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The pitch meeting for “Redeeming Love”

PRODUCER: Do you have a new movie for me?

SCREENWRITER: Yes, sir. This is gonna be gold, trust me. It’s an adaptation of a steamy romance novel set on the western frontier.

PR: What? You do know our company is called Pure Flix, right? Not Impure Flix.

SW: No, it’s a Christian novel.

PR: A “steamy” Christian novel?

SW: Yeah.

PR: . . .

SW: What is it?

PR: I’m trying to find a multiverse where “steamy” and “Christian” belong together. Those terms aren’t exactly bedfellows.

SW: But our main characters are, if you know what I mean. [winks]

PR: What?

SW: Well, the female protagonist is a prostitute.

PR: Okay, this is not your best movie pitch, I gotta tell you.

SW: It’s a redemptive story, though.

PR: How so?

SW: Well, it’s called Redeeming Love. So…

PR: Oh, I see. It’s right there in the title: “Redeeming.”

SW: Yeah, and it’s sold over three million copies since its publication in 1991. It’s really popular with the Christian ladies. It could make us a ton of money!

PR: In that case, I guess I can take a look at the script.

SW: Yeah, it’s a love story inspired by the book of Hosea.

PR: You mean, from the Bible? About the prophet named Hosea who was commanded by God to marry a sexually promiscuous woman named Gomer?

SW: That’s the one—only in the movie, her name is Angel, and she is forced into prostitution at a young age.

PR: Oh no!

SW: Yeah, life’s basically thrown everything but a feral prairie dog at her, so the audience will feel super empathetic—what with her poor, miserable, wretched life.

PR: But that’s fairly incongruous with the story of Hosea, where Gomer is kinda playing the part of the antagonist.

SW: Sure, but this isn’t the literal book of Hosea. I mean, it’s a fictional story.

PR: I’m confused.

SW: That’s because you haven’t heard the story yet.

PR: Okay, fine. Tell me the story.

SW: Like I said, Angel’s been mistreated her whole life, and she ends up as a prostitute. Then this man named Hosea—

PR: Hey, that’s the name of the prophet!

SW: Exactly, sir. Remember, this is an allegory.

PR: But you just said…

SW: Anyway, this guy named Hosea—he goes into town one day, sees Angel, and immediately wants to marry her.

PR: Oh, love at first sight?

SW: I mean, kinda. God basically tells him he’s gonna marry Angel.

PR: Oh, really?

SW: Yeah. So he pays double price to spend time with Angel.

PR: Whoa, whoa, whoa. We can’t have that in a Christian movie.

SW: No, he just wants to talk with Angel. To, you know, get to know her as a person.

PR: Oh, okay.

SW: So he goes to see Angel, and she’s just standing there fully naked—

PR: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why is she stark naked? We can’t have that in a Christian movie.

SW: What can I say? I mean, it’s a brothel. It’s basically like a nudist colony, right?

PR: I’m pretty sure prostitutes aren’t naked all the time.

SW: Well, we’ll just…frame the shot so certain parts of her body are blocked from view. How’s that?

PR: Fair enough.

SW: So Hosea tells Angel she’s going to be his wife because God says so.

PR: Really? He just out and says it?

SW: Sure. I mean, haven’t high school kids been doing that to their crushes for, like, forever?

PR: Oh, good point.

SW: Exactly. So Hosea spends a ton of money to spend time talking with Angel. He woos her with his prophecies about their upcoming marriage, and after he badgers her for a long time—

PR: He badgers her? So she’s not interested at all?

SW: Not a lick.

PR: I’m sorry, this doesn’t really sound like the book of Hosea.

SW: No, this is a work of fiction.

PR: But you said—

SW: Anyway, after a lot of convincing, Angel finally agrees to be his wife and he takes her to his farm.

PR: Well, shucks. That sounds like a fairly short movie to me.

SW: No, it’s not over yet. The best part’s coming.

PR: Oh, really?

SW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. After Hosea finally gains Angel’s confidence, the two start getting…intimate.

PR: Intimate? How so?

SW: [nods mischievously]

PR: You mean…like they finally have an open and honest discussion by a warm fire or something?

SW: No, I mean…intimate.

PR: You mean…like snuggling next to a warm fire?

SW: No.

PR: Oh, you mean like a romantic…

SW: Yes!

PR: …candle-lit dinner?

SW: No! There is no fire and no candle!

PR: So, they…eat a romantic dinner in the dark?

SW: No, I’m not talking about “dinner table” intimacy, I’m talking about “bedroom” intimacy.

PR: But why would they take their dinner to bed?

SW: There’s no dinner! Forget dinner. There’s no food whatsoever!

PR: You’re going to have them go to bed without any dinner? How is that intimate?

SW: [takes a deep breath] As a husband and wife, they enjoy what husbands and wives enjoy…you know, when they’re…husband and wife. Alone. With no one else around to watch (except for the audience, in this case).

PR:  . . .

SW:  . . .

PR: Oh! Now I understand.

SW: Yes…

PR: They start kissing, and then we cut to them covered and snuggling afterward. That’s sweet. And props to you for giving a positive portrayal of marriage and all.

SW: No, they start kissing, but that’s only the beginning.

PR: The beginning of what?

SW: We’ll spend, like, a couple whole minutes watching them kiss and take each other’s clothes off and fondle and copulate and—

PR: What the cuss?!

SW: Uh, did you just say “what the cuss”?

PR: This is poo on a stick!

SW: What is?

PR: This whole load of hooey you’re trying to sell me! There’s no way in Sheol we’re going to actually show two characters getting intimate onscreen.

SW: But they’re married. It’s totally legit.

PR: Who would even agree to do that?! It’s not like Christian actors are standing in line waiting to shoot nude or sex scenes. You won’t get Kirk Cameron or Neil McDonough—

SW: Okay, so we’ll…get an intimacy coordinator. That’s all the rage these days, right?

PR: That doesn’t change the fact that you’re pitching a Christian film with onscreen sex. What’s gotten into that hip, edgy brain of yours?

SW: Look, consider this: all the film’s sex scenes—

PR: All of them? You’re planning on multiple sex scenes?!

SW: No, no, no. Only, like, two. And they’ll both involve just the main characters—who, I might point out, are married. And unless someone edited the Bible lately… [picks Bible off of producer’s desk and blows thick layer of dust off of it]

PR: [embarrassed] Sorry, I’ve not read that copy lately.

SW: . . . Where is Proverbs? Aren’t the books in alphabetical order?

PR: No, Proverbs is in the Wisdom Literature section.

SW: Where is that? Is it reverse alphabetical order?

A few minutes later… 

SW: Here it is! Hiding right there in the middle. Strange. Okay, Proverbs 5:19. “As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.” I’m basically using that as a script for one of the scenes. This movie is, after all, based on the Bible.

PR: Wait, you just said—

SW: This isn’t illicit sex we’re talking about. It’s married sex. The best kind. The kind that any woman would want to drag her husband and children to the theater to watch together.

PR: Married sex isn’t supposed to be a spectator sport!

SW: Look, we’re not gonna be filming real sex. It’s just simulated. Nothing really happens.

PR: Oh. So, even the kissing will be a special effect?

SW: No, they’ll be kissing for real.

PR: So them taking off their clothes will be a special effect?

SW: No. They’ll take their clothes off.

PR: So the fondling will be a special effect?

SW: No, he’ll really be touching her.

PR: So the thrusting will be fake?

SW: Why would that need to be fake? It’ll be real thrusting.

PR: So when you say, “Nothing happens,” you really mean…everything happens.

SW: No, nothing does happen. I mean, they don’t actually…“do the do.”

PR: But they do do everything else leading up to “the do,” which they simulate with thrusting?

SW: Right. Non-sexual thrusting.

PR: When is thrusting not sexual? When are fondling and thrusting not sexual?

SW: When it’s acting? I mean, the actors we’ll hire probably won’t be in an actual relationship.

PR: So, if two people aren’t in an actual relationship, any intimate activities they engage in are magically unsexual?

SW: Not when you put it like that. But in this case, yes. None of the sex will be actually real. It’s simply actors doing everything married couples do (except the “final act,” of course) in front of a camera, with footage that will be considered by audiences to be hot and steamy. Only a prude would consider that sexual. It’s not real.

PR: Is your brain even real?

SW: Okay, let’s take a step back. I think we’re losing perspective. The whole point of this movie—the whole point—is to be redemptive, right?

PR: [Takes a deep breath] I suppose. I mean, it’s in the title.

SW: Right. Exactly. So, in order to redeem this movie, we need to show audiences just how hot and steamy married sex can be.

PR: We need to do that?

SW: Yes! If Hollywood wants to take us down the road of porn-inspired content, we’ll turn the tables with our Christian sex scenes—but with the actors’ critical body parts strategically blocked.

PR: Wait. So the actors won’t be naked?

SW: That’s not what I mean. The actors will be in various stages of undress, but we won’t see it. That’s all that matters, right? Who cares if the actors have to actually get naked on set and touch each other in…“Proverbs 5:19” places? We won’t see any full nudity ourselves. By placing his hands on her, the actor will be protecting the sexual well-being of the audience.

PR: But not his sexual wellbeing—or hers, for that matter.

SW: That’s just the thing. Instead of getting professing Christians to play the roles of Angel and Hosea, we’ll get people who won’t put up a fuss. It’ll be perfect. I’m sure we can find actors who lack a scriptural sexual ethic. That’s the ideal recipe for shooting godly sex scenes that will whack people over the head with the good news of steamy love.

PR: You mean “redeeming” love?

SW: Right. What did I say?

PR: [sighs] What about the other sex scene?

SW: What about it?

PR: Can they keep their clothes on for that one?

SW: Ah, a compromise. I can dig it. Sure, we’ll choreograph it so the actors can remain basically fully clothed. It’ll be so pure, it’ll rock the audience’s socks off!

PR: [holds up a warning finger] Keep those socks on – we have enough clothes coming off in this project already.

SW: Will do, sir. You’re the boss.

PR: And I don’t want the male protagonist’s first name to be Hosea. This story just isn’t a very accurate allegory.

SW: Okay, we can call him…Mike. Or Michael.

PR: Fine.

SW: Yeah, Michael Hosea.

PR: [sigh] I guess that will work.

SW: Good! Oh, and I just had another great thought.

PR: [winces] What?

SW: You know that fully clothed sex scene?

PR: . . .Yeah?

SW: We can use a screenshot of that scene for the official movie poster.

PR: What?!

This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared at Cap Stewart’s blog Unpop Culture, and is reprinted here with permission. Cap is also the author of the online curriculum Personal Purity Isn’t Enough: The Long-Forgotten Secret to Making Scriptural Entertainment Choices, and has contributed to numerous print and online publications, including Zondervan Academic, The Christian Post, and The Gospel Coalition.


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Articles, Entertainment

How then shall we watch?

Imagine the following scenario. A Christian friend invites you over for a movie. The evening hasn’t progressed far, however, before you realize you’re watching an NC-17 film, complete with pornographic sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination. You turn to your friend in disbelief, but he assures you it’ll be worth it if you just keep watching. Then comes the twist: the characters in the film express regret over their immorality, and in a powerful display of repentance, they give their lives to Christ. Now, most of us would agree that a titillation flick – no matter what kind of redeeming “message” is tacked on – is not acceptable fare for followers of Christ. Sometimes the moral message of a story is drowned out by immoral methods. And yet, we’ve adopted a mindset that Trevin Wax once described with these words: “all sorts of entertainment choices are validated in the name of cultural engagement.” But we need to ask a question (one Wax also asks): “At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?” There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed, somewhere between the questions, “How does watching Chariots of Fire show us the gospel?” and “How does watching Girls Gone Wild show us the gospel?” Where is that line? What does it look like? 3 QUESTIONS We can’t answer these questions with the depth they deserve in a single article. What we can do, however, is pose a few additional questions to help us evaluate our own hearts more clearly. QUESTION #1: IS MY VIEW OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY TOO SHALLOW? The Christian recognizes that truth and beauty have been clearly communicated by a trustworthy and glorious God. His Word is a lamp that illuminates the darkness of our surroundings. Hints of God’s truth can be found everywhere – even in unlikely places. I personally have had God speak certain truths to me through movies that I now couldn’t watch with a clear conscience. God can use any means – even the mouth of a donkey (see Numbers 22:21-39)– to speak to us. However, the almost rabid rush to find truth in anything and everything might be a sign that we’re starving ourselves from the “real deal” and substituting shadows and reflections for substance and clear images. Just a couple years ago, The Christian Post reported on a survey that listed the mainstream TV shows most watched by Christian audiences. Several of the shows featured objectified actors (characters in lingerie, underwear, stripper getups, etc.), crude and crass sexual language (some of it pervasive), and sex scenes (including one show with a sex scene in almost every episode). And that’s just a tally of problematic sexual displays. If we need entertainment to give us explicit acts of depravity just to show how gross certain sins of debauchery are, I think it means we’re far too easily pleased with finding diamond fragments in dunghills, rather than taking in the beauty of polished gems in a jewelry store. Or, to modify imagery from Proverbs 11:22, you can deprive yourself of unadulterated truth and beauty to the extent that you find a pig decked out with a gold ring a beautiful sight to behold. You may think you’re exercising discernment (i.e., cleverly noticing truth in even unlikely places), but you’re actually lacking discernment (ignoring the pig because, well, shucks, that ring is fancy). It may sometimes be a challenge to find creative, God-honoring entertainment, but it’s not impossible. Considering the collective output of film and television from their inceptions, there are plenty of options available to us. There is no entertainment so popular or attractive that we must compromise real truth and beauty so we can experience inferior or tainted imitations of them. QUESTION #2: DO I USE “GRAY AREAS” AS AN EXCUSE FOR COMPROMISE? We definitely want to be careful about creating universal entertainment rules that aren’t Biblically justified. Depending on the varying maturity levels of different believers, certain content may be good for some to watch and others to avoid. Not everything is black and white. There are definitely shades of gray out there (just not, er, fifty.) But just as any one person will have blind spots, so will any culture and time period. It is helpful, and sometimes necessary, to examine how other cultures and time periods have addressed similar topics. In order to properly evaluate potential gray areas, we need to have a more global and historical perspective – a perspective that isn’t mired in our own cultural shortcomings. One such “gray area” is the pornification of much of our entertainment. In his book The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge says the following: oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago …. up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.3 Dr. Doidge’s book was published in 2007, and the societal trends he noticed have only worsened since then (on the practice of using porn stars for mainstream entertainment, see Seth Rogen on Hollywood’s Backdoor Connection to the Red-Light District). Pornified content is so commonplace that we’ve become largely desensitized to its presence. You won’t find many professing Christians argue that pornography is a gray area, and yet you will find many professing Christians argue that similar material is justifiable in a mainstream movie with a redemptive message. The cultural standard being used is a sliding scale; the “gray” is not found in the situation itself, but in our collective cloudy vision. QUESTION #3: AM I PLACING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON BEING RELEVANT? There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be effective in communicating with a particular demographic, including your own culture. The problem with focusing too much on being relevant, however, is that we can become so fixated on what is current and popular and fresh that we lose sight of what is lastingly valuable. What is relevant today will be irrelevant tomorrow. This is true in any setting, but when we are immersed in the very culture we attempt to minister in, we can be especially distracted by numerous fads, crazes, and trends. When the Pharisees debated with Jesus about divorce in Mark 10, they were consumed with current interpretations of the Mosaic law, whereas Jesus focused on ancient realities found in the book of Genesis. In the words of commentator David Guzik, It’s striking that Jesus took us back to the beginning to learn about marriage. Today many want to say, “We live in different times” or “The rules are different today” or “We need a modern understanding.” Yet Jesus knew that the answers were in going back to the beginning. Relevance is a tragic endgame. It’s a horrible target to set your sights on. With such a focus, the temporal can gain more importance than the eternal, and suddenly we’re majoring on minors and minoring on majors. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if we aim at eternal truth, we’ll get temporal relevance thrown in. If we aim simply at relevance, we’ll get neither. Chasing after the moving target of “relevance” can lead one to speak and act and live in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from those in the world. To a large degree, this has happened within our western Christian subculture: our entertainment choices rarely differ from those who claim no affinity for God and His word. And if our salt loses its saltiness in the name of relevance, we become pathetically irrelevant. 3 PRINCIPLES The above three questions are a good place to start, but we mustn’t stop there. We must find sound, Biblical answers. That being the case, let us examine three Scriptural principles that can help us formulate those answers. THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT First, when asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus answered with a quote from Deuteronomy 6: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (v. 4). This can help us better evaluate the first question: “Is my view of truth and beauty too shallow?” As the ultimate expression – nay, the very embodiment – of truth and beauty, God must capture our foremost affections and deepest love. Entertainment can actually be an aid in our pursuit of Him. No artist denies the power of art to affect and influence us. As such, one might well ask, “Will this piece of entertainment encourage me to love and value what God loves and values? Does it call evil evil and good good? Will it point me toward God or away from God?” It won’t work to consume entertainment that discourages us from loving the Giver of truth and beauty – not even if that piece of entertainment includes a kernel of truth or a nugget of beauty. It is self-defeating to compromise our convictions about truth and beauty in order to encourage our appreciation for truth and beauty. As one person once said, it’s like “rooting through a bin of over ripe garbage in the summer in hopes of finding a good sandwich.” LOVE TRUMPS FREEDOM Jesus also told us what the second greatest commandment is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This can help us better evaluate the second question: “Do I use ‘gray areas’ as an excuse for compromise?” One solid principle far removed from the “gray area” zone is the Christian’s duty to consider the needs of others. With that principle in mind, let us return to the pornification of our entertainment. This time, however, forget about your own wellbeing as an audience member and consider the wellbeing of the actors who are tasked with disrobing and sexually acting out for the camera. We may not personally know these actors, but they fit under the category of “neighbor” according to the sweeping definition Jesus assumed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Like the priest and the Levite in the parable, we may barely cross paths with Hollywood actors (we’re only handing money over to their employers so they get paid for entertaining us). But as with the priest and Levite, that leaves us with no excuse for our lack of neighborly love. Instead of evaluating whether or not a graphic sex scene is appropriate for you, evaluate whether or not it is your Christian duty to pay others to objectify and exploit themselves for your entertainment. Is that the best way you as a consumer can love your entertainer as you love yourself? There are scores of actor testimonials on how degrading and terrifying and horrifying it is to force oneself – or face pressure from studio executives – to be sexualized for the viewing pleasure of others. (For a fuller treatment of this topic, see Here’s the problem with just closing your eyes during the sex scenes.) The Christian’s liberty is subservient to the Christian’s duty to love. The second commandment helps clarify certain situations that we might otherwise categorize as “gray areas.” THE TEST OF FAITH In addressing the controversy surrounding meat offered to idols, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Roman church with this bit of advice: “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). This can help us better evaluate the third question: “Am I placing too much emphasis on being relevant?” Paul agreed with his readers that there was no inherent sin involved in eating meat that may or may not have previously been used in pagan rituals. Such meat was not tainted. That was a fact. Nevertheless, certain Christians experienced guilt even thinking about the practice. To them, it indicated a participation in pagan worship. Their conscience was, to use Paul’s term, “weak” (v. 2). Yet if they were to violate their conscience, ill-informed as it was, they would still be acting in sin. Thus, whether or not a certain piece of entertainment will allow you to be relevant to your culture, consider whether you can engage with it in full faith that such an action is good and right. You cannot use the convictions of others to carry or excuse your entertainment choices. If your conscience is bothering you, it is your Christian duty to heed your conscience. The most relevant faith is a faith that clings to its convictions. In fact, sometimes the best conversations, and sometimes the best form of cultural engagement can take place, not because you have watched the latest movie, but because you haven’t. ENTERTAINMENT ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL In generations past, prospectors did not typically find gold lying on the surface of the ground. They found gold through hard work: panning in the water, mining in the earth, and so on. Similarly, being a wise patron of entertainment requires thoughtful and deliberate analysis. It takes hard work. And that work can only be successful when informed by the gospel of the grace of God. His word and His will and His ways can – and should – transform our choices. The more we immerse ourselves in gospel principles and gospel practices, the better equipped we will be to engage with entertainment in a God-glorifying way. Cap Stewart blogs about movies and the arts at CapStewart.com....


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