A few weeks ago I was one of the Lynchburg area church leaders who attended a private pre-release screening of the new movie Son of God which officially opened today. Son of God was produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the husband and wife team who were the executive producers for The Bible, the 10-hour TV miniseries that premiered on the History Channel in March of 2013. Footage from The Bible was edited to create this new feature-length motion picture about the life of Christ, the first major motion picture about the life of Jesus since Passion of the Christ was released ten years ago.
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have impressive resumes both individually and together. Five time Emmy Award winner Burnett is one of the pioneers of the “reality TV” genre with such shows as Survivor and The Celebrity Apprentice to his credit. Downey has been nominated for an Emmy of her own. She is best known for her recurring role as a tender-hearted angel in the series Touched by an Angel. In addition to co-producing Son of God, she also appears in the film in the role of Mary.
I only saw the first installment of The Bible when it came out last year so this was my first look at their portrayal of Jesus. The excessive artistic license in that first episode of The Bible turned me off. (I think they lost me when Moses was shown engaged in a sword fight with young Prince Ramesses.) So I went to today’s screen with very low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a compelling film.
The issue of artistic license is still in play. As a serious student of scriptures I found myself regularly annoyed by the writer’s ignorance or at least indifference to the chronology of events as recorded in the Gospels. For instance, in the gospel account of Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah in a synagogue, the event took place in Galilee at the beginning of his public ministry. In the movie it happened near the time of his arrest at an unspecified location but apparently somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem. But since gospel chronology is a matter that even the scholars debate, I’m willing to cut the production team some slack. What they did capture admirably was the spirit and thrust of the gospel story. The viewer is offered a compelling and reasonably accurate account of the life of Christ and the meaning of that life for you and me. And I must say that Diogo Morgado, the young Portuguese actor who portrayed Jesus, did a marvelous job in presenting a winsome Savior.
Son of God is certainly no substitute for reading the Gospels for yourself. But it does offer a moving and visually satisfying artistic portrayal of the greatest story ever told, one that people who would never open a Bible would watch with interest. As a pastor I will encourage my members to use this film as a non-threatening evangelist tool, something that you could invite an unchurched friend to watch with you and that will offer you easy and natural opportunities for further sharing of the Good News.