Using Film as an Evangelistic Tool

I wrote a piece a few years ago for my own interest on the ‘evangelistic’ video ‘Who is this Jesus?’. I am in the process of listening to a series of podcasts by Dr Scott Clark on The Ten Commandments – the latest one I listened to is on Worshipping the Right God in the Right Way. Some of the discussion was on the ‘image’ of Jesus and it made me think of evangelistic films and this film in particular.

So here my scattered thoughts on the video. Hope you find it thought-provoking and helpful.

I sat and watched this video with a member of a church, where the church was intent on using it as a tool for evangelism. While watching I made a few notes, and typed the following scattered thoughts.

The principle behind the use of this video is this, ‘if it works it must be right’. It is my belief that this thinking is to say the least, unhelpful, particularly as you just cannot argue that because something works (i.e., people are converted) it is good or right. We are back again to the regulative principle, a principle that sections of the church would like to hold, but is unable to practice it in a media controlled world. We have to use only those means that God has given to the Church, regardless of – as far as we can tell – whether they ‘work’ or not. If they do not seem to work, then we should call upon the Lord to honour the means of His own appointing.

Some general comments on Video Use

1. Non-objective. It is a subjective use of images and editing.

2. Centred on man. What happens if the subject (the ‘celebrity’ star) i.e. the central character backslides or falls into serious sin? The charge then becomes the opposite of the original premise. That is, ‘look it works’ becomes ‘look it doesn’t work’. Man first, God second. Because of the way it is presented.

3. Relativism. It works for you, or the subject of the film. (See ‘Truth Decay’ p.163 The Hidden Dangers of Relevance) Subjective truth & Absolute truth.

4. Competing images. It tries to play the world at its own game. It will lose.

5. Manipulation. The (any) presentation will be highly scripted, not only this, but lighting, location, clothing, items in the room or ‘set’ etc. The whole presentation will be designed to manipulate the viewer. This is not the view of the apostle Paul and it shouldn’t be ours either.

6. Preaching is the presentation of objective truth. As Paul Cook recently (when I originally made the notes) said at a history lecture ‘we need to get back to preaching, and to believe in preaching’.

7. Many (not all) Media writers, I feel, would urge caution in the use of media where images are edited, scripted, and manipulated.

8. Theology. What is the theology (if any) of the Director and the Producer? This will influence the presentation.

9. Some Christians will argue for it because of the ‘well he uses it at school’ argument. So what has that to do with it?

10. Who is the intended audience? Again, this will greatly influence the production.

11. Is it really glorifying to God and his salvation.

12. ‘Documentary’ tends to give an authority that is probably not warranted.

13. Even if the video is very good, this is still no reason to use this type of method in evangelism.

14. The presenter is alive and likely to change. The presenter has been chosen, not for his spirituality, not for his gifts in exposition or preaching, but for his media personality, that he has a well-known face. In other words, media marketing is the name of the game.

The Video itself

Is it a documentary? Strictly speaking it is a ‘Docu-Drama’ as it utilises actors in playing a role, including playing the role of Jesus. It is a documentary in so much as it is attempting to communicate a series of propositions.

It may be worth noting that if this video presented the case for evolution, I suspect there would be stringent criticism of it.

The Use of Testimony.

You will notice that there is a housewife (a homemaker in these liberating days), a musician, a Rugby player, a care worker and a former gang member. Many differing faiths give the ‘convert’ a testimony. The whole use of testimony, to me is fraught with difficulty. It seems to be the opposite of ‘let me declare unto you this Jesus’. Instead we have ‘let me tell you what happened to me’. It very subtly shifts the centre of attention, from God to man.

Images and music used in the video.

Emotive use of music combined with images, or when talking of the cross.
If this were a ‘Billy Graham’ crusade, many churches would have nothing to do with it, as using emotive techniques to create a response. This video does exactly the same thing. This is particularly striking when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with use of emotive music and images. As Neil Postman states that the music is there to inform the viewer what emotions they should be feeling at the time.

Content of the video.

As far as I know, the geographical information is correct. However, it is worth mentioning that the Romans flattened Jerusalem in AD 70 putting the exact location of many places in doubt. I would however be more concerned about the message or should I say the lack of message. The gospel as far as I could tell was absent. The question then, is, what is the gospel? Some might say this video is nothing but a tool, a way to open people up, to make them willing to talk about spiritual truths. I commend the desire, but is this video really necessary in that case? Surely as we get to know people, opportunities will come, a word here, a word there, maybe an extended conversation that gives you a real God-given opportunity to ‘preach’ the gospel to them. Maybe they asked the question, what made you become a Christian? Then you can tell them. They will listen. Although the presenter talks of sin, we are never (as far as I could tell) told in necessary detail what it is. Nowhere is sin explained, or judgement (so as not to put people off presumably) or the nature of man. More seriously, the cross is only ever explained in terms of physical suffering and never in its spiritual sense. The physicality of it is far more emotive (making for good TV) than the spiritual aspect. This is quite deliberate. This is the serious point of the video. Any aspect of a filmed production has within it only those items that are meant to be there. It will be highly scripted, which I suppose explains the deliberate need for a professional actor (and actors).
The costumes were pretty poor, it has to be said, the hessian headgear looked brand new which to my mind made it pretty laughable.

We are told that many millions round the world believe. Is this really a valid argument, millions around the world are Catholics or Muslims, or Hindu’s, or Sikhs, or atheists for that matter! We have to stick to a propositional truth because it is truth, not because millions of others think it is true.

I can see what they are attempting in the video, and they are to be commended for their desire, but it is debatable as to what it is that they actually achieve. As for me, I think it is just another way of side-lining or denigrating preaching and further making us less likely to speak of The Lord Jesus Christ without the aid of a prop.

What says the scripture?

2 Corinthians 4:2-5

2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.

2 Corinthians 2:17 (also 2:14-17)

14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

The following quotations are from ‘Amusing ourselves to death’ by Neil Postman.

P90 ‘…all television programmes are embedded in music, which helps to tell the audience what emotions are to be called forth’

P119 ‘…not all forms of discourse can be converted from one medium to another. It is naïve to suppose that something that has been expressed in one form can be expressed in another without significantly changing its meaning,…’

P124 ‘I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.’

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