- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

Some Christians are asking themselves, what doth it profit a man to gain Hollywood but lose his own soul?

Friday’s release of “Miracles From Heaven” is the latest in a trendy genre of faith-based films that critics compare to the proselytizing of the prosperity gospel.

In telling the story of a young, terminally ill girl who is miraculously healed after falling 30 feet from a tree, producer-pastors T.D. Jakes and DeVon Franklin hope to duplicate their 2014 blockbuster hit “Heaven Is for Real,” a similar story that topped $100 million at the box office after production for a paltry $12 million.

But Christian filmmaker Dave Christiano, who with his brother heads the production company Five & Two Pictures, said such films miss the larger point of the Gospel by focusing on “redemption” in the here and now.

“The filmmakers mean well, but they write the script so that everything works out right — God heals the marriage, he’s going to answer the prayer. But not all marriages get healed, not all prayers get answered,” Mr. Christiano said. “To me, it creates a false-hope Christianity.”

Despite its faith-based billing, Mr. Christiano said, “Miracles from Heaven” has little to do with what the Bible says.

PHOTOS: Christians in Hollywood

“To me, because Hollywood doesn’t have the right motive, they won’t get the message right,” he said. “It’s all about what can they sell, how can they sensationalize something.”

Based on how the film was marketed, Mr. Christiano may have a point. Aside from its evocative title, the producers said they intentionally marketed “Miracles from Heaven” to a more general audience, trying to keep believers on board without alienating more secular moviegoers.

“I think sometimes when people hear ‘faith-based,’ to them that is code for preachy, that is code for more medicine, and it’s also sometimes code for lower quality, lower budget,” Mr. Franklin told The Associated Press.

“We didn’t do this film for people of faith,” Mr. Jakes said. “We did this film for everybody.”

Trailers and advertisements for the movie underscored that point, focusing more on the star-studded cast, which features Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, than on the religious nature of the plot. “I wasn’t scared of doing a movie that had faith at its center, as long as it wasn’t preachy,” Ms. Garner told AP.

Although Annelie Rudlaff, owner of the Christian Film Database, said she would enjoy watching more movies that explore deeply biblical themes, she said Christians “should not be going to Christian films for doctrinal reasons.”

“Christians are supposed to turn to the Bible and not to the movies for what they believe,” Ms. Rudlaff said. “It’s the Bible. We go [to movies] for the entertainment value.”

Ms. Rudlaff also said these Christian-lite movies might still serve a purpose by presenting people to the faith for the first time, even if they offer an incomplete picture of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

“Some movies seem to have the Holy Spirit behind them, and some are a little lacking,” she said. “But other people can go see the same movie and actually end up becoming a Christian.”

Although Christians may disagree how to tell stories like “Miracles From Heaven,” they are fiercely united in their opposition to other genres looking to plaster the Bible on the big screen.

“I didn’t even have to go see ‘Noah,’ because I knew it would be a mockery of the faith,” said Mr. Christiano, referring to the 2014 action flick starring Russell Crowe.

“‘Noah’ is totally not even in the running for comparison,” Ms. Rudlaff said. “The director, I guess, took a lot of liberties.”

Indeed, the movie was reamed by many Christians for presenting the classical biblical narrative as something akin to fantasy, complete with giant rock monsters and magical snakeskin talismans. But that did not stop “Noah” from grossing more than $350 million worldwide, reviving the biblical genre but for the era of action thrillers.

Released in theaters last month, “Risen” takes up right where “Noah” left off, presenting Jesus’ Resurrection from the point of view of a Roman soldier. One trailer touts the aftermath as “the most important manhunt in human history.”



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