As I look into the world of Christian film making and work on the pre-production aspects of “The Unknown Shepherd” one question that I continually ask myself is “where does the gospel fit in?”
There are a variety of different ideas on the subject. Some think you must have a 100% clear gospel in every film that you make or it is not worthy to be called a Christian film. Others think that you never should have the gospel because it comes across as beating people over the heads. I personally disagree with both positions.
Not all movies need a to have a gospel presentation. I recently watched several films that worked perfectly fine without them (i.e. The Runner from Ravenshead, and Ace Wonder).
One of my favorite films as of late is called To End All Wars. While it does not necessarily present a completely clear gospel, it does present one of the greatest pictures of substitutionary atonement I have ever seen.
Other movies I have recently seen seem to completely whiff on the message completely by not having a clear gospel presentation. One such film is To Save a Life. The message of the movie is great (teen suicide), but the thing that really got under my skin is that the main character supposedly becomes a Christian and nowhere in the entire film does he hear the gospel. You can't get saved without the gospel.
I'm guessing that the screenwriter assumed people already knew the gospel, but as a street preacher I can guarantee they don't. Most people think that the gospel is about trying to be a better person and sadly I think movies such as this reinforce that view.
Understandably, I believe some film makers are weary of showing the gospel presentation because there have been so many cheesy examples in film in the past. Most of those examples including the “sinner's prayer.” But it doesn't have to be that way. It has been done rightly. Fireproof may be one of the best examples.
Also, we don't need to see the gospel presentation followed by an immediate change in the character. Perhaps the character doesn't get saved when hearing the gospel, or perhaps the character does come to Christ, but that is shown, not in a prayer, but in a gradual change of life that comes from a repentant heart.
One way to avoid cheesiness in presenting the gospel in films is to decide up front how you will handle sharing that and to what degree. As I said before if you have a character repent and believe in Christ then I do believe sharing the gospel is important, but the flaw seems to come when we cram it into the storyline. Know beforehand where and how the gospel will be shared and don't just tack it on for good measure.
I'm no great filmmaker. I'm barely at the beginning stages of my first major project, but these are issues I think we need to work out theologically before we ever begin.
The gospel is the greatest message man can ever know and filmmakers have so many opportunities to share that message, and its effects, that it must be seriously considered.