Book Review: Hollywood Jesus by Matt Rawle

  This was an interesting discussion of how we tell the story of Jesus – especially in film. I wasn’t quite as interested in how we “share the gospel message” but I was interested in his overview from a cinematic standpoint. 

Since this is intended to be a small group study there are questions after each section – they make for good discussion and bring the point of the chapter home. 

Introduction

I think this is important because of who Jesus is and what he represented. Matt Rawle goes far beyond the familiar small-minded “tell people how to live”. He suggests: 

“…what kind of Jesus are we sharing each and every day with our world? How are we portraying Jesus to those in our circles of influence? How are they seeing Jesus through us?” 

This has seemed to be better questions to ask for someone who calls themselves a disciple of Jesus – rather than “what does the Bible say about every action I perform during the day.” 

Chapter 1: The Importance of Story

The author states, “Sharing stories is how we make sense of the world around us.” This is refreshing and is a far cry from the usual “we just need God’s word to make sense of our lives.”

How do you tell your story? For Christians, the questions the author asks is crucial. 

“Just as the camera angle itself tells a story, in a way, our hopes, our fears, our joys and losses are a camera lens through which we tell Jesus’ story. How would you frame who Jesus is? Would your camera zoom in to reveal an intimate story with Jesus? Would your camera use a wide-angle lens to show the big picture of what God is doing in the world?”

However, he notes, “What makes a great story? […] At best, a great story is simply a story that matters—one that offers influence and change. At worst, stories are simply subjective, based only in personal judgment, and thus leaving each audience to their own opinion.” I’m not sure if I fully agree here. I think great art can be left up to interpretation. 

But he does go on to say, “Another way of understanding meaning is through the eyes of the audience. […] Maybe open-ended meaning is the measure of good art?”

Also, he notes, “Part of the complexity in understanding meaning is that audiences are diverse.” I like how he uses the greatest command this way. We all come to God and our conclusions about who he is in different ways.

Chapter 2:The Setting of Story

I really relate to this quote: 

“We are called to imitate Christ, not imitate the first century in which Jesus lived.”

Fundamentalists take note!

There’s also a good discussion on how the time of a movie informs our views of things. A movie featuring Jesus made 50 years ago is going to have a different Jesus than one made today. This speaks less of the fickleness of Hollywood, I think, than it does of how our culture informs what we think about Jesus, God, and religion. Rather than being an accurate representation of the Creator, how we see God is a direct reflection of who we are and how we see the world. 

Chapter 3: Jesus’s Story by Analogy

I really liked chapter 3 when he talked about other films that are analogies for Christ. I actually got in a pretty heated debate in a Bible study once (and had my faith questioned) when I contended the The Matrix held more spiritual truths than a schlocky piece of crap like Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof

And I honestly got chills when I read about the final scene of Ratatouille and how it relates to grace (something we all should be giving). I doubt I’ll watch that movie in the same way again. 

Chapter 4: Our Story

‘Go, sell all that is yours, and give the money to the poor.’ What simple and difficult words. I think we are all biblical literalists until we get to verses like these.”

True!! 

Chapter 4 is wonderful. It’s about believing that you are here to do something extraordinary. It’s about discovering you have something to give even if you have nothing. 

The author closes on a good note. 

This may not appeal to everybody, but I’m making the point that you don’t have to completely agree with his worldview or theology to get something out if this book. You don’t have to believe in Jesus to see how great his teachings are. 

Recommended if you’re a Christian or are interested in film. Recommended even if you, similar to Ghandi, like Christ, but maybe not his Christians. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for a copy in return for an honest review.

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