The year 2008 was full of surprises for the Christian entertainment industry – from shocking confessions and tragic accidents to unexpected bestsellers and notable Christian-to-mainstream crossovers (and vice-versa).
As The Christian Post continues to reflect upon this past year, the following is being offered as the top 10 entertainment news of 2008 based the opinions of CP readers and editors:
Author William Paul Young had not originally intended his novel to be for public consumption, but since its debut on the market last year, The Shack has shot surprisingly to the top of best seller lists and set up camp there, generating large amounts of buzz – both positive and negative – within Christian circles.
To date, The Shack has sold more than 4.4 million copies in 24 different countries after being initially spurned by 26 publishers. It has remained on the New York Times Bestsellers List for Paperback Trade Fiction for 31 weeks and currently retains the No. 1 spot.
While Young is convinced that his book “is a God thing,” the book has been openly criticized by conservative Protestant heavyweights including R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries; Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle; and influential blogger Tim Challies, who produced a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel’s assertions to Scripture.
“Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God),” wrote Challies in his extensive review.
“Sadly, though, there is much bad mixed in with the good,” he added after addressing the issues of the Trinity, submission, free will, forgiveness, scripture and revelation, and salvation.
The surprise best seller has prompted a number of individuals to produce books and materials to counter the book, which they describe as “nothing less than rank heresy disguised as Christian literature.” Also coming out are books and materials defending the book, including Finding God in The Shack by author Randal Rauser.
“The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to,” argues Rauser. “But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation.”
Despite the book’s success, Young said he isn't contemplating a sequel though The Shack may possibly be turned into a screenplay.
Since its Sept. 26 debut, church-produced movie “Fireproof” has raked in over $33 million in ticket sales and has been touted as a high-impact marriage saver and strengthener.
Directed and produced by the Kendrick brothers of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., the movie tells the inspiring story of a fireman and his struggle to save his faltering marriage from ending with his newfound faith and with the help of the “Love Dare,” a 40-day spiritual guide that utilizes Scripture to reveal what true love is.
With a budget five times larger than Sherwood Pictures’ last movie, “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” debuted over the Sept. 26-28 weekend at No. 4 with $6.5 million in ticket sales, marking the year’s second highest grossing opening weekend return of any film released on 1,000 screens or less.
The ministry’s latest movie not only made the Weekend Box Office Top 10 for three consecutive weeks, but it also spawned a best-selling book that started as a plot device in the film until audiences repeatedly requested copies for themselves.
Both the film and book have drawn the support of churchgoers and conservatives as well as several national groups, including Focus on the Family, Outreach, FamilyLife, The Marriage CoMission, America's Family Coaches, AMFM, Marriage Alive Communications, and MarriageToday. Influential figures such as marriage expert Gary Smalley and Bubba Cathy of Chick-fil-A have also worked to spread word of the movie.
The “Fireproof” DVD will hit stores Jan. 27, 2009 and is currently available for pre-purchase at Family Christian Store, LifeWay Christian Store, and some other Christian stores. The Special Collector's Edition DVD will have dubbing in both Spanish and Portuguese, as well as captions in those languages as well as French, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic, and English, making it a potential international ministry tool.
Earlier this year, Maria Sue Chapman, the youngest child of Grammy-winning Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman and one of three adopted from China, was accidentally and fatally struck by a sport utility vehicle in the driveway of the family's Williamson County home in Tennessee. The driver, 17-year-old Will Franklin Chapman, was returning home and did not see his five-year-old sister running toward him to greet him.
The tragedy pulled on the heartstrings of believers across denominations, many of whom were familiar with the popular Christian music star whose songs have become a staple in contemporary worship services and on Christian radio stations nationwide.
The accident also led Chapman to consider the idea of not returning to the stage.
Although Chapman had stopped touring and declined interviews after the May 21 tragedy, he decided later to continue with his U.S. concerts, wanting to go forward and take the opportunity to share his faith, according to manager Jim Houser.
Beginning with Lifest in Oshkosh, Wisc., on July 11, Chapman hit the road again and later teamed up with fellow award-winning artist Michael W. Smith for a historic joint tour that hit 19 cities in October and early November.
Amid the grieving, Chapman used the stage to share about his family's path toward recovery following Maria’s death and also appeared with his family in several televised interviews including “Good Morning America” and “Larry King Live.”
Since Maria’s death, Shaohannah's Hope, the pro-adoption ministry founded by the Chapmans, raised over $760,000 in donations through a special fund created in loving remembrance of her. Following Maria’s death, the Chapmans had requested that donations be given to Shaohannah's Hope in lieu of flowers.
Michael Guglielmucci, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians with his terminal cancer "battle," confirmed this year that he is not suffering with a terminal illness and that his fictitious cancer story was conjured to hide his 16-year obsession with pornography.
"For over 16 years I have struggled with an addition to adult pornography as a result of this secret life of sin my body would often breakdown,” expressed the pastor of Planetshakers City Church in Melbourne in a released statement.
"I'd report the cause of my symptoms simply as illnesses and I've thrown my life into a ministry for many years trying to compensate for my sin,” he continued before affirming that his “cancer” was another misdiagnosis he used to hide the lie that he was living.
"I know in my heart that it is the truth alone that will set me free and this is the reason for my confession,” he added.
Since his shocking confession, Guglielmucci, whose parents established Edge Church International, an Assemblies of God church in Australia, has been seeking professional help.
His hit song, “Healer,” which was released earlier this year and was featured on Sydney church Hillsong's latest album, had been an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom were suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Guglielmucci.
Hillsong informed media that it would be taking steps to modify the CD and DVD, which features clips of Guglielmucci with oxygen tubes in his nose, as well as him talking about getting his cancer diagnosis.
Guglielmucci's wife, the first to hear her husband's confession, meanwhile reported that she would undergo counseling to try to salvage her marriage.
The Christian blogosphere was set abuzz after CCM veteran Ray Boltz made public his struggle with and eventual acceptance of his homosexual desires. News of Boltz’s gay lifestyle was spread far and wide after the pro-gay Washington Blade published an exclusive feature on the Gospel singer, who only four years ago revealed to his family “the darkness and struggle” he was going through.
“I prayed hard and tried for 30-some years,” Boltz recalled, “and then at the end, I was just going, ‘I’m still gay. I know I am.’ And I just got to the place where I couldn’t take it anymore … when I was going through all this darkness, I thought, ‘Just end this.’”
During his nearly 20-year recording career, Boltz garnered a handful of RIAA Gold-certified albums, three Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association (GMA) and a string of 12 No. 1 hits on Christian radio. He is regarded as one of the better-known singer/songwriters in Contemporary Christian Music and is a household name among some Christian circles.
His public confession followed the “coming out” of another Christian celebrity, Azariah Southworth, host of Christian music television show "The Remix," and came only weeks before 29-year-old, Southern Baptist-bred singer Clay Aiken publicly acknowledge that he's gay following the birth of his son.
"It was the first decision I made as a father," Aiken told People magazine, which featured Aiken prominently on the cover with the headline “Yes, I’m Gay.”
Aiken rose to fame on the second season of the television program American Idol in 2003. The now-30-year-old is noted as the most successful male and the most successful runner-up in that show's history.
A YouTube video that features talk show host Oprah Winfrey denying Jesus as the only way to God and promoting New Age ideas drew over five million viewers after only being made public for a month.
The under seven-minute video montage, entitled "The Church of Oprah Exposed," was posted late March and highlighted the concerns of Christians who believe the popular day-time host has been distorting Christianity and leading many into spiritual confusion.
When asked a direct question about how she is able to reconcile belief in Christianity with belief in author Eckhart Tolle’s New Age message, Oprah stated: “I reconciled it because I was able to open my mind about the absolute indescribable hugeness of that which we call God. I took God out of the box.”
She said she got tired of “rules” and “doctrines,” and particularly of the Scriptural idea that God is a “jealous God.”
“Something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit,” she said, “because I believe that God is love.”
Oprah’s promotion of Eckhart’s book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, was criticized by Christian leaders including Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, and S. Michael Craven, president of the Center for Christ & Culture, who called the book “nothing but spiritualized self-help and repackaged paganism that serve to deceive and divert people from the One True God and the salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.”
The YouTube video on “The Church of Oprah” currently has more than eight million views.
“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” the pro-intelligent design documentary featuring actor Ben Stein, made history when it opened as the widest and one of the most commercially successful releases for any documentary film.
The film debuted at No. 9 at the box office, earning a respectable $2.97 million while only appearing on 1,052 screens. It went on to become the 12th highest grossing documentary film of all time.
Critics such as Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times have called the film a “conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry,” and atheist scientists who were interviewed in the film have criticized it for the alleged out-of-context use of quotes and segments. Premise Media Corporation, the makers of the film, however, denied any wrongdoing.
"There is some serious mistreatment and downright reprehensible behavior going on here,” said Executive Producer Walt Ruloff, “but I can assure you it's not coming from us.
“We're just the ones exposing it.”
In the movie, actor Ben Stein explores the long-standing controversial debate between supporters of Darwinism and proponents of intelligent design. Through interviews with experts and professors from both camps, he discovers an elitist scientific establishment that punishes the scientific proponents of intelligent design because they reject some of the claims of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
A two-hour PBS program that claimed to have “new discoveries that shake the foundation of biblical archaeology” riled conservative critics including the American Family Association, which threatened to take their protest to Congress.
“PBS is knowingly choosing to insult and attack Christianity by airing a program that declares the Bible ‘isn't true and a bunch of stories that never happened,’” stated a petition that was circulated by the conservative group.
“I have often said that PBS should not receive tax dollars,” said AFA founder and chairman Donald E. Wildmon, noting that Congress gives PBS hundreds of millions of tax dollars to help support the network.
"’The Bible's Buried Secrets’ is simply one more reason Congress should stop supporting PBS with our tax dollars.”
When the program finally aired in November, however, most Bible experts agreed that nothing new was presented in the documentary, which they said was actually “well done and well illustrated.”
“[A]nyone who has opened up a commentary or a history of Israelite religion in the last 40 years has had access to everything it contains,” wrote Dr. James E. West, an adjunct professor at the Quartz Hill School of Theology in California, in a live blog during the airing of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.”
“[N]othing groundbreaking or new or revolutionary” was presented in the film, he added.
“Instead, it simply summarizes scholarship to this point in what I confess was a balanced and fair way,” he said.
For the documentary, Providence Pictures scouted and filmed at archaeological sites throughout the Middle East – including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria – and interviewed biblical scholars from around the world.
Producers say the interviews – along with historic works of art, ancient artifacts, animations of biblical passages and scenes, and dramatic recreations – provide the latest account of the ancient Israelites and how they found their one God – the God not only of modern Judaism, but also of Christianity and Islam.
Following a wave of criticisms over an "American Idol" performance that replaced a reference to "Jesus" with "shepherd,” Idol contestants stepped back on stage the next evening, putting "Jesus” back in the song.
In their final performance during the television show's 2008 "Idol Gives Back" charity event the evening before, the white-clad Idol contestants had sung the contemporary worship song "Shout to the Lord," written by Darlene Zschech – a move that some speculate was an attempt to lessen any controversy among the diversely religious American people. But after the charity event, the "American Idol" message board had a hoard of posts that questioned the appropriateness of the finalists singing a Christian song. The show was also criticized for having the contestants sing “My Shepherd, My Savior" instead of “My Jesus, My Savior” – the original lyrics.
"That's their first big mistake. If you're going to sing a gospel tune, sing it. Why change that word?" said Michael Giltz, a blogger on The Huffington Post.
When the contestants sang the song again near the beginning of the show the next evening, many Christians were pleasantly surprised to hear "Jesus." The religious song, however, continued to irk others who did not find it appealing to a wide audience.
Since becoming a sensation at the age of 13, “Hannah Montana” star Miley Cyrus has taken the entertainment industry by storm. In addition to her hit TV show, Miley has released two music albums that both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. And her “Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” has grossed over $65 million in U.S. box office receipts to date.
The now-15-year-old has also been making headlines for reasons different from many young stars, whose reckless lifestyles or legal troubles often overshadow whatever successes they may have achieved. And the teen celebrity says that it is her family and faith that keep her grounded and out of trouble.
Miley told TV presenter Barbara Walters earlier this year that many young stars turn to drugs or alcohol because they’re trusting the wrong people and losing touch with God.
"I think a lot of these people do have Christian families but they're not seeing that they're so much greater than the materialistic things right now – like parties,” the singer and actress said.
Though Miley has had her share of negative media – including the media storm over a risqué feature published in Vanity Fair magazine – she has continued to position herself as a parent-friendly, good-girl role model.
She has also used her fame to witness for Christ, once claiming on a YouTube video that she does “everything for Jesus.”