About This Blog

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"Hollywood Jesus" (Matt Rawle)

TITLE: Hollywood Jesus: A Small Group Study Connecting Christ and Culture (The Pop in Culture Series)
AUTHOR: Matt Rawle
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (128 pages).

How is pop culture influencing the world? Are Christians able to counter this pervasive reach of Hollywood with the gospel? If all things were made through Christ, and Christians called to reach the world for Christ, why does it seem that more people know about Hollywood stars than the person of Jesus Christ? How do we reach a people who have been so thoroughly indoctrinated with Hollywood philosophy that oozes worldliness? According to author Matt Rawle, we are not called to reject the pop culture around us. Instead, we need to "re-narrate" them. Just like Jesus who did not reject the cross but endured the shame and transformed something very bad into something so powerful. The purpose of this four-session small group study is to learn to engage the culture around us by opening our eyes to the "spiritual truths" flowing through many different channels of communications today. Key to the whole book is the question: "How are we portraying Jesus to those in our circles of influence?"

One common theme throughout pop culture is the story it tells. Many Hollywood movies depend on good stories that moved from books to screens. In fact, Rawle asserts that the story of Jesus Christ has been portrayed from explicitly Christian titles like "Jesus of Nazareth," "The Gospel of John," "The Passion of the Christ," "Jesus Christ Superstar," to other less obvious titles like "Tommy," "The Matrix," "Ratatouille," "Man of Steel," and even "Star Wars." The sessions are entitled as follows:

  1. Session One - From Scripture to Script
  2. Session Two - The Jesus of Now ... Whenever "Now" Is
  3. Session Three - The Gospel According to
  4. Session Four - Everyone Has a Story

Session One deals with the way story-telling has changed over the years. In the first century, communications are mostly by word of mouth. With the invention of the printing press and the radio, communications are distributed through print and audio technology. In our contemporary world, movies and audio-visual streaming via the Internet has taken over the storytelling process. The question becomes, who tells a better story? Which medium projects the more complete truth? Essentially, we get to look at how medium influences the storytelling. We will learn about the big blocks of storytelling and how plots are planned and unfolded.

Session Two looks at how Jesus is portrayed through the years. The modern mind tends to project Hollywood into the person of Christ, which explains the films "Jesus Christ Superstar," "The Last Temptation of Christ," and "Jesus of Montreal" which paint a version of Jesus that is so contemporary. It is a fascinating look at the different images of Christ being shown. Is Jesus a hero, a hippie, a clown, or a Canadian? Even Monty Pylon's "Life of Brian" projects a controversial film on Jesus that irritated many Christian leaders.

Session Three examines the way depictions of Jesus are being stretched to fit modern paradigms. How accurate are the "Jesus figures" in modern actors telling us about the real Son of God? Figures of Christ appears like the lion in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," the "chosen one" in "Matrix" trilogy, the "saviour" in "Man of Steel," and stories of how good triumph over evil because of one strong saviour figure. Yet, such depictions though correctly describing the final victory, tend to sensationalize the process of salvation. The truth of Jesus is not about explicit representations of Christ. It is often best communicated with "pointing" or "hinting" toward. Just like a flock of seagulls hovering over a specific spot in the big ocean. We do not need to scuba dive into that part of the ocean to know that there are many fishes there. All we need is to watch the seagulls circling around that spot.  The visible seagulls above point to the hidden fishes below.

Session Four moves on toward encouraging us to tell our stories of Jesus. We are more gifted than we think. Our testimonies of our faith in Christ need not be some kind of a Hollywood blockbuster. As long as we tell of our genuine experiences, let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the convincing. By showing us the many different ways people, especially Hollywood, have tried to tell the story of Jesus, the author is exhorting us not to step back and let Hollywood have all the fun. We all can tell of the story of Jesus in a very personal way. There is no need to be sensational. Just be ourself.

This is a decently paced book about understanding faith in the movies. It contains lots of familiar movie plots which should provide lots of food for thought and ideas for discussion. It would be best to have a combination of movie watching and discussion time to fully appreciate the subject matter. With this book as a guide, we have a ready material to help engage one another in discussing about evangelism, cultural understanding, the pros and cons of Hollywood productions, and the accuracy of storytelling. When we appreciate the difficulty of movie makers and the hard decisions they need to make with regards to specific scenes, we would be more responsible movie critics. Though the study comes in four sessions, there is no compulsion to stick to just four. We can pace ourselves accordingly as each chapter contains more than one movie being examined. Read this book in conjunction with books like Mike Cosper's "The Stories We Tell," Robert Johnston et al's "Don't Stop Believin," or Jim Killiam and Lincoln Brunner's "Go Tell It" as other resources about film and faith.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment