Evan Almighty: God is Cute?

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This weekend Evan Almighty opens in theatres across the country¢â‚¬¦

Evangelicals were actively recruited for this film, with pastors and youth pastors invited to advance screenings in hopes that they would recommend the film to their flocks¢â‚¬¦

Given our definition of the culturally savvy Christian (CSC) as serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture and skilled at relating the two, what does the CSC make of “Evan Almighty?”

First, about the story: “Evan Almighty” is a sequel to Bruce Almighty It. stars Steve Carrel, of “The Office,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Little Miss Sunshine” fame.

In this story, Evan is elected to Congress and moves his family to suburban northern Virginia where his life gets turned upside-down when God (Morgan Freeman) appears and mysteriously commands him to build an ark. But his befuddled family just can’t decide whether Evan is having an extraordinary mid-life crisis or is truly onto something of Biblical proportions.

According to a TIME Magazine feature (June 25th, 2007) Hollywood is on a comedy roll, saying “funny guys are the new movie studs.” And make no mistake, “Evan Almighty” is a comedy and an uncharacteristically high-budget one at that. As a comedy, “Evan” can’t be expected to deliver a serious point deeply and it doesn’t–it is designed to be humorous entertainment with a nice moral message¢â‚¬¦ It takes people of faith seriously, but does not deal with the deeper elements of the biblical Noah story and even glosses over them.

For instance, the Bible specifically indicates that God sent the flood as a form of judgment, but in “Evan Almighty”, a kinder, gentler, Morgan Freeman God says the story of Noah is about Gods’ love, not wrath. It is a love story about people believing in each other.

It is true that the Noah story IS about love, but it is also about God judging people whose thoughts are “evil only continually.”

The discerning viewer will identify this and other minor theological misstatements and will chalk it up to the Hollywood-ization of a biblical story. They’ll enjoy a few good laughs, use the film to engage in lighthearted conversations with seeking friends and put it all behind them. No harm no foul. I laughed and felt positively uplifted by the film.

But because the CSC is a person with a deep commitment to faith, they’ll also ask why Hollywood saw this as an ideal film for evangelicals. Yeah it is a clean film–no-sex–violence-profanity or nudity, but how should people serious about faith feel about a light, frothy commercialized retelling of a serious biblical story?

Even New York Times reporter Sara Ivry recognized this observing, “Evan Almighty” seems an unlikely candidate for marketing [to evangelicals]. Unlike “The Passion of the Christ,” it is a comedy that portrays God in the flesh (played again by Morgan Freeman, wearing a natty white suit).”

Hollywood is beginning to realize that people of faith buy movie tickets and since they are in the business of making money, Hollywood is seeking advice and doing research to discover just what movies will work with that audience. What they are finding in today’s Christians is not an appetite for the culturally rich literary and artistic Christian heritage of Bach, Dostoevsky and Rembrandt¢â‚¬¦they’re finding that today’s Christians will generally accept something slightly more robust than Veggie Tales, but way less demanding than “A Man for All Seasons.”

I’m afraid what we’re learning is that Hollywood has decided that what evangelicals want is simple, light-hearted, inoffensive family-friendly fare. Granted¢â‚¬¦that is better than a lot of what Hollywood produces, but it certainly does not deliver deeper meaning like CS Lewis did in Chronicles of Narnia or JRR Tolkien did in Lord of the RINGS. (How deep can you go with, “You can change the world with one small, act of random kindness at a time,” an acronym for ARK).

In short they will deliver Hollywood-lite for consumers weaned on Christianity-lite and view it as a win-win. Hollywood makes money, Christians are inoffensively entertained and everybody will say of “Evan Almighty,” “It was cute.”

That is part of the problem: God and the story of God’s dealings with humans is not just a “cute” story, nor is the overall message of Noah a silly comedic one.

So the CSC, though knowing full well Hollywood is exploiting them and laughing all the way to the bank, can enjoy the humor, warmth and essential good-heartedness of “Evan Almighty,” will see it as preferable to the gratuitous violence of a typical Quentin Tarantino film, but will also realize that humans made in God’s image can do better and that our entertainment culture will only be richer when it is made by thoughtful creatives for whom God is of central importance.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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