When are you going to start asking me about my parents? Their second question would be, Are there Christians who would send their children to secular university and not know that they teach evolution in their BIOLOGY classes? The plot of this movie might be believable if the father in this story was homeschooling his daughter somewhere above the Arctic Circle and she was going off to experience a fourth grade science class for the first time. This movie insults all of our intelligences. It may be counterproductive with the audience that the producers are hoping the churches will reach with this film. One thing we can know for sure: it will be an example of a false balance (Proverbs 20:23)’representing something as fact which is not.
I do not want my congregation to think for a moment that belief in God and His record on creation is a matter of faith. It is not. It is a matter of fact, revealed by the God of the Universe to ALL men (not just Christians). You say that atheists don’t acknowledge that? The Bible says that too. Do some reading in Romans 1-2. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In other words, they know God exists. They deny that knowledge because men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). As I’ve heard Sye say elsewhere we need to stop believing what the atheist says about his unbelief and start believing what God says about the atheist.
If I want to look my unbelieving friends in the eye, I cannot show them this movie. If I want to look my Lord and Savior in the eye on the Day of Judgment, I cannot recommend this movie to anyone.
Pastor, you are responsible to teach your congregation. In fact, the Word of God tells us that you will be held accountable for each and every soul under your care (Hebrews 13:17). Please do not lie to your congregation by encouraging them to believe that the issue of evolution and creation is a matter of faith. It is a matter of revealed truth. Tell them differently and you will give an account of it to the Lord Himself.
May I suggest that the way you reach your lost neighbors is by sharing the gospel with them? I know it’s radical to suggest it, given our fear of confrontation and all, but it is the Word of God that gives new life to unbelievers (1 Peter 1:23-25). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) not by seeing movies. And let’s be clear. The moment of belief comes for Jordan Trovillion’s character when an earnest Christian student tells her that some people become Christians by addition and not submission. The Biblical teaching of false conversion is not mentioned, although this is an allusion to it. The gospel is not mentioned. In fact, no Scriptural content is mentioned. But somehow this catchy statement is enough to bring her to conviction and to repentance by itself. It’s the watershed moment in the plot. And it is unbiblical to think that someone will come to faith in Christ without the regenerating power of the Word of God.
Perhaps this reveals something about the thinking of Mr. Christiano. Taken together with his post-screening phone call, I believe that he thinks that movies can do something that the Word of God on its own cannot. It is probably not conscious, but nevertheless it is presupposed. I am sure he regards the Word highly but has not thought through how regeneration works. In the process I am quite sure he will draw converts to Christianity by addition. Whether they come by submission or not can only be judged by the only One who can truly count converts’Jesus Christ. A movie may engage someone emotionally and may even cause them to make a decision for Christ. However, if it is an emotional decision’one they receive with joy’the seed of God’s Word may have fallen on stony ground (Mark 4:16-17).
Pastor, the best thing you can do for Christian artists is to encourage them to make art for the glory of God. It should be the finest art because we serve the finest, most majestic Savior. Whether or not your congregation can remember your sermon a month later is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not you preach that Word faithfully because it is that Word which gives spiritual life and feeds the people of God. Comparing sermons to art is comparing apples to oranges. Or maybe steak to honey.
In the meantime, encourage the artistically minded in your church to make art for the glory of God. Encourage them to study out the issue of what great art is Biblically speaking. Encourage them to study the great works of art in their area of interest. If they are inclined to preach sermons in their art form as a means of evangelism, spend some time prayerfully considering whether they are called to preach.
Great art can represent the creativity and glory of God. If you don’t believe that, listen to J.S. Bach, look at the paintings of Vermeer, the engravings of Durer, or read the works of John Milton. When preachers try to be artists you don’t get a good sermon or good art but a mangled half representation of both. Artists should let preachers preach and preachers should let the artists make art and we should be able to appreciate both roles without trying to force our sermons into art as a tool to evangelize.
Modern day evangelicalism is lazy. It’s far easier to invite someone to a movie than it is to actually share the gospel with them. It’s easier to invite someone to a movie than it is to invite someone to church. The risk is far greater although our intentions are more honest. I may be crazy, but I suspect that the unbelieving world would like to see some honesty about our motivations to convert them. They are tired of bait and switch games, even if we have become accustomed to them as a primary means of evangelism.