Imagine that it is Sunday morning. You arrive at church to find people lined up around the block waiting to get in. In fact, they have been there for over two hours in hopes of getting a seat. Some of the people gush that they have been anticipating this moment for months; others have come dressed as their favorite Bible character. Most will be disappointed if the service lasts less than 90 minutes, but they are secretly hoping that it will last two hours or more. Are you bewildered? Let's change the location.
You are at your neighborhood cinema -- one that has been chosen for a special preview of the latest blockbuster film. Are you surprised to learn that many folks made a special trip that afternoon to purchase tickets, and will return that evening at 10 PM to stand outside in the cold for a film that won't begin for another 2 hours and will let out around 3 AM? Not at all, this happens all the time at American theaters.
How do we account for the difference?
Some might say that you can't really compare going to church to attending a movie. Church deals with serious matters, but the cinema is frivolous -- no wonder so many people seem to prefer it. "Besides," some say, "Hollywood has an unfair advantage -- they can make their message so exciting." Unfortunately, this way of thinking would be a mistake. What goes on in a movie theater is the same thing that goes on in church -- worldviews are being established, behaviors are condemned or condoned, even issues about transcendence are being resolved.
The issue is not location, it is engagement. The church and the world are in a life and death struggle for the souls of humankind. The world has found an engaging outlet to reach the world through popular culture. What strategy should the modern (or postmodern) Church adopt in order to make sure we reach as many people as possible?
When Paul addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill, his situation was markedly similar to our own. He faced a group of people skeptical about the Christian message. These folks were well educated, and were enamored with seeing and hearing the latest thing. They were inherently religious people as well, and surrounded themselves with objects and images of worship.
When Paul confronted that culture, did he complain that the Athenians had an unfair advantage? Was he disappointed by the comparative lack of glamour in his own message when contemplating the great temples and idols of Athens? Not at all.
It is important to know that Paul did not like the images and idols of the Athenian culture. The Scriptures tell us that his spirit was provoked because he saw the city full of idols. Instead of stomping away in disgust, Paul did what every foreign missionary since then has done -- he used the artifacts of the local culture and demonstrated how they pointed to Christ.
And that is our goal as well.
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis both recognized the power of stories to stir the hearts of men. They believed that God sowed the seeds of the great stories of mankind even among the pagans, so that when the truly Great Story arrived, they would be able to recognize it. The purpose of this ongoing newsletter will be to equip you to understand the ways in which film impacts culture, and to show you how to harness Hollywood and turn its stories into a touch point to share the Gospel. As we engage our culture, be prepared to see Church become a lot more exciting -- and it might not hurt to add some seats.