Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Family-Friendly" the New Orthodoxy?

Ok, I'll eat crow.

You see, I really believed the majority of Bible-believing evangelicals would be offended by the premise of the new movie, Evan Almighty. So imagine my surprise when I spotted the cover of the latest issue of Christianity Today. The new "Noah" is featured complete with about a dozen pairs of wild beasts and a giant ark of gopher wood. The headline reads "Evan Help Us: How a movie- and a movement- are partnering with the church to change the world." Also don't forget the little note at the bottom of the page reading "Popcorn in the Pews."

To be fair, this isn't the actual cover to the magazine on account of the fact that there isn't even any story about the movie in the issue. No, this apparent "cover" is actually just a special advertisement. But its a very blatant advertisement. Seeing as how the famous CT title is boldly in view, we can't assume anything but that the magazine's creative board went along with this marketing scheme with gung-ho gusto. The inside cover of this advertisement promotes a new parachurch evangelical benevolence ministry (http://www.arkalmighty/) officially licensed by the movie's brand name. Willow Creek Association, Youth Specialties, and International Bible Society have all joined hands with Hollywood to promote the "family-friendly comedy" and its inspired "ministry initiative that matches up the needs in your congregation with the talents and skills of the members of your church." In short, ArkALMIGHTY promotes church-based volunteer benevolence ministry.

Granted, I haven't seen Evan Almighty. Granted, I don't plan on spending the money for the movie ticket in the near future. And, granted, I didn't see the original Bruce Almighty (staring Jim Carrey) until it aired on cable last week (which I had mixed feelings about). If I may be granted all those grants, then (I'd be a rich man at least) let me assert that I think American evangelicals are in deep trouble if this recent development is any indication of Christian cultural engagement at large. Evan Almighty is a comedy that uses the Bible as the set-up joke for the punchline. I don't know whether or not it lampoons the Bible specifically. I'm sure that the film contains a mix of good and bad elements as regards morality and religious discussion. I don't even know whether or not the movie is any funny or not. [Believe it or not, the film's director is a professing Catholic and Augustine fan in this interview.]

But, what I do know is that making a movie about a "god" who decides to rehash "Noah & the Ark: Part 2" as a means to teach people how to better care for their environment and do good deeds for one another is a dangerous undertaking. Evan Almighty may be a decent movie with the usual mix spiritual strengths and weaknesses, but its fundamental premise about an actor playing God with dialogue written by Hollywood writers unsettles me. I feel this way when anyone (real or fictional) tries to speak words for God that we have no account of Him saying in Scriptural revelation. I am simply surprised that more evangelicals aren't exhibiting similar anxiety, but are actually standing behind the film as a triumph of evangelical-friendly values suitable for the whole family (here is at least one exception).

That said, let me acquit myself of three potential misunderstandings: (1) I really do like the environment. Green is my favorite color, for crying out loud! Although I'm not a tree-hugger, I believe personal stewardship is both biblical and ethically significant. (2) I'm all for churches getting involved with benevolent ministries, especially for needy people within our own churches. (3) I like family-friendly movies. All these things are fine and good in general.

But this present evangelical lobbying of movies that are high on family-friendly virtues (no violence, minimum intense thematic elements, mild language, no sex, etc.) but shallow on godly reverence disturbs me. Maybe I'm just being paranoid (wouldn't surprise me really, heh), but I think evangelicals' lack of second thoughts in promoting this particular movie is a symptom of a deeper problem. What's the problem? Christians have become so desperate for entertainment they can share with their families that they have thrown in the towel on the Gospel. The biblical account of Noah and the Ark is about man's sin against God, God's judgement of sin, and (most importantly) God's mercy and salvation of men. I'm pretty sure that Evan Almighty's story doesn't center around those themes.

I would appreciate reader input on this. I won't get mad if you disagree with me. I only hope I have made my point. Is "Family-Friendly" the new orthodoxy? I hope not.


  1. Well, judging by the following parachurch groups:
    Family Life
    Focus on the Family


    Remember what reason the WCA and other seeker-driven churches gave for canceling church when Christmas fell on a Sunday back in 2005??? They wanted all their volunteers to be able to spend time with their families on Christmas.


    Now what did Jesus have to say about family friendliness?

    [quote is from the NASB]
    34"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.



    37"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

    38"And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

    39"He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

    Christ is to be our priority, not family. I think "Family Friendly" is a new orthodoxy, but it is sufficiently unbiblical for me to think this new orthodoxy is no improvement over the old.

    Somebody needs to call this elevation of family to a position higher than Christ within evangelicalism what it is. IDOLATRY

  2. You make a good point, Guillaume. The most holy and blessed things in life are sometimes the ones that can be the most easily perverted into idolatry.

    In regard to the Matthew 10 text about Jesus dividing families, I have to admit that I am very hesitant to use that text without clarification, seeing how the family unit is so vulnerable in contemporary culture. Let us not forget that Jesus certainly wasn't (or isn't) un-family-friendly. Indeed, "He who says to his father or mother, 'whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,' he is not to honor his father and mother. And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites." (Mt. 15:4-7)

    I am all for the family and all for family-friendly entertainment, but my concern is that evangelicals are so desperate for family-friendly that they have neglected discernment. I believe many non-family-friendly movies have superior edifying thematic values ("A Few Good Men," for example) than a movie based loosely on the Bible that sells itself as "safe" for the family.

  3. I feel as though I need to approach family-driven ministry models with caution. In one form or another, there are family-driven churches across the christian spectrum, from catholics to hardcore fundamentalists (Bill Gothard, Vision Forum, etc.) to hypercalvinists. (Highlands Study Center, the FIC movement, etc.)

    Some of them have some very good and helpful things to say about child rearing, I also like their approach to sunday school, and I do not dispute that aspect of their ministries, per se. Where I get nervous is how they seem to approach the role of the Local Church. The Great Commission is never going to be fulfilled by somehow outbreeding the pagan world. It will also never be achieved by only targeting unbelieving parents. We must sow the seed of the Gospel indiscriminately, and joyfully integrate into the church any and all who answer its call to the lost.

    How would a 50 year old childless, single man newly converted to Christ be integrated into Grace Family Baptist Church? Their website leaves a big question mark on that question.

    I'm mostly on the same page as you, Adam. Returning to Evan Almighty, what it comes down to, is Bill Hybels knows what market he wishes to target, and that is younger parents with children who abandoned the church in college and have only regained an interest in church now that they are parents themselves. Evan Almighty is a feel-good patent medicine to these people. Those who advocate it probably figure it does far less harm than most of what Hollywood puts out. Instead of a cheap patent medicine that masks the real problem, these church leaders should be preaching the Gospel, which truly is the solution for anything that ails our souls. We need to preach the gospel to "win" souls. We need to preach the gospel to "disciple". We need to never stop preaching the Gospel, until we see the subject of that Good News face-to-face for all eternity. Stupid movies are just mudpies in Surrey by comparison.

  4. Dustin11:27 AM

    Hi Adam,
    I'm posting this mainly because this discussion has been way too agreeable.
    My first reactionary comment to all of this is: "Chill out, Adam... you are thinking way too much." I have not yet seen the movie, so I do withold judgement. I want to see it, though. Because it will be funny.

    I know a lot of Christian panicked after "The DaVinci Code" bestseller. I read the book and enjoyed it for its suspense. It's fiction for goodness sake, and anybody who puts more stock in it than that is fooling themselves. Same with any movie. I hope the Bible can stand on its own two feet. People serious about God will hopefully think about it. The Truth is out there if they want to investigate it.

    As far as family values becoming idolotry.... I could only hope for such thing! My gosh, in a world where people are being ravaged by war, hunger, political dictatorship, sexual promiscuity, and moral confusion, we need all the family friendly films we can get, if anything just to help people continue the moral fabrication necessary for society to exist without us all killing each other. The Gospel is not going to be won or lost by the entertainment industry. Morals can be, though.

    So this movie happens to distort the Noah story a little. Okay probably a lot. It's no different than most Disney films distorting the moral backdrop of such fairy tales like The Little Mermaid. So my advice: Laugh a little and just enjoy the movie. It's pure fiction. Its entertainment. Not a theology lesson. But do go back and read the true flood story and tell that story to others.

  5. A wise old sage named Anonymous once said that "there is no use blogging if you can't excite disagreement and controversy." At least that's what he might have said at some point.

    I am happy to have succeeded in bringing the elusive Dustin L. Rapp out of hiding and back into the blogging limelight. :-) Although I try to be agreeable, I do enjoy disagreement as long as it doesn't become disagreeable. Brother Rapp is a more than worthy foil to my aluminum paper.

    Dustin, I sympathize with your concern that I may have overreacted. Joseph Gould told me the same thing, for the record. But nevertheless, I think this is a legitimate problem. Like you, I am thankful for the presence of family-friendly entertainment. We need more of it and need it more often.

    But nothing should ever become an idol, and I think you would agree with me on that point. I don't have a specific beef with Evan Almighty. I wasn't trying to discourage Christians from seeing it. I was only trying to question the wisdom of Christian churches and societies in blindly promoting a film that is loosely Bible related. I think similar caution should be applied to films like "The Prince of Egypt." Just because something is tied to the Bible doesn't mean churches should promote it. Neither does it mean they should boycott it. I just suspect a few Christian groups failed to use discernment in giving this movie their endorsement.

  6. I realize I am coming into this conversation way late, but wanted to go on record that although I do think Adam overreacted to the release of this movie, that does not mean I support the movie.

    All that being said, I hope Mr. Winters does not believe I am offended that he dropped my name in the conversation.

    BTW, it is nice to see Professor Rapp making a guest appearance on the blog-o-sphere. Maybe he will stick around.

  7. Dustin Said:
    As far as family values becoming idolotry.... I could only hope for such thing! My gosh, in a world where people are being ravaged by war, hunger, political dictatorship, sexual promiscuity, and moral confusion, we need all the family friendly films we can get, if anything just to help people continue the moral fabrication necessary for society to exist without us all killing each other.

    So what is the goal of the church? If it is to develop upstanding, moral people who wind up in Hell anyway, then the promotion of "friendly family" movies at the expense of gospel proclamation is the right path for the church to follow.
    To paraphrase Dustin, "in a world where people are being ravaged by war, hunger, political dictatorship, sexual promiscuity, and moral confusion," what the church needs is to try and win as many souls to Christ as possible. This cannot be achieved by the promotion of good morals, but only by the faithful proclamation of the Word.

    When people are regenerated by the Holy Spirit in Christ when they repent of their sins and believe the Gospel, good morals will always follow.

    Then Dustin said:
    So this movie happens to distort the Noah story a little. Okay probably a lot. It's no different than most Disney films distorting the moral backdrop of such fairy tales like The Little Mermaid.

    My point: What church ever canceled its services to screen the Little Mermaid???