If the “Di Vinci Code Scare” has taught us anything, it is not to get too concerned about new media that tries to destroy the message of Christ (though I do not think that this was the intention of the movie or book). However, when new media does come up that is a monologue directly aimed at the Bible and the Christian message, then we at least need to be aware of it.
One such film has been circulating in recent months. The God Who Wasn’t There is a movie set out to put down historical relevance of the story of Christ and goes as far as to undermine its complete validity. Much in the way that Dan Brown used “fact” to overlay his story, the filmmakers in this case have also used historical fact and woven it together in this documentary-style film.
The Current Perspective on the Church in America
The fundamental concern that gives this film life is the extraordinarily negative perspective that a growing number of Americans have about Christians. Unfortunately this is being reinforced by sometimes prominent but most often well-meaning church-goers who want nothing more than to share the gospel message and compel people to believe.
However, the message has been heard as one of hatred and bigotry rather than of love and mercy that was preached by Jesus. Take a look at the trailer for The God Who Wasn’t There:
My first reaction is that it is not true. But then realizing that there are really clips of Christian preachers speaking about hate, my next reaction is to not want anything to do with it.
Fortunately, it is apparent to me that what is being criticized are people on the fringes of the faith, and that most of us understand that there is a different calling set upon us by Christ: we are called to love our enemies and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Afterlife and the Gospel Message
Some of the damage of “fire and brimstone” preaching is the perception of hatred. The message of the afterlife is becoming more and more irrelevant as fewer and fewer people believe in an eternal punishment. The notion, then, of a Rapture that will zap people out of the physical plane and into another realm is laughably rediculous to many.
It would seem, though I have no research studies to reference, there is a direct relationship between the more people preach about heaven, hell, and the rapture and the number of people who leave the church believing it to be nothing more than fairy tales meant to scare people into right behavior. This is not to say that these messages are false, but they do not mean anything to those with whom we are most trying to build relationships. What strength can a word have if no one is listening?
Comments in Biblical scholarship and the Historic Christ
There is certainly truth to some of the films assertions about the Gospels and the historic Jesus. There were a series of other “hero” stories (what the film calls “the hero pattern”) that were circulating for centuries within different cultures of the day. These stories told of spiritual leaders with birth, death, and resurrection details that were similar to Christ’s, though none with all elements in common.
Most Biblical scholars will tell you that there was a significant period of time between the life of Jesus on earth and its documentation. It is also clear from even casual reading of the canonical gospels that there are very different perspectives on events, and even the order of events recorded.
For instance, have you ever wondered why all of the gospels do not make record of the birth of Christ if it was so significant to his identity? Take a look at the events of Jesus’ last week and it will become obvious that there are different events recorded as well as different order to the events described.
These “inconsistencies” are more indicative to the style and purpose of the writings, rather than their truth or lack thereof. The events recorded in the gospels were not recorded as a reporter would chronicle details of a lengthy trial. Rather the style of the day allowed for these different perspectives to bring to light an undercurrent of purpose. Each gospel writer recorded what they did to show who Christ was, not his day-to-day activity.
Do not stick you head in the sand. Look at what this movie says (perhaps even purchase a copy) and find the answers you need to know what you believe. Start with some books on church history and discover what really is known about the early days of Christianity and about how the Bible was written. Be honest about what people outside the faith are hearing and have open dialogue with them to discover better ways to be relevant. Find a new way to bring urgency about having a relationship with God to people who no longer believe in an afterlife. After all if our faith is something worth cherishing does it not mean something in the meantime?