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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Review: End of the Spear

Last night, my wife and son and I went to see the newly-opened movie End of the Spear. I had only heard about the movie two weeks ago when I happened to catch a radio program on which Steve Saint (one of the main characters in the movie) was being interviewed. I decided almost instantly that I wanted to see the movie.

For those of you unfamiliar with the true story on which this movie is based, fifty years ago, five young missionaries lost their lives to the vicious spears of the Waodani tribe in Ecuador. These five men were attempting to make peaceful contact with the tribe for the purpose of sharing the Gospel with them. For years, I was familiar with the story of Jim Elliot, one of the five who gave up his life. His widow, Elisabeth Elliot, has been an author and a speaker for most of the fifty years that have elapsed.

This movie, however, is based on the story of Nate Saint and his son, Steve. It also focuses on Mincayani, the tribesmember who personally speared Nate Saint. Without telling the whole story, I'll tell you that Nate's sister (Rachel) went to live with the Waodani after they had murdered her brother and the other four men. Steve spent many summers visiting Rachel there. It wasn't until after Rachel's death in 1994 that Steve finally found out many of the details surrounding his father's death (he was about eight years old at the time his father was killed).

Following Rachel's death, the Waodani insisted that Steve and his family come live with them. After much discussion and prayer, Steve agreed. Mincayani now is like a father to Steve and a grandfather to Steve's children.

This is a story of grace, forgiveness, sacrifice -- in a word: the Gospel.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I began to see rather heated arguments around the Christian blogosphere with some well-meaning folks even calling for Christians to boycott this movie! The controversy revolves around the fact that Chad Allen, who plays both Nate Saint and the adult Steve Saint in the movie is an outspoken homosexual. The outrage has been extremely vitriolic as some people try to outdo each other with their "stand against homosexuality". Comments have been made along the lines of how Christians are beginning to accept homosexuality because we are allowing a gay man to play the part of a martyred missionary.

If it is necessary to clarify this point, allow me to say publicly that I do believe that homosexuality is sin. I do not, for one moment, endorse homosexuality. My opinions stated here should not be mischaracterized or misrepresented as implying that I approve of homosexuality, or think that it's "ok".

I have read these arguments (I'm intentionally not going to link to them, because I don't think it's necessary. If you want to find them, it won't be hard for you to do so.) with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I want to applaud those who believe that we cannot compromise our values for the sake of entertainment and profit. But on the other hand, something does not seem to add up in the arguments. The question that remains is: Where do we draw the line? If we say that a movie that tells a wonderful story, contains elements of the Gospel in it, and is exactly the kind of "entertainment" Christians have been crying out for -- the sense that some folks can never be pleased is rather frustrating -- cannot star a homosexual, do we need to also eliminate adulterers? What about liars? What about divorced people? Are these not all things that God hates?

When others have posed similar questions, the answers frequently pointed out the fact that Chad is apparently an "activist" regarding his homosexuality. So, from that I conclude that others believe that secret sin is acceptable (if nobody knows about it, it's ok), but if someone is open about their sin, then we should not let them be in the movie. I guess that's where we draw the line. Or so the argument goes. Never mind the fact that Chad does not claim to be a Christian. (He claims to have a relationship with God, but also says that his "religion" draws from elements of many world religions, so from the perspective of biblical Christianity, I would have to say he is not a Christian, and to my knowledge, he has not claimed that particular label.) To expect a non-Christian to embrace the laws of God, however we might define them, is to put the cart before the horse. Chad Allen is, as far as I can tell, hell-bound regardless of his sexual orientation. That should be what we focus on.

With that in mind, it's possible that the very same compassion that Nate Saint felt for the Waodani (deemed to be the ones to avoid by many other Christians and non-Christians alike) may be what has motivated Steve Saint to approve of Chad Allen for this role (and it has been noted by Every Tribe Entertainment, the producers of this film, that Steve had a very active role in approving Chad to play him and his father). From what I have been able to gather, it seems that Steve has even befriended Chad, taking him to visit the Waodani in preparation for the movie, and continuing to have contact with him after the movie was made. Is this not the essence of Jesus' ministry? Reaching out to the "untouchables" and showing them love?

Well, I'm not trying to get sidetracked in this post with the controversy. I really want to review the movie. But I say all of the above to set the stage for my review. When I watched the movie yesterday, I was not seeing a homosexual activist. (I would not have even known that Chad was gay if I had not heard so beforehand. I even thought his onscreen kiss with his onscreen wife was very convincing!) I saw the Gospel lived out in so many ways. And I am not ashamed to say that in many places of the movie, I was moved to tears. Not just tears, but outright crying. Sobbing. The story was that powerful.

The movie has been criticized for "down playing" the Gospel, but you would have to be very blind (or be boycotting the movie!) in order not to see the Gospel message throughout. You have a modern-day example of exactly what God did to reach us. The Bible says that while we were still enemies with God, He reconciled us through the death of Christ.

The Waodani were the enemies of everyone. They mistrusted foreigners. They assumed that foreigners only came to kill them. They assumed foreigners were cannibals and would eat them. So they struck first. One of the most powerful questions in the mind of the Waodani (they asked this question of Steve Saint after Rachel's death) was, "Why did they not shoot at us?" They saw that Nate, Jim, and the others had guns. And yet when the warriors speared them, there was no attempt to fight back. Earlier in the movie, the Waodani were told that these men had not come as enemies. They came to tell them that God had a Son who was speared. And He did not spear back.

The Waodani way of life was revenge. One of their enemies would spear one of them. The Waodani would, in turn, take revenge against the family of the one who did the spearing. They would spear back. This vicious cycle of revenge was almost a "normal way of life" for them. It was all they knew. So, to hear that God had seen His own Son be speared and still loved those who speared His Son...this was amazing to them! They fully expected Steve to avenge the death of his father. Yet Steve showed love to them, even accepting Mincayani as the grandfather to his own children.

Another powerful moment in the movie is near the very end when Steve explains to Mincayani that no one took his dad's life. His dad gave his life. This is the message of Christ. Through the death of those five martyrs, and the ensuing love shown to them by Rachel, and then by Steve, the Waodani gave up their murderous way of life and trusted in Christ. They allowed the truth of God to change them.

This is also shown in the movie in a very touching way. One of the men in the tribe trusted Christ before the others did. In the movie, some of the men are discussing the changes they see in Kimo (the one who was saved). They said, "Kimo has changed. You can see it on his face." And Kimo, when given the opportunity to participate in spearing, took a stand for his new way of life and said, "No. God doesn't want us to spear anymore. I will not do it." Through his boldness, the rest of the tribe eventually followed suit.

All in all, I recommend this movie. There were a couple of times when it was hard for me to keep up with who was whom, but overall, it was a great movie. And a couple of concepts that were discussed (the Waodani talked about dying in terms of "jumping the Great Boa") were not really explained very well. But I was able to piece together what they were talking about. In terms of production quality, I would probably give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It was the first major release for Every Tribe Entertainment, and I expect that they will get better. But overall, with the story itself taken into consideration, I would probably give this movie 4.5 stars out of 5.

If the controversy surrounding Chad Allen's work in the movie bothers your conscience, then by all means follow your conscience. I would not judge you for that, and would never want to encourage you to go against your conscience (see Romans 14). But if you are like me, and do not see that as an issue over which to boycott the movie, then I highly recommend you go see the movie. It is one I will not soon forget.

Until next time,

steve :)

18 comment(s):

Thanks for the review -- I have been looking for a review that did not focus on the lifestyle of Chad Allen so I could decide as to whether or not to see the movie.

I was most concerned that it did not contain the gospel, but after reading your review it appears to...

While I am not minimizing Chad Allen's homosexual 'activism', and do recognize this as a movie he could use as a platform to make the claim that "Christians are alright with homosexuality", there is, none the less, very little valid and good in the movie industry, and just maybe this could be one which could do some good...

Verdict is still out on whether or not I will go see it; I see very few movies, good or bad...

thanks again...

By Blogger Ray, at Saturday, January 21, 2006 5:48:00 PM  

Steve, thanks for reviewing the actual movie. It sounds powerful - which can hardly be a surprise :-)

I've just blogged on my continuing thoughts about this..

By Blogger Libbie, at Monday, January 23, 2006 3:21:00 AM  

Cool! I hope the movie will find its way down to New Zealand.

Not THAT's the kind of movie that Christians could really use and reccommend. Not some 10-commandment violating flick like the "Passion Of The Christ" or even the marginal vain imagination machinations of a "Narnia"

By Blogger alamar, at Monday, January 23, 2006 2:24:00 PM  

oops. typo "Not" should be Now

By Blogger alamar, at Monday, January 23, 2006 2:25:00 PM  

Ray, I notice you commented on Libbie's post about this, so you've already seen what she wrote. Let me reiterate what she wrote here, though, for others: I saw the Gospel in this movie because I know the Gospel. The Gospel is not elaborated on, nor is it presented in straightforward monologue fashion in the script of this movie. But I saw lots of elements of the Gospel throughout the movie because I understand and know what the Gospel is! I think that's a disclaimer worth making, and Libbie was very perceptive in bringing up that point. Thanks, Libbie!

Many believers have disagreed with me (although not personally, but in response to other posts like mine) on the issue of whether or not the Gospel was present in this movie, so let that be a fair warning to my five readers who might see it on my recommendation alone. If you see it and disagree, please don't shoot me!! ;)

alamar, I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that I ever feel a movie is one that "Christians can use" because I don't recommend sending someone to a movie or even showing them a movie to do the work of evangelism. However, if a non-believer sees the movie and brings it up for discussion (or if it comes up in conversation), I would certainly elaborate on the foundational Gospel themes that are in the movie.

Just out of curiosity, what did you mean by saying that the Passion of the Christ violated the 10 commandments? I had not heard that accusation before, and would love to get some more explanation there.

Personally, I treated Passion as I did Narnia and EOTS in the sense that it was powerful for me personally, as a believer, to see the themes of the Gospel in film. But I do not see these films as "evangelistic tools". When people started saying that Passion was "the greatest evangelistic tool in 2000 years", I jumped off that bandwagon! That's going a bit far, in my opinion. But as a believer, I was moved by the depiction of what Christ bore on my behalf on the cross.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 9:08:00 AM  

Thanks, steve, for your reply.

I suppose Christians could "use" any movie to teach the gospel. We could probably spiritualize "Men In Black" and teach about the evil in and amongst us. Not that I would participate in such a practice.

As far as "End Of The Spear" goes, it is a true story about real missionaries. Maybe the gospel isn't out in the open, in the script, but I would be much more inclined to use this movie than any other to discuss with others what Christianity is all about---not saying that all of us should go to the jungles ;)

Regarding "The Passion..." movie, I wasn't sure of any blog discussion on it, as this blogland is still a novelty to me. So I just threw that in, because I thought it was pertinent to your post. Just wondering your motivation for posting a review. Would you be just as inclined to review, say, "Brokeback Mountain"? Or did you feel, as a Christian, that "End Of The Spear" was a good discussion topic about things Christian?

Regarding "The Passion" I get the uneasy feeling that the commandment not to make any graven image "unto thee" comes close to being violated. Maybe the people that made the movie didn't intend people to use it to help worship God, but having an actor play Jesus is a very questionable practice in my view. Even paintings and statues of Jesus may not necessarily be made for worshipping, but it INVITES false worship.

Maybe somebody now, when they pray to God, trying to focus intently on Jesus, gets an image of Jim Caviezel, in their heads. That would be disturbing, wouldn't it?

And I could also comment on what that movie might contribute to the increased ecumenicalism going on, but that might be inviting more than we care to say for this particular post.

By Blogger alamar, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 1:27:00 PM  

I suppose another good illustration of James' point is the use of the word "gay" in James 2:3. Saying "fine clothes" avoids distracting thoughts, though that might not have been the intent of some of the translators.

By Blogger alamar, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 2:11:00 PM  

I also didn't see the Passion based on my conviction about pictures of Jesus Christ. Funnily enough, I only actually came to that conviction after I'd got quite excited about the movie. Then after I had reluctantly decided I couldn't watch it, I learned all the catholic mystic stuff and was kind of relieved I hadn't bothered...

By Blogger Libbie, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 4:01:00 PM  

OOPS! Sorry, Steve. My previous post was meant to go to James Spurgeon's TBC Underground blog. You can erase these two if you want.

By Blogger alamar, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 4:49:00 PM  

Okay, here's two cents worth of comment. Movies are entertainment. Should Christians be entertained? Why does everything have to be reduced to whether or not it is evangelistic?
That's probably another topic that is not my intent to pursue now.

Does God speak to us through the oddest experiences which appear clearly intended for us individually, or does He use our unigue experiences since they are ours because He is very good at using the teachable moment? Either way, we are ripe for a given insight into the Truth because we are in a particular place spiritually at the moment.

God is so big!! We are so small!
There are Christians who go to movies (many with some exercise of discretion and too many with not enough of it)and those who don't. Is one more Christian than another?
It begs the question, "Who is the real Christian?"

So this movie Steve reviewed has a homosexual actor (such were some of us...like me), and some "Christians" are outraged and want to boycott. Maybe some "Christians" have never figured out that militancy for "Christians" standards looks and sounds more like meanness than love.

There are more homosexual music directors (and pastors) in churches all across our land than there are palm trees in Florida, especially if by "homosexual" we allow an individual who holds the feelings as his or her identity to be homosexual (or his or her struggle) regardless of actual practices.

Many are celibate and serving God desperately holding onto a hope that they will one day be free. Some are living in sin and hiding it. Some we love...usually without knowing their struggle. Some we whisper about behind their backs.

What is the love of Christ in all of this?

In my experience I have found the new creature in Christ; and I am not holding onto a hope, I walk in the fullness of His victory on the cross, today anyway, and for the last 27 years. Those among us who have professed belief but not fully understood what Christ has accomplished (a very arid, desert experience) are in need almost as much as the lost who have never believed.

Bottomline? I guess to me, it doesn't matter which ones play which roles. God is at work in those who have trusted in Him. I don't expect much from all the rest.

By Anonymous ded, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 7:10:00 PM  

alamar, I think I'll just leave your mistake for posterity's sake! ;) Of all the nerve to actually comment on someone else's blog!! hehe (just kidding) Seriously, though, thanks for clearing that up, because I was really confused as to who James was and what you were commenting on!

By the way, alamar, I'm going to pass on the "image of Jesus" thing for right now, if you don't mind. Besides being unrelated to this post, it's something I would really need to think about and pray about before posting thoughts on it.

ded: Man, you said that SO well. You pretty much summed up in words I could not find what it is that was frustrating me about this debate over a gay actor. I felt it sad that I even felt the need to put a "disclaimer" in my post to assure people that I believed homosexuality was wrong. Somehow, though, in other discussions, this has been something others have jumped to conclusions about regarding anyone who gave this movie a positive reaction.

As I mentioned in my post, I would never want to make someone go against their conscience, so I respect the fact that others may not want to see this movie (for whatever reason). However, the comments that have been made on other blogs really floored me. Especially when I saw a comment earlier today that said that those who were "taking a stand" and boycotting the movie are "true Christians". I found it ironic, then, that you said, "It begs the question, 'Who is the real Christian?'"

I have to say that I'm sad to see this debate rage. Maybe some good could come out of the debate, but unfortunately, it looks like just another opportunity for certain groups to circle their wagons and take potshots at the rest of us.

My identity comes from being in Christ, and the more I realize that, the more I'm able to shake off those accusations and pointed fingers telling me that I'm not a "real" Christian. But it's still a challenge from time to time.

I praise God for what He has done in your life, ded. Thanks for being my brother! And thanks again for being such a faithful reader and commenter here.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, January 24, 2006 7:32:00 PM  

great post and I love your blog--I am going to add your link to my link list on
End of the Spear

By Blogger ScottyB, at Wednesday, January 25, 2006 6:55:00 PM  

Thanks, Steve. I am glad I am your brother, too! I could so easily be dead forever from my sin! Quite literally. God met me and pulled me out of the miry clay in 1979. The same year that AIDS is believed to have surfaced in the US. OH!!! Praise for the graciousness of a wondrous God who loved me even while I was yet a sinner! I am glad you are my brother as well!

One thing I have come to long for passionately is for believers to see and understand the family of God is not defined by dogma, but by the spirit of love, which is God Himself. Many folks think that the word "love" and "permissiveness" have become synonyms and nothing could be further from the truth. We do serve a holy God. There is nothing permissive in His nature!

Yet, He did not come to condemn the people caught in the many vile things we have embraced through our human rebellion. He came to redeem and restore.

Should Christians partake of the entertainment skills of this modern age? If not, the glamorous and glitzy Dove awards seem wayward, do they not? Or in the very least so entertainment oriented as to be considered permissable but not profitable as Paul would say. Oh...maybe profit is why there even are Dove awards. Should I judge that? Ultimately God judges the heart, and He sees things none of us can.

So much of individual experience is left to the individual's conscience. God sorts through our motivations. After much deliberation regarding movies, I have come to the conclusion that entertainment is part of relaxation--down time. Does God expect work every waking hour? Even as I allow myself entertainemnt as a part of down time, I have personal limits of conscience. In my 27 years of Christian life, I have probably viewed about six or seven "R" films.
Three of those were so filthy I had to stop them. I have watched Braveheart three times though and find some of its message disturbing even as I did not feel violated by its content of violence. That is, my conscience did not demand I not watch it.

Do I expect others to match my standards before I will accept their profession of faith? Never.

Am I right in my standards? That is not the point. I have no righteousness of my own. It is all Jesus's perfect life, His blood spilt, and His resurrection that enables my relationship with God.

By Anonymous ded, at Wednesday, January 25, 2006 7:58:00 PM  

Is being a Christian a job? Are we off the job, when we choose to watch whatever for entertainment? Not criticizing. Not forgetting planks in my own eye. I know I stop living like a Christian sometimes when I put self before
God.

But I could have that rebelliousness come up anywhere, not just during downtime or entertainment time. Are we supposed to give our whole lives to God, even our entertainment time? Not saying watching an "R" or controversial movie is willful disobedience. Just that those movie-makers all had a message to tell. Shouldn't we exercise our God-given wisdom to test all things even in entertainment? At least figure out the message and how others might digest it?

Not preaching. Just wrestling with it.

People talking and reacting about a homosexual actor playing a Christian character is just another opportunity to test my walk of faith. I wouldn't hide my Christianity while walking into the theatre if "Christian" protesters were outside.

By Blogger alamar, at Thursday, January 26, 2006 2:35:00 AM  

Alamar, you didn't sound like you were preaching at all. The blog format is great for allowing a diverse group people to exchange thoughts. It is far from the wonder of being able to sit together face to face and hear one another's inflections and read non-verbal signals that give meaning and depth to words.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that being in Christ and measuring every experience must be continual and against His plumbline.

I have wrestled with this very much. There are times when I have wondered if people such as the Amish who have remained agrarian and refused modern technology are the "true" Christians. They have no struggle (I would assume) with what to watch on TV or which movie to see.

I am acknowledging that there are times when I am off my literal job and I do not schedule chores, or visits with others, etc. My goal and intention is to rest my mind and body. There are a variety of things I can do during such time. Are movies OK? Are a long list of modern entertainments, OK? Even when the content is not offensive to God, should we "waste" our time on a computer game, or even reading a book. Should I rest by being in prayer?

Clearly it can be seen by earlier posts that I allow myself to partake of movies. I am not Amish yet!

By Anonymous ded, at Thursday, January 26, 2006 7:29:00 AM  

Don't become Amish. It will mean you can no longer comment on my blog! ;) But seriously, as you know, I, too, long for a simpler life, and Lord willing my family and I will find it.

(By the way, alamar, since you are in New Zealand, are you familiar with the Amish and the concepts to which ded and I refer? Just wanted to check.)

I think in the context of what are appropriate entertainment choices for a Christian, or even if entertainment choices are an option at all for the believer, we must keep in mind the statement of Paul in Colossians 3:17: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

In the 16 verses preceding the above, Paul is talking about where our minds should be set, what we should put off (anything that belongs to our earthly nature), and putting on the new self. So, if you can participate in a particular activity while not violating your new creation, then I see nothing wrong with it.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Thursday, January 26, 2006 7:38:00 AM  

Thanks, Ded, for the comment. Previous to this month, I've only limited myself to one religious forum run by a newspaper in my boyhood hometown. Even though I've debated and defended my faith with Mormons, Baha'i, atheists and the like, I feel it was more to benefit myself in understanding Scripture and the "doctrines" of man.

Now entrance into blog land is helpful for the present season I'm in: transitioning hopefully in the direction that God would have me go, having been frustrated all my life with the divisions between Christians.

Steve, I'm a dual citizen, and spent most of the first half of my life in the U.S. where I was born. Yeah, I've been through Amish land and know popular description of their ways, though haven't bothered to look more closely.

However, I envy their desire, probably born of Jesus' instruction to deny self. About 6 years ago I went for a year without a TV in my house, just to break the habit. Now I'm presently without a TV since five months ago, because I fell back into old habit of watching too much. I hope it's a permanent thing now, thinking that the 'net is more profitable (though not without its temptations), being interactive and efficient technology.

So, Steve, not sure if I should personally e-mail you on this, but why not just throw it out so others can see, and input?:

I haven't yet searched far for Christian bloggers, but you appear to be seeking God's will and wisdom in a good way, not easily swayed by others' opinions, or even your own natural understanding.

So, this struggle I'm having: where, how and when to initiate a home, family, un-institutionalized, manner of assembling with other believers. I've been to a "micro-church" conference here in New Zealand, with Wolfgang Simson as the key speaker.

Wolfgang says he desires no self pedestal, says he abhors trying to put "structure" to what Jesus has built, but maybe people who are eager to do this house church thing do regard him too highly, maybe do too eagerly apply his theory(?) or interpretation of Scripture as the "proper" way to do house church.

Maybe you're not ready to comment or blog on this yet, but I just toss it in your direction because I appreciate your careful "musings".

Right now I'm struggling with what you've touched on in recent blogs: the "office" of a prophet. It seems there is widespread acceptance among "simple church" people that the "five-fold ministry" is an obvious GIVEN from Scripture.

I'm currently half way through Wolfgang's "Houses That Changed The World" and, maybe I'm in the wrong, but I feel disturbed about this free acceptance that "apostles and prophets" are vital offices for some of God's people to fill today. I'm thinking, "Can't they just be called 'elders' or something?" And I don't think the lack of such offices will cause groups to worship Scripture mor than God, as Wolfgang says.

Also, thinking of starting a simple church with other like-minded: If I was staunch on no propets/apostles, would my "opinion" build the wrong "structure" into Jesus' plan?

Again, sorry if this is the wrong time and place to talk about this. I don't feel right talking about it at the House2House site. So I know you are also transitioning into some form of simple church activity, and I just would be interested in your take on the whole thing someday...whenever your time is right to discuss such a thing.

Thanks and God Bless You

By Blogger alamar, at Thursday, January 26, 2006 3:23:00 PM  

alamar, Lord willing, I will get back to blogging on these topics that you raised real soon. This week I have just not been able to sit down and compose posts because of time constraints. I hope to get back on it very soon and touch on some of these topics, as well as the comments Ray and ded have brought up as well. Ded has lots of good input on the "non-traditional" approach to church, too, and I might even try to talk him into "guest blogging" here! ;)

Thanks for your kind words. Glad to have you on this journey.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Thursday, January 26, 2006 4:59:00 PM  

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