I saw Hereafter the other night and thought it was an amazing movie. I mentioned that on Twitter, and then I got an email from someone who saw my endorsement and wondered about the movie; they had heard that it wasn't Christian. First, you ought to know that I think this was a sincere, worthwhile question from someone who wants to make good choices in their entertainment. That being said, however, I couldn't help but think the question is sort of misguided.
First, what does "Christian" mean when applied to a movie? Does it mean the movie is about the Lordship of Jesus Christ or His atoning work on our behalf? Fine, if that's what we mean. But most of us would probably agree that that is an unhelpful, artificially narrow parameter for us to operate within when deciding what art and entertainment to affirm. Even if that were our definition of "Christian", we'd be off base in applying it to a movie. "Christian" isn't a set of beliefs. "Christian" is a human life that embodies those beliefs. If you disagree... well... ok, we disagree. Maybe we'll have to debate that one later.
I think more often, when we ask if something is "Christian", we're asking if it affirms a Biblical worldview. Does it see the world the way the Bible is teaching us to see the world? But that question is problematic, too. A friend of mine was studying Ecclesiastes recently, and he was struggling with the worldview it presents because it seems so different than the worldview of Jesus and Paul and other more well-read Biblical authors. Really? Everything is meaningless? Is Ecclesiastes a "Christian" book? Should we read it? Another friend of mine is working on his doctoral dissertation at Notre Dame in Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity (fancy way of saying he's becoming a bona fide Biblical scholar). He already has graduate degrees from Dallas Theological and Gordon Conwell. He's plenty orthodox, if you know what I mean. And one day we were having lunch and he said to me, "You know, Jason, the Bible is a very secular book." He pointed out that God used a common, pagan belief in astrology to lead the wise men to Jesus. Scandalous.
Hereafter is ostensibly a movie about the afterlife. Christians could watch the movie and become alarmed at what seems like a secular, universalist idea of what happens after we die. But I don't even think that's what the movie is really about, and I really don't think that matters. I'm less concerned about movies that portray a worldview that doesn't line up with our doctrine than I am about movies that train our affections on destructive or meaningless ends that pull us away from our First Love. I think movies that force us to think about the core of our lives... the things that our souls are composed of... the wounds that we run from, the fears we have about being left alone and lonely, the aching sense that there is more than meets the eye to our existence, that what we see and experience in this brief moment of life cannot be all there is to us... All of that rings true to me as a follower of Christ and a student of Scripture. Good art reminds us that the trappings of our modern world, things like science and therapy and success, aren’t sufficient to keep us from trembling under the weight of what we sense most deeply about ourselves. Hereafter is a soul-shaking portrayal of those true experiences, and so it was a worthwhile way to spend a Thursday night.
I don't expect movies to train me in doctrine. That's what the Bible and the historical work of the Church are for. But I am aware that movies and songs have a powerful affect in shaping my affections and obsessions. A movie that makes me dwell less on American cultural myths -- like the idea that success or sex or the right clothes will provide me with peace and significance -- and more on what is true about me -- that I am a complex creature wired for relationship and destined for an eternal existence -- is a movie I need to see. Is it "Christian"? I'm really not sure. But then again, I’m not sure the Bible is, either.