Kingdom Films in a Post-Christian World, Part I

by Dan Rupple

Inspired by Bart Millard’s classic hit song, the faith-based film I Can Only Imagine chronicles the true-life story of forgiveness and reconciliation between Mallard and his abusive father. The film has been met with phenomenal, unexpected box-office success. But what is even more remarkable is its recent acceptance at the international film market of the Cannes Film Festival.

“Given the crop of projects being shopped at the Cannes film market that features Christian-themed narratives, there are signs that fare once ignored by international buyers and Cannes programmers is receiving a warm welcome.”  –The Hollywood Reporter

What Accounts for This Warm Welcome? It’s unlikely that global film distributors and subsequent mainstream audiences are suddenly embracing the film’s Christian themes. While some may have an existing connection to the inspiring song, no doubt most are connected through the universal, God-infused, human longing for forgiveness and reconciliation—core themes explored in art because they represent the “soul’s groaning” for Kingdom virtues.

For decades, variations of these themes that are common to all mankind have echoed far beyond the reach of films coming out of the Christian film industry at increasing rates of box-office success. Stories that reflect heroism, self-sacrifice, an exposure of the darkness, redemption, good triumphing over evil, and love conquering hate often shed light upon issues dear to the heart of God.

The big box-office winners are usually films that reflect noble virtues hidden within the subtext, yet not tied to their Kingdom origin. Staples of the Pixar catalog are storylines dealing with a father’s search for his son (Finding Nemo), pride turning into humility and selfishness turning into teamwork (Cars), and the meaning of true friendship (Toy Story). Underneath many of the thrills of the Marvel movies lies a world stuck in fear to an undefeatable enemy, only to find their salvation far beyond our world in a being of flesh and blood with the supernatural power of a deity (Superman). And, of course, the folklore of our age—Star Wars—which at the end of the day is the classic battle of good vs. evil played out on a backdrop of family reconciliation.

TV’s Departure

On the other side of the media coin a substantial share of today’s media, particularly premium cable, is growing darker, more decadent, and deprecating. A pervasive platform where immorality, hate, and division not only abound, but are sometimes celebrated, appealing to the baser nature of its audience. Pop culture increasingly favors dark, gloomy worlds filled with morally conflicted protagonists who will garner controversy and social media chatter.

In all fairness, in some of these offerings there can be found some form of a morality tale embedded deeply behind its coarse exterior.  But extracting it can be like swimming in a polluted pond, merely to pull out a minnow.

Why This Dichotomy?

As America increasingly slides into a post-Christian culture, we are doing what every post culture has done—pick through the best the previous dominant culture had to offer, choosing that which is profitable to society in the new era. A great parallel can be found in the book of Daniel, Chapter One.

After Babylon overtakes Judah, they pillage, picking and choosing “some of the vessels of the house of God.” Then they transport these emblems of God’s Kingdom back to Babylon, submitting them under the authority of “THEIR god.” And where do they place them? In the “treasury of his god.” They take what will be profitable for their purposes. But there is an inherent problem—they are attracted to vessels created by the one true living God, but separate the vessels from their life source.

So if many popular films are reflecting virtues of the Kingdom but don’t mention King Jesus, is it all for nothing? Absolutely not!

Many people embraced the truth of Jesus’ parables, but rejected Jesus. So even though the life-affirming parables in many films don’t clearly point the way to eternal salvation, projecting Kingdom value can benefit society—like bringing injustice to light, eliciting community engagement, and helping us walk a mile in another man’s shoes.

Post-Christian Cultural Inroads

That said, it is with a heart of thanks to God that the Gospel connection to true forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ is being made by the increase of “Daniels” working in both secular and faith-based media. And I’m grateful for an audience of “Daniels” who now see the cultural inroads that good storytelling provides in sharing their own story of redemption with others.

So bring on more media that is reflective of God’s glorious Kingdom, chockfull of God’s life-affirming virtues! Let’s celebrate “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable. . . (Phil. 4:8)

We encourage you to join Mastermedia in praying for more films and TV programs that affirm life, point to a loving Savior, and shine glimpses of God’s Kingdom into our modern-day Babylon!