Are the Critics Right About “Son of God”?

Son-Of-God-2014The feature film “Son of God” opens nationwide on Friday, February 28. The film’s producers are husband and wife, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who brought “The Bible” miniseries to the History channel last Spring. “The Bible” enjoyed tremendous success, consistently rating higher than network TV shows during its hour and going to sell over 1 million DVD sets so its no surprise that a re-cut of the footage has been produced into this feature film. Also, Burnett and Downey are set to produce the sequel, “A.D.” for NBC. “A.D.” will talk about the early days of the church following Christ’s ascension.

If you are a Believer watching this film, you will be moved to tears at points as this film tenderly and faithfully portrays the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He is authoritative as the Son of God and tender as the Son of Man. He waves at children and treats women with honor. He publicly rebukes Pharisees and defies the mobs that shout “Messiah” to make Jesus a political figure. In his portrayal as Jesus, Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado imagines Jesus as relaxed, thoughtful and compassionate. Morgado’s good looks sparked the twitter hashtag #hotJesus but Morgado himself has tried to shine all of the attention back onto the film.

So, purely as a film, is “Son of God” a good one or a bad one and how much should that matter?

Remember when we were kids and the Christian movies or cartoons would come on? Immediately, we’d say, “No thanks,” because the British accents, choppy story lines and lack of imagination just couldn’t compete with Spider-Man and X-Men (or whatever your favorite was). Well, the movie critics have pounced on “Son of God” finding it wanting in cinematography and imagination.

“The faithful may find their spirits raised, but on purely cinematic terms, Son of God is too dull and heavy-handed to spark much fervor,” says popular movie-review site www.rottentomatoes.com. The Washington Times reviewer wrote: “The film’s lack of thematic interpretation and cinematic inventiveness makes this rote retelling of the greatest story ever told feel like a long but entertaining Sunday school lesson.”

For me, the overall question of whether this movie is done in excellence does matter and in my opinion, it is. This is not a flawless movie—but it is well done and it does achieve the purposes it was made for which Burnett has said include offering entertainment for the millions of people who want Christian programming.

But, to answer some of the pointed feedback, I’d suggest we compare this film to “The Passion of the Christ” which focused on the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life and then consider that “Son of God” sought to retell more than 3 years of Jesus’ life. The sheer amount of material that this film covers prohibits naturally ebbing story lines that develop long and slow.

There’s also the whole “Spoiler Alert” factor that comes with retelling the most famous story in history. When you walk into see the next “Spider-Man” movie no one really knows exactly what will happen at the end except that the good guy will win. Well, with Jesus, every viewer already knows the ups and downs of his story leaving little “new” material to discover. And, with the retelling of the Jesus story, is “new” really what we want?

In preaching or ministry or discipleship or movie-making, we all have to decide if and how much we want to add something new to what we’ve been given in Scripture versus faithfully executing what we’ve been given. Am I suggesting that novelty and faithfulness are always mutually exclusive? No. In fact, faithfulness to the principles of Scripture requires that you adopt novel practices to adapt to changing times.

In “Son of God” you will find a faithful retelling of Jesus story that stirs our imaginations with wonder about the historical person of Jesus.

This film helps dispel the trap of thinking about Jesus as a simple figurine atop the religious enterprise we’ve labeled Christianity. When we see Jesus’ life acted out, we appreciate his challenges and the tension that filled every day of his life on earth. We have to deal with the fact that Jesus was a historical man who made the amazing claim that He was God and then did things only God could do to back up His claims. “Son of God” portrays Jesus as a force that must be reckoned with.

The message that Jesus must be the Son of God is so clearly set forth in this film that Christians can use it to strengthen our faith, teach our children and introduce our Savior to the world. Make it a movie night and go see, “Son of God.”

Roland Hairston

Roland Hairston loves God and loves people. He wrestles with ideas about life, faith, leadership and church and wields strategy, technology and communications to move people to action. As Publisher of Gospel Today, Roland has the joy of sharing information, inspiration, education and empowerment with the world.

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