Al Mohler, The President of Southern Seminary, has been a modern hero of mine since 1995. He and I share the same confessional identity. He was one of the reasons I chose Southern', and the changes he brought about there is why I continue to send people to that school. I agree with Dr. Mohler in many ways, on most theological topics, and believe he has been a great help to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I have found myself often approaching culture, art and film particularly, in a different way. This week he has said two things on this issue that caught my attention. One I have a problem with, and the other I think is helpful. During an appearance on Larry King Live where the topic of discussion was Brokeback Mountain, and the issues surrounding it, he made a statement I have trouble with.
I really am horrified to think about where that story ended. You know my main concern, Larry, is not with the gospel of heterosexuality, even though I think that's very important. It's with the gospel of Jesus Christ and what I find lacking in the movie, the screenplay and in the short story is any resolution that really brings these persons to know why they were created and how God really intends them to live and how they would find their greatest satisfaction in living just as God had intended them for his glory.
This is a very strange problem to have with a story written by a nonchristian. It sounds like, unless the film is Christian, it can't be good. I don't believe Dr. Mohler believes that, but it was what came out on public TV. Should we protest the movie because it depicts brokenness, disaster, fallenness and perversion without pointing the reader/viewer to God? Must a story have the end tied up neatly with a red bow of redemption to make it worth our time and consideration? I don't think so. In fact I believe a story like this, one without a message of redemption or hope, can still point people to the Gospel if the church will do a better job of engaging the art itself.
For example, instead of simply extracting the social issues from the story and arguing those points, we can also show the brightness of the Gospel against the backdrop of a movie that is admittedly dark. The story shows us two men who do not know how to love their wives and families sacrificially. They return to their foolish, youthful, sins/perversions and destroy their families and lives. The Gospel can be applied to the story in such a way that we recognize the brokenness and incompleteness found by the characters, while offering redemption and restoration via the Kingdom of God. The film shows us broken humanity. When addressing the art form itself, and interacting with its themes we neither ignore the artist's creation, nor the social implications.
Later in the week Dr. Mohler wrote a piece on his blog that treats this issue, engaging culture/art, very well and he has some helpful things to say. In dealing with the controversy over End of the Spear, the story of Christian ministry and martyrdom that stars a gay actor/activist, he offers the following advice.
First, Christians must have the cultural maturity to know that many of the most famous and influential producers of cultural materials, whether in literature, art, or entertainment, have been homosexuals. This does not mean that we cannot enjoy their music, art, or performances. Christians start from the presupposition that all humans are sinners, and that every artistic endeavor is marred by sin in both its conception and its demonstration.
Second, Christians must learn the discipline of cultural discernment based upon Christian truth. We must learn to engage the culture in a way that is both honest and missiological -- and we must work hard to develop a mind that brings all things under subjection to Christ, including our entertainment preferences and choices.
Third, we must avoid hypocrisy. We should not pick and choose recklessly as we condemn or praise without any obvious tie to biblical truth. We must not condemn publicly what we enjoy privately. We must not assert matters of taste as matters of principle.
Fourth, we must understand the nature of the art form and learn how to discriminate on the basis of an informed cultural understanding, not a knee-jerk reaction. Accordingly, we must understand that the very nature of acting, whether on stage or on screen, is based upon the ability of the actor to make the audience see the character portrayed, not the actor, in the performance.
Good stuff. His conclusion is that Chad Allen's activism makes it hard for many to see the character he plays. That's fair. People have said the same thing concerning Sean Penn. His politics and mouth have turned people off so much that they have a hard time enjoying his movies. Of course this is subjective. Some people won't be able to get past the actor, and some will. In the end, I agree with Dr. Mohler that in the case of End of the Spear, a better choice could have been made. Be sure and check out his article. It's worth your time.