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A Pastor’s Reflections: Hollywood and Christianity

May 30, 2017


The other day I was watching a show that, surprisingly, made reference to “Dutch Calvinism.” To say the least, I was shocked because ordinarily reference to Christianity is dominated by either a generic evangelicalism, which at times mirrors spiritual mysticism more than biblical Christianity, or Roman Catholicism, which is one of the more common forms of Christianity, at least socially (not theologically) considered. On the other hand, as quickly as I was surprised and encouraged by the mention of Dutch Calvinism, I was discouraged by how it was portrayed. The main character in the scene pointed to a cross hanging on the wall and beneath it was a portrait, not of Jesus or the pope, but John Calvin. Additionally, the character said something to the effect, “No, this person is not a smoker. She’s a Dutch Calvinist, and they believe the body is holy and a temple and therefore would never smoke.”

Aside from the fact that the character’s statement was partially true, setting aside the issue of Christian liberty, a key Reformed teaching, I know of no one who places pictures of John Calvin beneath a cross. I suspect that the prop people and script writers wanted to convey that the main character, a detective, was keenly aware of obscure facts and information, and thus quickly discerned that there was evidence in the house of an uncommon form of Christianity, i.e., Dutch Calvinism. The problem is, I suspect that the script writer and prop people had no idea how Dutch Calvinists express their piety. They knew how Roman Catholics do it, so they figured that they could simply replace a picture of the pope with a picture of Calvin and that this would suffice.

Granted, this whole mention of Dutch Calvinism was a very minor point in the overall plot of this show, nevertheless I believe it's an example of how Hollywood, no matter how hard it tries, never seems to get Christianity right. Movie companies and studios go to great lengths to get details right about so many things—they do research and actors will shadow the real-life people they portray. So why is it that Hollywood can’t seem to get Christianity right?

I suspect it's because as a general rule, Hollywood is far more interested in belittling and ridiculing the Christian faith that they have little time or interest in trying to understand it. How often are Christians portrayed as zealots, ideologues, racists, homophobes, women and child abusers, right-wing ignoramuses, or well meaning but naive do-gooders? By contrast, the efforts in the media and the press to protect, advocate, and fairly represent issues such as same sex marriage or Islam show the great lengths the entertainment industry goes to portray accurately, fairly, and sympathetically other points of view. It would be one thing if the entertainment industry ridiculed Christians, but at least represent the ideas, beliefs, and doctrines accurately. At least one could say, “I recognize my beliefs in this representation even if they are ridiculed.”

Why does this all happen? Is there a theological answer to this question? Yes. In a word, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2.14). The unbelieving world will always exhibit a degree of hostility towards Christ and the church. Our task, however, is not to worry about being accepted or fairly represented but rather fidelity to the church’s calling in the Great Commission. We know that even though the world will reject, ridicule, and malign, that as the gospel goes forth, the Spirit of God will change hearts and minds and enable people to embrace the foolish message of the gospel.