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Quest: Christianity and the Movies, Extras, Part III

Quest: Christianity and the Movies, Extras, Part III

“Christianity and the Movies” Pr. Giese’s Online Class through Concordia Lutheran Seminary 


To participate live in the last parts of this Online Quest Course tune in Tuesday October 1st at 7pm: click here.


In part three of this Quest course we looked at two areas. 1) First was the Word of God in Film; This was not an exhaustive look at this topic: What we did was to take part of the explanation to the introduction of Luther's Small Catechism which deals with what the Bible is and accompany those catechistical questions and answers with some examples from film. We did this by using some positive examples and some negative examples. 2) Second we looked at preaching in film. For this part we used the three part sermon diagnostic that is used regularly on Nearer the end of the blog post you'll find a link to an example of this three part diagnostic being used by Issues Etc on a Sermon preached by Joel Osteen. Again like in Part I and Part II we are thinking about discernment (being able to judge well) as a Christian when you are watching film and other media.    


The catechism we'll be using is Luther's Small Catechism, if you're interested in purchasing this edition you can order one from Concordia Publishing House (Hard Cover and Kindle available) or you can find your closest Lutheran Church-Canada congregation and they will be happy to assist you in getting one.


God's Word And the Movies

Small Catechism Explanation: Introduction

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Q. Where is God’s truth about our Savour Jesus Christ made known?


A. This truth is made known in the Bible: The Old Testament, which Promises the coming Saviour, and the New Testament, which tells of the Saviour who has come. 


What God’s Word says about this:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27 ESV)


Ben-Hur (1959)

When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.

Director: William Wyler

Writers: Lew Wallace, Karl Tunberg,

Stars: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd


Lew Wallace, the writer of Ben-Hur, wasn't attempting to dramatize the life of Christ or even to write a strictly biographical account of His life, rather Wallace wrote a fictional story about a fictional person set in the time of the Historical Christ Jesus. Just like in the book (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ in 1880), in the film Jesus and Ben-Hur cross paths. The clip shown here is one in which Jesus gives Ben-Hur some water. The point of showing this is to remind people that no matter how nice a piece of fiction might be it is still fiction, the only reliable source of information about Jesus is the Scriptures themselves everything else is only true so far as it's a good and right exposition of Scripture, this likewise goes for films. If Jesus is fictionalized it no longer become a good source of information for the Christian or the non-believer no matter how nice or entertaining it might be. 



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Q. Why do we call the Bible the “Holy Scripture”?


A. The Bible is the “Holy Scripture” because God the Holy Spirit gave to His chosen writers the thoughts that they expressed and the words that they wrote (verbal inspiration. Therefore, the Bible is God’s own Word and truth, without error (inerrancy).


What God’s Word says about this:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)


The Mission (1986)

18th century Spanish Jesuits try to protect a remote South American Indian tribe in danger of falling under the rule of pro-slavery Portugal.

Director: Roland Joffé

Writer: Robert Bolt

Stars: Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally


In the Mission we see a very good example of Scripture used in a film. Here a former mercenary turned missionary, played by Robert De Niro, is given a Bible to read and the viewer sees him very thoughtfully and introspectively reading from 1 Corinthians 13. It is clear that the truth of Holy Scripture has changed this character for the better, he has been corrected, and reproved and taught and equipped for doing good works and Scripture is the source this training. Here is a very positive portrayal of Scripture in Film. The film itself is both beautiful and challenging well worth watching and thinking about.    



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Q. What is the key to correct understanding of the Bible?


A. Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, is the heart and centre of the Scripture and therefore the key to its true meaning.


What God’s Word says about this:

“To [Christ Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:43 ESV)


The Elephant Man (1980)

A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity.

Director: David Lynch

Writers: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren (screenplay),

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft


Another excellent example of Scripture used well in film, here we see John Merrick (the Elephant Man), reciting the 23rd Psalm to the astonishment of the doctors who are working to care for him. They think that he is incapable of such a thing and he has proved them wrong. By itself this scene is a great example of a person who memorizes Scripture and knows his hymn book. In the context of the whole film this scene is also important in that John Merrick himself is a person who is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he needs the Good Shepherd Jesus who is the centre and heart of Scripture. Psalm 23 like all of Scripture points to Jesus. This is a very well made film and worth a watch if you haven't seen it before. 


To see a longer version of this sceen with what leads up to the 23rd Psalm Click here.


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Q. How is human reason to be used in understanding Holy Scripture?


A. a) Holy Scripture is given in human language. To determine what it says we need to apply the rules of language, such as grammar and logic. It is right to use reason as a servant of the text, but the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential for its proper understanding. 


What God’s Word says about this:

Jesus says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” – from the parable of the sower. (Matthew 13:19 ESV)


Life of Brian(1986)

Brian is born on the original Christmas, in the stable next door. He spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.

Director: Terry Jones

Writers: Graham Chapman, John Cleese,

Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin


This scene form The Life of Brian is the first of the video clips we used that show Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount. Each of the videos are strikingly different depictions of this account of Scripture. The Life of Brian is a parody, the writers who largely weren't confessing Christians wished to do a comedy about the life of Jesus but after reading the Gospels they couldn't see how they could do it except to poke fun at the people and time around Jesus. In this scene we see how this concern of understanding what Jesus says can play out. In it people who need to hear God's word become distracted by their literal inability to make out what is being said, they are then further distracted by their own surroundings and the people that they are standing with. While this is not very serious it is rather insightful.        



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Q. How is human reason to be used in understanding Holy Scripture?


A. b) Unlike all other books, Holy Scripture is God’s Word and truth. It is wrong to question or deny the truthfulness of the sacred text (as happens, for example with historical criticism)


What God’s Word says about this:

"By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”" (Romans 3:4 ESV)


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The life of Jesus Christ, His journey through life as He faces the temptations that all humans face during their lives, and His final temptation upon the cross.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: Nikos Kazantzakis (novel), Paul Schrader (screenplay)

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey


The Last Temptation of Christ is a film that questions almost everything concerning Scripture, based on the book by Nikos Kazantzakis it includes many opinions found in historical criticism and infuses teachings from Gnostic works like "The Gospel" of Judas. In the film Jesus is portrayed as a person suffering from Schizophrenia. Watch this scene and think if the performance of Willem Defoe looks like the Jesus you know from Scripture or not.   



Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

A reverent depiction of the life of Christ using the Gospel accounts.

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Writers: Anthony Burgess, Franco Zeffirelli

Stars: Robert Powell, Olivia Hussey, Laurence Olivier


Unlike the Last Temptation of the Christ Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth is considerably more faithful to Scripture. In this scene we see the third of the clips depicting the Sermon on the Mount, the scene concludes with the Lord's Prayer. It is reverent and surprisingly powerful. In Part IV we will look at a scene from the Passion of the Christ and will check it against Scripture. As with that, as with this. Whenever you watch a film with Jesus in it, or that has a Biblical account as it's root, it is always good to take out Your Bible and look at how well they did or didn't do in portraying the Word of God.   



Preaching And The Movies

What God’s Word says about preaching:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10 ESV)


What Makes a Good Sermon? Do you see good sermons in the movies?

You may be in the habit of listening to preachers on the radio, in podcasts, on television and you may occasionally see a sermon in a movie. Let’s look at what makes a Good Sermon:

Pastor Todd Wilken the host of the radio program Issues, Etc. has put together an invaluable diagnostic tool for evaluating a sermon. It has three parts, and the purpose of the diagnostic is to determine if a sermon is truly Christian, if it rightly distinguishes Law and Gospel, and if it takes sin as seriously Jesus does. 

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1) How often is Jesus Mentioned? “Keep a running count of how many times you hear the name of Jesus.” It’s hard to talk about someone without using their name.


What God’s Word says about preaching:

Saint Paul says, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,” (1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV)


Doubt (2008)

A Catholic school principal questions a priest's ambiguous relationship with a troubled 12-year-old student.

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Writers: John Patrick Shanley

Stars: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams


In these two sermons from the movie Doubt Philip Seymour Hoffman does an admirable job with the material he's been given but apart from the one ending in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost there is little mention of God and no specific preaching about Jesus. These two examples desperately need the good news of Jesus. The illustration about the feathers is very good but would be truly good if the character of the preacher spoke of forgiveness and what Christ Jesus has done to deal with all those feathers. Watch these two clips and think about how the law presented in them could be addressed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   




We're No Angels (1989)

Two escaped cons only prayer to escape is to pass themselves off as priests and pass by the police blockade at the border into the safety of Canada.

Director: Neil Jordan

Writers: David Mamet, Ranald MacDougall

Stars: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Demi Moore


In this remake of the 1955, We're No Angels, Sean Penn plays an escaped convict trying to hide out by impersonating a Roman Catholic priest. And as might be expected someone presses him into preaching. This is the sermon he preaches in the film, again listen for Jesus. How often is Jesus Mentioned? “Keep a running count of how many times you hear the name of Jesus.” It’s hard to talk about someone without using their name. Not knowing what to say he starts out reading the cover of an adventure magazine tucked into the pages of his Bible. 



Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

a young orphan in the 1920s, moves in with her eccentric and backward relatives, the Starkadders. The Starkadders live in a run-down farm off the beaten track in Sussex. Flora decides to rehabilitate and modernise them.

Director: John Schlesinger

Writers: Malcolm Bradbury, Stella Gibbons

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen


To be fair we as views don't get to hear the entirety of this fire and brimstone sermon, it could conceivably come around to Jesus. However in the setting that it depicts the coming around to Jesus part would more than likely take on the revivalist anxious bench and the sinners prayer, there'd be an altar call of some kind. In the section that we see here we again are left with no Jesus only a stern warning that there'll be no butter in hell. This is what some non-church goers likely expect from a sermon in a church service and there may be some preachers like this out there someplace. This whole scene has more in common with the Life of Brian than it has in common with a movie like Doubt, it isn't taken very seriously, the reactions of the people present are borderline comical and the preacher is pressing hard into the territory of buffoonery.     



Battleground (1949)

A squad of the 101st Airborne Division copes with being trapped in the besieged city of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

Director: William A. Wellman

Writer: Robert Pirosh (story)

Stars: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban


Perhaps a Lutheran Pastor would do a better job? Here we have a movie set in WWII with a Lutheran Chaplain preaching to some troops in the field as the sound of the enemy attack draws ever closer. With their possible deaths looming near what better time, what better circumstance could there be to talk about Jesus. Are these troops ready for eternal life? Are they ready to carry out the vocation of the sword for the defence of others? Will Jesus be mentioned? Watch the clip and find out.   



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2) If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs? If He isn’t, He should be. If Jesus is the subject then He is the one acting. If He is the object the He is being acted upon. 


Jesus as object: “I love Jesus,” “you should serve Jesus” “Christians trust Jesus.” If a sermon is predominantly all about what you are doing it is Law dominated. 


Jesus as subject: “Jesus loves me,” “Jesus has served you,” “Jesus has proven that He is trustworthy by all that He has done.” A sermon is about what Jesus does is gospel dominated.  


The Apostle (1997)

After his happy life spins out of control, a preacher from Texas changes his name, goes to Louisiana and starts preaching on the radio.

Director: Robert Duvall.

Writer: Robert Duvall.

Stars: Robert Duvall, Todd Allen, Paul Bagget.


Jesus is certainly mentioned in this next clip from the movie The Apostle, but how do these tag-team preachers do? Time to use some discernment. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs? What kind of verbs do we have in this clip?  




Blues Brothers (1980)

Jake Blues, just out from prison, puts together his old band to save the Catholic home where he and brother Elwood were raised.

Director: John Landis

Writers: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis

Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway


When the preacher in this next clip asks, "do you see the light?" What does he mean? Is it Jesus, who is the Light of the world, who because of the tender mercy of God, gives His light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death? Is it Jesus who is working to guide their feet into the way of peace? (Luke 1:78-79 ESV) 



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3) If Jesus is mentioned, and is He the subject of the verbs, what are the verbs? Pastor Wilken is quick to point out what kinds of phrases we should be carefully listen for in a sermon.   


Jesus can be the subject of the verbs but they can be all the wrong verbs, for example:

“Jesus wants to help you”

“Jesus empowers you”

“Jesus inspires or motivates you”

“Jesus meets your needs”


Scripture uses verbs like this, for example:

“Jesus has lived for you”

“Jesus has obeyed the God the Father for you”

“Jesus has suffered, bled and died for you”

“Jesus has risen from the dead for you”


Luther (2003)

During the early 16th Century a German monk Martin Luther, disgusted by the materialism in the church, begins the dialogue that will lead to the Protestant Reformation.

Director: Eric Till

Writers: Camille Thomasson, Bart Gavigan

Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, Peter Ustinov


This last clip passes the diagnostic with flying colours. We ended the evening off with this one. Watch and enjoy how in 30 seconds Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther the reformer gives more Jesus, more Gospel than all of the other preaching scenes put together. With this clip we see a preacher doing the work of preaching. 



That’s it, this is a good three step starting point to use when listening to sermons. In review:


1) How often is Jesus Mentioned? “Keep a running count of how many times you hear the name of Jesus.” It’s hard to talk about someone without using their name.

This helps to see if Jesus is mentioned?


2) If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs? If He isn’t, He should be. If Jesus is the subject then He is the one acting. If He is the object the He is being acted upon. 

This helps to see if the Sermon is Law oriented


3) If Jesus is mentioned, and is He the subject of the verbs, what are the verbs? Pastor Wilken is quick to point out what kinds of phrases we should be carefully listen for in a sermon.   

This helps to see if sin is being taken seriously in a sermon, particularly if what Jesus does about sin is being taken seriously. 


Click the banner bellow to hear a sermon review on IssuesEtc that uses this diagnostic. 

Quest is a programme presented by Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton Alberta: For more information, or for any other enquires including enrolment details, contact the office of the registrar at (780) 474-1468   


Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan.