Friday, April 20, 2012

Jonathan Martin, "Christianity Today and Blue Like Jazz"

I'm a fan of Martin as a writer and as a pastor. His podcast is awesome. So check this out.

I did indeed read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  I liked Miller’s book because I thought it was funny and honest. I found it refreshing to buy a book in a Christian bookstore that was well-written (not generally criteria for publishing “Christian” books).  It did not change my life or even my mind about anything in particular, so I am not some rabid apologist for the book (and I don’t know Don personally).  I have not yet seen the new film.  But I don’t think I need to in order to call out Christianity Today for their frankly absurd new review.
While the reviewer does not give the film a unilaterally negative review, they ultimately gave Blue Like Jazz 2 and 1/2 stars for, well, if you understand what you are reading–not being Reformed enough theologically: “Separating ‘Christian spirituality’ from the fundamentals of the gospel message means, in the case of Miller’s book, an emphasis on feelings and experience, on social justice and an individual search for truth. Little traction is given to the mortification of sin, to the atoning significance of the Cross, and so forth.”  Or later, “But Christ and the Cross don’t much factor into the story, making it seem like a big swing of the pendulum, from the legalism of the Christian Right to the social causes of the Christian Left.”
Here’s my deal: I don’t fault CT for having a more Reformed perspective. That’s their prerogative. The critic seems to find not only the film but the source material to be inadequate in its presentation of the scope of the gospel (though I don’t recall Miller’s book making any claims to define or re-define “the gospel,” only to share alternately funny and heartbreaking scenes from his own story).  What I can’t handle is the sudden doctrinal piety.  I’ve been reading the magazine since high school, and can’t recall a parallel.  In an attempt to “engage culture,” CT will generally give films even with the most difficult content generous marks if it is well-made.  Again, I don’t fault them for this per se.
What I do fault CT for is the inconsistency (I bit my tongue not to say hypocrisy) of being more generous with  say, A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which I have contended is a lightweight thriller posing as social commentary here.  In fairness, the critic was careful to state that Dragon Tattoo contains stark, disturbing violence.  Yet I am no less chaffed by the suggestion that a movie where the voyeuristic camera lingers on forced oral sex and anal rape of a female ultimately gets higher marks than Blue Like Jazz.  The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is an “insightful, haunting film that successfully captures the sort of alienation and rage inherent in the abused and skeptical generation that Lisbeth represents…”  Even in all of its violence, the reviewer asks us: ” Is there anything left to cling to? Perhaps only this: the strange and persistent suspicion that goodness does exist and that justice is worth fighting for. At least this is what seems to keep Lisbeth going.”
But of course Blue Like Jazz has too much social justice and not enough atonement?  If any of Miller’s content in the book is represented accurately in the film, it surely has plenty of examples of love and forgiveness and grace that could be found without rummaging through a sewer of sexual degradation.  But of course a dark mainstream film like Dragon Tattoo has to be viewed through the lens of Christian charity in the name of cultural relevance, whereas Blue Like Jazz has to pass through the filter of Reformed theology.  We should look to find the value or “the truth” embedded in depictions of graphic sexual violence, but the lack of atonement in Blue Like Jazz is, pardon me, offensive?  Then again, I suppose The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo has enough “wrath” to “satisfy” anybody, even Reformed movie critics.
I love you, Christianity Today.  But the double standard is inexcusably stupid.  In your reviews, you can be the savvy “engage the culture intellectually publication” if you like, or you can be the orthodoxy police of culture.  I frankly don’t care which you choose, just thought you should know you don’t get to be both at the same time.

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