Surface Appearances

So let me begin my comments about Son of God, the Movie by saying that there are tons of evangelicals who are excited about this movie because of the evangelistic opportunities it represents. Their motives are pure and happy, and I wish everybody well. I hope that lots of people who are given pre-bought theater tickets pray the prayer.

Let me also begin these comments by saying that I will do my level best to keep the Second Commandment out of this. This not because the Second Commandment is irrelevant — indeed, that commandment lurks in the background of all Jesus movies, as the great unspoken explanation for why these movies are so consistently lame. It might help you follow these comments if you know that my general outlook on these things is akin to the views of the Scots Covenanters, and my idea of an ecclesiastical relic is a Claymoor hanging in the narthex. So you will have to grant me some leeway on the subject.

That said, and judging by the trailer — which is what they want us to judge by, right? — we have yet another Jesus who perpetuates our perennial and mule-headed idea that holiness consists of one part anemia, one part effeminacy, two parts stoner-mystique, and one part slight constipation, this time with a British accent. But I don’t want a Russell Brand Jesus.

Russell Brand Jesus

The Lord’s first command was “follow me,” and so why do we always get these guys that you wouldn’t want to follow for ninety seconds on an escalator?

When King of Kings first came out several generations ago, one insightful lady of the English aristocracy wrote that if Jesus really had been like that, she would have been among those who were crying out, “Give us Barabbas!” Flipping this observation around, as a friend of mine recently did, we should be able to tell that a Jesus movie had been really successful in portraying the Lord if half the crowds in the theaters wanted to crucify Him — and not for being such a milksop either, but rather because He was a dangerous firebrand. A really good Jesus movie would have a bipartisan bill denouncing it — called Save the American Dream Act — passing both houses of Congress handily in a rush to get it to the president’s desk.

But alas. And if you ask me why I am not holding my breath, I would simply say that we really do need to have a thoughtful discussion of the Second Commandment, one that gets past — har, har — surface appearances.

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24 thoughts on “Surface Appearances

  1. Still waiting for an average height, plainly unattractive, Jewish Jesus in one of these films. These Johnny Depp types just get in the way of the message, and it was the message – the Word – that ripped the world apart.

  2. Can your recommend some reading concerning the subject of portrayals of Jesus, icons, etc.? I found Calvin’s a Treatise on Relics but that’s about it…

  3. Love this. I am dreading the soft spoken gentle white Jesus. I kind of wish that my church wasn’t among those buying out theaters on opening night. My lack of enthusiasm about this evangelistic prospect (as it is being billed at my church, though none of the non-believers of my acquaintance would ever agree to go to such a film) reminds me of high school, where I was the lame one who wasn’t particularly inspired by the cheer squad’s antics during pep rallies.

  4. Thanks for my new favorite quote:

    “…my idea of an ecclesiastical relic is a Claymoor hanging in the narthex.”

    You beat Chesterton by adopting Knox’s willingness to both bear and hang up the sword for the cross.

  5. Couldn’t. agree. more. I felt so disappointed when I watched the trailer because more than anything I got the strange impression they seemed quite interested in baiting a strong female viewership using ye olde Hollywoode casting methods, which is weird to me because honestly, he looks a lot like a girl. And now with articles headlining (!) in the news titled, “Meet the Hunk Who Plays the New Jesus” …… eesh.

  6. I’m reminded of last week’s parish study, when we were reviewing the similarities between the stories of Absalom and Jesus, and one wag (who shall remain nameless, but she’s typing this comment) noted that Jesus is always depicted with long hair, too, just like Absalom!

  7. I don’t think that the second commandment forbids portrayals of Jesus for instructional purposes. It is speaking about worship. 
    With that being said, the movie does look pretty cheesy and the real Jesus would certainly offend. 

  8. “The Lord’s first command was ‘follow me,’ and so why do we always get these guys that you wouldn’t want to follow for ninety seconds on an escalator?”
                                                                                                                                                        
    Far from following him, he’s got a puppy-eyed face that would be more likely to follow us home. “Can I keep him, Mom? Can I pleeeeease? I promise he won’t make a mess. He’s a nice, domesticated little Jesus!”

  9. Bummer — another painting or motion picture about the Lord Jesus that isn’t consistent with the special revelation He gave through His apostle Paul in 1 Co 11:14, objectively declaring some content of natural revelation from God that has been instinctively/naturally (and thus, already subjectively) known to us through basic human nature/conscience.

  10. I thought the best scenes in the movie were the ones ‘behind the scenes’, like the chief pharisee debating, or others.  However I kept getting the idea throughout, that they were trying to improve the story by changing  things that were obviously mentioned in the Bible or easily deducible, like the lions den that David was led into, and on the next day only the one guy tossed in by the king vs. the guy and his family. 
    My wife and I were critiquing the movie as we were going watching, we made it through the whole thing, and I kept feeling like John Cleese in that scene from ‘Monty Python goes to the Hollywood Bowl’, where the Pope (Cleese) takes Leonardo (Idle) to task for taking artistic license with the painting of the Last Supper…

  11. Seth–“Seeing Jesus” by Jeffrey J. Meyers, about 50 pages on pictures of Jesus and so on, by PCA pastor in St Louis.  Probably available from Biblical Horizons; I got one there.  (Sorry I’m not linking; every click on blue print here tonight brings up an ad.)   Jeff surveys Reformation literature and thinks some pictures OK (pictures of Jesus doing something), but idolatry (worshiping the pictures) not, and some types of pictures tend to attract idolatry.    Me, since Jesus is a man of flesh and blood, and men can be pictured, I think pictures OK (denial of His flesh is serious sin), idolatry wrong.  But a picture can’t show His divinity?  Well, it can indicate it; and leaving something out of a portrayal of Jesus can’t be wrong (as long as it’s omission, not denial, nor distortion within the frame of reference), for Mt/Mk/Lk/Jn each omitted something.  /   /   /   I think a bishop of Marseilles under Pope Gregory the Great destroyed some icons people were worshipping, and the Pope wrote, Prevent the idolatry yes, but don’t destroy the icons.  (Source:  Ch history “2000 years of Christ’s power,” vol 1.)   /   /   /  I’ve read some Indians (Indo-Indians) made a Jesus movie called The Man of Compassion/The Man of Mercy/Oceans of Mercy, in which a big strong Sikh played Jesus, and really laid on the whip in cleansing the Temple.  Possibly not effeminate–I haven’t seen it.   (Would like to.)   And crowds seeing it cried out “They’re killing an innocent man!”

  12. Which 2nd Commandment? The Catholic version (“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in Vain”) or the Protestant one (“Thou shalt make no graven image”)?

  13. I still think the best Jesus in cinema is Robert Powell in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 “Jesus of Nazareth.”  He was no Russell Brand!

  14. If we had a movie that actually portrayed Jesus correctly we’ll have the religious community up in arms…um, wait a minute…ok, lets just stick to the second commandment critique.

  15. I somehow think it is the message and the authority with which it was delivered, not the physical appearance, that made people want to follow Jesus. It could well be, that on first glance, Jesus may not have been someone you would have followed on an escalator. There are several depictions in film that I liked. Granted, perhaps not Max Von Sydow or the latest incarnation that you speak of above, but I don’t think you can discount all of them. someone already mentioned Robert Powell above, and I liked Jim Cavezel’s portrayal as well.

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