With all the negative stereotypes of millennials and college-aged adults, many wonder if the younger generation can be reached for Christ. I talked to a man who is doing just that. Steven Haney is the director of the Missionary Baptist Student Fellowship at Texas Tech University. He discusses the challenges and successes of reaching college kids for Christ.
Over the past two decades, Christians and churches have sought to engage popular culture through music, movies and even through news media sites like The Stream.
Following the observation that movies bear more influence on American culture than the pulpit, the Kendrick Brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., produced a series of movies that gave us box office hits like “Fireproof” and “Courageous.” The movies, flanked by correlating Bible study curriculum for churches and small-groups, were tools in reaching many.
These efforts have led to the conversion and discipleship of many nominal church goers and fence riders, however, cracking the shell of the culture at large presents a challenge. While individuals are being reached through these efforts, the public at large is not.
My proof? In 1986, Top Gun was a box office smash. Americans lined up around the corner to see Maverick pursue his quest of graduating at the top of his Top Gun class. The movie, which featured many action scenes featuring the F-14 Tomcats and F-15 Eagles, wooed many young men into joining the Navy under the auspices of becoming fighter pilots.
Recruiters, seeing the opportunity, set up recruiting booths outside movie theaters, signing young men who were excited about the opportunity to fly the F-15 into hostile air to intercept Russian Migs. A cultural phenomenon was born.
Historically, the only time a Christian movie has generated a large-scale response was following the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” A heart-felt and detailed depiction of the Gospel is bound to elicit a reaction. No doubt about that. However, aside from the anecdotal stories of the criminal who confessed to a crime for which someone else was convicted, there was no shift in American culture. A large number of professed conversions came from that movie, but America’s culture still trended toward unGodliness.
If the purpose of Christian movies is to create conversions, or to call marginal Christians back to faith, then those movies are accomplishing the goal. However, if Christian movies are designed to sway the culture at large, we are missing the mark. And, until this week, I’ve wondered why.
Sunday night, my wife and I enjoyed some “date time,” where we sit down and watch a movie via Amazon Prime or Hulu. We found a romance movie called “Charly,” about a New York woman who visits family in Salt Lake City and meets a young Mormon, and the two fall in love. Charly convinces Sam, the young Mormon, to be more spontaneous. Sam leads Charly to convert to Mormonism.
The plot was good, the acting was good. The depictions of family and the importance thereof were good. What turned me off to the movie was when the film would unabashedly preach Mormonism. There’d be a Sunday School scene non-germane to the plot. The main character would try to preach it to his love interest. Those scenes disrupted the plot, and raised my antenna. I spent the rest of the movie looking for the Mormon innuendos.
Now, I mean no disrespect to my Mormon friends, but as a Baptist pastor, I have several, deep, theological differences with the Mormon religion. Having those differences brought to the forefront of my mind, I began to wonder if non-believers had the same reaction to Christian films as I was having to “Charly.”
Are Christian filmmakers hindering their influence on the culture by inserting outright Christian preaching into Christian movies? I don’t know, and I have no complaints.
However, as we produce Christian movies, let’s set our purpose before writing our script. Are we looking to influence society to adopt our values? Or are we looking for mass conversions. If mass conversions are the goal, then by all means, insert explicit Bible teachings. Do a movie about the Gospel, like “The Passion of the Christ.”
However, if the goal is to influence societal values, maybe embedding Christian values into the plot is a better way to go.
Howard Roark was an idiot.
He represented himself in a court of law, fulfilling the old proverb, “A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”
He sat there at the defense table while a coalition of accusers bent on destroying his career testified against him. He never cross-examined. He never defended himself. He was thus found liable in a civil suit that cost him everything.
In the book, The Fountainhead, Roark was an architect who rejected long revered traditions and cultural influences, and designed buildings based on what was practical. He cared less for critical acclaim, and more for producing a product that served his clients well. Those who commissioned his buildings were well pleased, even if their friends belittled their choices. Those who hated him aimed to destroy him.
Such was the set-up for the lawsuit that wiped Roark out in the middle of the book. A religious enthusiast contracted with Roark to build a temple for all religions. Roark initially refused, being an atheist, but relented at the insistence of the buyer, who was put up to it by an altruistic leader in New York.
Roark designed a temple that looked nothing like the classic temples of the ancient world, neither did it look like a church. The client was unhappy, and sued.
If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have argued that the buyer was warned the temple would not look like any temple ever built, that Roark was given total creative freedom, and that the services requested were delivered on time. If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have won that case. And I don’t even have a law degree.
Following Roark’s legal demise, his girlfriend marries another man, and Roark vows to wait until she leaves her new husband and returns to him. At this point of the book, I had to call “bullcorn!”
The Fountainhead is one of the definitive books of 20th century America. Written by noted philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead has inspired many successful Americans. Mark Cuban, an entrepreneurial maverick, says he reads it for inspiration. Cuban built his fortune online, founding and eventually selling Broadcast.com. He owns several other companies, and gained his biggest notoriety as owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.
You can see a lot of Roark’s character in the way Cuban runs the Mavericks. From his battles with the NBA commissioner, to his taunting referees from the sideline, to his multiple attempts to incorporate Dennis Rodman into the roster, Cuban has lived up to his team’s name.
Still, Cuban fights. Roark surrenders.
In addition to the adventure of a maverick architect, The Fountainhead offers legal drama, romantic drama, irony and the occasional laugh. At face value, the book is a good read, and is the favorite of a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. The problem is, the book was not written to entertain us.
The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s philosophical manifesto written in novel form. The entire work was written to propose, explain and promote her political philosophy of “Objectivism.” With Roark being the embodiment of Objectivism, it comes as no surprise that his character has no soul.
Roark has no passion beyond his designs. He has no passion for his girlfriend. He has no passion to defend his practice in court. He pours his heart into his work, then offers it on a “take it or leave it” basis without passionately advocating for it. He just exists, an odd colored flower in the garden of New York.
Ironically, his lack of soul exposes the fallacy of Objectivism.
Boiled down to one sentence, Objectivism is the belief in that which can be verified through tangible means. It removes the aspects of faith and morals, and evaluates everything through the lense of what reality can be verified, what works, and what does not.
As a result, Objectivism promotes selfishness, individualism, to an extent, libertarianism, and social liberalism. And while Objectivism is very strong on individual rights (of which I strongly support), it falls short in that it denies the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of creation, his spirituality.
As such, when Objectivism was captured in one fictional character, that character turned out hollow. He had no soul. (Not that he didn’t have a soul, which he didn’t, he was fictional, but he didn’t have soul. There was nothing to him.)
In promoting her philosophy of Objectivism, Rand often discussed “the virtue of selfishness.” This virtue was lauded for its harmony with human nature. In order for there to be true harmony, each individual can only be expected to act in his own self-interest. Expecting an individual to act against his best interest is immoral, as is the individual who does not act in his own best interest.
Not only does this teaching run contrary to scripture, it denies man’s spiritual nature, and ignores American history.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote about the natural law, the inherent sense of right and wrong that is present in each individual. Whether that individual believed in God or not, that individual had a concept of right and wrong. We may argue about family values, and what does or does not constitute marriage, but we all agree that a man should commit himself to his wife, and that a man is not to just take whatever woman he pleases.
We may argue about what constitutes stealing, and what does not, but we all agree that it is wrong to go into your neighbor’s house and take his television. This is what Lewis referred to as “The Natural Law.” Of course, when he wrote about “The Natural Law,” Lewis was obviously referring to Romans 2, which says that when men who do not have God’s law, do by nature the things contained in God’s law, men become a law unto themselves.
And that natural law defines morality, and that law tells us that only doing what’s in our own best interest is not moral. When we follow such a lifestyle, the Holy Spirit convicts us and we have a guilty conscience. Objectivism denies that our conscience even exists. Objectivism has no soul.
Furthermore, if Objectivism were the pre-eminent philosophy of the day, America would fall. In his essay, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the role the Christian faith played in American society. De Tocqueville wrote that without faith, democracy would falter, because individuals only acting in their own self interests would tear the society apart. With the Christian faith, individuals felt responsible to contribute to society. Thus they did, and thus democracy works in America.
It was a sentiment also expressed by John Adams, who said that the Constitution was written for a moral and religious people, and that it was wholly inadequate to govern any other.
In addition to Objectivism not working for the afore-mentioned reasons, it will not work because it denies the Spirituality of man. We all are embedded with that natural law, and when it has been violated against us, we feel the hurt. Man cannot be expected to turn off his Spirituality. It doesn’t work.
So, while I applaud Rand’s efforts to stand up for individual rights, we must be careful not to blindly follow her entire philosophy. It goes against human nature, denies reality, and therefore can never work.