At the time of year called Lent, Reformed believers remember the death of Jesus Christ for their salvation. They do not remember His death legalistically by putting ash on their foreheads or by giving up some favorite pleasure, but by listening to a series of sober sermons that expound the biblical doctrine of the death of Jesus Christ. Nor are the few Sundays before resurrection Sunday and on Good Friday the only times they remember His death, but they remember it whenever the gospel is preached by believing it. Especially they remember the Lord and show His death till He comes by their obedient partaking of the Lord’s Supper after carefully examining themselves. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” ().
Remembering Jesus’ death in these ways is very different from the ways in which the false church, in concert with the world, remembers the death of Jesus.
Ten years ago the world released The Passion of the Christ, a movie purporting to portray the suffering of Jesus. The film was wildly successful: “with conservative Christian leaders across the nation urging their flocks to turn out, The Passion of the Christ brought in $83 million in its first weekend…. The film went on to take in more than $611 million worldwide.”1 Conservative Christian leaders and their followers, who turned out in droves, drove the economic success of that movie.
These Christian leaders are at it again with Son of God, a new movie that claims to show the life of Christ. Among those who are promoting the movie is Jim Daley of Focus on the Family, and well-known author and minister of Saddleback Church in California, Rick Warren, who hosted a private premier at his church.2
According to Forbes the movie took in $26.4 million its first weekend.3 As of this writing Son of God has earned nearly $58 million, as many flocked to what the producers called a “church-like” experience in the theaters.4 Many moviegoers have reviewed Son of God for the benefit of their fellow Christians. Many people will be swayed by the hype and by the promotion of this movie as being good for evangelism, such as Jim Daley’s promotion:
Some Christian leaders, including Pastor Rick Warren, are using “theater buyouts” to help draw people to see the film in an attempt to evangelize. Many churches are actively promoting the film, hoping that, like The Bible miniseries that preceded it, people will once again be prompted to talk about faith, Jesus Christ and salvation.5
This article is not a review of Son of God. A review would mean that I watched the movie, which I have not done and will not do because it is sinful. I am analyzing the phenomenon of biblically-based movies and the promotion of them by those who call themselves Christians. Son of God is the most prominent recent example. There are others. Noah, released on March 28, took in an estimated $44 million. Those who protested that movie were not flocks of evangelical Christians, but the Muslims.6 Heaven is For Real was released in April. These movies follow in the footsteps of The Passion of the Christ and other earlier biblically-based movies.
These are the most recent examples of what one movie industry expert calls a lesson for Hollywood that “there is real money to be made target[ing] audiences who aren’t used to being targeted.” It comes down to the dollar! Apostatizing Christianity has lots of them and will spend them on anything, from mugs to movies, that has a tinsel of Christianity attached. Getting dollars from apostatizing Christians has been an ongoing effort of Hollywood and one that another industry reporter feels “they have gotten right” with Son of God. To Hollywood, getting it right means that Hollywood has taken the Bible’s message “mainstream.”7
It is no easy task to mainstream the Bible’s message, especially not the message of the cross. The apostle Paul says the cross is foolishness to the Greeks, a scandal to the Jews. The Bible teaches that the cross is the condemnation of the world and teaches a God who loves His elect and hates the reprobate. Mainstreaming the message of the cross means removing the cross’s offense, either its folly as the only ground of salvation and thus its exclusiveness, or its condemnation of all the works of man as the basis for salvation.
The producers of Son of God, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who were both born of Roman Catholic parents (Roma Downey in particular insists that she is a Roman Catholic), made considerable efforts to pull off this mainstreaming of the Bible and were helped by many religious scholars and consultants.
From start to finish, theirs is a much more sensitive effort. Burnett and Downey have done everything Gibson [the producer of The Passion of the Christ] failed to do. They consulted with religious scholars. They sought guidance from Catholic, evangelical and Protestant leaders. They reached out to me and others in the Jewish community before production commenced. We engaged in healthy dialogue and conversation and offered some recommendations on their original script. We asked them to incorporate those recommendations, and they have.
In the end, Burnett and Downey did a great deal to show historical perspective and sensitivity. Their film makes it very clear that Jews were occupied by the Romans in biblical times, that the Romans engaged in crucifixions every single day, and that Jesus was Jewish and loved by the Jews.8
This quote is from Abraham Foxman, national director of the Jewish Anti-defamation League, who was pleased with the “sensitive” way in which the producers told the story.
In the producers’ own words:
We worked across denominations and reached out to the Jewish community through national director Abe Foxman at the ADL to make sure that we told this movie sensitively, setting up political and historic context, presenting the story in a way that really just emphasized the love of Jesus, and Mr. Foxman gave us a great endorsement from the ADL.9
This mainstreaming, according to the producers, would enable the movie to reach members from many denominations, to introduce the story to legions of kids, and to entertain unbelievers by the “greatest story ever told.”
I suppose not too different from the Roman soldiers who sat down to watch or the crowds that passed by to gawk and to toss a blasphemous jibe in Jesus’ teeth, the world and the false church still make the cross into a spectacle. Legions of so-called Christian leaders and their followers enthusiastically approve of, promote, and attend the spectacle.10
When Pilate was producing his spectacle, Jesus and the cross brought unity between those who were enemies in the world as they gathered against the Lord and His Christ so that Pontius Pilate and Herod became friends. The world always unites against Christ. Unity was also a big part of the directors’ purpose with this film.
It [Son of God] feels like a movement, and we’re also deeply encouraged by what is also happening across denominations; they’re coming together. We’ve had endorsements from all the major faith leaders, from all the major churches, and from the Jewish community as well…. The intention of the movie always was about drawing people together…. It’s a message of inclusion.11
Being Roman Catholics, the directors are one with Rome’s dream of one-world religion with herself at the head.
The above are some reasons Reformed Christians may not watch Son of God; there are others. The movie is a violation of the second commandment of God’s law that forbids both making an image of God and attempting to worship Him by it. Jesus is God, and to portray Him by means of an actor is to make an image of Jesus. That Son of God was produced by two Roman Catholics is perfectly natural. Rome has been and still is an enthusiastic promoter of images as “books to the laity” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 35).
Furthermore, promoting images was part of Rome’s rejection of and assault upon the Word. Being an image made after the imaginations of men, Son of God is a deliberate rejection of the Word of God as the revelation of God by which God will have His people taught. The producers promote and their supporters parrot assurances about the fidelity of the movie’s details to the Bible, but the exact opposite is true. In making an image they deliberately reject the Word.
Being an image and designed to bring the gospel, Son of God is also a very calculated assault on the Word of the Bible as God intended it to be preached to all nations as the means whereby God Himself brings the Word of the cross to His elect people to save them effectually by it. How shall they hear the saving voice of Jesus Christ “without a preacher”? (). The preaching of the truth of the cross of Jesus Christ is also the way—the only way—in which Jesus is evidently, that is vividly, portrayed for the believer that he may believe on Him unto salvation. The apostle says, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” ( ). The apostle did that by preaching the truth of Christ, not by showing movies.
Being an image, the movie also teaches lies. Images always teach lies. That was God’s condemnation of images in the Old Testament:
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?” ().
The dumb images taught lies. So does the dumb image the Son of God. It teaches the lie that the Son of God may be without consequences the object of entertainment— a spectacle. It teaches the lie that a person may entertain himself with this spectacle. It teaches the lie that the Son of God may be worshiped in that spectacle and by means of it. It teaches the lie that this spectacle may replace the preaching as the means to teach Jesus Christ.
It also teaches the lie of Roman Catholic theology. The producer Downey says about her movie, “You get an opportunity to fall in love with him,” which is a popular way to express the classic Roman Catholic doctrine of the natural man by free will choosing Christ.12 It teaches the false doctrine that Christ, in the words of the producers, “suffered for all of us,” Rome’s universal atonement. It teaches Rome’s lie that the cross can be reproduced by men as Rome does blasphemously in every mass. It teaches that the suffering of the Son of Man can be portrayed as well. Son of God, like Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, wickedly attempts to portray on a screen for the entertainment of millions the suffering of the Son of Man, which was not exclusively physical, or even mainly physical, but was the suffering of all the eternities of wrath that the elect deserved so that Jesus took away wrath for His elect and them only by making satisfaction for sin. That cannot be portrayed. That is to be preached by means of sound doctrine and believed unto salvation.
The Christian leader who promotes it to his flock promotes a lie.
The confessing Christian who watches Son of Man joins himself with the world in making the cross a spectacle, supports those lies, and is corrupted by them.
Likewise, that movie will convert no one, but it will be responsible for the perishing of many. Analyzing this phenomenon of Satan’s den of iniquity on the West coast, producing movies from the Bible that it hates, about the Christ that it loathes, movies that are promoted as spiritual and evangelical and that are greedily taken in by millions who call themselves Christians, many of whom will never repent of that sin—what explains that? They reject the preaching of the Word, are bored with sound doctrine, flock to be entertained by a blasphemous movie, take in and believe lies, and suppose in the course of it that they are being worshipful and spiritual? How is that to be accounted for?
The Bible has an answer. As part of the end of all things and the revelation of that Wicked, the Antichrist, there must come a falling away first so that millions go after him and worship him whose “coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (). “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (vv. 11, 12). This is the offensive gospel that this movie denies, a gospel of God’s sovereignty in salvation. The lack of love for that gospel explains that millions will watch this gospel-denying movie. Furthermore, these deceptive and lying movies are part of the mystery of iniquity working in the world by the power of Satan himself and under the sovereign control of God for the falling away of many. The gullible acceptance of them is the strong delusion that God sends that they should believe those lies in preparation for believing the greatest, which is Antichrist and his kingdom.
Reformed believers, if they were swayed by the hype, must repent. Reformed believers with their eyes wide open to what these movies, including Son of God, represent and how they function in the world must “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” ().
They will also remember the Lord and believe on Him unto salvation through hearing and believing the preaching of the sound doctrine of the cross of Jesus Christ because they received, graciously and sovereignly, “the love of the truth, that they might be saved” ().
1 Todd Cunningham, “Jewish Leader Hopes Son of God Will Be Antidote to the Passion of Christ,” Feb. 25, 2014, http://www.thewrap.com/.
2 “Signs and Wonders Churches Welcome Son of God to Theaters Nationwide,” February 2014, http://www.worldmag.com.
3 Scott Mendelson, “Son of God Earns 26-5m, March 2, 2014, http://www.forbes.com.
5 Jim Daley, “Son of God Jesus Epic Opens Tomorrow,” archive February 27, 2014, https://community.focusonthefamily.com. “The Bible” miniseries is the series that gave rise to the movie, Son of God.
6 “Us Islam Film Censorship,” March 8, 2014, http://www.reuters.com.
7 Scott Mendelson.
8 Abraham H. Foxman, “Son of God Is the Anti Gibson, http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
9 “Son of God: Roma Downey Knew During Bible Ministrires We Had Something Spectacular,” February 26, 2914, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com.
10 www.aintitcool.com/node/66327. This is the transcript of an interview with the directors of the movie.