Bible Jesus vs. Movie ‘Jesus’

Recently on Twitter, someone complained about a blogger trying to read too much into Breaking Bad–specifically, that this person was trying to find parallels to Jesus in the show.

And this got me thinking about evangelicalism’s approach to finding Jesus in TV shows and movies.

For example: one time, I thought that Jax Teller (the protagonist of Sons of Anarchy) was a Jesus-type, the would-be savior of his club/people who would accomplish this mission by listening to the words of his father that had been written down in a book a long time ago. As far as Jesus comparisons go, I suppose I could do worse.

But more popular places that American Christians have “found” Jesus have included Braveheart and Gladiator–two pretty good movies in which the good guy’s sole mission is to kill the person or people responsible for making his life hell. Or Jesus is Neo in The Matrix. Or Jesus is Liam Nesson’s character in Taken.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: not a single one of the characters in those movies resembles the Jesus of the Bible. So I’ve started to wonder if many of us are hoping to find Jesus characters in movies and TV shows not because we desperately want to find the biblical Christ in those stories–but because we don’t really like the biblical Christ who dies for his enemies. Instead,  we kind of wish that Jesus would act more like William Wallace and open a can of you-know-what on his enemies. (Because this, in turn, would give us justification to do the same.)



This Seems Appropriate, with Fall and School Starting

John Piper on Violent Depictions of God (and a Brief Response of My Own)

Desiring God has a new video in which John Piper answers the question of why it was right for God to command the slaughter of women and children. I’ll post the transcript below (I’ve done my best to type out what he said, but some parts of the video were unclear), but here’s how I interpret his overall answer:

“God was right to command such a thing because He has power over all life, and we, as sinners, have no claim to receive anything good from Him. It was acceptable for Him to command Israel to wage total war against her enemies, but the church today is called to love its enemies and die for them.”

What I wish Piper would have engaged with (and maybe he will at some point in his video series) is the idea that these texts of terror shouldn’t be interpreted literally. The best revelation of God that we have is Jesus Christ, and when a particular interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the character of Jesus, then we have to assume that it’s our interpretation that has gone astray and it’s time to rethink how we read the passage at hand.

This is why a good number of Christians don’t think Joshua is a literal account of history, because the God who commands genocide cannot be reconciled with the God who became a human being and died for his enemies. It isn’t because they don’t take the Bible seriously enough. It’s because they do.

But what do you think? Is Piper’s explanation compatible with what we see in Jesus, or is another interpretation of troublesome passages needed? 

As promised, here’s the transcript with the video:

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. So God is taking life everyday. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in his hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be. And whether it ends through cancer, whether it ends through a bullet wound, God governs. God is God. God rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good.

“God owes us nothing. If I were to drop dead right now or if a suicide bomber were to blow this building up and I were blown to smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. … He does no wrong to anyone when he takes their life, at age two weeks or at age 92. God is not beholden to us at all. He does not owe us anything. Now you add to that that we’re sinners and we deserve to die yesterday and go to hell—the fact that we’re even breathing today is sheer, common grace from God.

“So, I could make the question harder. As it was stated, it doesn’t feel hard to me because God was stated as the actor, but if I make it harder, I’ll take longer than three minutes … So I think my basic answer is, the Old testament and the New presents God as the one who has total rights over my life and over my death. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taketh away. Blessed by the name of the Lord. How he takes away is his call. He never wrongs anybody.

[Piper is asked how he could make that question harder.]

“The question that makes it harder is that he commands people to do it. He commanded Joshua to slaughter people. So you got human beings now killing human beings. So now you got a moral question for what is right to do. The Bible says thou shalt not murder, and God says to Joshua, “Go in and clean house, and don’t leave anything breathing. Don’t leave a donkey breathing. Don’t leave a child breathing, a woman breathing, an old man or an old donkey. Just wipe out Jericho.” So then my answer is, there is a point in history, a season in history, where God is the immediate king of a people—Israel. Difference in the way he is the king over the church, which is from all the peoples of Israel. It does not have a political ethnic dimension to it. So there was a political ethnic dimension; he is immediate king, and he uses this people as his instrument to accomplish his judgment in the world at that time. And god, it says, let the sins of the Amalekites accumulate for 400 years, so that they would be full and then he sends his own people in as instruments of judgment. So I would vindicate Joshua by saying, in that saying, with that structure of people and God, it was right for Joshua to do what God told him to do and that is annihilate the people. But that’s much more complex than morally saying, God does it. He can cause a flood and kill everybody on the planet, except eight people—and he didn’t do a one of them anything wrong. But he didn’t ask anyone else to do that.

“Right now, an example would be that God has given the sword to the government. So I believe the government has the right to take a rapist and a murderer and put him in jail—or kill him. I think capital punishment is consistent with Genesis 9 and with God’s character, because of the value of man. ‘The blood of a man shall be shed for taking the blood of a man.’ But that’s very different than saying, anyone can go around killing people. So God has his times and seasons for where he shares his authority to take and give life. The church today is not Israel and we are not a political entity, and therefore the word we have from the Lord today is, love your enemy. Pray for those who abuse you. Lay your life down for the world; don’t kill in order to spread the Gospel. Die in order to spread the Gospel.”

If Matthew Had Made His Virgin-Birth Argument Today …

… in America, where evangelicals hold primarily to a the-Bible-is-literally-true-until-proven-otherwise-which-it-won’t-be-so-just-take-it-literally approach, I’m pretty sure the gospel writer would be laughed out of a good number of rooms.

This has been on my mind for a few weeks now: there’s simply nothing in Isaiah 7 that would indicate that God’s promised sign to the king of Israel is that in several hundred years, a Galilean virgin would conceive a child.

Now, I believe Matthew’s gospel and so I hold the Virgin Birth as true. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, it’s about how the early church read and interpreted the Bible and whether their approach is the same as ours today. Because looking at how Matthew treats Isaiah 7, it’s pretty clear that he is taking some pretty creative liberties with the text. And apparently, he’s the only one who does this; Luke, who also wrote a birth narrative, didn’t think to include this particular prophecy.

I’ve heard a lot of people make this argument, and I think this holds a lot of weight: the church reinterpreted the Scriptures in light of what Jesus had done. I guess my question is, how do you know when you’re actually finding Jesus in a text as opposed to when you’re just twisting a passage to make it Christ-centric?

The comments section is yours.