Last year the History Channel struck gold with its "Bible" miniseries, a dramatization of selected sections of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It was the most-watched entertainment telecast of 2013, drawing a record-breaking 14 million viewers on the night of its finale, and moving over a million copies within weeks of its hard release.
And now, some of the material used in the series-specifically the sections covering the gospels and the life of Jesus-has been re-cut and with additional footage will soon be hitting theaters as the feature film, "Son of God."
A few of my BreakPoint colleagues have already attended screenings, and I'm encouraged by what I hear. While the miniseries drew some criticism from some pastors and Christian reviewers for taking some creative liberties with biblical details, I'm told the movie respectfully portrays the life of our Lord, His sacrifice on the cross, and His Resurrection.
Based on the events described in the gospels of John and Matthew, this condensed interpretation explores characters often given short shrift in Hollywood, like Nicodemus, Matthew and Mary Magdalene. And players who've suffered from one-dimensional portrayals in the past-like the High Priest Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate and Judas-are given motives that make sense.
Most importantly, Jesus' claims are made explicit. The movie opens by quoting from John chapter 1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And as we watch the birth of Christ, we hear, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." When asked by the Sanhedrin whether He is the Son of God, Jesus replies without hesitation, "I am." Indeed, the very title of the movie leaves no doubt about that. Director Christopher Spencer gives us, as C. S. Lewis said, the Jesus who is either "lunatic, liar, or Lord," and offers no "patronizing nonsense about his being a 'good moral teacher.'"
"Son of God," like Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" ten years ago, may just offer a powerful opportunity to witness to our unbelieving friends, or at least to get a conversation started.
But just as with Gibson's blockbuster, we also need to be a little careful. Author and blogger Tim Challies reminds us that breathless predictions from many Christian leaders that "The Passion" would spark the "greatest revival since Acts 2" not only didn't come true-a decade later, they're pretty embarrassing to even repeat. Despite some churches booking entire cinemas for audiences and producing Bible study and small-group curricula based on the movie, the only startling trend in the wake of "The Passion's" blockbusting success was the absence of revival.
Pollster George Barna summed up the disappointment many Christians felt: "Less than one-tenth of one percent of those who saw the film," he reported, "stated that they made a profession of faith or accepted Jesus Christ as their savior in reaction to the film's content." Wow.
Challies uses these experiences to caution Christians against treating the new "Son of God" movie as something it's not. He writes, "We should have no expectation that God will accomplish through a film what he has only promised to accomplish through preaching [of] the Gospel."
So definitely go and see the movie, definitely bring your friends, and definitely use it to start conversations about the claims of Jesus and the gospels. But don't expect Hollywood to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to evangelism.
The instructions the real Son of God left us were to "make disciples"-not just to pack theaters.