Was Jesus a hippie? A review of Son of God
March 10, 2014
My wife and I saw the new movie SON OF GOD Saturday afternoon.
I really didn’t know what to expect. I was aware that there was buzz about the film, positive and negative.
First let me make my disclosures.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church in the heart of the Bible belt, went off to college and received a B.A. in religion, continued my theological education at Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and ultimately took a law degree from Baylor, a Texas Baptist school. I have held ministerial licenses from a Southern Baptist church and The Christian Church Disciples of Christ.
Along the way I have spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the four gospels, the first short books of the New Testament, which describe the ministry and teaching of Jesus.
All these experiences form my back story and provide the lens through which I viewed the film.
We know little of Jesus’s life. We have the birth stories, the scene in the temple when he was twelve, then really nothing else until he was age thirty and began his itinerant preaching career.
That scarcity of information about him makes any attempt to tell his full life story daunting.
Let’s assume, however, that what one wanted to do was create a film that was a speculative treatment of the life of Christ, true to the accounts contained in the gospels, but daring enough to make assumptions about the inner workings of Jesus’s mind.
How would such a person fill in the gaps in his story?
Does he venture into the unknown years of Jesus’s career as a carpenter? Does he visit his family life, his love life, if any, the formulation of his political views? Does he focus on those moments related in scripture when Jesus separated himself from the throngs who flocked to him and sought isolated solace?
Daunting questions indeed.
Does the film maker decide to hold as closely as possible to the gospel record, or does he use literary license even with those accounts?
As a threshold issue, what sort of person does the film maker choose to portray Jesus?
Does he present him as a beautiful Westerner, a first century hippie? Or a blue collar peasant, familiar with the hard work of driving nails into wood?
SON OF GOD takes the first century hippie approach.
To me everything in the movie flows from that decision and limits the possibilities that the film could bring us new insights into Jesus.
The greatest temptation each generation faces when it comes to Jesus is to cast him into a mold that fits neatly and comfortably into the belief system and cherished notions of its day.
In so doing, members of each generation deprive him of the power to challenge them at the core of their being.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who gave his life in resistance to Adolph Hitler, in his classic work The Cost Of Discipleship put it this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
With those words Bonhoeffer echoed Jesus’s own words: “If anyone will come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.”
“Love your enemies,” Jesus said.
Absent those challenging and life-changing words, the story of Jesus becomes a pageant of familiar images, pictures that may reinforce what we already believe about him, or may create in us the warmth of hearing Christmas carols or Easter anthems.
When we become comfortable with Jesus, when he becomes one celebrity among others, I am quite certain that we have ceased to listen to what he said and have carved him out as a pale caricature of the man who turned the world on its head.