The Dancing Puritan

Monday, November 24, 2014

Saving Christmas





David Shannon
Thanks to the generosity of a good friend, my family and I got to see Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas. My friend appears in the movie credits but I will not drop his name (because you might expect him to give you such a present). Check him out here! So in the spirit of full disclosure, I know a couple of people who had a part in SC. Sadly, they did not pay me to write this analysis. One of my friends, David Shannon (a.k.a. known as The Chocolate Knox) has an important role (I am really hoping that the folks in charge will commission a David Shannon bobble head). I should also mention that a few years ago I wrote a Christmas book. You can get it here. I am an advocate of celebrating Christmas. So enough already of full disclosure. 

Overwhelmingly, the reports about SC have been negative. Here is an excerpt from one brutal review:
Doing nothing but preaching to the converted—literally and badly to boot—"Saving Christmas" is a terrible movie regardless of one's eschatological mindset. And while it may not be the worst Christmas-related movie ever (a title I believe is still held by the vile "Christmas with the Kranks"), it certainly does the genre no favors.  Peter Sobczynski: Ebert

Ok, Ebert and his guys are the experts, I suppose. I don't make my living reviewing movies so, what do I know? Well, I think that I know more than Sobezynski, at least about Saving Christmas. Here is my fresh-out-of-the-movie-theatre instant analysis.

1. I don't have a technical name for what kind of movie SC is but I know what it is not. SC is not really a traditional Christmas movie (like Christmas Vacation, Its a Wonderful Life, or White Christmas). It is not precisely a documentary such as Ken Burns might have produced. It is not exactly a docudrama. SC is a message movie rooted in history, engaging the culture, and seeking to be Biblical. Understanding what the movie is not will help you to enjoy it more. Remember that SC is not Citizen Kane. I actually fell asleep on CK but with SC, not only was I awake, I got teary-eyed once or twice and I laughed out loud several times.

2. The overall production and acting are very good (I don't care what almost everyone else says). I have read so many bad comments about SC ("worst movie of 2014") that I cannot remember who said what. One reviewer said that SC looked like it was filmed with a video camera (the sort that you might use to film your children opening their Christmas presents). I am no expert on movie technology and production but I do have a few folks around me who are quite savvy on such matters. The filming, acting, and overall production is not bad and actually is a perfect fit for SC. Remember point #1!

3. Theologically the movie is pretty much on target on essential issues. Cameron craftily weaves a clear presentation of the gospel into SC. The theological outlook on Christmas (and life) in SC is mostly on target. I recently wrapped up a yearlong sermon series at my church from the book of Ecclesiastes. Since the theme of Ecclesiastes is joy, I titled the series: "Occupied with Joy" (based on Ecclesiastes 5:20). Ecclesiastes is a reminder that God has given us one life to be lived "under the sun" and he is most glorified when we live joyfully to his glory. Reflecting on my 52 years under the sun, I have too often been a killjoy. However, God is not the cosmic killjoy. God is generous and is honored when his people rejoice in him. His generosity is most wonderfully displayed in the sending of his Son. The reason for writing that "the movie is pretty much on target" is because I think that, while the movie argued persuasively for  the importance of living for God's glory and enjoying Him forever, it could have done a better job dealing with the problem of sin. Towards the end of the movie Cameron makes an argument in support of giving Christmas gifts on the basis that Jesus became a material being (flesh and blood). I think Cameron is attempting to refute an ancient (but still present) heresy that teaches spirit is good but matter is evil. What SC does not seem to sufficiently take into account is our temptation to turn material things (or even family traditions) into a golden calf. We need often to hear the command: "Worship God."

With Cameron I want us to see Christmas through new eyes. However, we need to remember that in our struggle with sin we will attempt to turn good things (the good gifts of God such as food, drink-- material things) into little gods. We must receive good treasures (including material things) as gifts from God and glorify him by enjoying his provision. Cameron could have dealt with more depth (after all the movie was only about 80 minutes) with the struggle that Christians and non-Christians have with the sins of idolatry and materialism. His reminder that we should not max out our credit cards was insufficient. That being said, material things are not evil. The Apostle Paul writes, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." (I Timothy 4:4) God created trees, Saint Nickolas, and all things. We get to make those things holy via Scripture and prayer.

There is nothing better for a person that that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:24
Our problem is not that we enjoy material things too much but that we enjoy material things in an unsanctified way. Christians have the opportunity to seize the season with gusto. You know the way George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), in Its a Wonderful Life, responded to the old man on the porch who is disgusted that Bailey didn't kiss Mary (Donna Reed). George responds: "Well, just come back here, Mister. I'll give her a kiss that'll put hair back on your head!" So whether you kiss your wife or celebrate Christmas, do so in a George Bailey "put hair back on your head" kind of way.

4. The movie is entertaining and David Shannon is fantastic. David Shannon in his first acting role (at least on the big screen, I think) is worth the price of admission. He is a natural talent who seemed to be genuinely having fun. Hopefully I can talk him into doing an interview with us here at the DP. David interviewed me one time. You can see it here!

5. You might want to know that Postmillennialism and Christian Reconstructionism are introduced in a couple of different ways in SC (a song, front matter, and general outlook of the movie). If you don't understand what those terms mean, join the crowd. A lot of us struggle to grasp what is going on in the CR world-view. Advocates of the PM/CR perspective have a positive outlook about the spread of the Kingdom of God prior to the return of Christ. It is the goal of the PM/CR adherent to see Christ exalted in every sphere of life. Certainly no Christian would disagree with that vision. However, one does not have to buy into PM/CR in order to have a Biblically-minded and optimistic world-view. I am a premillennialist (the more historic variety--not dispensational). And it is my conviction that a true Biblical eschatology is always optimistic. Christ does reign, Christ will reign, and Christ does win. As citizens of his kingdom we must bring our heavenly citizenship to bear in every earthly endeavor. If you are a maintenance man then bring the aroma of heaven to your work. Whatever you do should smell more like heaven because you do it.

Though the movie presents an optimistic view of the Kingdom of God, it perhaps assumes too much from those who celebrate Christmas. One not especially versed in the possible meaning of swaddling cloths, the significance of trees in Scripture, or Saint Nicholas (the ancient heavy-weight champion of the world, who reportedly landed a good punch against a heretic who denied the deity of Jesus) are not going to figure out Christmas by the way it is mostly celebrated today. So if Christmas is about making all things right, preaching the gospel and its implications for all of life must be front and center. If you talk to folks about the symbols of Christmas, don't stretch to make the symbols fit (if they don't fit) into Biblical categories. Some of the symbolic connections in SC were probably stretched a bit too far. That being said, I am pro-Christmas trees, pro-Christmas lights, pro-Christmas music, and pro-Christmas symbols. I believe that all lawful things can be enjoyed to the glory of God. I am also confident that none of my readers who deck the halls, the roof, or their car are secretly trying to identify with paganism.

Saving Christmas is a good movie with a great message that is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not a connoisseur of faith based movies." It would take a team of 10 mules to pull me into a living room or theatre where Heaven is For Real is playing. Many faith based movies are just bad. They are bad in quality, bad in acting, bad in presentation of the message, and they often get the message wrong. Saving Christmas is very different. I think when you walk out of the theatre or eject the disc that you will have a smile on your face and a bit more excitement about celebrating Christmas.  But what do I know? I like Christmas with the Kranks.

The Dancing Puritan gives Saving Christmas 4.5 stars! See it! We think Kirk Cameron is the real deal and is doing good work. Head up to the attic, bring the decorations down, and be all in to Christmas this year. Just make sure that you use your new eyes.