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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry: A Movie Review

I was off work today, so I decided to run by the movie theater and check out the latest Evangelical movie making the rounds, the title of which is The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry. Since it's fresh on my mind, let me offer a few thoughts on it.

Set in small town America in 1970, the movie is based on a true story, and revolves around a young boy named Dustin, his two best friends, and an elderly man named Jonathan Sperry. Sperry takes it upon himself to strike up a friendship with Dustin and his two friends, and starts a Bible study with them, inspiring the boys to give the Gospel to others, which leads to more boys joining the Bible study. Much of the film surrounds Dustin's fascination with a young girl and his desire to date her. Then there is the town bully, who Sperry himself leads to Christ. Lastly, there is a crotchety old neighbor, whose role in the tale remains largely mysterious until the last few minutes of the film. For any who are planning on seeing the film, I will leave the rest of the plot for you to discover for yourself. Having said that, let me recommend that you don't go see this film.

In short, this is the worst film I have seen in a very long time. "Harsh words," you might say. An understandable response. I have heard from others who thought this was a fantastic film, which inspired me to go see it. I hate to question their taste, but I'm afraid it's unavoidable. My intention is neither to offend nor to stand in the way of something that might be used for the good of the kingdom of God. I just think it's time that Evangelical Christians stop supporting bad art made in the name of Christ.

And this film is bad art, if anything. Granted, there are redeeming qualities here. For one thing, the Gospel is present in the movie. One can hardly complain there. And the moral lessons of Scripture that are given are, of course, wonderful. But just as the some of the best of Evangelicalism is on display here, so is some of the worst.

First of all, the script is terrible. The dialogue was so bad it hurt (I mean that quite literally - it was painful to listen to). A disproportionate part of the film is spent listening to the three boys prattle on about Dustin's love interest, a young girl who was a classmate and who worked at a local diner that about half the film was shot in. And prattling it was. Certainly, we're talking about young boys here. And anyone can sound pretty annoying when fascination over the opposite sex kicks in. But this was incomparable. First they are in the diner, and Dustin is whining over the girl. Then they are walking across a bridge, and Dustin is whining over the girl. Then Dustin is calling his friends on the phone and whining over the girl. Then back to the diner... sheer misery. A couple of brief scenes would have been enough to get the point across. But the moping going on was beyond anything resembling masculinity, even young, immature masculinity. The movie may have been clean, but if I was the father of a boy, the last thing I would want to do would be to expose him to such garbage.

Almost all of the dialogue of the film was of this nature. Even the lessons which Sperry taught to the boys, lessons based in Scripture, were told in such a mundane fashion that they hardly resembled the depth one finds in Scripture itself. Was this a reflection of how the actual Jonathan Sperry spoke to the boys? I have no clue, of course. But I highly doubt that the boys (now adult men) who actually learned from Sperry remember his lessons word for word, leaving hope that the real Jonathan Sperry was a far more interesting teacher. He was evidently a man of great character; that doesn't say anything about his teaching, however. All in all, the basic outline of the story had great potential. But the script itself was nowhere near to doing justice to the ideas behind it.

Then there was the acting. The film featured two seasoned actors in Gavin MacLeod and Robert Guillaume. I didn't even recognize MacLeod, and only discovered it was him in watching the credits. I remember watching him on "The Love Boat" as a child, and he fit his role there. But any other time I remember seeing him act I found him less than interesting, and there was no exception here. Robert Guillaume was his typical splendid self, and was the only bright spot acting-wise in the film. And yet even he seemed hindered by the terrible script, though this was probably helped along by some bad directing as well.

The rest of the cast was fairly painful to watch. One can only expect so much from child actors, I suppose. But while watching them was torture itself, the other actors faired little better. The best word I can come up with is "wooden", though even that is insufficient. Words can't really express how bad both the body language and line delivery were.

There was throughout the film a prevailing sense of sentimentalism, something which is common whenever Evangelicals attempt to make art. It is interesting that Evangelicals as a whole tend to carry with them the feeling that ever since the 1960's, the pagans have taken over the culture, and morality has gone down the tubes. And in a minor sense, I suppose that's true. But a more accurate account of it recognizes that Evangelicals actually retreated from society, a retreat that started long before the '60's. And as nature abhors a vacuum, the pagans simply rushed in to fill in the void. This can be attributed to a number of things, though a large measure of blame, I would say, lies at the feet of Dispensationalism and its self-fulfilling prophecies of the downturn of society. So while it is a fact that small town America was a more moral place in 1970, it wasn't idyllic. Children go astray because their parents go astray. The rebellion of the sixties took place because Christianity had come to be defined as external conformity to certain behaviors deemed "Christian", and the Gospel had been replaced by the fear of man. So those who would return to mid-twentieth century America would simply be setting us up for another cultural revolution as ungodly and tumultuous as the one we have been through in the past thirty years. Not something to be desired, I dare say.

Then there is the whole purpose of the film. As is customary in Evangelical art, it was clear that the goal that the film makers had in mind was not to make good art, but rather to use the film merely as a vehicle through which to spread the Gospel. Once again, one can hardly criticize the desire to see people saved. But as inevitably happens whenever Evangelicals take such a route, the art suffers at the expense of sharing the Gospel. Part of this is due to the unbiblical and hokey way we tend to express the Gospel in the Evangelical church. As much as my Evangelical friends react against this, the Gospel is not "asking Jesus into your heart". It also is not "having a personal relationship with Jesus". These are sentimentalistic attempts at expressing the Gospel, and one will search in vain to find anything resembling these phrases in Scripture. According to Scripture, the Gospel is repenting of one's sins and trusting in Christ for salvation. There are other ways this is expressed, but none of them come even close to the above two phrases. Does this mean that I don't have a personal relationship with Jesus? Of course I do. But the phrase reflects a romantic and sentimentalistic approach that comes not out of Scripture, but out of Western culture, and as such is at odds with Scripture. Why we get so hung up on these Evangelical catch phrases and choose them over Scripture's way of speaking is bizarre to me. It suggests that we look to find our comfort not in Christ, but in the Evangelical subculture.

We seem to think that all God cares about is what we deem to be the substance of the Gospel. We think that form is irrelevant. But nothing is so unbiblical as that. The same God that said, "repent and be saved" spent pages and pages of His word detailing specifications for Noah's ark, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the ordination of the priesthood, the rituals of cleansing, the genealogies, the numbering of the tribes of Israel, and so on. God loves detail, and He has great concern for form and order. The fact that we pay little to such things is a demonstration that we have fallen far short of thinking with the mind of Christ.

And this is not limited to some segmented sphere we call "religious life". As God created all the world, and did so with deliberate form and order, so He continues to be concerned with these things throughout all creation. This includes the meals we eat, the order of our homes, the clothes we wear, and, yes, the art we create. Beyond this, why can't Christians just make good movies? Where does Scripture say that the only art we can make has to be for spreading the Gospel? It doesn't. God didn't have to slap a Bible verse on every tree in the forest, because His glory spoke through it as His handiwork. Even so should we imitate Him in our art. Paintings don't become Christian because they have a Bible verse underneath them. If it's a good painting, it will reflect God's glory.

What's sad is that pagans recognize this importance of form, while the church does not. As a side note, this in itself, I would suggest, has more to do with driving youth away from the church than we realize. It isn't because we aren't following the secular culture in our modes of worship. It's because we aren't following Scripture in even thinking carefully about our modes of worship.

So when we present the Gospel, the same is true, whether it be in a movie, or some other context. Truth and Goodness aren't sufficient. Our presentation must be beautiful as well, not by the ungodly culture's standards of beauty, but of God's. Here, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry fails miserably.

And yet, with all of the Evangelical church's abandonment of secular culture, we turn and pander after it as if we are its servants. The presence of the two aforementioned secular actors in the film itself is an indicator of this. But then there is the actor who plays Dustin. While he has made a number of appearances on TV and as the voice of cartoon characters, he wasn't chosen, I would suggest, for his great resume. And I hope he wasn't chosen for his acting skills. His name, in fact, is Jansen Panettiere, and I think it should be obvious why he was chosen. He is the younger brother of actress Hayden Panettiere, who has appeared in numerous TV and movie roles, and is probably best known for her lead role on the TV show "Heroes". Evangelicals are so obsessed by pagan Hollywood that all it will take to get them to go see a Christian film is a recognizable name like that. Quick quiz: how many professing believers spend more time reading People Magazine than they do reading their Bibles? I'm scared to even guess the answer. It's one thing to appreciate some of the products of Hollywood - an appropriate thing, so far as they are allowable by Scripture's standards. It's entirely another matter that we think the only way we can get Christians to watch Christian movies is by using Hollywood stars and their younger siblings.

Some would say that this is an attempt to draw unbelievers in to see the Christian film, hear the Gospel, and hopefully be saved. This is a good desire. But isn't the definition of insanity to repeat an action and expect different results? This never happens on any broad scale. Sure, one might be able to name the occasional person who comes to one of these films and trusts in Christ. But where are the masses of people who are supposed to be saved this way? The silence is deafening. I suppose it would be a true miracle for an unbeliever to get past the bad art and hear and believe the gospel (though salvation itself is always a miracle, no matter the circumstances). But the fact that this is rare at best should make us reassess this approach, and reconsider how we allot the resources over which God has made us stewards.

So if I haven't made it clear by now, I didn't like this film. I don't question the motives of anyone involved in the making of it. I'm sure the intention was the salvation of souls and the glory of God. And by that intention alone, God will be glorified. The question here is rather whether or not there are better ways of glorifying God, and I would suggest there are.

And if you've dying to see a movie this weekend, rent WALL-E, or wait a few days for UP to come out on DVD. I can guarantee that they won't be a waste of money.

40 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am speechless. Very well said. Keep up the good work.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with some of your points and believe we should strive for excellence as Christians. However we should not hold a critical spirit like one you exhibited in your review. I'll take this movie over Avatar any day.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

I would be curious to know what you mean when you say, "a critical spirit". Also, I understand your response with regard to Avatar. Probably alot of Christians would respond this way. But it's a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Or like saying, "I'll take ice cream over pizza any day." They fit into two completely categories. They're both movies, but one is science fiction, the other is an inspirational drama. I personally would prefer neither one, especially when there are so many good movies out there. In my opinion, with the sentimentalism and bad acting of "Jonathan Sperry", one would be better off watching a good secular movie that doesn't contain these un-Christian elements.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw this Thursday night DVD at a friend's house. She thought it was wonderful and I could barely sit through it. I only want to say it is not a true story; even the outcomes of the characters was made up. We had questioned this part and so my friend re-watched it and said that it stated in the opening that is was NOT a true story. Which makes it even worse because it is Christians trying to interpret life how they'd like it to be and not how it is.
Keep up the good work!
Valarie, Zion, IL

2:19 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Thank you, Valarie. I posted this on my Facebook page as well about the time I posted it here, and you wouldn't believe the irate responses I received. So the encouragement is more than welcome.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished watching this movie with my wife and son.All of us agree that the message came thru quite clear, concerning love for our fellow man and forgiveness,This is somthing that this this world needs more of.While I am not a film critic I believe the message was awesome.Thanks be to God for raising up christain film makers like these we need more!! again great job and 5 stars. Bobby

4:21 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Bobby,

I appreciate the comment. I certainly agree that the message of love and forgiveness in "Jonathan Sperry" is wonderful, and that the world needs more of it. But what I was trying to get at in my review was that the movie failed miserably in other very important respects. I believe that the God Who made the universe would have us not only to present His message of truth clearly, but also in a way that is beautiful and good. This is chiefly where I would say "Jonathan Sperry" fell short. Having said that, I'm not sure, based on your comment, if that was clear to you from my review. If not, take another look at it, and see if my point becomes any clearer after a second reading.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find you to be much more wordy than the movie. I finished the movie and enjoyed every minute of it, but your blogged dragged on so long that I couldn't finish it. You sound like a person who is full of pride and self-importance.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

If so, I trust God will mercifully forgive me for all that pride and self-importance. I suspect, though, that that might not actually be something you can determine from a blog post.

12:25 AM  
Blogger marina said...

Great Film! Praise God. Very nicely done!

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry - I hear your point and I think you state it very well. My intention here is not to disect your blog and show you points where, perhaps, moderation would have served your readers better, but to help us see that their are various perspectives from which to view a film.

I have served for 26 years as a pastor specifically with the responsibility of teaching and administering a Christian school. Children are my life. Have you ever read a children's book or looked at the art work in those books? It is quickly obvious that it was not Shakespeare who wrote the stories nor Rembrandt who did the illustrations. Children, in their simplicity, can easily be lost in what we as adults would consider "good art." They don't get it. This movie they can get.

I think it very important not to rob life of simplicity when it is otherwise so confusing. You are right in so much of what you say. Jesus, however, didn't speak a whole lot about artists, musicians, actors, and the like. He said that the faith of a child is what is necessary for the Kingdom of God.

So I say, I'm with Kerry. Church! Where are those compelling artistic block buster movies that we should be producing so we can show the world that our God is truly King of all "Creation." At the same time, I want to see more Mr. Sperry movies. They are a breath of fresh air.

Love you brother.

Ivan

5:25 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Ivan,

Sorry for the delayed response. I appreciate your thoughts. I'm going to respond in a straightforward manner here. That is my usual manner. But I hope you'll understand it is for a purpose. It's that I don't think it's helpful to just dance around the issues. It isn't to be offensive, but to be clear.

The problem with your response is that the people I know who went to see "Jonathan Sperry" and thought it was great art weren't children. They were thirty-five year old single men, seventy year old adults, etc. (Even you yourself are here defending the movie and saying that you liked it, with confirms my point.) In other words, people who should have developed a better sense of what good art should be, but due to Evangelical/Fundamentalist cultural commitments and influence, have not. It doesn't even seem to me that "Jonathan Sperry" was intended to be aimed at children per se. One would consider it a "family film", certainly. But it was aimed at the Evangelical community more broadly, and the fact that an Evangelical mindset shaped it is, in my opinion, very clearly why it was such a poorly done film. Even then, while I agree that children's art is often substandard in comparison to "adult" art, the fact that it is substandard wasn't my only complaint. The sentimentalism displayed in the film is bad for everyone, no matter what age they are.

Also, compare the acting on TV shows aimed at children forty and fifty years ago to "Jonathan Sperry". To pick one at random, take a show like "Lassie", for instance. There's no comparison. It wasn't Shakespeare, but it was well done, including the acting. The acting in Jonathan Sperry was just all around bad, and that has nothing to do with whether or not it was aimed at children. And compare children's literature from the 19th century with today. It was far more elaborate than what passes as children's literature today. So not only is art aimed at children substandard in comparison to art aimed at adults, art aimed at children is also substandard in comparison with art aimed at children in previous generations. Art has been dumbed down over the past hundred years for children as well as for adults. There are certainly differences between children's art and adult art. But there are certain standards nonetheless. And "Jonathan Sperry" doesn't make the grade.

Children love what those who they love teach them to love. And so alot of the question of what appeals to a child has to do with what is put in front of them. If we put bad art in front of them, they will love bad art, and will grow up to love other types of bad art as they run across them, simply because we didn't lead them in cultivating good taste.

For a period of time I attended a conservative Presbyterian church that was very traditional in its general approach to worship and education. I was struck one Sunday morning as I passed the children's Sunday school classroom and heard them singing "I Sing the Mighty Power of God". When I grew up in Sunday school, we sang "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine". Not only was it cheesy, and bad English, it hasn't gone on to serve me in the least throughout my life. But this church understood what they were doing. They were setting a musical foundation that would be with those children for the rest of their lives. I would have been ready for that at seven years old. The hymns I learned at that time I loved. And they continue to sustain me even now. So often, it isn't a matter of what the children are able to handle at all. It's actually a matter of us not giving them better art.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Continuing my response...

You speak of maintaining simplicity. That is a common Fundamentalist response, and it carries an unspoken assumption - that all complexity is evil. That mentality is basic to the sentimentalism I am criticizing. Fundamentalism wants simple, pat answers to life's problems. It not only wants children to think like children, it also wants to make a way for adults to think like children - immaturely, in other words. But God created a complex world. One can't look at the created world in an honest way without realizing that. In addition, we live in a world of sin, which adds complexity. The Fundamentalist, sentimental mindset wants to run from all complexity, including that complexity that comes from sin. But mature, Biblical Christianity engages the world, with all its sin, and seeks to redeem it for the glory of God. It is the Fundamentalist mentality that has led to spiritual declension in our country over the past fifty years, if not longer. Certainly, there are particular forms of evil that adults should take special care to shield children from. But, once again, this movie isn't aimed at children. It is just a mirror of impotent Fundamentalist culture.

Faith of a child, certainly. Trust in God alone, without questioning Him. But that is not the same as a simplistic view of the fallen world we live in.

It's true that Jesus said little about art. But Scripture is full of art. For one thing, the Bible itself is art, and has various literary forms in it. In addition, we have the Tabernacle and the Temple, and all the descriptions connected with their construction, and the art of the worship relating to them. The created world itself gives us a pattern of what good art should look like. This is another long subject in itself, but I've said enough to make my point that the goodness of art is not something we can determine apart from Scripture.

I hate to come across mean after I know you've tried to be cordial. I do appreciate that. And I appreciate the fact that you would be willing to dialogue about this at all. Nonetheless, I think this is a very important matter, or else I wouldn't continue to address it. I would encourage you to pick up the book "All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes" by Kenneth Myers and give it a read. Myers does a great job on the question of Christians engaging the arts, and I think you would find it very enlightening. There are other great books I could recommend, but that would be the place to start.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my son's all time favorite movie. What makes it wonderful to me is how the Holy Spirit has used it to inspire and motivate people to spread the gospel. My daughter got on the phone with her Hindu horseriding teacher to share Jesus with her after watching this movie. My son who has just learned to read, reads his Bible every night ever since watching this movie. I've heard of two people being bold and witnessing to family members after seeing this movie. I've heard of others reaching out to their enemies at work and loving them more because of this movie. We have never bought so many copies of a DVD and sent them out as Christmas presents. However it failed in a movie critic's eyes, I believe God is very pleased with it for what it is motivating his children to do! As a person who was blessed to have a "Jonathan Sperry" mentor in my own life, who also passed away, it reminded me of how powerful it can be when someone genuinely loves you and shows you Christ in everything they do. Not five stars in my book - a perfect 10! I know we disagree in our opinions. I'm not here to change yours. I'm here to share mine to encourage others to not miss this blessing. Merry Christmas!

11:42 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Anonymous,

I appreciate your comments. I am glad that the "Jonathan Sperry" movie has had a good impact upon people, in encouraging them to share the Gospel, such as you've seen. And we should be thankful that the Lord can use all sorts of things to accomplish His purpose. You sort of provide an example of the lack of a proper understanding of art within the Evangelical community, though, that I am complaining about. Your concern is with whether or not it results in people sharing the Gospel, or living a more moral life in the short term. But good art - that is, art that more ably reflects the character of God as revealed in Creation and in Scripture - is more deep, more abiding, than that. If the standard for art were merely whether or not more people started sharing the Gospel as a result, or whether or not they started being nice to co-workers, then much of Scripture would fail by your standards. It isn't to say that these aren't noble goals in themselves. But when that is all one thinks matters, then they are nearsighted. You're looking for quick results, and assuming that's what's needed. But Scripture would call us to be more than "momentary men", as one person once coined the phrase. If "Jonathan Sperry" turns out to be a step along the way for you and your family, that's good. But, I would suggest, the long term should be that you cease to be satisfied with "Jonathan Sperry" and move on to better art - art that is more honoring to the God of the universe, the God who spun the stars in space.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I'm not quite so certain that God shares your perspective on "art". The movies in your favorites aren't exactly refined even by secular tastes.

Second, your disdain of simplicity by labeling it "fundamentalism" is laughable (Why resort to backhand ad hominem?). Many of the best things of Christianity are simple. Even those among us that carry our doctorates with distinction should take notes from something that communicates effectively. My children understood the movie even if you with all of your schooling appear to have missed it. As a teacher of theology, I'm perpetually amazed at how my fellow scholars turn beautiful truth into un-intelligible rot.

This movie did a fine job within its finite mandate.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

First of all, let me apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

When it comes down to it, you and I will simply disagree about this film. Whether or not God shares my view of art will always be a matter of disagreement for some, I'm sure. So far as my "favorites" are concerned, being "refined" according to secular tastes isn't necessarily the standard. "Jonathan Sperry" couldn't even provide a halfway decent script, nor halfway decent acting. That is inexcusable in my book, and after so many years of Evangelicals attempting to make films in the face of criticisms about their poor art, I think it's reasonable to expect much better from the Christian community. I looked back through the review briefly and couldn't find where I used the term "fundamentalism", so if you like you can more fully quote me, and I will respond. But the problem I had with this film wasn't that it was simple. Some minimalist art, for instance, can be quite beautiful. The problem was the sentimentalism, the bad script, the horrible acting, etc. And those things have found a resting place in fundamentalism, incidentally. I grew up with it, and still experience it as I relate to friends and family who still live in that world. It isn't just a differing taste in art. It's a matter of whether or not it is spiritually healthy for people. And I maintain that it is not.

You flatter me with regard to education. My highest degree is an Associate of Arts from a community college. I started my Bachelor's work, but have been unable to complete it so far, due to the various unexpected twists and turns of life. Lastly, this film wasn't specifically aimed at children. It was aimed at Christians of all ages. A large number of people I knew who went to see it were older adults, still trying to hold on to an idealized sentimentalistic worldview, and who avoid the majority of other movies because they refuse to accept the reality of evil in a fallen world. And as I've already said, even if this movie were simply aimed at kids, it failed in its attempt, in my opinion. I'm glad if your children, as well as many others, gained much truth from this movie. But what I'm concerned about is what falsehood they may have obtained as well.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t know anything about film reviews and English is not my original language but I can’t even begin to tell you how this movie has blessed me in so many ways. The Holly spirit convicted my heart through the whole movie. I could not stop crying specially towards the end. The words that I would personally use to describe this movie are Amazing Grace, to forgive and love others so that they might be won for Jesus. I should not be too concern about arts as I should be in winning souls. I believe when we meet the author of all Arts in heaven that’s what will matter the most. I will have the fear of God to speak against any work the Holly Spirit is doing through his people and this movie is definitely is one of them. Please Brother Kerry don’t take my words harshly. I sense you are a good man with a good heart, otherwise you would have this blog.
There is not need to reply to this comment either, some things are better left unsaid.

May our Lord Jesus be with you always. Venezuela.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

I appreciate your thoughts. I'm glad the film was something God used in your life. I really know very little about Venezuela. I do know, however, that there are lots of cultural differences that would affect how you and I regard this movie. In America, non-Christians make fun of Christian films all the time because they lack the quality of secular films. As I've said already, I think that's a reasonable criticism. If all we should be concerned about is saving souls, then that doesn't explain why the Bible is full of things that have no direct relationship to soul saving. And certainly, the Holy Spirit is using this film. But He can and does use all sorts of things, even when they aren't the best things for us to pursue. That's God's sovereignty over the world in action. He overrules our bad decisions, and blesses us and our work for Him anyway.

I don't take your comment harshly. But I do sincerely thank you for your comment, and I'm glad to hear how God is working in your life. I trust He will continue to do so! And God bless you as well.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

B R I L L I A N T

I'm not a strict Christian (make up your own mind what that might mean, and enjoy), but I can't help but applaud your review. Honestly great to see The Gavin, I also didn't realize it was him until my wife pointed it out - but yes, wow, the story could have been SO much better.

1:56 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Thanks for the positive comment. It's nice to hear some encouragement on this, in the face of so many critical comments as of late. I would encourage you, though, to rethink your position on the exclusivity of Christianity. Jesus said he was the only way to the Father (John 14:6), and the world religions are inevitably exclusivistic, even the ones that claim they aren't. So there's only one way to knowing and encountering God. Thanks again, however, for your comments.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Ozell said...

Although your review was extremely ungracious (it's hard to believe you don't understand what one respondent meant by "a critical spirit" -- if you truly don't understand, then that fact alone makes it evident you have one), your criticisms were valid, but praise also was warranted where you gave none.

I watch all Christiano's films and do marvel, not only at his, but, as you, also at the plethora of Christian films that think the same canned misrepresentation of the Gospel is a good thing when it's a travesty.

You might say, "my critical spirit -- what about yours?", but your remarks about the horrendous misrepresentation of the Gospel isn't part of the critical spirit. God doesn't anoint it because it's nonsense and you see that well and I was glad to hear you comment on it.

Jesus said very clearly -- "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." It should be beyond evident, that the difference between "knowing God" and "asking Jesus into your heart" is night and day. One is truth; the other is religious deception and it's way past time that pulpits tell the truth. That offends many people but it's because they don't don't think, pray and hear God or His Word on this very simple, and Biblically clear subject.

Regarding Avatar: that the politically correct brainwashing that is part and parcel of most Hollywood fare (including Avatar), escapes your notice, demonstrates that your "critical spirit" has a source that seems to be void of the wisdom of discernment. "Great art" that is designed to lead people into darkness, isn't great art at all, though tremendous talent might be shown. As a Believer, you should expose the darkness at least as much as you praise the finesse and skill of the evil one. It you don't think most Hollywood "art" has an evil agenda, you're extremely deceived.

Panettiere was much better than you represented. The dialog, as you said, was really quite poor. Clearly, the strengths of the movie were the idea and the ending, which unfolded extremely valuable lessons. Those things deserve credit, yet you gave none.

We all need encouragement. You could have found some things good to say about the movie. The devil's job is to just tear down.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you were ever 12. When you are 12 you are awkward like some of the acting of the the kids, except for maybe Albert and Mark. Otherwise, this film was excellent. I was a kid in the 70's and I could totally relate to the movie. Sometimes you have to get outside yourself though and just be open to the message and quite worrying about the "art" of things. God uses all kinds of tools to get his message across, even though it may not be up to your worldly standards.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Ozell,

I appreciate the fact that you agreed with some of the things I said.

What I said about a critical spirit, to be precise, was, 'I would be curious to know what you mean when you say, "a critical spirit".' It's a question of what the individual making the accusation of "a critical spirit" means, not necessarily what "a critical spirit" really is. Quite often I find the person making that accusation is influenced by feel-good, "why can't we all get along" Christianity, to the point that any criticism at all strikes them as un-Christian. But for anyone who knows there Bible, nothing could be further from truth. And in reality, when someone in this vein is accusing me of having "a critical spirit", what they really mean is, "you've said some negative things about a movie I really liked, and I'm upset with you for it". It's just convenient to lash out at me by accusing me of sin. Does that mean I don't have a critical spirit? No, but I don't believe I do. We live in a day when the biggest Christian radio station describes itself as "positive and encouraging". Yet Scripture is often negative, critical, sarcastic, and harsh, in the proper context. So I take such criticisms with a large serving of salt.

How would I know if you have a critical spirit or not? All I know of you is this one response to me. Just like people who try to make such judgments of me from one writing, that would be quite the jump to a conclusion.

You said, "It should be beyond evident, that the difference between "knowing God" and "asking Jesus into your heart" is night and day." You're right, it should be. But it isn't. I've spent endless hours discussing and debating this question with Evangelicals who just don't get it.

I'm just going to have to disagree with you on Panettierre. I hope he grows up to be a great actor. But in this movie, the poor boy was just horrible.

I scrolled back through to try and find where I commented on Avatar, but could find it. So I'll have to respond blind here...but who said I didn't recognize the evil agenda of Avatar? Quite the contrary, in another place on my blog I recommended Brian Godawa's review of the movie, which, if you've read it, you know calls out all the paganism and political correctness in the movie for what it is:

http://hymnusdeo.blogspot.com/2010/06/avatar-review-by-brian-godawa.html

5:14 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Continuing...

We'll just have to disagree on what great art is. I understand what you're getting at. But something can still be aesthetically beautiful, though it be morally off a bit, or even quite immoral. "Avatar", for instance, is an aesthetically beautiful movie in many ways. But it's so heavy-handed in its agenda that I had a hard time enjoying it. In fact, both it and "Jonathan Sperry" were heavy-handed in their agenda. It is a true statement that all art is propaganda. The difference is that "Jonathan Sperry" doesn't recognize key area where it is propagandizing - the area of promoting the false worldview of sentimentalism. It thinks it's promoting Biblical Christianity, but in certain ways it isn't. But sentimentalism is an idol that has for far too long gotten a pass in the church. So I am exposing the darkness - it just so happens I'm exposing the darkness in "Jonathan Sperry". That some people don't recognize sentimentalism as darkness doesn't phase me a bit. It's a subtle evil in the church, so this kind of response is exactly what I would expect.

I won't take the time to list passages, but to say that it is the devil's job to tear down doesn't fit with Scripture. Scripture is far more nuanced than that, and often portrays God as the one who destroys, for the purpose of purging evil and of building up again. Whether or not a person responds in such circumstances with faith and repentance determines their outcome.

I didn't generally say positive things about this movie for a simple reason: I think it was really bad, and that no one should see it. Could they see far worse things? Obviously. And were there good things about the film? Of course there were. I mentioned the Scripture in the film, and the fact that this was an attempt of spreading the Gospel. But I'm not doing counseling here; this is a movie review. And I don't think I was overly harsh, nor do I think it would have been right for me to mince words about it.

5:15 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Anonymous,

Believe it or not, I actually was 12 once, and an awkward 12 as well. But that isn't an excuse for bad acting, which this was, not just awkwardness. The problem, as I've already articulated, is that the church doesn't care enough about the art. It isn't that we sometimes need to overlook the art; in fact, that's our regular practice. And we need to stop it. Sure, God does use all sorts of tools to get the message across. God uses whatever He likes. That doesn't mean I'm justified in using bad art to share the Gospel. I could use a teaspoon to dig a ditch, too. It would get the job done, but would be totally ineffecient.

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think criticizing a Christian film made by amateurs who are trying to spread the gospel and provide God glorifying entertainment is in fact helpful or encouraging to anyone or the kingdom of God. I watched the movie, and I agree that the acting was pretty terrible, but I am not going to write a blog about how bad it was because I am on their (the makers of the movie) side and find it refreshing to watch a movie that could make eternal significance in someone's life. That is more important to me than how professional the actors are.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For everyone pointing out the "wrong" in this movie, have you ever thought of witnessing to someone in person instead of spending time bashing Christian movies.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Pastor Sonny said...

Ivan asked the question as where are the Christian blockbusters. The answer is simple; in the pockets of the Christians. Blockbusters are expensive to produce, and even though the money may be spent, that still doesn't ensure any film will be a blockbuster. If you want a Christian blockbuster, get your congregants to put forth the finances.

What the blogger seems to be missing is the fact that God doesn't choose to use the most artistic, sensational, talented, well written, etc. Rather, He has made it clear on multiple occasions that He sovereignly chooses to use just the opposite.

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:1-5).

"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence" (I Cor. 1:26-29).

God is not looking to use sensationalism. He chooses rather to utilize sincerity. Knowing and understanding this truth is the key.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Anonymous 1,

I appreciate your thoughts. But obviously I disagree. The trend nowadays, it seems, is to see Christianity as a religion in which criticizing other believers is somehow off limits. But how one could read Scripture and come to that conclusion is beyond me. I won't take time to defend that right now, but simply encourage you to study your Bible more carefully on the matter. If the movie is significantly lacking in some areas, and no one ever says anything, then future movie makers will continue in the same path of making bad movies. And that's been our approach for a few decades now. I believe that's a bad thing, and that we need to take a serious look at how we approach art. Not everyone will be willing to do the work it takes to make better art for the glory of God. But it has to be discussed. If Christians then decide to continue making shoddy art, that's their problem. I've done my job in pointing out the problems, and I'm convinced I was right to do so.


Anonymous 2,

On that logic, maybe you should spend your time witnessing to someone rather than bashing me. As important as witnessing to people is, there's more to the Christian life than just that. I'm sure there are plenty of things you do on a daily basis that don't involve witnessing to people - eating, sleeping, taking a bath, working at a job - and apparently watching Christian movies, looking up their reviews online, reading them, and writing responses. Physician, heal thyself.

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a good blog. Keep up all the work. I too love blogging and expressing my opinions. Thanks

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok.. I think the movie is good- not necessarily on "art" but on what it achieves. Pls for those thinking of seeing it, it is obvious the Christians are not "there" yet but it is beautiful.
For the author of this blog: First of all, it seems you have an answer to everything. Wow. If you didn't come off as calm and analytical I'd have actually thought you were female because you always just "had an answer" to everything said. Second, pride can show in a blog so don't think it can't. Third, the art argument is rubbish (and that's when you stopped making sense completely). It is crap for many reasons. Your argument from God's perspective makes no sense whatsoever for someone who reads the bible(and yes those who read are wiser than those who don't). The Pauline epistles especially 1 & II Corinthians breaks this to nonsense. From the human perspective, (i.e. both the viewers and the production team), you were wrong again. There you go again. You can't fault me for liking my steak medium rare, just because you like yours done. Utility resides with the consumers and they have spoken! As for the producers, you almost have a point except that the producers are in business. Business is not about art, it is about serving the client and if the client is happy then the job is done. Note: The more you criticize the less you do because people who criticize do not appreciate the process and think it's easy. I really want to see a movie you like VS one you performed(acted) in.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was not based on a true story. It was entirely the imagination of the playwright. Fact ARE important when writing a blog. I appreciate many of your comments, and disagree with some as well. This movie is obviously not Oscar quality, but I still highly recommend it. My young grandson was greatly affected by its message, and I recognized Gavin MacLeod immediately.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Hello all. Let me begin by offering my sincerest apologies for not having responded before now. My absence began as a taking of some time to reflect on some of the objections to my review. I later found myself dealing with some family illness that has kept me rather busy. Nonetheless, I'll try to offer some responses now, though not very long ones, at least for the moment.

I found Pastor Sonny's response interesting, and it was his post that made me take the time to think about things. I can't say I've come to any satisfactory conclusions, but here's some preliminary comments.

It is true that Paul, in both 1 & 2 Corinthians, highlights the aspect of God's calling of people into service for Him that shows Him not calling people on the basis of their ability. But to leave it there is incomplete. Paul, it should be said, is simply revealing and echoing God's working in the Old Testament. "I did not call you," God said, "because you were a large and mighty people, for you were the least of all peoples" (forgive me for my paraphrase, and my failure to cite references - you all have concordances I'm sure). Yet also ability is something that God's Word often highlights and celebrates in people. One thinks of David's mighty men and their great skill and valor. Moses was not an uneducated man, but grew up as a prince and received a prince's education. Even Paul himself, though God humbled him by his thorn in the flesh, was highly educated at the feet of Gamaliel. So to reduce the matter down to the idea that it is only the uneducated, the untrained, the unskilled, that God calls, is simply disingenuous. We have to be able to recognize hyperbole when the authors of Scripture use it (such ability to recognize it comes by training itself), and I would suggest that is what Paul is doing in these passages. It is true that from one perspective God's strength is made perfect in weakness, but that is the mystery of God's working. How can a person be strong and weak at the same time? Unless they are in some sense strong, the mystery doesn't exist at all.

1:31 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Part 2...

Also, it seems clear in Scripture that when it comes to who chooses the weak to serve God in some capacity, it's God who does that choosing, according to His Providence - not man. A church would be acting irresponsibly if it were to call a man into the pulpit full-time who had no training in the preaching of the word. What good would it do for the church if we did that? None - in fact, it could do great harm to God's people. Would we send someone into the mission field who had no training as a missionary, and found it painfully difficult to reach out to others? I would hope not, as it would be a dishonor to God, and a detriment to the spread of the Gospel. The same thing applies here. God may call someone to do something that is counter to their abilities. But for us to do that is wrong. Of course, in my experience the Evangelical church will let anyone sing in the choir or sing a solo who has a desire, no matter how bad they are. And that happens in lots of other areas of church life. Yet Paul sets standards of good and bad when he tells the Corinthian church to desire the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31).

Beyond this, some are missing one major point I'm making - why are we making movies only as a vehicle for sharing the Gospel? Why are there no good movies that are made by Christians and that contain a broader Christian worldview? I've already addressed this several times, but when Christians only make (and defend) art that is strictly used as a container for delivering the Gospel, or when they do so and treat the art itself as secondary, they communicate a denial of Creation. God filled the world with "art" that doesn't explicitly share the Gospel - trees, rocks, flowers, animals, etc. We who are saved can see Christ there, because we are born again. But as I've already said, God didn't plaster every tree in the forest with Bible verses. And yet the way we approach art, one would think the only art we can make not only has Bible verses on it, but verses that explicitly contain the Gospel (or verses we use as tools to makes ourselves feel better - kind of the Hallmark card approach).

1:32 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Part 3...

There's a whole other question of the nature of filmmaking. It seems the assumption here is that this is a ministry. And sure, in some sense it is. But there's some blurring of the lines here. This is a typical Evangelical approach, where if we label it ministry and layer it with churchly trappings, then it must in fact be ministry. That point is in itself debatable, I would suggest. Just because you write a story and put some Bible verses in it doesn't mean it's a ministry. Artists have been doing that for the past two thousand years, and it takes the modern Evangelical church, retreated from society and having created it's own subculture/ghetto to not be able to tell the difference between art and ministry. Then again, with Evangelicals having no sense of historic worship, no way of knowing the difference between worship and entertainment, and having sold their souls to the god of Pragmatism (anything it takes to get people saved), then this shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose.

If I am a plumber and only work for other believers, does that mean what I'm doing is a ministry? You can apply that to any trade - and people do. But I would argue that that isn't Scripture's teaching.

What it really comes down to is this: is Biblical Christianity merely a shallow representation of the Gospel, followed by a life of kiddie pool-deep moralism that involves ignoring large chunks of Scripture? Or is it a matter of a rich, deep Gospel, that involves not merely one "having a personal relationship with Jesus", but a many-faceted union with God in Christ, in conjunction with the redemption of the Creation through Christ's Church?

Go read some classics of Western literature, not the garbage in the Christian junk stores. Go listen to some classical music (especially J. S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi), and leave the cheesy CCM stuff alone. And please watch some good movies. Read Kenneth Myer's book "All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes", plus Brian Godawa's "Hollywood Worldviews", plus some of Francis Schaeffer's works - educate yourselves, don't just react against me because I've insulted your darling. Become artistically and theologically literate before you criticize me. That's what I have done, and for that reason I consider myself in a position to offer critiques. Whether or not one approves of what I say is entirely on their end of things.

I will leave it at that for now, for the sake of needing to devote my time to other things. It is interesting that this review has caused such a stir. For those who have responded, or have just read this review, let me encourage you to read some other things I've written on here. And feel free to comment there as well.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Let me add also that I will only allow comments that have a substantive response. All others will be deleted.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Let me add one more thing - attacking me personally isn't a substantive response. In Formal Logic that's a fallacy called Ad Hominem Abusive. I may very well be a horrible person, as so many people who only know me from this review may claim. But that's no response to the arguments I made in my review, but a way of taking out one's frustrations on me, largely because one can't come up with a substantial response to what I've said.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Sabrina Lannon said...

The beginning of the movie says "The following story is fictional and was written to show how one person's faith may inspire other." Therefore, it's not based on a true story. I think the details shown at the end are just to clue up any lingering questions one might have about the characters.

1:25 AM  

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