Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

Donald Miller has blog-posted an update regarding the response to the film based on his book, Blue Like Jazz. There's the box office figures as well as the appraisals by critics and audiences on both sides of the divide. I've only read the first chapter of the book (years ago), and haven't seen the film (though I plan on seeing it tomorrow night), so I'm not entirely sure why the film is so polarizing.  Maybe I'll still be scratching my head on that one after I see the movie.

I say this to convincingly establish that I don't have a bias towards or against Donald Miller or whatever it is that gets people so jazzed up (yuk, yuk) about his book before I discuss the comment from his blog that stuck out at me most:
"It should be noted that no review criticizing us for not sharing the gospel shares the gospel in their review."
Ha ha! Perhaps there is a hint of smugness in that remark. And, to be frank, I feel that I've detected more than hints of smugness from the films creators who've frequently framed this as the first Christian film production ever to be guided by artistic and personal authenticity. But, I digress (into possibly being judgmental.  I hear the filmmakers are great guys, and perhaps are pretty battle weary.)

But, I love what Miller calls attention to with his review on the reviews. It points out this misguided notion that every "Christian film" HAS to share the gospel. This is a silly, arbitrary, and myopic standard held by Christians who don't and can't apply it to everything else.

A couple of years ago, I was reading "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard when I was struck by this passage:
“When all is said and done, the gospel for [those] on the theological right is that Christ made the arrangement that can get us into heaven. In the Gospels, by contrast, the gospel is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed."
(For those inclined to view the term “theological right” as condescending, please know that Willard does justifiably and astutely take the “theological left” to task on their version of the gospel.)

To paraphrase how he puts it elsewhere in his book, the gospel isn’t just that if we believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection we get “fire insurance.” It’s that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” meaning that it is within reach and accessible to us now through the person and power of Jesus Christ.

When I read this, I had two reactions:

First, I believed Willard was right -mostly because some verses flooded my mind when I read his assertion.

Second, my mind quickly recalled the debate amongst Christian filmmakers and faith film enthusiasts about whether or not a film must overtly present “the gospel” in order to be a worthy Christian film.  (Incidentally, the debate amongst filmmakers seems to have decidedly settled on "no.")

Given Willard's quote, I wonder if films enthusiasticly lauded for preaching the gospel aren’t actually preaching the gospel (at least not in its fullness), but rather only a facet of it.

That doesn't mean these films did something morally wrong. It just means people may be giving them credit for something they haven't actually done and unfairly holding films like Blue Like Jazz to a standard that has actually yet to be met even by their most beloved devotional-driven films.

What about you? Have you seen a Christian film that teaches, overtly or covertly, that “the presence and availability of life in the kingdom [is accessible] now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed?”

Incidentally, I leave you with some two reviews of the film written from a Christian perspective.  One is positive.  One is negative.  Both are level-headed.

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