Watchmen secure the gates from the inside; shepherds remove the walls” – Terrence Hosang.
We may not all appreciate the amount of work that goes into making a feature film. As my film school instructor, Dov SS Simens, used to say, “Anyone who actually makes any movie, should instantly get an Academy Award.” The art of story telling in a visual media is a serious talent, and it requires a lot of hard work to get an idea on to the big screen. When it is done well, it can be a life changing experience, but when it is done poorly, it can feel like we’ve been robbed of our money and our time.
In my opinion, the genre of film-making that has been particularly poor, has been the Christian-themed movies. There is no such thing as a Christian movie. Movies don’t get “saved.” But a story can be told from a Christian perspective. The audience knows this. Therefore, when a bad Christian-themed movie comes out, showing a poor Christian perspective, a discerning audience will wonder, what really goes through the mind of those Christians?
That brings me to the movie, God’s not Dead. My friend Terrence invited me to his home to watch this film, with his family, so that he and I could have a discussion of the movie. When he and I watch a movie, it’s akin to Mystery Science Theater 3000. There is a lot of pauses, discussion, debate and then the eventual resuming of the film. I think this viewing took about three hours for what is in fact an hour and thirteen minute film. And at the end of it, we really didn’t like the movie.
When I left Terrence’s house that evening, I was very disappointed at what appeared to be another poor telling of a movie, from a Christian perspective. But I wondered, if maybe in our banter through the movie, I had missed some of the greater appeal or story telling. So I went home, and watched the movie again. Unfortunately, I came away with the same conclusion. That the Christian perspective that told the story in this movie was unrealistic, elitist and offensive.
I was so upset with this film, that I happened to leave a comment on Facebook to my distaste of the movie. Within the space of 24 hours, I was hit with a firestorm of responses. The comments, emails and messages I got in response to my statement, was very telling. There were many who agreed with me, but at the same time, I was bombarded with hateful comments and criticisms directed to me personally. There were also some people who actually loved the movie.
Those who loved the movie, talked at length about how this movie to spoke to their personal struggles and inspired them to stand up for what they believe. Others said that it gave them an opportunity to speak to others about faith, and answer questions from the movie. It was in the midst of this, something dawned on me. We are dealing with two very different mindsets of believers, who watch this film. Those who have a Watchman mindset, and those who have a Shepherd mindset.
Watchmen see a battle going on in the world, between Christianity and everyone else, and envision themselves as a defender of their territory. They are battle conscious, and they believe many of the scenarios depicted in the film are really happening somewhere out there on the front lines. Movies, like God’s not Dead, are seen as weapons to push back the darkness, and any criticism of these films can been seen as an attack.
These are those who rise up to defend movies like God’s Not Dead, because it’s a Christian movie, and we need to support and encourage more Christian movies because our values are under attack. Watchmen have their eyes on the walls and trying to protect those on the inside from the evil on the outside. There is a heavy sense, of “us versus them,” and this movie gives a boost in morale for these viewers.
Shepherds, on the other hand, are focused on the lost. They are not territorial, nor are they trying to keep their ground, because they know they are not in any danger of losing any. The Shepherds are more concerned for the lost, and leave the ninety-nine, which they know are safe, to go after the one. The Shepherds are trying to bring people into the fold, and as such are always trying not to scare off or startle the lost sheep.
Shepherds believe that God is the one keeping them, protecting them, and will not let any slip out of his hands. The Shepherd believes God will fight for him, expand his territory and supply his needs. The Shepherd is free to focus on going after the lost sheep, and brining them into the fold. And when something some up that will scatter or scare the lost sheep, it bothers the Shepherd.
Those are the two dominant Christian perspectives of people who have seen God’s Not Dead. And the reviews of the movie seem to reflect this. Those who love the movie say how much it spoke to them and their struggles. At the same time, those who hate the movie, is because the movie depicted offensive stereotypes of unbelievers and makes evangelism harder.
Some people will say, well I can be both! While the statement sounds Super Spiritual, the fact remains that you cannot be a shepherd to the Lost, if at the same time, you view the lost as wolves. Or in the case of this movie, you cannot be comfortable with the depiction of the unbelievers in this movie as God-hating, shallow, selfish, and incapable of real love, and still claim to respect and love them as real people.
While I know God can use anything, and I don’t deny people will have great encounters with God from this movie, there will also be a number of us who reach the unbelievers by joining them in denouncing this movie, and apologizing to them, for how they were misrepresented in this film.
For myself, I’m a Shepherd, and this movie isn’t helping my outreach. Of course there are those who will just think it’s a nice family movie. There are also Atheist who love it, in the same way that some people love really bad scifi movies from the 1950s, because they get to laugh and point at it, to show how misguided Christians are in their understanding of the world.
I understand that this is a movie, and they are appealing to that watchman mentality, for their loyalty at the box office and their ability to follow orders as depicted in the movie, but for those of us with a shepherd mindset, it just didn’t appeal to us.
As Jesus, the Great Shepherd, said…
Luke 11:23 He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.