The Expository Files

Hollywood Gives Us Another Modern-day "Jesus"


"When strapping stranger Joshua (Tony Goldwyn) strolls into a sleepy hamlet, able to hoist 200-pound logs and homespun aphorisms without breaking a sweat, it's natural that the burg's prettiest young widow (Stacy Edwards) would take a hopeful view of the smoldering glances he shoots her way. But he ultimately deflects her kiss, because he's Jesus Christ... actually Jesus Christ.

"That's the jaw-dropping premise of Joshua, a film that dares ask: WWJD, circa Y2K? Well, he'd be into carpentry (again). He'd peel off blues guitar licks to ingratiate himself with troubled teens. He'd use the word "sucks" and say "Take care" a lot. Judgmental priests who don't share his view of the Bible as "a love letter" (namely F. Murray Abraham, as a clerical Salieri) would feel his meek reproval. He'd raise the dead. And he'd act as a corporate shill; we're told not once but twice that the Son of God orders Christian-rock CDs through the Columbia House Music Club. But mostly, the movie's Messiah 2.0 comes off as highly amiable, slightly inscrutable, and mildly retarded. Christians sensitive to a reductionist view of their Lord as a luv-spreading Dr. Feelgood or omnipotent slacker will feel vastly more affronted than secularists, who might even praise God for delivering such an instant camp classic."

Chris Willman
Entertainment Weekly magazine
June 14, 2002

Several issues raised by the cited article continually amaze me. First, and most obviously, is Hollywood's insistence upon revisiting the Jesus story. Moviemakers of an era long past understood that the Holy Spirit did a pretty fair job, to put it mildly, of telling it, and that the story worked best when it stayed close to the original script. But modernists, ever bored with accepting another's interpretation of events, have in the last few decades taken it upon themselves to insert modern values (read: their values) into Biblical characters, including the Lord Himself. It outrages us, naturally, when Martin Scorsese makes Jesus leer contemplatively at a naked prostitute in The Last Temptation of Christ or when the playwright of Corpus Christi makes Him homosexual. It outrages us, but we can hardly pretend to be surprised anymore.

And Joshua doesn't particularly surprise us, either, being simply the latest incarnation (pardon the expression) of Hollywood's Jesus. The recipe is easy: Take all the loving, nurturing aspects of the New Testament Jesus, take away all the righteous wrath and condemnation, and top it off with some modern-looking frosting, and you're done. Unfortunately, there are a couple dozen moviegoers out there who will actually watch this film, and some of them will leave the theater thinking that Tony Goldwyn's Jesus was "pretty cool", and thus be that much more distanced from the true Lord of the text.

And allow me the opportunity of expressing my continued incredulity at our media's ability to identify the expression "sucks" as a vulgarism, while so many of our young Christians today do not. The people of the world typically have no trouble noticing the crude sexual connotation of the expression. (I won't get more graphic than that.) But our young people just think it's "cool", and they glibly repeat it. I'm not sure whether I'm more disturbed at the thought that they are aware of the vulgarity and ignore it, or that they might be so obsessed with the latest cultural fads that they swallow them whole without examining them. Either way, I am officially on a crusade to do what I can to eliminate this expression, along with all other crudeness, from my lexicon and that of my brethren.

Finally, I want to weigh in on the idea of the Bible as "a love letter". Many of our readers will be aware that this is an expression that has been used extensively by our brethren who have become involved in the "new hermeneutic movement". This train of thought holds that the Bible is not intended to be read as a list of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots", but rather an expression of Jesus' love for His people that guides them in a general direction without binding specific guidelines or expectations on them. It's the velvet glove without the iron hand.

I find it difficult to believe that these brethren were consultants on Joshua. But I find it interesting that objections could be raised from people in the world over a picture of Jesus that basically is shared by people in churches of Christ. And these aren't objections about Jesus being too strict or exclusive; in fact, they are very much the opposite. Even people with little or no attachment to Jesus or the Bible know at least this much -- that Jesus came into the world telling people what they had to do, that they were inadequate the way they were, that they would suffer condemnation if they did not adhere to the strict standards He laid down. Our brethren may find it more comforting, or more rewarding, or more "inclusive" to make Jesus less than He is, but ultimately that is exactly what they are doing. Ignoring the part of the gospel that contains commands reduces our Lord to little more than a glorified "Dear Abby", dispensing advice about how He thinks we ought to live our lives and leaving it entirely up to us whether we follow it or not.

And I reject the concept that a document full of direct commands and expectations cannot be a "love letter". The love God has for His people permeates the Scriptures; it could not be more evident. But He loved Nadab and Abihu, too -- and Ananias and Sapphira, and Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and Uzzah, and any one of dozens of others named in the Bible who failed to comply with His will. We need to reread the parallel drawn in Hebrews 12:4-13 between the earthly father-son relationship and that of the heavenly Father and His children. Discipline is a form of love, regardless of whether the context is parenting or Christianity. It is because of His love for us that He gives us commands.

Unfortunately, some of our contemporaries have decided that we can break those commands without fear of reprisal, and lean on the love of Christ to bolster their argument -- truly, "sinning the more that grace may abound" (Romans 6:1). What makes us think that our generation of worshippers will be held to any less rigid a standard as those who have gone before? God has always demanded complete submission to His laws, and He demands it still. Perhaps Joshua can serve as a weird sort of wake-up call, showing the viewers how impotent and pathetic half a Christ can be.

By Hal Hammonds
From Expository Files 9.7, July  2002