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September 11, 2014

A classic case of house divided! Godly movies – vs – A popular singer is no contest!

Exclusive: Drew Zahn wonders when church will get serious about culture war

… the identical

Looking at Western civilization over the last 150 years, it’s easy to see that darkness does not come from the influx of more darkness, but from the absence of light.

In the United States in particular, whether it was because of Victorian piety or Darwinian confusion, Christians have historically and increasingly picked up their Bibles and left the culture, little by little … to rot.

Once upon a time, American presidents, scientists, philosophers, judges and artists proudly proclaimed their noble professions were done only to the glory of God. But beginning sometime in the 1800s, the church crawled into their pews, locked the doors and abdicated, in near sequential order, art, theater, law, higher education, music, movies and media. We burned books instead of writing them, condemned the theater instead of captivating others through it, mocked music instead of singing it and actually started to believe the revisionist malarkey about “separation of church and state.” Shoot, we actually enforced it by separating ourselves.

Is it any wonder, then, the culture today, from Hollywood to D.C., is filled with darkness? Where, after all, did the light go?

The answer, I fear, is under a bushel.

Take, for example, the tragedy that is occurring right now in Hollywood. While far too many Christians (you’ll see their comments below when you scroll down) complain about and condemn the “godlessness” of the movie industry, a genuine candle of Christian values has been lighting the darkness, reforming and redeeming Hollywood from the inside out for the last 25 years, only to find the people under the bushel doing their best to blow it out.

Accustomed only to the language of the pew, Christian moviegoers have demonstrated in 2014 – “the year of the Bible” as it’s been dubbed in Hollywood – that they’ll only turn out in droves for the movies that scream Christianity (i.e., the sadly mediocre “God’s Not Dead”), while films that could actually penetrate the culture with a Christian message seem to get no traction in the church at all.

In other words, make it churchy or we won’t come – thus sabotaging the tremendous cultural megaphone for the gospel that is the movie industry and guaranteeing the separation of church and … well, everything else.

Case in point is the star-studded faith film that came out this weekend, “The Identical.”

The moviemakers spent tens of millions marketing this film – a budget most Christian movies could only dream about – through churches, Christian radio and other key outlets. The movie stars big Hollywood names like Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Ray Liotta. It features a stunning soundtrack put together by Motown legends. It also delivers a profoundly Christian message in the context of a story that you don’t have to be a pew-sitter to love.

In other words, it’s just the kind of film that could take Christ outside the church walls. All it needs to succeed and to see more films like it made, to see the candle become a blaze in our culture, is for Christians to go see it. That’s it.

And yet, theater receipts now reveal, “The Identical” has become one of the biggest box office busts of 2014. Despite being the only widely released new film of the week, despite showing in nearly 2,000 theaters (or roughly 10 times the number of locations of a typical, independent Christian film), “The Identical” couldn’t even crack the Top 10 movies of the week.

The church simply stayed home and left its brothers and sisters in the arts out to dry … again.

The film itself, admittedly, has some flaws. Lead actor Blake Rayne, while an excellent singer and performer on stage, needs more nuance and gravitas as a thespian. The story as a whole needed to explore its themes and struggles more, instead of simply following the lead character to his inevitable, happy ending. It needs more conflict and danger to increase its suspense and drama.

But the story itself, about two identical twins separated at birth – one to become a rock star, the other a preacher’s son who only dreams about getting on stage – is a powerful look at what it means to seek after God’s call in your life and how to follow your dreams and your faith at the same time. It’s bolstered by positive themes of family, forgiveness and self-sacrifice. The movie’s original music is toe-tapping fun, keeping the ride entertaining along the way. This is a movie I’ll remember and think about next week, next month, next year.

Is it a little sugar-coated? Yes, but not cheesy – if you’ll allow me to mix my food metaphors. This isn’t a “Christian” film trying to make a splash; it’s a quality, Hollywood film about characters of faith living through 40 years of trials and triumphs.

Audiences of all faiths could enjoy “The Identical,” learn from it and have the opportunity to see how Christ, specifically, brings strength and purpose to life.

They could, anyway, if only someone would go and actually see it. And more such opportunities could also be made, more candles shining in the darkness, if only the bushel-dwellers would take seriously their opportunity to make a real impact on the culture around them.

Hollywood, right now, is practically handing the megaphone over to the church, but the church must come out of its doors and take the opportunity. There are filmmakers who are stepping up the challenge; but in order to make this work, the ticket buyers need to step up, too.

Content advisory:

“The Identical,” rated PG, contains two, minor profanities and no obscenities.
The movie is very light on sexuality, which consists of a some cleavage, a bare-chested guy, a scene with some women in bathing suits, a wedding kiss, some mildly suggestive dancing and a joke about “being fruitful and multiplying.”
Violence is also light, consisting of some brief war news footage, a scuffle that ends in a punch and the wreckage of a plane crash.
The film contains many religious references, including snippets of sermons, Christian hymns and church scenes, a handful of Scripture quotations, a baptism, prayer and several discussions about God. It’s not overwhelming or “preachy,” however, but fairly natural, as it’s about a pastor’s family and his son’s struggle to find God’s will for his life. There is no overt occult content.
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