Barbara Nicolosi believes in the future of Christians in Hollywood. A Catholic veteran of the film industry who founded the screenwriting program Act One, she speaks enthusiastically of the time when believers will be well-enough represented in the ranks of studio executives to influence which films and tv series get the green light. "Right now, there simply aren't enough talented Christians who have paid their dues," she told a group of cultural-creative types in a coffeehouse near Washington, D.C., last fall. "But within five to ten years, we will see Christians in Hollywood with real power."
A young man wearing a beret waved his hand. "When you say 'Christians with power,' " he said, "I get really nervous."
"Well, you're here in Washington," Nicolosi responded. "Does it bother you that Christians have political power?"
"Yes it does, actually!" he responded—and a dozen others nodded intently in agreement.
Strange. No one would have been in that room, after all, if they didn't care quite a bit about power. Nicolosi filled a room and held our attention not just because of what she knew—though her knowledge of popular film and television is encyclopedic—but also whom she knew. In the currency of Hollywood, first-name anecdotes about Barbara Hall, producer of the spiritually attuned Joan of Arcadia, or Mel Gibson, director of The Passion of the Christ, are as good as gold.
Just as strange was the fact that many people in that room now have, or will soon acquire, significant power of their own. They aren't in Washington by accident—they have pursued a path of education, training, and apprenticeship designed to give them access to culturally influential vocations and locations.
Indeed, 50 years of evangelical efforts to reverse fundamentalism's cultural withdrawal have borne fruit. Christian colleges and universities, along with the ministries that are thriving in the penumbra of secular institutions, have nurtured a generation that takes cultural engagement for granted. Fundamentalists asked, Should we watch movies?—and usually, wary of worldliness, answered no. Evangelicals asked, What kind of movies should we watch?—and usually, wary of irrelevance, answered anything without sex. But now believers are asking, What kind of movies should we make? That's a question about power.
As Nicolosi's audience made clear, even many Christians who are acquiring power are ambivalent about it. The fourth century historian Eusebius could celebrate the life of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, with a heroic biography, conveniently glossing over small matters like the emperor's post-conversion murder of his wife and firstborn son. But we are millennia away from the euphoria that accompanied that first Christian ascent to cultural dominance. And in a post-Christian world, dominance is hardly in the cards. To acquire cultural influence one must cultivate numerous allies, most of them indifferent to faith, not to mention genuflect before consumer desires.
So a profound Christian rethinking of power—its possibilities and dangers—is overdue. Nearly 20 years ago, writer Richard Foster put the issue in context in Money, Sex, and Power. Each of these things, he observed, is fundamental to life, potentially full of blessing, and also potentially deceptive. Today there are sermon series and ministries to help Christians be stewards of their money. Store shelves groan under the weight of Christian books on sex. But Christian reflection on power generally stops with business-friendly topics like "leadership." Cultural power often accrues less from leadership than from connections, talent, and fame—not to mention money and sex. (There's a reason that the top-grossing star of What Women Want was able to make a movie about the Passion.)
Indeed, Christians who want to think more deeply about these things might well go to Mel Gibson's movie, whose controversy-ridden existence indicates the extent, and the limits, of Christian cultural power today. The Passion of Christ, after all, reminds us of the many ways that power can go wrong—a nervous procurator with his garrison of occupying troops, a conniving royal family with paper-thin claims to legitimacy, religious leaders bent on preserving pious decorum amid precarious alliances.
At the center of it all we find a thirty-something man with considerable political savvy, a gifted storyteller with a keen eye for shrewd symbolic acts. Moreover, he has the divine power to multiply loaves of bread, heal the sick, and raise the dead. Yet his most decisive, powerful act is not an action at all, but a passion—suffering the brunt of power itself, grieving, forgiving, waiting. If Christians are sometimes called to acquire power, we should probably begin by watching our Lord abandon it.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
A ready-to-download Bible Study on this article is available at ChristianBibleStudies.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.
Earlier Andy Crouch columns for Christianity Today include:
Before the Deluge | All of us have a sexual orientation that bends toward the self. (Dec. 03, 2003)
Two Weddings and a Baptism | It's still impossible to predict what will advance the gospel in Hollywood. (Oct. 15, 2003)
Wrinkles in Time | Botox injections as a spiritual discipline. (Aug. 11, 2003)
Rites of Passage | Self-improvement is our culture's most durable religion. (June 6, 2003)
Christian Esperanto | We must learn other cultural tongues. (June 4, 2003)
We're Rich | But why is it so hard to admit? (Feb. 20, 2003)
Blinded by Pop Praise | To see God "high and lifted up," just open your eyes. (Dec. 17, 2002)
The Future Is P.O.D. | Multicultural voices have an edge in reaching a rapidly changing America. (October 12, 2002)
Rekindling Old Fires | We can resist technology's chilling effects on how we spend time together. (August 2, 2002)
Interstate Nation | The national highway system is a lesson in how to transform a nation. (June 21, 2002)
Amplified Versions | Worship wars come down to music and a power plug. (April 17, 2002)
Thou Shalt Be Cool | This enduring American slang leaves plenty out in the cold. (March 18, 2002)
Borrowing Against Time | We live in a fallen world. We will die. We need to face that. (Jan. 17, 2002)
Grounded | Our technologies give us an illusion of omnipresence—most of the time. (Nov. 15, 2001)
Zarathustra Shrugged | What apologetics should look like in a skeptical age. (Sept. 5, 2001)
Consuming Passions | One man's "testimony" from the First Great Mammon Awakening. (July 10, 2001)
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingAfter Nashville, Moral Numbness Is Our EnemyShootings have become normal to the American public. But as Christians, we know better.
- From the MagazineBhutanese Nepali Refugees Turn Their Trials into Zeal for EvangelismThousands found Jesus while displaced, which prepared them to plant churches and settle in a new land.
- RelatedThe Rise and Fall of Mars HillEpisode 9|55minThe Bobby Knight ProblemWhether we seek championship banners or church growth, we’re all in danger of using the end to justify the means.
- Editor's PickThis Palm Sunday, Ponder Donkeys, Not BranchesFor his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus picked a symbol of lowliness rather than military might.