Program Description: Tom and his guest Carl Kerby, from the ministry Reasons for Hope, discuss the “message in the media,” particularly in the case of movies, both Christian and secular.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in. In today’s program, Tom welcomes Carl Kerby of the ministry Reasons for Hope. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. My guest for today’s program and next week, the Lord willing, is my good friend - and I mean good friend - Carl Kerby. Carl’s ministry is Reasons for Hope, which is one of the best multimedia websites around. And although Carl speaks primarily about issues related to biblical creation, he covers a great deal more regarding doctrines presented in the Bible and issues adversely affecting Christianity. He’s the author of a number of books and the producer of some really terrific DVDs. Carl, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Carl: Hey, Tom, it’s always a pleasure to be with you, my friend! And thank you.
Tom: Okay. Now, Carl, the subject I want to discuss with you today and next week is visual media - particularly movies and, very specifically, biblical movies - and one of the reasons for this discussion is the fact that movies are an incredibly influential medium throughout the world, which would also include influencing Christians in a major way. Now, I know this is something you’re concerned about, and I assume that’s at least one of the reasons you wrote Remote Control: The Power of Hollywood on Today’s Culture. Now, Carl, tell us about Remote Control.
Carl: Well, I’m glad that you’re taking on topics that don’t get people in trouble and aren’t controversial, so…[laughs]
Tom: [laughing] Hey, that’s our way, Carl! That’s why I invited you, because, you know, you’re the son of a professional wrestler, okay?
Carl: Oh, boy, I might need my dad to help me on some of these, man, because there’s going to be some people who get wound up!
Tom: Yeah, well, and—look, folks, we’re joking about this, but we’re not joking. This is a serious issue. So go ahead. Tell us about Remote Control.
Carl: There’s two talks that get me in trouble right from the very get go: number 1, How do we get all the different colors of people if we all go back to one man and one woman? And then the media. So media is vitally important.
I got to write the book Remote Control: The Power of Hollywood on Today’s Culture from, really, life experience. My children—as I raised my children (I got saved later in life), and so my children were like five and six years old when I got saved, and all of a sudden, when the scales get pulled off of your eyes, you start seeing things differently. And I was a big movie guy—I loved going to movies, and I remember one day I was in a store, and I got a rental, and—this is going to really date it—I had a VHS. Now, to the young people out there, they’re like big, thick, plastic things and they have like a half-inch thick tape on the inside that you had to rewind. Nobody knows what that is anymore hardly.
But I brought it home, and it was The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts. He was my favorite growing up; I loved Don Knotts. I loved Barney Fife - you know, that whole comedy type thing - and that was my favorite movie growing up. And so when I popped it in, I said, “Oh, we’re going to have a family night, watch a fun family movie.” And it was like 13 minutes into this movie where all of a sudden, these messages started coming out that the fish are our ancestors, and I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I had to stop the movie, and we had to talk about it.
So what happened was when I started catching these messages, I said, “You know what? I’ve got to be really careful here. What I’m letting my children watch, this is going into their hearts and mind and souls. It’s there for all eternity.” So I said, “You know what, if we’re going to watch these things…” I felt like I had to teach them how to critically evaluate messages so that in the future when we weren’t around and they were out being confronted with this stuff, they would be able to do what God calls us to do, which is to “give an answer for the reason for the hope that lies within us with meekness and fear.”
So we started a process where they wanted to go watch a movie, watch a television show, I’d do some research on it, and I’d say, “Okay, nope, we’re not going to that. I don’t see that there’s anything redeeming in that at all. Now, this one? Okay, we’re going to go watch it,” but here were the restrictions: when we were done watching, we were talking. And so when we got out in the car—we’re driving home from the movie theater—I’d bring up points: “Did you catch this? Did you catch that?” Because when I was stopping the movie and everything, they got mad at me. “Dad, you’re no fun! We don’t want to watch movies with you anymore!” So I had to change the way we did business.
And then after about six months of doing that, Tom, they were catching things that I had missed, and so that began a lifelong teaching my children to critically evaluate, and then I see where they are today. And so I was like, “Men, if you’re going to allow these things in your home, you better, as a minimum, teach them how to critically evaluate those messages, because they’re there.”
Tom: And, Carl, they’re there, but they’re not some kind of…I remember way back when people would say, “Well, it has a subliminal message in it!”
Carl: No. [laughs]
Tom: The way it’s framed, you’re going to be thirsty, or hungry, and you’re going to go out and get popcorn because of the subliminal…no, no. We’re talking about, you might say, “hidden in plain sight,” because these things are right upfront. It’s just that…
Carl: They’re blunt!
Tom: Yeah, but they just blow by us, because we’re not in that mood of discernment.
Carl: See, that’s what was really funny, Tom. When I started doing that talk, I would say, “Okay, how many of you saw this movie,” just to throw one out there, you know, “how many of you saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” And I had girls’ hands going up all over the place, and you know, I’d laugh, “Hey, that’s ninety minutes of a waste of a man’s life. Nothing dies; nothing explodes; there’s no reason to go watch it.” You know, I’m trying to keep it light as well. But my daughter went to that movie, and she was a sophomore in college, but after she had left, she called me when she got home. She said, “Dad, you’re not going to believe it, there’s evolution in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
Now, when I asked the audience if they’d seen it, I’d say at least half still have seen that movie, even though it’s old, and I asked, “Did you catch this message?” And nobody catches it. Then you show it to them. Then it’s like the lights start coming on, and so that’s what I started doing was showing the messages and challenging them to start thinking. Now, look, there was a whole lot of other worse things in there: premarital sex, disobedience to father—I mean, I am not condoning it. It was horrible, and it really was something we shouldn’t want to be with.
Tom: So, Carl, are we going to end up here being the spoilers of all movies? People are going to shut us off right away?
Carl: [laughing] Well…
Tom: No, honestly, listen: are we condemning all visual media? You know, TV, movies, videos, graphics, video games?
Carl: No, no! It’s a massive tool! The body of Christ can use these tools! Here’s where I got very convicted, okay? I was an air traffic controller. I worked for the federal government for 24 and a half years, and here’s where I saw the power of the media: 90 percent of the guys that I worked with would not sit in a church pew, but they sat in movie pews every couple of weeks. And because I worked for the federal government in a “Christian” nation, I was constantly threatened to be fired if I proselytized, because when you work for the federal government in a Christian nation, you can’t talk about Christ. You can talk about whatever and whomever you’re doing whatever with, but if you talk about Christ—well, you’re going to get fired. So I had to use the media, because by me throwing something out there—and here’s a perfect example: this was back in the day of Jurassic Park when it first came out. I go into work and say, “Did you know the movie Jurassic Park shows scientifically that dinosaurs did not live millions of years ago?”
“Hey, thanks for asking. Here we go.” Now I could talk! They asked me a question. It was no longer me proselytizing; I was answering questions. So I had to learn how to use the media to reach a secular culture that will not go to a church pew, but they are watching those things.
Tom: Yeah. You know, my concern - and, Carl, you know my background; I was really trained in film, my undergraduate degree…well, actually, my graduate degree is in film, communications, television, and so on. And then I went out to Hollywood to get some practical experience and worked there for a number of years, and worked as a screenwriter. So a lot of my concerns here - and we’re going to get into this is—do Christians really, for their enthusiasm and excitement (especially today for visual media) - do they really understand what’s going on?
Tom: Do they see what is being presented to them? Just as you said, when it comes to issues of evolution that are in movies, well, that’s just one thing that they may not be thinking about or discerning as they go through it, but the medium itself has some characteristics, has some properties, that they need to be aware of so that they don’t get seduced or deceived by what they’re seeing. Anyway, we’ll get into some of that.
Carl: Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re absolutely right, and that’s why the first time I got to meet you, we were doing that conference up in Michigan, I think it was, and I read your book on the whole Passion of the Christ…
Tom: Yeah, Showtime for the Sheep?, right.
Carl: Yeah, Showtime for the Sheep? When I read that—and I mean, I knocked that thing out quick when we were on the road talking.
Tom: [laughs] You did! Well, Carl, I’ve never been at a conference where I had to speak three or four times, and the other speaker had to speak, and when the other speaker got up to speak, he was talking about a book that he was reading while the conference was going on, and it happened to be Showtime for the Sheep?, so that was…
Carl: Yeah, when you gave that to me…because, to me, I see the power of the visuals, and the other problem that I really have is that - I think it’s exactly the same as yours - is that we have a church that is basically biblically illiterate, and so when we watch the visuals, that becomes reality, and that scares me because I just see a lot of biblically illiterate folks getting their teaching and training from Fox News, from movies, and, I’m sorry, it’s not good.
Tom: You know, the other thing that Christians need to be aware of—and as I said, I guess my experience in Hollywood went for…maybe 15 years or so from advertising publicity to understanding how the medium works, and part of that, particularly with that aspect and view, has to do with money. You know, movies are a very expensive endeavor, and you can get better odds at Las Vegas—not that I’m promoting that, because it’s a loss all the way around—but the odds are better at Las Vegas than they are for a movie. Most of them fail. So they are a major undertaking; literally—well, we’re going to talk about Noah. I think the budget for that was $126 million, so, you know…
Carl: I think he got 160 [million] because he signed away his rights to the final cut.
Tom: [laughing] Well, we’ll talk about that in a minute, but my point is that Hollywood’s in this for, as the King James says, for “filthy lucre.” You can’t get around that. It is a business, and they need to survive financially. So what we’ve seen now, especially since—going back to The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s movie - that movie was an extraordinary success, and it shouldn’t have been! You come to a producer and say, “Hey, I’ve got a movie here; it’s a religious story; there’s going to be no understandable dialogue. It’ll all be with subtitles, it’ll be in Latin and Aramaic.”
You know, if I was a producer [and] Mel Gibson came to me with that idea, I’d throw him out the door, because it’s ludicrous. However, he put his own money in this. He produced it himself, and, Carl, you know what bailed him out from a film that should have failed?
Carl: The church.
Tom: The church. The evangelical church! They bought into his very Catholic movie, which we’ll talk about a little later. But the point is that now what we’re seeing since The Passion of the Christ, since the Bible Series on the History Channel, [and] Son of God, now we have Noah, we have Exodus [that’s] coming out [at] the end of the year—these biblical movies…why is Hollywood doing these things?
Carl: It’s money, man. I mean, apparently. Everybody said Noah was going to flop, as well, all the stuff that I was reading beforehand; it’s going to flop. And then we turn around and it had, what, $44 million in the first week?
Tom: Yeah, number one in the box office.
Carl: Yeah, so there’s no doubt about it: the church is a big market for “family movies,” and I don’t think Noah was a family movie by any stretch of the imagination. But you see, when I get those little disclaimers like they had on there, “We’re staying true to the content…” Oh, dude, I know it’s bad as soon as I see that. You know it’s not going to even be close to real.
Tom: Yeah. Well, Carl, let’s talk about - you know, again, [like] we said: are we condemning all kinds of movies? I’ve got two categories - there may be more - but I would put movies that are biographical dramas, you know - I liked Chariots of Fire; I thought that was a good movie. There’s movies like Luther and Amazing Grace that are basically biographical. There’s apologetics movies. I really liked Expelled [with] Ben Stein, you know?
Carl: Yeah, me too.
Tom: There’s God’s Not Dead; I’ve heard good reviews about that. We’ve got allegorical films such as Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings - not a big fan there, but you know, that’s just my view. But also Christian fiction - Courageous, Fireproof - I haven’t seen those, but they’ve gotten good reviews. But the area that I really want to - both in the start with this session and, Lord willing, next week - I want to talk about movies that attempt to translate the Bible visually. That’s where I draw the big line. And you talk about controversy? There shouldn’t be any controversy as far as I’m concerned, but we’ll see when we get into that.
Now, let’s start with the first categories: movies that…other than those attempting to translate the Bible. What’s your criteria there?
Carl: Well, there’s two verses that come to my mind, Tom: first is Philippians:4:8, and that’s, “Whatever things are just and pure and lovely,” those are the things we should be putting our time into. And so first of all, if I’m watching anything - and I don’t care what it is - that is filling my mind with something other than that, what am I doing?
Now here’s going to be the dichotomy, because people are going to say, “Well, you’re inconsistent. You’re a hypocrite,” because to me, another verse that comes to mind is 1 Chronicles:12:32 where it tells us that we should be understanding the times. And so there’s this fine line of - and we always hear this, you know, being in the world and not of the world - there’s that fine line of understanding what’s going on, what’s being used to get a generation where we are today, where they’re doubting and not trusting the Word of God, and the tools that are being used to do that, and then how to overcome them.
So it’s a tricky thing, but I try to put everything through that filter of “What am I letting into me? Is there anything of any goodness going to come out of this?” And I’m finding myself more and more - like when I do my movie talk and television talk - I’m using stuff that I haven’t even watched, because other people are watching it and they’re sending me the clip, so I use the clips, because it’s getting tougher and tougher to do Philippians:4:8. It really is.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. You know, and you’re right, Carl, as we grow in the Lord, as we mature in the Lord, as we grow in our love for Him, yes, we have an old nature, and we have the flesh, and we’ve got this battle between the flesh and what’s really right and true - which is His Word - and what pleases Him. So I agree with you. On the other hand, movies are a very subjective, experiential kind of thing.
Tom: I love when you talk about your lack of affinity for chick flicks, okay? [laughs] I’m right there with you—sorry, ladies! We’re not trying to put you off here. All we’re saying is that I’ve seen husband and wife just get into a rowdy argument over their opinions of particular movies and so on. So, again, subjective, experiential. However, we would want to tell people, “Well, the movies that I like…” and again, this was my training, my background, and so on - this is how I met Dave Hunt, which is a whole other story - but with that, ask me the movies that I like, at the top of the list. Carl, you could put them on the head of a pin with room to spare. So that’s my criteria, and I keep refining it as I grow in the Lord. So with regard to these movies, the medium can be used of the Lord, but it’s precarious. That would be my view.
Carl: Well, and that’s where I always struggle, because I’ve got to hold onto that Philippians:4:8 first and foremost, okay? And then, you know, you go down to the next level of Chronicles, but then there’s that dilemma of - look, we do need to know what’s going on in the culture, and how do we do that without getting too far into it? Because I think of Matthew, where Jesus is asking His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” But what did He ask - it was like verse 15 where He asked them that, and then I think it was in 13, two verses before, where He goes, “Who do they say that I am?” So we need to be aware of what’s going on in the culture but not immersing ourselves into it and becoming a part of it. So there’s that dilemma that we all are faced with, and it’s a challenge. I won’t lie about it.
Tom: Yeah. Well, one thing that’s very simple, - we’re going to be talking about some movies in particular, and the first thing people are going to ask: “Well, did you see it?” [laughs] Okay? Because in lots of cases, you don’t have to see it. As you said, a clip here, a clip there, and so on. But because I write about this extensively, I don’t subject myself to filth, okay? But when it comes to abusing the Word of God, the Scriptures, and so on, I have to take a look at it. One of the things I’m thankful for the Lord - and you know, you mentioned your kids not liking to go to movies with you, my family never appreciated going to movies with me, because I say, “Oh, did you see that? The camera was in that scene? Oh, look! The reflection of…” I’m so analytical about it that maybe some of the experiential side doesn’t really rub off. But I don’t know. It’s just something we trust the Lord in and go about doing what pleases Him.
Now, Carl, you know, in this realm of different kinds of movies, there’s a movie coming out - I think it may be out in May, if it’s not out already. I don’t think so, because I try to keep up with these things - but that would be Heaven Is for Real. Now, there’s a whole category - you’d say, “Well, what about that? It’s certainly not going to be anything sexually offensive, violence, whatever it might be.” But now here’s a movie that presents - now why am I saying this? Well, I’ve written about the book, and I’ve looked at the trailers and seen the trailers in the theater and so on. So I have some insights into the approach that movie takes. And what I would say straight out, not having seen the movie from beginning to end, it is extra-biblical information…
Carl: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: …which is a huge problem for the church today. They’re allowing all kinds of things, whether it be Jesus Calling, or - we’re getting extra-biblical information now that’s shaping our view of truth, of reality, which is…
Carl: See, I think Noah falls in that category.
Tom: Well, of course.
Carl: When you look at all the…Tubelcain and…I mean, come on. That was like—so…But no, I think this is going to be a scary movie, because it’s going to be emotional, tug on the heart…
Tom: Yeah, little boy involved.
Carl: Yeah, little boy who knows his sister and his grandpa and…
Tom: Now, Carl, see, that’s one of the things I try and communicate to people. Now, just to back up just a little bit, as I mentioned, I was a screenwriter in Hollywood for a number of years. What did I do? What do screenwriters do? Well, they put together a story, and in presenting the story on the screen, what you are, what you need to do, what you try to do, is control to some degree but at least manipulate the emotions of people.
Tom: If we like movies, why do we like them? Well, they scare us. Well, they make us cry. Well, they get us jumping for joy. You know, who could have seen the end of Shrek, okay, and not be dancing in the aisles? (Whether you bought the movie or not…bought into it or not? But that’s what movies are about. They are entertainment. They - when you write something, you’ve got to remember that you’re trying to bring people into the theaters; you’re trying to convince them, to give them their money’s worth. Now that criteria applied to - which we’re going to talk about maybe with the few minutes we have left and certainly next week - you’ve got to not only entertain them, you’ve got to keep them coming back, or this thing is not going to pay for itself no matter how much it cost.
So that’s a concern that I have when people say to me—you know, when I lay out my apologetics or my concerns about how movies affect people, they say, “Yeah, Tom, I agree with all that! Yeah, yeah! It’s a good point. Yeah, I agree with it, but God can really use this! And besides, I saw this scene in Son of God, and Matthew, the Levite, the tax collector, he had tears in his eyes, and that just moved my heart!” Well, of course it did! But where do you find that in Scripture?
Again, if we’re moved, if we receive things, if we take things in on the basis of emotions - hey, Carl, isn’t that the flesh? And what does the Word say? “The flesh profits nothing.” A catharsis is not a true spiritual experience. It’s an experience, all right, but it’s not true to the Word of God, which is a big problem. So people love movies from the experiential standpoint, but that’s also the downfall for many.
Carl: Well, that’s - I just think of movies that I’ve seen in the past that just music alone can make me cry.
Tom: There you go.
Carl: It’s like, what is up with that? But you can - we are being manipulated by these mediums, and so that’s why they’re very powerful. We have to be very careful. Tom, there’s so much lack of discernment that I just see, which is why I struggle when somebody tells me, “Well, yeah, but God can do this, and He could use this…” Yeah, He could, He could. I mean, like I told you, I used Jurassic Park in my secular job as an air traffic controller to get conversations to where I really wanted to go, but I’m also seeing the damage that the little, tiny lies are doing to the church. When there’s 400,000 churches across the nation of America, and we are as invisible as we are in the culture, something’s not right.
Tom: Right. Well, it’s not right, because it’s the church in the world and the world in the church at least to some degree - maybe even a great degree, which is the problem. Now, Carl, I’m going to set us up for next week - we’ve got a couple minutes left - but that’s the other category which greatly concerns me, and that is trying to translate the Bible, the Word of God, to the screen. Trying to translate it from the Word. You know, Moses - I’ll probably say this next week as well - when Moses went up to Mt. Sinai, he wasn’t given a picture book, was he?
Carl: Right, right.
Tom: So because there is a huge difference between imagery, between visuals, and the written Word of God, it’s the difference between the subjective and the experiential - which that’s what visual images are - to the written word, which we can get that down to a science - it’s called hermeneutics. It’s the science of knowing the truth through context, syntax, grammar, language, and so on, which is a more objective way of - you know, God laid out the most objective way for us to understand His Word, to discuss it, to defend it, and so on. But we don’t see that with imagery, which we’ll talk about next week.
So people, no, no, we’re not condemning everything about imagery and so on, because you produce some absolutely terrific DVDs. So tell us about a couple and - what have you got for us?
Carl: Well, what I’d like to do for people, and in the spirit of the whole big Noah thing coming up there, if they go to our website, rforh.com, then go to the store, and under store you’ve got DVDs, and there’s a series called Debunked, and there’s downloadable versions of it. If they want to go there, put that Debunked: Ark Couldn’t Fit All the Animals on the Boat - put that in your shopping cart, and when you check out type in the code - there’s a little code placed there - say “GETDEBUNKED” - all one word - put that in there, and you’ll have it free of charge. We’re not trying to rake you over the coals; download it and put it to use, because, again, I think you can use those visuals in a very powerful way. And what I have found, which is encouraging to me, is I’ve got a lot of high school kids that are taking those things and using those in the public schools. I can’t get in public schools. Last time I was in, I lasted 10 minutes and they pulled the fire alarm to get me out! So these kids can get in there, the ones who show those things, and I’m getting a lot of reports from young folks doing that. So there is a tool that you can use to give some truth.
Tom: Thanks, Carl. I hope our listeners will take you up on that. It’s terrific.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could tune in, and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.