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Watching Son of God is a bit like listening to a pretty good tribute band doing a set list of Top 40 hits you have heard most of your life. The delivery is not bad, and the individual songs carry enough significance for you (both emotional and biographical) that the performance really only needs to remind you of what you already love.

If that comparison feels glib, then watching Son of God could be compared to watching someone else's professionally filmed wedding video. You understand why it is so precious to the person sharing it with you. But it is a summary of what happened, not a re-creation of the event. Plus you risk offending your hosts if you mention that one of the bridesmaids is wearing slightly different-colored shoes, or that the organist is playing a different song than what was listed in the program they showed you.

What I mean to say is that watching Son of God was not a dreadful experience, but it wasn't a particularly inspirational or entertaining one, either. We can excuse the latter fact on the grounds that in spite of its packaging, the gospel narrative isn't meant to be a vehicle for entertainment. The former is more about the medium than the message.

Marshall McLuhan is credited with coining the axiom that the medium is the message in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Two decades later, Neil Postman pithily expressed an important related thought: religion, he opined, rarely broadcasts well, because it is impossible to sanctify a television set.

Postman's conclusion may be slightly less inescapable in an age of DVDs and streaming video. Today, we have more access to a variety of content, and more control over how much of it appears on our TVs.

But the movie ...

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February 2014

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