The “Missionary Lane”

by Dave Alan Johnson, Screenwriter, Producer
(Vanished: Left Behind Next Generation, Sue Thomas: F. B. Eye)


 

Dave Alan Johnson

Dave Alan Johnson

I look at “faith-based” films much the same way I look at the church. They both can and should serve more than one purpose.

Most “faith” films have tended to serve only believers. I’m okay with that, but I’m not okay with our making only films like that. I think we’ve lost sight of something important—the Church wasn’t created just so it could serve its members. It was created so we could come together, yes, to fellowship and worship, but then we are to go out into the world . . . to meet people where they are and not wait for them to walk into a church door on a Sunday morning.

I feel the same about the films and television we create. I believe the next phase in “faith films” is to broaden our idea of what they are and their purpose. For example, there’s no doubt that Fireproof helped marriages—that’s valuable. Some of those couples will even go out and touch people around them with the truth of that film. However, the fact is, Fireproof is not going to have much impact on most secular marriages, because those couples are not going to see it.

So how do we influence the world with our ideas and truths? I believe we move into the next lane over—what I call the “missionary lane.” Healthy churches send out missionaries, both to their own community and across the world. That’s the way we have to think of the “missionary lane” when we make content.

We need to be intentional about how we do it. We need to make films that will resonate with the people we want to reach. We need to remember they don’t speak “Christianese.” They may not see the world the way we do, but that doesn’t mean they won’t respond to the truth.

Compassionate Responses to Harmful Worldviews

   arts3-this-one  Artists are often the barometers of society, and by analyzing the worldviews embedded in their works we can learn a great deal about how to address the modern mind more effectively . . . . When the only form of cultural commentary Christians offer is moral condemnation, no wonder we come across to non-believers as angry and scolding.

     Our first response to the great works of human culture—whether in art or technology or economic productivity—should be to celebrate them as reflections of God’s own creativity.

     And even when we analyze where they go wrong, it should be in a spirit of love . . . [Francis] Schaeffer . . . even when raising serious criticisms . . . expressed a burning compassion for people caught in the trap of false and harmful worldviews. When describing the pessimism and nihilism expressed in so many movies, paintings, and popular songs, he demonstrated profound empathy for those actually living in such despair.

     These works of art “are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness,” he wrote. “Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art?” The men and women who produce these things “are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them?”          

     Today, Christian activists are quick to organize a boycott or pressure a politician to de-fund some artistic group, and these strategies have their place. But how many reach out to the artists with compassion? How many do the hard work of crafting real answers to the questions they are raising? How many cry to God on behalf of people struggling in the coils of false worldviews?

[Crossway Books, p. 57]

 

“This Is Our Shirley Temple!”

IMG_8386Recently my wife and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit China, a country rich in artistic expressions and inspiring theatrical, musical and cinematic presentations of their cultural stories. Our trip began in Beijing at the Chinese Film Museum, a treasure of China’s rich cinematic history.

We came to a long row of statues representing China’s most famous actors and actresses. Encased in glass, each statue wore the original costume of the film star’s most iconic role. At the statue of a young actress, our tour guide proudly proclaimed, “This is our Shirley Temple.” Next to “Shirley” was a male figure which prompted our guide to say . . . “And this is our Humphrey Bogart.” Seeking legitimacy, our guide wanted to connect what China has been doing or is currently doing to its Hollywood counterpart.

As we continued, our guide, a passionate young man with a master’s degree in Chinese Operatic Films (How’s that for a genre?), began to ask about how to “make it” in Hollywood. Like many aspiring American film makers, he believed that the only true film career was one centered in Hollywood. To quote Frank Sinatra’s song, “. . . if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

Later, I was at a crowded mall in Xian, sporting my L.A. Dodgers baseball cap. A young man rushed up to me and said, “Hello, my name is Richard. I want to go to USC film school, but I need a sponsor. Will you sponsor me?” He assumed that I, being from L.A., must be connected to the film industry.

We all know about the robust Chinese box office and recognize the popularity of American films in China. But I didn’t realize how deeply the Chinese want to emulate Hollywood. A global generation is emerging that sees Hollywood as the gold standard, the epitome of movie excellence.

Our final stop was the largest film production studio in the world—Hengdian World Studios in Dongyang (“Chinawood”). In addition to film production, the studio is filled with tourists enjoying attractions offered throughout the massive grounds. As an American in the midst of a film studio, once again my association with Hollywood was assumed. It was embarrassing—people followed us around, and a few waited in line to take a picture with us.

I will forever be impacted by the extraordinary lens through which the Chinese people view Hollywood. I have a fresh understanding of how deeply American films connect with the Chinese audience, affecting their culture, inspiring their dreams, and shaping their beliefs as they adopt the values emanating from these films—films that are creating a whole new generation of filmmakers who aspire to “make it in Hollywood.”

If I wasn’t sure before, I am convinced now that America’s most influential export is American films . . . and that the influence Mastermedia has in Hollywood can have significant impact throughout the world.