Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: "Son of God" takes more liberty with chronology than theology

Christians are right to have a healthy skepticism about the intentions of Hollywood when it comes to adapting the life of Christ into a feature film. I was a bit taken aback, however, by some of the advance caveats concerning the movie Son of God, the big screen companion piece to last year's television mini-series, The Bible. Most of the warnings came from evangelicals who were dubious of producer Roma Downey's cafeteria Catholicism and read too much of her personal spiritual quirkiness into the film's overall message. One particularly harsh critique came from Christopher Gregory at his blog, ThePropheticNews.
Roma Downey, a devout Roman Catholic, along with her husband, were heavily influenced in new age spirituality. Downey graduated from the University of Santa Monica, a private graduate school founded by New Age spiritual and self-help guru John-Roger, and will graduate with a master’s degree in spiritual psychology in June [2010].

Roma went even further into her new age Catholic spirituality by teaming up with acclaimed psychic John Edwards and co-produced a CD for children to be used for meditation and enlightenment, while Edwards introduced the teachings of contacting the dead (necromancy). In the book, Loyalty to Your Soul: The Heart of Spiritual Psychology, by H. Ronald Hulnick, Ph.D., Mary R. Hulnick, Neale Donald Walsch. The New Age Roma Downey provides this glowing endorsement (viewable online) near the beginning of the book as follows:

“As a USM [University of Santa Monica] graduate, I know firsthand the value I received from participating with Ron and Mary in the Master’s degree Program in Spiritual Psychology. I am so grateful to have Loyalty to Your Soul to sweetly remind me of all I have learned. Let’s just say that I went from playing an angel on TV to living more of an angelic life every day. The teachings in this beautiful book have sent me on a journey to the very center of my own being where, wrapped in the safe wings of Love, I feel as though I have come home.”

Even further in regards to Ms. Downey’s position regarding spiritualism and her Catholic religion, Roma advocates the eastern mysticism teachings of Eckhart Tolle, another spiritual giant in the field of new age teachings, not to mention the connections Tolle has with Oprah Winfrey. But it’s fascinating to see such a connection that someone has to the world of the occult and then try to present a so called gospel message. Yet that’s exactly what Roma Downey and her husband are indeed doing, presenting another gospel, another Jesus.

Roma has consistently stated in past and current interviews that she is on a spiritual journey, not that she’s been “born again”, but that she regularly seeks a greater understanding of the world and the universe thru different means, namely spiritualism through higher intellectualism called spiritual psychology, where the mind connects to the energies surrounding the individual to gain a higher understanding of themselves and the world they live in. This is occultism 101.

It’s equally interesting to note that Roma Downey is close friends to Della Reese, the famed singer and actress, as well as founder and pastor of the church of Universal Foundation for Better Living. A Universal new age church which promotes mystic teachings and New Age Spirituality. It is also important to note that when one goes to miss Reese‘s church, its tenants has nothing to do with sin, for the concept of original sin is not accepted, nor is the concept that man is initially a sinner which needs a sinner, nor a Savior, for all men are God’s children, even the worse individual, so there is no need for repentance. Yet the word disputes this notion in Jeremiah 17:9. Yet it was Della Reese who influenced Roma as well as Downey’s husband Mark into seeking another gospel yet keeping some connections to their Catholic teaching, the combination between another Christ found in Catholicism and the addition of New Age spiritualism is a combination that seeks to do one thing, produce another gospel entirely. That is the agenda of those like Ms. Downey and her husband and the mere fact that Jim Bakker, a Pentecostal minister, who began his life preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now supports and embraces this new gospel, only cements the belief the apostle Paul warned about in many of his letters to the church, that the time will come when men, having itching ears, will not endure sound doctrine. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This new gospel which is being presented is what we have been warned about which was coming long before its arrival, yet many Christians, not understanding what is being promoted and taught, mainly due to the lack of genuine teaching in most pulpits today in many churches across America, is producing an illiterate group of believers who will not know what type of gospel message, or worse, what type of Christ is being presented, and what’s worse, it’s not the Jesus of the Bible, but another Jesus entirely. It is antichrist.

The gospel of Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, is another Jesus, another gospel and another way, and if one accepts this Jesus, sadly, he will not save, nor redeem them, but condemn them for there is no truth in this Christ but only death, for his name is antichrist and he is the deceiver. Be warned.
Okay, your warning is noted. The problem is this "other Jesus" preaching "another gospel and another way" is nowhere to be found in Son of God. The creative license which Downey and her husband take with the story is no more broad in its scope than any previous adaptation. Yes, it is a bit unusual to see Mary (sister of Martha) constantly in the company of Jesus and the Twelve, but this is not as big an historical stretch as some might think, as the Gospel writers are very intentional in their mention women among Jesus's followers.

Ben Kayser of the Christian movie site MovieGuide offers some helpful guidance on the subject of creative license.
No onscreen version of the Bible ever has and ever will represent the life of Jesus 100%. Creative choices will and should be made be to make a movie as good and as compelling as it can be. One can question whether certain choices are good, and even Movieguide® has pointed out several missing components that would have strengthened the movie in our review of SON OF GOD. The most important thing to remember is that the movie does present a proper Christology.

MOVIEGUIDE®’s Founder and Publisher Dr. Ted Baehr listed nine crucial components needed in a orthodox Christology. In his full article that can be read here, he writes.

“An orthodox Christology requires at least:

“A real ontology (which means that reality is real, not just a great thought or something else)

“A real epistemology (which means that a person can really know that reality is real)

“A real soteriology (which means that Jesus really saved us)

“A real resurrection

“A real divinity (Jesus Christ is “very God of very God,” which is how the Council of Nicea resolved the Homoousian conflict that Jesus was of the same essence, or substance, as God the Father, and so there is only one God)

“A real incarnational theology (Jesus Christ was “fully God and fully Man,” which resolves the Gnostic and Arian heresies that Jesus was only one or the other)

“A real history (Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection were actual events in history; thus, they are more than historical, but not less than historical)

“A real morality (Jesus died once for the sins of all)

“A real victory (Jesus Christ’s death was not a defeat but a triumph)”

While the Gospel of Mark may omit details that the Gospel of Luke describes fully, the Gospel of Mark isn’t any less the gospel or good news. Also, the Gospel of John offers a completely unique perspective of Jesus that the other three gospels don’t have, including many wonderful, vivid descriptions and even metaphors of who Jesus really is and what he represents.

Similarly, the many movies based on Jesus Christ are important because they can each focus on one aspect, attribute, or perspective of Christ, but only if God is represented as He should be.
If one is looking to find fault with anything about the film, it would be with its chronology, not its theology. Considerable liberty is taken with the order of events. Most notably, Jesus's encounter with Nicodemus is presented as taking place in Jerusalem during the week leading up to the crucifixion. Up until that time, Nicodemus is portrayed as a close confidant of Caiaphas, even doing the High Priest's bidding in challenging Jesus on the question of paying taxes to Caesar. Following his nighttime meeting with Jesus, however, his attitude changes considerably and he figures prominently in the burial scene.

Another confidant of Caiaphas, his servant Malchus, plays a considerably more significant role than might be concluded from a simple reading of the Gospels. In a rather sharp contrast to his portrayal in 2004's The Passion of the Christ, this Malchus is relatively unmoved by the fact that Jesus restores his ear after Peter lops it off with his sword. He stares in awe for a moment, but then puts his helmet back on and proceeds to deliver Jesus to his boss.

Another notable departure from the biblical narrative is Peter's reaction to the news of Jesus's resurrection. He is immediately convinced when he finds the tomb empty. In the Gospel accounts, it was John who needed little convincing. Peter, still distraught over his three denials, remained a little confused until he actually encountered the Risen Lord.

Chronological and creative liberties aside, however, there is nothing theologically objectionable about Son of God, at least not to the extent that some of its detractors would have us believe. As a dramatic interpretation of the Gospel story, it is considerably more cohesive than the sometimes slipshod flow of its small screen counterpart. Most importantly, it lives up to its title, presenting Jesus as truly the Son of God.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who cross the line from discernment to a critical spirit and from healthy skepticism to toxic cynicism. These are the ones who will only be satisfied with a Jesus who speaks perfect King James English in a movie that follows the biblical narrative right down to every jot and tittle. For such persons, Kayser again offers sage advice.
Before calling SON OF GOD “anemic” or “false hope” as some Christians have, be gracious enough to consider whether or not you’ve misinterpreted the images on the screen. Calling something heresy is a serious claim. See if your “evidences” are extra-biblical or anti-biblical, and most of all, see what kind of fruit is being produced from the movie or TV show. God’s sacrifice as shown onscreen in SON OF GOD is moving people to Scripture, where they are finding true salvation.

Movieguide® has received numerous stories of lives that have been changed by Jesus movies like SON OF GOD, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent movie KING OF KINGS, and many more adaptations. Let’s be careful that we aren’t hindering the gospel in the name of a narrow definition of truth. The words of Jesus in the New Testament are not like an audio recording on Memorex. They are a literary description of historical events. No filmmaker, pastor, or evangelist is perfect, yet God still uses us, in our imperfection, to share His glorious truth and magnificent love to a hurting world.