Selling the Untame Lion

There’s an interesting article over at the Out of Ur Blog expressing concern about the church centered marketing machine that is gearing up for the release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It should be noted that this is the same blog that brought us the ever so thoughtful, “Why I am not emerging,” article that has led to so much joy around here.

This article, fortunately, has a bit more perspective to it, and I just wanted to add a few thoughts and then open it up for discussion. Here we go, in no particular order.

1) I think people are a little resistant to a Church / Hollywood alliance because they felt burned by The Passion of The Christ. I think we need to realize that we set ourselves up for this disappointment. Mel Gibson made a film that was a highly personal, and, yes, very Catholic version of the story. Let’s realize that our disappointments (should we have them) were self inflicted. We all so badly wanted a film version of Jesus’ life that we could really celebrate and we treated Easter 2004 like it was the second coming. Let’s not blame Mel or the marketing machine for all those banners and posters we put up and left up in our churches. I believe Mel was trying to get as many people as possible to see his movie becasue he was heartfelt. The marketing teams were just doing their job. Movies do not spark spiritual revival, and it’s silly to expect them to.

For the record, I thought the first 45 minutes of The Passion were absolutely brilliant, but I was ultimately unsatisfied with the film as a whole. I don’t think that graphically depicting Jesus’ suffering is an inherently bad idea, I just remember thinking that the film should have been three hours long, intercutting the crucifixion narrative with a thoughtful and artfully depicted overview of Jesus’ ministry.

4) Christians need to vote with their wallets or shut up. I was really frustrated some years back when The Prince of Egypt tanked at the box office. Here was an animated film of very high quality that is, in my opinion, the best depiction we have thus far of the Exodus story, (with apologies to fans of Cecil B.) The Christian community largely ignored this film, and pursuaded Dreamworks to abandon their plans to do an ongoing animated Old Testament series. The sequel, Joseph, King of Ben Affleck, went straight to video and then that was it. If we’re not going to support films that are well made, thoughful, and filled with acceptable content, we have absolutely zero business criticizing Hollywood.

B) I can’t help but laugh when I think that the same hardcore fundies who have been slamming all things media for the last forty years are the same ones who are getting all pissy about Disney trying to partner with churches to sell their product. Which way do you want it, kids? Oh… you just want to be pissed off all the time? Ok, cool. Here’s your blankie and binkie, let’s watch some VeggieTales. You think Bob the Tomato is the devil’s imp? I give up.

Salty) Let’s all repeat this together: promoting a movie as a tool of evangelism is a really bad idea. It’s a movie. It’s entertainment. If it leads to discussion, which leads to interest in Jesus, great! If it doesn’t… well… perhaps it will at least be well done and won’t scare the kids into comas. Can we please get over the idea that anything other then the call of the Holy Spirit is going to lead people to salvation? We’re gonna get much further with our Pre-Christian friends and neighbors with a cup of coffee and good conversation and a lot of love then by tricking them into seeing a “Christian” movie. I can just hear the conversation afterwards… “You know Bob, the CGI feline is really representative of Jesus Christ, would you like to hear the four spiritual laws…?” Why should Disney, or Switchfoot, or Philip Yancey, or whomever, have to do our work for us?

I, for one, will go see Narnia becuase I am a movie buff, and a C.S. Lewis buff. If it’s a great movie, it deserves to make a lot of money. If it sucks, let it bomb. Being wise as serpents and harmless as doves just might include making our own decisions about where we’re going to drop our $10, and not letting a marketing team or (gulp) your pastor make that choice for you. I’m going to drop my $10 because I really want them to get to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, becuase I always thought that Reepicheep was the shizzle.

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39 thoughts on “Selling the Untame Lion

  1. michael lee

    “We’re gonna get much further with our Pre-Christian friends and neighbors with a cup of coffee and good conversation and a lot of love then by tricking them into seeing a “Christian” movie. I can just hear the conversation afterwards… “You know Bob, the CGI feline is really representative of Jesus Christ, would you like to hear the four spiritual laws…?”

    Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, and again I say, aaahhhhhh-men.

  2. Chad Post author

    I just realized that, at the end of my editing process, when I inserted the paragraph about the passion, it automatically renumbered my points.
    Is there a way to get it to number them, 1, B, and 4? Cause that would rock.

  3. aly hawkins

    I have to be honest, the marketing to churches thing freaks me out. Sure, the marketing people are just doing their jobs, but it’s hard to stomach the enthusiasm on the part of the churches…it’s just a bit too moneychangers-in-the-temple, ya know? “Yay! All our pissing and moaning in the 80s and 90s have paid off and now Hollywood will produce consumer goods just for us!! Yippee!!!”
    Read Practitioners
    (yes, Regal published it). There’s a terrific chapter in there by Craig Detweiler (the head of film studies at Biola) that touches on a lot of these same issues. Chad, you especially would love it.
    I will see this movie because I’m so excited that I actually lie awake at night sometimes, thinking about it. I need help.

  4. Chad Post author

    Dude, or Dudette, as it were.
    Your name is on the cover of that book! Now, granted, it’s not highlighted, but how cool is that?!?! And what is Laina Graf doing next to you? You know she catered our wedding right? Everyone sing… “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears….”
    On a side note, I would lote to hear thoughts and opinions from some of you who came out of the woodwork in the last week to post. I am hungry for discussion, especially if you think I’m out to lunch.

  5. aly hawkins

    Dude, I know. My friend Josh did the cover design and tried to incorporate as many people as he could that were at Soliton. Until about 3 months ago, the Grafs were elders (or “advisors” as they call them) at the bridge. They just recently moved to Latvia or something to plant churches. I guess the Latvians are now eating very well.

  6. Morphea

    I read somewhere that good old Clive would get a bit grouchy with people when folks DID try to nail him down on the Christian allegory thing. He dips heavily into many of his other, more obviously religious works (Mere Christianity) for some of his philosophical explanations for things, true, but then he also relied heavily on Plato’s Forms to describe heaven (or whatever) in “The Last Battle”.
    Christians trying to “claim” a dead writer’s works really piss me off. Even if Clive WAS a Christian. I was hoping to really enjoy this movie as a humanist and closet Zen Buddhist. Guess that’s all off now.
    P.S. during my long and protracted illness (and I’m still so heavily drugged that I cannot currently be held accountable for what I say) I read the 7 Chronicles again. Right now that movie’s the only thing getting me out of bed. God bless WETA.

  7. Chad

    Read through this again and wanted to clarify point # umm… salty. I think Switchfoot and Philip Yancey are swell. There have been many people who work in Christian media whose work have directly impacted my life in positive ways. “The Jesus I Never Knew,” and “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” are two of my favorite books of all time.
    I guess I am just frustrated on behalf of artists and writers who get put upon by the church. They’re not ministers or pastors or prophets. They’re artists and writers. Their words are not the gospel. Let’s cut them loose to be creative and then let the marketplace of personal discernment decide the rest.

  8. corey

    Chad, great point. This weekend, someone read me a Letter To The Editor of CCM magazine crucifying Switchfoot for being lukewarm, generichristians. It was disturbing, to say the least, that this lady would assert that Switchfoot had no business being on the cover of CCM because not even the band knew what they believed. Her argument was that anything other than praising the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (by name) was poison to the well. I struggle with that notion in my mild-mannered day job as a marketeer of the minstry. To me, I believe that some may come to faith through fear of being sinners in the hand of an angry God, but my money is on the idea that far more come to faith in organic and graceful ways. I’d much rather a friend take me by the hand and lead me in the right direction than for some militant paraJesus outfit to dislocate my shoulder yanking me out of the potential fires of hell.

  9. Jeff

    Morphea, you are that C.S. Lewis rejected the notion that his Chronicles were Christian allegory. In fact he said that the whole story began with images, a fawn carrying an umbrella, a witch on sleigh, etc. and initially there was nothing expressly Christian about them at all. Lewis said that the Christian themes in his books kind of pushed themselves in of their own accord, he said it was “part of the bubbling”. Even Aslan was not created to be a strictly allegorical representation of Christ, Lewis remarked that Aslan came “bounding into the stroy on his own” indicating that he (Lewis) did not sit down and dream up some kind of Christ figure for stories. In the book Letters to Children, Lewis wrote to one child who had inquired, that the whole world of Narnia was what he called a “supposal”…suppose there was another world like Narnia, and suppose it was in trouble, like world, and suppose God wanted to redeem it, like our world, and suppose, and suppose, etc. etc. If you want to read more about Lewis’ thoughts on his fiction, particularly the Chronicles (you may have already) I would suggest reading his book “On Stories and Of Other Worlds”, his essay “On Ways of Writing for Children”, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories”
    Due to the wacky nature of the interactions on this site and the fact that I don’t know you, I have no idea if you were serious about wanting to enjoy this movie/story as a humanist and closet zen buddhist…in the event you are serious…may I say go ahead! Enjoy it any way you please, for above all it is a great story and should be appreciated as such.

  10. Chad Post author

    The writer to CCM was correct. It would be much better for Switchfoot to simply join the thousands of other bands and artists out there idolizing themselves and erecting three minute, radio friendly altars to their girlfriend’s ass. She’s right on the money, good for her.
    I agree with you, but with one reservation… and this will serve as a conterpoint to the sarcastic statement made above.
    Some Christians artists and writers, if they truly “don’t know,” should remove themselves from the Christian market. I haven’t read the particular article that Corey is referring to, but if Switchfoot is saying, for example, “We’re not sure about the best way to be a Christian, and we’re on a search just like you…” then I say more power to them, and they should be in every church. Parents should be grateful for musicians who at least have their hearts in the right place, and can be honest and vulnerable with their kids.
    If they’re saying, “We think Jesus is cool, but we’re really digging deep into Mohammed and Buddha and you should too,” then I think the best thing would be for them to use a secular company and secular methods to sell their product, to avoid misrepresentation. I don’t have a personal problem with them making this kind of statement, but I think the church is not the place to make it.
    Christians have LONG made the mistake of fearing, “I don’t know…” as evidence of weakness or lukewarm theology. It forces us to cling to archane “The world is flat,” type of ideas to “preserve” the harmony of the seen world and the Scripture. It, to me, actually speaks of a WEAK faith. I had a Christian biology teacher say to me once, “Never fear science. Scientists, whether or not they mean to, are in the business of helping reveal God’s truth. The deeper they get into the fossil record, the more it follows the order of creation outlined in Genesis.”
    Good stuff.

  11. Chad Post author

    Corey, one more thought…
    If we could, indeed, dislocate the shoulders of our wayward friends and neighbors into the kingdom of God, then we absolutely should. Unfortunately, that always inconvient Jesus-guy kind of gave us this, “feet washing into heaven,” kind of model that includes hard floors, dirty knees, and soapy hands. You’re on the money, brother.

  12. Morphea

    Chad, you’re absolutely right about that. I also haven’t read the article and haven’t heard any of Switchfoot’s lyrics. I assumed the best about them and the worst about that fine Christian sister, as is my usual way. Sorry for being precipitous.
    Jeff, thank you heartily for fleshing out my rather weak “I heard somewhere…” statement so nicely. You’re so kind to recommend further reading – be sure that I’ll be looking for all the books you mentioned. And I was serious about the humanist/closet-Zen-Buddhist thing, though I do share a Christian background with the authors of this blog. I’ve enjoyed his books for so long and am glad that in his case the story’s the thing, not the “get-you-into-Heaven-whether-you-know-it-or-not” trick.

  13. Chad Post author

    No sweat, sis. I think when we’re talking about the exchange of money for ideas and art, the standard changes. I have no problem whatsoever with people who are doubtful coming to church… what better place for them?!??!?

  14. Morphea

    Indeed, indeed. And really [getting back to questioning the validity of Christianity within the Christian Marketing milieu], that’s why Veggie Tales is snug, safe and warm in the arms of Christian Marketing and The Last Temptation of Christ, in my opinion, isn’t. Which is kind of the point we’ve been laboring over all along, right?
    Your bio teacher sounded pretty fun. Most of my bio teachers – and most of them Christian 6-Day Creationists – used “All Truth is God’s Truth” as a baseball bat over our heads – reassurance that science would eventually prove god could only create the world in 6 24-hour days. Never occurred to us that that phrase could lead to any number of other conclusions.

  15. Morphea

    Only you would assume that my putting it safely within the philosophical confines of Christian Marketing is a tacit criticism of it.
    In this case and this case only, your assumption is more or less incorrect. Now if I’d used Prayer of Jabez or The Five Love Languages as my example, you’d be absolutely right to assume away.
    All hail Bob the Tomato, imp of Satan.

  16. Chad Post author

    Excuse me, but the Satan’s Imp phrase comes from the article itself. I will tirelessly defend my intellectual property, and lawsuits are coming your way already. God Bless.

  17. Morphea

    Oh – I got to the point where I was disregarding the initial article altogether! Chad, I do apologize. Only you could inspire such vigorous conversation that the original subject is forgotten. Please call off your lawyers – they’re clustered around my desk as I speak.

  18. Gregg Koskela

    Wow! What a conversation! I assumed with this many comments that you would have been linked LOTS of times. You must have a devoted following!

    Thanks for your thoughts about evangelism and the movie. I’ll enjoy it, too, but not nearly as much as I enjoy LOTR. Love Narnia, love what Lewis did, but Tolkien did something deeper and more profound. He has this great line in the preface to LOTR, something like: “I detest allegory, but I love history, whether feigned or true. In the former, application lies in the heart of the author, but in the latter, with the reader.” Tolkien wasn’t a big fan of Narnia, and it caused a rift between these good friends.

    Now, as for Switchfoot: if somebody’s on their backs, they better cut it out. Those guys are doing more to raise thoughtful questions and hope for something more to life than anybody else. Love their stuff!

  19. Morphea

    Dude, do NOT come onto a C.S. Lewis love-in and start comparing him with Tolkien. At least not with sweeping and unfavorable value judgments. Cerise will get all up in your fizzy and start some shizzle.
    And I thought that we had firmly established already that Lewis did NOT write the Chronicles allegorically.

  20. michael lee

    Welcome to the blog. There are no rules. Comment away. Big, salty, invective laden diatribes against C.S. Lewis and Veggie Tales are what Addison Road is all about.
    That, and Macs.

  21. Morphea

    I broke Rule #6 about blogging – welcome newcomers before threatening them with bodily harm for sharing an opinion you disagree with. Thank you for the reminder, My Dear Michael.
    So. Welcome, Greg.
    Now you’re in for it, brother.
    Just kidding.
    Are we really, officially all about Macs?
    What’s with “salty”? Salty what?

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  23. Stick

    Salty tomatoes (Imps taste best).

    On a side note. Saw the movie. Dug it. Didn’t really dig the music.

    The beavers were very cool.

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