One of the most fascinating trends in pop culture is the rise of the “Indie” Christian movie.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this phenomenon was Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”.
Because of the storm of controversy surrounding an R-rated, unrelentingly graphic portrayal of Jesus’ suffering, Gibson found himself with a movie that none of the mainstream Hollywood distributors would touch with a 10 foot staff found in the prop department of the 10 Commandments.
So Gibson took matters into his own hands and bypassed Sony, Fox and Miramax and distributed the film himself.
The rest is box office history.
Following in this same do-it-yourself school of movie making we have seen significant response to Christian films like “Left Behind”, “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof”.
The latest offering to follow in this off the beaten path approach to film making is the gritty look at high school life and relationships – “To Save a Life”.
Producer and former youth pastor Jim Britts set out to depict the realities of a generation crying for help.
The film opens with the funeral of Roger, a 17-year-old boy who ended his own life after years of experiencing neglect from everyone at his school, including his childhood best friend, Jake Taylor, who ditched him three years ago for popularity.
His heart wrenched over his friend’s death, Taylor begins wrestling with life questions and searches for answers in places he never expected, including church.
As the film follows Taylor on his search, it addresses a host of issues, including suicide, peer pressure, divorce, teen pregnancy, abortion and the authenticity of Christians.
And although that’s a lot to deal with in a less than two-hour movie, students who have already screened the film say what the movie depicts is real.
In fact, each character in the film and many of the scenes are based off of students Britts has had in his youth group at Newsong Church in Oceanside, Calif., and their experiences.
For Britts, the most moving scene in the film is the turning point of Taylor’s life when he walks away from playing a game called beer pong.
“He walks away … saying ‘I can’t live both worlds of checking out this God thing as well as living a way that’s completely opposite of that. If I’m going to give this God a try, I need to do it completely,'” Britts told The Christian Post on Monday, before a movie screening in Denver. “That was inspirational for us.”
In the film, when Taylor goes to a local church youth group, he isn’t looking to be religious or just some Christian. He’s searching for real transformation.
“What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?” Taylor shouts, confronting all the “fakers,” including potheads, in the youth group.
Shaken by his friend’s suicide, Taylor is perhaps more hungry than his peers for transformation and a change in the direction of his life. He drops his popularity and star-athlete hat to start a lunch group that welcomes all, especially the outsider who was on the verge of following in Roger’s suicidal steps. Taylor begins a Facebook page in Roger’s name to help others struggling with suicidal thoughts.
He soon finds himself encouraging thousands of people and saving lives.
According to those who have seen preview showings “To Save a Life” has all the ingredients necessary to make a huge impact on its audience –
With one significant exception.
On the Christian Post web site, guest columnist Greg Stier observes:
Probably the only real criticism I have of this movie is that the makers of To Save a Life had a tremendous opportunity to give the gospel but they didn’t take it. I talked to the writer about this (a GREAT guy and a youth leader, so I love him by default) and he told me that he didn’t want to make an “altar call type of movie“, but one that shows the impact of the gospel to change a life. I told him that, while I understood his point, he could have given the gospel easily in this film without it coming off like a “come forward and touch the movie screen if you’re trusting Jesus” movie going experience. I believe that if this film would have given the gospel in a clear and compelling way it would be much easier for teenagers to talk to their friends about the gospel afterward. Heck, the movie is called “To Save a Life” so why would you not give the gospel? In my opinion it’s like setting up a joke and not giving the punchline.
But in spite of philosophical differences on this point I still think that this is a must see movie for your youth group. It presents a tremendous opportunity for teenagers to invite their unreached friends out to the movie and to follow it up with raw conversations about the gospel afterward.
Although I would be the first to agree that not every Christian movie needs to include a direct invitation to receive Christ, it does seem that a film about the reality of a transforming relationship with God probably needs to explain how a person enters into it.
And if part of the film is an indictment of youth group phonies, one might not be too out of bounds to ask, “Great. So how do you find the real deal?”
It’s almost like the dodge some use when asked if they have ever shared their faith with a non believer –
“Oh, I don’t actually say anything. I let my life speak.”
The problem with that approach is that the average non christian walks away with the impression that we are neat people, rather than discovering that it is only Jesus living His life out through us that makes us different.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more grating than having the loudest voice of “evangelism” in your office or school also be the hardest party-er, or the most easily offended, or the most insensitive to others feelings.
But to ask the question, ‘Which is more important, to share the love of Christ with your lips or your life?” is almost like asking, “Which wing of the airplane would you rather have intact at 30,000 feet?”
The sad fact is “To Save a Life” makes that choice, and leaves the Gospel unexpressed.
Perhaps the best way to make up the difference is to take Greg Stier’s advice and prepare to be the one who gives voice to the message of God’s love and forgiveness and how to make that personal following the film.
Like “The Passion of the Christ”, many could be reached in the conversations that take place afterward.
But let’s make sure that our testimony about Jesus has both wings of the airplane in place – sharing the transforming difference Jesus makes with our lives and our lips.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
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