By Jerry Newcombe, Contributing Writer
Jesus sells. That’s why they have cover stories on Him in magazines and TV specials, even if some of them offer strange theories to try to explain away things like the original Easter.
I’ll never forget the evolution of a famous TV newsman, the late Peter Jennings, the anchor ABC’s nightly news broadcasts.
In 2000, Jennings hosted a special, “The Search for Jesus.” He never found Him because he relied almost entirely on liberal Bible scholars who dismissed the reliability of the Gospel accounts. The special, though well done, needlessly cast doubt on all the basics about Jesus.
But in 2004, Jennings hosted another ABC special, on Jesus and Paul. This special was fairer, at least they featured an occasional conservative scholar, such as the great Dr. Paul L. Maier.
During that 2004 special, Jennings was walking around Rome, observing that Peter and Paul, two key leaders in the early Church, were absolute nobodies in the first century when they came to that city. They were total outcasts, and both were put to death there as martyrs for their faith. Yet now these two dominate the city. As does, of course, the Jesus they served.
When Jesus walked out of the tomb, He changed history. This is 2014 because Jesus was born circa 2014 years ago. We wouldn’t be talking about Him if He had stayed dead.
The famous skeptic David Hume argued that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because dead men don’t rise from the dead. True, they normally don’t. However, that’s what makes Jesus’ case so special. Hume employed circular reasoning here. But the Christian does not.
I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead, only because the Bible says so (which would be circular reasoning). Actually, I believe in the Bible, largely because of the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.
The biggest single reason I believe Jesus walked out of that tomb bodily is because the disciples were so transformed. At Jesus’ death, they had been very scared. Peter, their leader, denied three times that he knew Him, just to save his skin.
But then something happened that transformed them and made them unstoppable. They claimed that they saw Him risen from the dead, not just once, but many times. They were not wallowing in credulity. In fact, if you read the Gospels, we see that many of the disciples were the original skeptics of the resurrection. We even have the common phrase “Doubting Thomas” because Thomas didn’t believe it—until he saw Jesus alive.
I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many leading Jesus scholars (both believers and skeptics) on the questions of who is Jesus, are the Gospels reliable, and did He rise from the dead?
All of them, even the most skeptical, agree at least on this: The disciples were convinced that they saw Jesus risen from the dead. The skeptics don’t think He arose, but they acknowledge that the disciples absolutely thought so.
How else do you explain their fearless preaching to the ends of the known world (and beyond)? There is historical evidence that ten of the remaining eleven apostles (twelve minus Judas) died a horrible martyr’s death. Only John lived to old age, though he was reportedly boiled in hot oil.
None of them denied that Jesus rose from the dead after He died to provide forgiveness for fallen humanity. No, not one. They sealed their testimony in their own blood.
But, you say, people die all the time for what is a lie. Perhaps—but not knowingly so. If the disciples were a part of some supposed “Passover Plot,” if they had stolen the body and made up this story, would they have given their lives for what they knew was a lie?
Historian Dr. Paul Maier once told me, “Myths do not make martyrs. And if this story had been invented, they would not have gone to death for it. If Peter had invented the account as he’s ready to be hoisted up on a cross in Rome, he would’ve blown the whistle and said, ‘Hold it! I’ll plea bargain with you. I’ll tell you how we did it, if I can come off with my life.’”
British theologian N. T. Wright noted, “The disciples, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, were completely devastated….Since everybody knew that a crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah, the only thing which explains why they said Jesus was the Messiah is that they really did believe that He had been bodily raised from the dead.”
Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday changed the day of worship for the church, and established it as a day of rest. Each Sunday through much of the world now serves as a weekly reminder of that resurrection. Thus, even the atheist who sleeps in this Sunday morning will be ironically paying homage to Jesus’ walking out of the tomb 2000 years ago. He is risen indeed.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a TV producer and the cohost of Kennedy Classics. He has also written or co-written 24 books, including The Book that Made America and (with Dr. Kennedy) What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? and (with Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Jerry hosts gracenetradio.com Thursdays at noon (EST). www.tiam.org. @newcombejerry
BEARS is an adorable Disney Nature movie following a Momma Bear and her cubs. BEARS is a great movie for the entire family, though some young children may get scared from the bears fighting.
In beautiful Alaska, a momma bear and her two little cubs wake up from hibernation. The cubs and momma have been in their hibernation hole for months. Momma bear, called Sky in the movie, needs some food.
Sky and her two little cubs, Scout and Amber, come out of their hole to start the perilous but necessary trek to gather food. Amber is the little female cub who is shy and stays around her mother, while Scout is the adventurous cub, who wants to see and learn about everything. The three trek over huge mountains while the spring is coming. Once they arrive at a nearby meadow, Sky is able to get some much-needed sustenance, but she must journey further to get what is really needed, protein.
At the meadow, Scout is surprised to find other bears. He never knew there was such a thing. Excitedly, little Scout looks toward the other bears for a model on how to be a strong, confident bear. Scout doesn’t find one right away, but he has a good mother to support him.
Along the way, Sky, Amber and Scout come across some dangerous things, including one of the largest bears, weighing 1,000 pounds, looking for food. This bear is so hungry he could eat anything, including little bear cubs. At the same time, there is a wolf also on the hunt for Amber and Scout.
In every instance, Sky must be on the lookout for her cubs. In the end, Scout finds out that his mentor is right in front of him, his loving and protective mother.
BEARS is an adorable documentary. Disney has once again given heart, drama, and intrigue to nature that will teach children while they are entertained. Wonderfully crafting a story line, even giving the animals names, Disney has done a great job at keeping viewers fully entertained. BEARS is a beautifully crafted movie that has no real objectionable elements, though very young children may get scared when the bears fight. No blood is shown, however.
By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher, with Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor
Twenty years ago, when Jesus’ name was used in a movie, it was usually used as a curse word. Last year, 67 percent of the movies released had at least some pro-Christian, pro-biblical content. This year, in 2014, an incredible number of the major movies being released have positive, overt biblical, and often evangelical, content. As might be expected, many of these movies have attracted criticism. Sadly, some of the most spiteful, angry and mean-spirited criticism has come from Christians.
MOVIEGUIDE® was built on the premise of exposing the fruitless works of darkness and commending the good. As a result of doing this consistently for many years, we have seen a great growth of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, and a decrease in the darkness in the movies released. Much of that could be attributed to our detailed economic analysis of the box office, combined with the fact that we see the Gospel for what it is: Good News! So, we try to present our analysis and criticism in light of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control), which dictates that we love the people who created the works we’re examining enough to try to be constructive. There are exceptions, but the exceptions are not the rule.
Recently, there’s been a tremendous amount of criticism bashing Darren Aronofsky and the producers of NOAH, criticizing Roma Downey and Mark Burnett for SON OF GOD, and even criticizing the producers of HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. Recently, I had a chance to talk to one of the top people at Paramount Pictures, whom I’ve known for years, who’s a co-producer of NOAH. He had told me about NOAH years ago when we met for lunch. He wanted NOAH to be very evangelistic, which it is not, and he wanted to tell an Old Testament story in light of the New Testament revelation of God’s grace. I asked him about Darren Aronofsky, and he said Aronofsky was wrestling with forgiveness and mercy because of a crisis in his family. The producer, one of the brightest, most conservative Christians in Hollywood, noted that the same thing had happened to him. We discussed the fact that Mel Gibson had been bashed so badly for the trumped up charge of Anti-Semitism that he went off the deep end. There is no doubt that my friend, and Aronofsky, needed guidance and perhaps even faith formation, but personal, ill-conceived attacks don’t make it easier for him, as a conservative evangelical Christian, to do more movies that touch upon Christian and biblical themes.
With regard to Roma and Mark, the situation seems even more mean spirited. One attack article claimed THE PASSION OF CHRIST was more biblical, when, in fact, THE PASSION was based on visions a Catholic nun had had over one hundred years ago. Other articles commended the JESUS film, which, for the record, is only 66% of the Book of Luke and is produced by a good friend of mine who is Jewish and extremely wary of the Christian community, and a director who’s known for some very salacious movies. In fact, the star of the JESUS film told me years later he was an atheist. Also, JESUS OF NAZARETH was funded by a Muslim and directed by a bi-sexual who chased one of the male stars around his villa.
Thus, of all the 130 Jesus films that have come out, Mark and Roma’s SON OF GOD is one of the few made by people who constantly say they love Jesus. That doesn’t mean they got everything right. In fact, I sent them a theological analysis months before the movie was locked in editing.
In this regard, however, has any sermon ever gotten everything right? If so, I have yet to hear such a sermon, though I have walked out several times on sermons that have gotten most of their theology wrong.
Many of the mean-spirited articles about NOAH have been written by people who admit to having never seen the movie. Others have been written by people who don’t seem to understand some of the Bible’s basic theological concepts or realize the difference between a Christian ontology (a real world, with real sin and real pain, that needs a real Savior, Jesus Christ) and an anti-Christian, nominalistic ontology (a non-material, great thought, maya world where all is an illusion and there is no need for a savior, such as THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST).
MOVIEGUIDE® has been critical of NOAH, but also fair. We’d love to see the theology of each movie improved and would love to see the theology of most of these articles improved.
One theologian complained to us that, unlike HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, no one has gone from Heaven and come back, although I pointed out to him that Paul said he did just that in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Was Paul lying? Where do we get such strange eisegetical views?
Thank God that iron does sharpen iron.
But even so, what enabled a small group of Christians to overthrow the most debauched Empire in history, Rome? As Professor Alvin J Schmidt points out in the book How Christianity Changed the World, one major reason was that people knew the Christians by their love and wanted to convert.
Did the people who criticized Mel Gibson love him? Or, those who criticize any of the Christians working behind the scenes in Hollywood?
Most biblical movies, and most movies dealing with Heaven, contain things that you won’t find in the pages of the Bible. To make a really dramatic movie that millions of people will go see requires at least some dramatic artistry. Furthermore, it’s really easy to poke holes in almost any movie, whatever the subject matter.
So, let us commend the good while gently instructing those who might have gone astray so that we may encourage everyone to focus on the Good News of Jesus Christ that enlightens us all.
Based on a true story, THE RAILWAY MAN is a gut-wrenching tale of wartime atrocities, post-war emotional agony and a miraculous cure. Extreme caution is advised only for the scenes of brutality and torture that set up the movie’s gloriously redemptive ending.
The movie opens with Eric (Colin Firth) meeting and falling in love with Patti (Nocole Kidman). Their romance leads to marriage, but with it comes the realization that Eric has horrible dreams and fits because of his brutal mistreatment during World War II. The movie includes many flashbacks to the period when Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine) was among the British taken captive during the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese. Eric is taken to participate in the building of the Burma-Siam Railway, the same project featured in the classic movie THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.
An engineer, Eric managed to build a radio with parts either smuggled out of Singapore or stolen from the Japanese. Broadcasts heard on secret radio tell of Allied progress in the war, building the moral of the surviving prisoners. When the radio’s discovered, the Japanese single out Eric for intense torture.
Cut to the 1980s, where Patti seeks the help of some of Eric’s fellow soldiers to learn how she can help her husband. Finally, Eric receives a news story showing that his primary Japanese tormentor now works at a museum in Burma that draws BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI tourists. He goes to Burma seeking some kind of closure through revenge.
Eric’s stamina, decency and honesty during the war are inspirational enough for a whole movie, but (SPOILERS FOLLOW) but his willingness to forgive lifts the story even higher. The great lesson is that forgiveness empowers people to let go of justified hate and bitterness. A very popular theme in violent action movies is justified revenge. Rare is the movie, however, that shows justified hatred can simply be laid down and put behind us. The result, as shown in THE RAILWAY MAN, is healing: Miraculous healing!
While the movie seems to say that Eric’s love for Patti enabled him to forgive, for most people such astounding forgiveness is made possible by God’s demonstration of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The movie includes a very emotional scene in which you see a friend of Eric reciting the 23rd Psalm while watching Eric be beaten to a pulp. In fact, much of the worst brutality is committed while audiences see only the upset expressions of fellow soldiers.
MOVIEGUIDE® only advises extreme caution for THE RAILWAY MAN because of the depicted Japanese atrocities and the suicide of a friend. Shockingly, it has no foul language. The fact that you don’t miss it at all shows you can still make a very strong war story without spewing vulgarity. THE RAILWAY MAN is not the kind of movie that’s going to top the box office charts or even come to your local multiplex, but it’s certainly worth seeing and a must for anyone struggling to forgive.
Based on a bestselling book, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL tells the story of a four year-old named Colton who says he goes to Heaven during an operation where he was near death. Wonderfully written by Chris Parker and directed by Randall Wallace, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is one of the most engaging, most inspiring Christian movies ever made. The acting, dialogue, cinematography, and editing are first-class. Best of all, the movie shows the truth of God’s love.
Colton is an adorable 4-year-old with a loving family, including his hard working father, Todd. Todd works as a garage door repair guy, volunteers as a fireman, and is a pastor of a local church in a Nebraskan small town. His wife, Sonja, leads the church’s music department, but the two are barely scrapping by on finances.
When Todd breaks his leg playing softball and has kidney stones, the couple gets in to even more financial debt. Sonja suggests they should take a road trip to relieve the pressure.
When the family returns Colton gets very sick. For days, Colton is sick and his temperature is extremely high. Todd and Sonja take Colton to the emergency room. Doctors have to operate on him immediately because Colton’s appendix has burst. While they operate, Colton’s mother calls their friends asking for immediate prayer. Meanwhile, Colton’s father goes to the hospital chapel, where he angrily rails at God.
Happily, Colton survives the operation, though at one point he was near death. Everything starts to return to normal, until Colton tells Todd that, during his operation, he went to Heaven and met Jesus. At first, Todd is amused by the little boy’s statements. Then, he becomes perplexed and questions whether Colton is telling the truth.
However, some of Colton’s statements have the ring of truth. For example, he knew exactly what his mother and father were doing during his operation. Suddenly, Todd feels that he must share with other people, including his church congregation, Colton’s experience. This causes resentment and concern in the church, and even causes a rift between Todd and Sonja. What will happen next?
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is an extremely well done faith-based movie. Though it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s one of the most captivating, inspiring movies of this or any other year. The dialogue is wonderful. Greg Kinnear does a superlative job as Todd Burpo. Also, little Connor Colum is absolutely amazing as Colton, the boy who went to Heaven.
Randall Wallace (the writer of BRAVEHEART, writer/director of WE WERE SOLDIERS, and the writer/director of SECRETARIAT) does a brilliant job of directing HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. With this movie, he’s clearly become one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. The cinematography in HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is beautiful. The editing is sharp. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is simply terrific in almost every way.
Of course, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL has a very strong, positive Christian worldview. It honors Jesus Christ while, at the same time, showing that the Christian life won’t always be perfect, that doubt often is part of faith, and that each and every Christian must always grow in love. Thus, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is an honest portrayal of Christian faith and its struggles, with little or no ham-fisted preachiness. In the end, the movie shows that God is real, Heaven is real, Jesus is real, and God is love. As such, it challenges all of us, not just Christians, to go forth in faith and love. Bravo!
Love and Hope:
Imagining Heaven in HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
By Carl Kozlowski, Contributing Writer
What is heaven like?
That is one of the greatest questions faced by mankind, as nearly everyone on the planet believes in some form of the afterlife, even as different religions think of it and even name it in different ways. Even among Christians, the stories of what people who have had near-death experiences have seen have varied greatly.
In 2010, a small-town Nebraska preacher named Todd Burpo took the world by storm with the release of his book, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, which claimed to detail the true story of what happened when his four year old son Colton believes he left his body during an emergency appendix surgery, visited Heaven and returned. The book became a massive No. 1 hit on the New York Times best-seller list, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide while being translated into 35 languages.
That kind of success stirred the attention of Hollywood, where veteran movie producer Joe Roth decided that the Burpos’ story was compelling enough to get behind. Lining up an impressive cast led by Greg Kinnear, who has appeared in several MOVIEGUIDE(r) Award winning movies, and Thomas Haden Church and Emmy winner Margo Martindale, who lined up to work on a screenplay co-written and directed by MOVIEGUIDE(r) Award Winner Randall Wallace of BRAVEHEART, WE WERE SOLDIERS and SECRETARIAT fame, the movie version of HEAVEN IS FOR REAL quickly stood head and shoulders over most of the Christian-themed fare released by Hollywood in recent years, often with low budgets and mostly unknown actors.
The fruit of their efforts hit theaters this Wednesday, when HEAVEN hopes to ride Easter-weekend interest to miraculous box-office results. Hitting wide release amid a wave of Christian and biblical-themed hits including GOD’S NOT DEAD and SON OF GOD, it does stand a good chance of making this truly be the Year of Our Lord in theatres.
“Randy’s themes of love, honor, courage are in all his movies, and if anyone could make this story accessible to the audience, I knew it would be him,” says Kinnear, speaking about the movie in which he plays Todd Burpo on a recent Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
“Love runs through this movie like water. It’s just there. Meeting Todd, one of the things I was taken by was his love for his children. Certainly, to see him go through what he did and face what he did, we wanted to trace that relationship between him and Colton as best we could.”
Getting the tone of that core relationship right, while also clearly showing that Todd Burpo and his family were not uptight stereotypes, came from Wallace’s frequent conversations with Todd during the writing and filming of the screenplay. That personal attention to detail also served to make Kinnear confident that this was a project worth shooting, rather than poorly funded religious propaganda.
“I guess I might have agreed with plenty of folks a few months ago, but now it’s, ‘You’re doing another one of those movies?’ They’re definitely happening now, and whether it’s a trend or coincidence I just don’t know,” says Kinnear. “The subject matter to this movie is tricky. I wasn’t familiar with the book when I heard about the story and the script, but I think it did a nice job of bringing you into the story. Even though Heaven is in the title and the movie, it doesn’t over serve with specifics of what Heaven was like. It avoids that pitfall and tries to tell you this movie covers the events of this family as best as it can.”
Indeed, Wallace and his band of actors had to choose wisely regarding what they could show about Heaven, both due to the practical reasons of fitting an earthly budget and because dwelling on the details of what Colton saw for too long would knock the movie’s dramatic elements off-balance. What remains in the final movie is a vision of a glowing chapel with levitating angels floating in space, and a string of miraculous encounters with relatives that Colton never would have seen in the real world.
In fact, it’s those encounters that finally convinced Todd that his young son wasn’t crazy or inventing his stories about Heaven. There were just too many facts he was sharing about people who had died well before he was born.
“He’s not a dumb guy, and no father wants to put his son in jeopardy but in going public with this story he was in choppy water doing that,” says Wallace about Todd Burpo. “Greg felt strong about the subject matter and that’s why he did it but I think he handled it honorably. It’s not like his son says everything you’ve been talking about is consistent with what I saw and Todd high-fives him back. I think it’s a very hopeful story as well, regardless of where you’re at on the faith spectrum and the movie does a very nice job of honestly giving you a front row seat to watch how this family dealt with these events.”
The Burpos have handled their newfound success well, by all accounts. While their church attendance boomed, requiring them to hire 13 staff members in addition to heavily funding several children’s programs, they have also tried to stay grounded in the roots of their usual daily lives.
Ultimately, it’s that universality that Wallace is hoping will prove to be the film’s strength with audiences.
“I told Joe Roth the movie was like FIELD OF DREAMS or THE SIXTH SENSE, that I saw it in those terms and they loved that. Not as a preachy movie but in the experience of seeing movies,” Wallace says. “I expected my church friends to like it, but I intentionally invited atheist friends …, and they were as moved as the Christians were and that to me was incredibly gratifying. They felt the doubts made it authentic, and they came out of the movie with a sense of joy and gratitude.”
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL opens nationwide on Wednesday. You can read MOVIEGUIDE®’s review of the movie here.