Last March, "The Bible" miniseries took The History Channel, and the world, by storm bringing in 14.1 million viewers and breaking all kinds of ratings records. From that phenomenal event was born the Son of God movie which opened in theaters last weekend. (Read the fascinating story of how the movie was born here.)
Of course Son of God has received a myriad of reviews, many of them less than flattering as is often the case with films related to Christianity and the Bible. I tend to wobble on the fence with such movies, torn between dramatic interpretations that are often heavy on "the cheese factor" and the sincere desire to share the most significant story in history.
While Son of God is not entirely without "cheese," those moments are few and far between. And I believe the potential influence of the movie far outweighs its few awkward moments.
First, a word of caution to parents: While I think it is important that our children understand the sacrifice of Christ and all that it involved, and while I believe media can be a valuable tool in doing this, the PG-13 rating on Son of God should be taken seriously. The crucifixion scene is graphic, as it should be. I recommend seeing Son of God without your children first, then determine at what age it is appropriate for your children to see the film.
WHAT I LIKED...
This is a quality film. Hollywood producers who have already proven their worth in the industry, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey used their skill sets and influence to create a quality production from start to finish. The writing and direction is great. The cinematography and orchestration is superb. And the acting is somewhat impressive (once you get past the fact that they all speak with a British accent.) While some will question their casting choices, costume design, and even the use of hair product, no one can argue with their commitment to quality.
It's a great overview. I imagine it's difficult to tell the story of the Bible in a 10-week miniseries. I imagine it's almost impossible to portray the crux of the story--the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus--in a mere 2.5 hours! But Burnett and Downey did so masterfully. While the video montage of the Old Testament felt slightly like a highlight video of the mini-series, the overall story was beautifully told by the disciple closest to Jesus and the writer of one of the Gospels, John. A perfect choice for a first-hand account of the life and ministry of the Christ.
WHAT I LOVED...
It's purpose. The version I saw had a message from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey at the beginning of the film. In that message, as well as all of the interviews I've seen and read with them, their purpose seems to be genuine: to acquaint the general public with the Bible (through the mini-series) and with the Son of God (through the movie) in order to spread the Gospel. No matter what the critics say, Burnett and Downey can rest knowing they found a way put their great success to work for a greater purpose. And, let's be honest, this movie would probably not have the publicity that it does if it had lesser-known names behind it.
It shows the loving heart of Christ. This film, more than any I recall, seems to focus on the relationships of Jesus...with his disciples, with the crowds, and with His mother. We get to know the disciples, how they respond to Christ and how He interacts with them. Since Jesus is the reflection of God the Father to us (God with us), I like that the general public will see Him as loving and kind. Sadly, I think too often we Christians do a rather poor job of demonstrating that attribute of God.
WHAT I WISH HAD BEEN BETTER...
The character of Jesus. It's hard to create the character of Jesus for stage or screen. It's a difficult task to write what He would do (outside of Scripture), it's hard to cast the person who has to play Him, and it's got to be difficult to be the one to bring Christ to life on the big screen. While I think Son of God does a fair job of this, I wish their version of Jesus had been a little more commanding at times. Yes, He was 100% man, but He was also 100% God. Like I said...it's a hard balance to attain. Someone in our group liked how "relatable" Jesus seemed, so maybe it's more of a personal preference than a flaw in the movie.
Message of Grace. While Son of God is a fantastic, historical narrative that remains true to Scripture, I came away feeling that a major theme had been lost somewhere in the editing process. As a believer, I connected with the stories and the characters. I felt the shame and heartache of one who's received grace as I watched the bloody crucifixion scene. I rejoiced in the Resurrection and triumph over sin and the grave. But I'm not sure someone unfamiliar with Scripture, and with God's story of love and redemption, would have found those deeper themes woven into the narrative.
If you are looking for a bigger and better version of Passion of the Christ, this is not it. (Despite Mel Gibson's personal demons, he makes a great movie!) But for a quality, overview of the life and ministry of Christ, Son of God is spot on.
The greatest thing to come from the movie Son of God is, in my opinion, one thing: opportunity. Not since 2004 when Mel Gibson released Passion of the Christ, has the message of the Gospel been more forefront in popular culture. As Christians, this provides us a prime opportunity to discuss our faith with others. We should not sit back and let the movie speak for us, hoping our loved ones will see it and fall with conviction to their knees in their local theater. Call me crazy, I just don't see that happening.
But neither should we, as Christians, needlessly criticize a well-made portrayal of the Gospel for popular culture or "skip it" because we've heard the story before. So, then, what should we do?
We should go see the movie. We should take our friends and family members. We should take anyone who will go. Then we should take them out for coffee and talk about it. Discuss the "cheese" factor. Talk about whether Thomas should have had darker features as a Middle Eastern man. Discuss the merits of the movie and ways it might have fallen short.
Then tell them what Jesus has done for you. Because Son of God is more than just a story. It is THE story. It is HIS story. And you have something no actor, camera crew, or make up artist can replicate...you have a first-hand account...personal experience with the star of the movie. No critic can can argue with that.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15).
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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.