In 1636 a play opened in Paris to riots in the theaterâ€™s boxes and seats. The first performance of Le Cid by Pierre Corneille drew rabid opponents and supporters to duke it out as the performance on stage rolled along. So contentious was the debate in Paris that Cardinal Richelieu asked the newly formed French Academy to issue a ruling on the play.
The debate centered on what should be in a play. Two terms, “verisimilitude” and “decorum” focused the arguments. What kinds of character actions and beliefs are proper, suitable, and seemly or fitting for certain circumstances? In particular, was it proper for Chimene to marry her father’s murderer within twenty-four hours? Should love win out over duty? Were the characters’ actions truthful? Did they resemble reality? Given those people in those circumstance, were the actions probable? Critics of the play said the actions were untrue, distorted reality, and were not probable. Proponents argued for a broader definition of theatrical art.
After two years of deliberation the French Academy rendered a verdict, which is not clear even today. And most people who read Le Cid today are left with one question: “What was all the fuss about?”
This question, and The Cid Controversy in general, came to mind after I saw the film, Facing the Giants. Who would have thought that a movie, written and starring the Media Minister of a small Baptist church in Albany, Georgia, produced on a shoestring budget, shot in community homes, starring a volunteer cast of church members, with catering by Sunday school classes, and wardrobe by the pastor’s wife would generate such passionate and fierce debate among Christian film-goers? And over the same three hundred and sixty one year old issues of verisimilitude and decorum!
The movie had not been available for viewing in any Maine theaters. But when I put the newly released DVD in my player I was prepared to turn the movie off after just a few minutes. After all, many of the Christian film critics I admire had said the film was, among other things: sub-par, cheesy, a fantasy, dangerous, propaganda, scandalous, trite, sentimental, a joke, and a lie.
But instead of turning it off, my family and I got caught up in the story and at the end I asked, “What was all the fuss about?”
In my time as a Christian, I have found two basic types of believer. For lack of better terms, I’ll call them the public and the private Christian. The public Christian’s conversation is filled with talk of the Lord. The public Christian is actively and consciously “witnessing.” Public Christians enjoy films which reflect their way of following the Lord. They label them “Christian” films. On the other hand, the private Christian’s vocabulary is so free of such “God talk” that he or she can be mistaken for a non-Christian. The private Christian seeks to live a good life and trusts that the Holy Spirit will shine through to others. Private Christians like films which portray their type of journey. They consider those films to be “Christian” films
The public Christian is suspicious of the private Christian, and vice versa.
I have enjoyed Christians of both types. I delight in a God whose followers are not all of one type. And I can enjoy “Christian” films of both type. As I explain in my book The Fiery Serpent, I could consider any film in which the Kingdom of God seeks to break into a life for the purpose of redemption to be a “Christian” film. After all, it is what Christ, not men or women, does or seeks to do that merits the label â€œChristian.â€ It is God’s Kingdom to create, not ours.
And Christ over and over again urges me not to evaluate my fellow Christians, or their films, by what they do or say. This is difficult because the world bases its artistic evaluations on what it sees and hears. But God is not looking toward the sensory world; He examines hearts. God the art critic cares only about â€œthe posture of the heartâ€, as we say in my church. This can frustrate artists who spend years perfecting and learning their craft. Our flesh wants to judge, praise, and critique human skills, but in the wheat field of Christian films, we are warned to leave the weeding of the cinematic tares to Him.
On Sunday, Pastor Grimaldi Martinez preached on the beginning of Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Glorifying God through the media of film can be an endurance. But it is for the joy set before us! For artists following Christ, public opinion can be a weight holding us back. But the perfecter of our faith must also be the One who perfects our craft. We need to seek His opinion, and no other. Facing the Giants tells the story of very public Christians embracing the joy of their salvation through faith in their Savior. That’s joy enough for me.