During this Lenten season there was a lot of noise surrounding four movies: Noah, Heaven is for Real, God’s Not Dead, and The Son of God. When Easter is nearing it is commonplace for a proliferation of “evidence” to come forth that will now put this Jesus-rising-from-the-dead business to rest. Maybe these movies’ release dates were strategic so that they might combat any foreseeable onslaughts from secular cynics. Maybe not. Regardless, these movies generated copious criticism
in the Christian blogosphere, Twitterverse, Facebook, etc.
Various Social Media newsfeeds were fraught with fervent apologetic zeal. Everyday someone voiced his or her opinion in favor or rejection of this or that movie. I saw a few pastors urging their congregations to go see Heaven is for Real, whilst others urged their flock to not touch Noah with a ten-foot pole. With this kind of intensity, one might think that any movie or television show with a hint of Christian or biblical overtones would trigger an immediate response, especially one whose title is the basis for the Christian hope. Right?
This past Sunday was the season finale of ABC’s Resurrection. Over the past several weeks of the season, my newsfeeds have been completely void of any discussion regarding this series. Granted, my newsfeeds might not accurately represent the United States’ viewership of any particular television series or movie; nevertheless, one would think that a show whose topic it inextricably related to the linchpin of Christianity would certainly prompt just as serious or even more critical engagement as Noah, Heaven is for Real, God’s Not Dead, and The Son of God. From my vantage point, however, this has not been the case.
Why do you think that is? It’s possible that people prefer watching movies over a television series. Or better yet, maybe many Christians were busy on Sunday evenings with church (pastors wish). Neither one of these explanations is satisfying. For starters, I’d venture to say that people prefer saving money, and could always record a show, or watch it online, if they were busy at church on Sunday nights. (I know a plethora of Christians who wouldn’t miss The Walking Dead). My hypothesis, and I pray that it is utterly wrong, is that many Christians have lost sight of what our ultimate hope actually is, namely, the Resurrection.
The storyline of ABC’s Resurrection begins with a young boy (Jacob) waking up in a rice patty in China after being dead for 32 years. J. Martin Bellamy, an agent with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, retrieves Jacob and takes him home to reunite with his parents in Arcadia, Missouri. Obviously, everyone is shocked and scared, while others are in a state of skeptical disbelief. Soon thereafter, more thought-to-be-dead Arcadians begin to appear in town, causing controversy and uproar. If this piques your interest, check out the trailer, or watch it online at ABC.
Surprised By Our Hope?
Coincidentally, while ABC was airing Resurrection, I have been simultaneously leading a Sunday School class through N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. One of Wright’s main goals in writing this book was to provide a layperson’s version of his massive The Resurrection of the Son of God (700+ pages), but moreover, he has discovered that many Christians today do not know where their ultimate hope lies. Most Christians, Wright argues, assert that going to heaven when you die is the end goal, rather than being gloriously resurrected for the (re)new(ed) world. Some are utterly confused by Paul’s unwavering emphasis that
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:13-19).
The initial pushback I received in my Sunday School class confirmed Wright’s overall impression.
ABC’s premiering of Resurrection was very timely and gave our class additional material to discuss each week. What we were learning about the resurrection could be compared and contrasted with this popular show: “Is this how the Bible depicts the resurrection? What are the resurrected bodies like? Does it align with the biblical picture? etc.” Resurrection provided yet another opportunity to examine and encourage one another about our hope.
I am unaware as to whether or not others have shared my experience. Have pastors and church leaders encouraged their congregations to watch this show to meditate and reflect more deeply about our ultimate hope? Have pastors and church leaders encouraged their congregations to engage the culture or to invite people over to watch the show and discuss it afterwards? Again, I’m not sure.
What I have seen, however, is that a significant amount of energy was invested in arguing about the recent slate of movies. Quite possibly we’ve placed the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble. We’ve shifted our attention to life after death (heaven), instead of life after life after death (resurrection life in the new world). We’ve shifted our attention to the Flood, instead of focusing on when God will flood his creation with his loving presence. Don’t be mistaken, engaging in these movies is an important endeavor; yet, I honestly believe the majority of us Gentiles would not be discussing Noah, or the validity of heaven and God, if it were not for the resurrection of the Son of God.