How Do Movies Get Us Ready to Hear the Gospel? (Nov-Dec 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Mike Cope
November – December, 2002

Donna Hester, a Christian actress and a contributor to this issue, once wrote blessings for everyone in our little covenant group. I still remember one of the things she wrote about me. She mentioned how much she appreciates Mike, “who supports great art, even though he has no clue what it is.” Busted! I’m afraid my friend is right. My idea of great television programming is Sports Center. And my definition of what makes a great movie can be boiled down to “anything with Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford-and Monsters, Inc.” I don’t expect to be asked to join the nominating committee for the Academy Awards anytime soon.

But here is my lifelong passion: to communicate the gospel in our culture. Not first century culture. Not nineteenth century culture. But our culture. I’m interested in how we engage this world with the message and person of Christ, refusing either a comfortable accommodation (so that we’re “of the world”) or a sectarian withdrawal (so that we’re not “in the world”). I have a passion for sitting holiness and ministry side by side.

So I recoil from some well-intentioned efforts to blast everything coming out of Hollywood. The Christian community needs voices of caution, for sure. But if we’re going to engage our culture, we cannot run from movies, what Robert Johnston calls the lingua franca of our culture. Because of a strong belief in creation theology, I tend to see truth breaking out all over. There are parables to be found in seed being planted, children playing tee-ball, and scripts from Hollywood. There are profound insights about sin, love, alienation, reconciliation, family, sexuality and spirituality in movies like The Apostle, Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Signs, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, The Shawshank Redemption, Smoke Signals, Life Is Beautiful, Dead Man Walking, etc.

A few years ago, DreamWorks studio invited several ministers from various religious groups to meet with them to receive feedback on a work that was in progress-which eventually was the animated film The Prince of Egypt. Of course I understand that part of the reason they did this was to try to prevent religious leaders from condemning the movie when it came out; but there were reasons that weren’t mere economical. The group I was in had about twenty ministers-one each from various evangelical denominations. Jeffrey Katzenberg told us how important it was to them to get this story right.

He began by describing the first meeting of DreamWorks – when Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and he sat in a circle and talked about what made a great story. It was then that Spielberg suggested the life of Moses – the Bible’s drama certainly fit all the criteria for a powerful story. I know I could have been blinded in the meeting. But it seemed clear to me that this group wasn’t trying to overturn values and destroy families. They wanted to make money, for sure. But they also wanted to entertain and to tell an important story.

Mike Cope

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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