Top 20 Countdown: Number 8 – Won the Battle, Losing the War?

The eighth most read article was written about the effects of the controversy surrounding the movie End of the Spear. Are we fighting the right battles? This situation was a classic debate on that important question.

The box office run of End of the Spear  has drawn to a close. The backlash from a number of Christian blogs, publications, and from many  pulpits accomplished its goal. Estimates are that the controversy cut the box office return by one-half to two-thirds. I wish congratulations were in order. But I am simply burdened and discouraged by our choice of battles in the evangelical community.

I should never be allowed near a keyboard when I am frustrated. But I hope that all who advocated a boycott are happy with the results. Your efforts kept a lot of people away from a movie that has a powerful message. I have not talked to a single person who saw the movie (and that would be dozens) who was not moved by the portrayal of forgiveness and redemption. No one that I know cared who played the role of Nate Saint. Typical response. “Oh, he was gay? (pause) He did a good job.” Just for the record…I go to a conservative church.

What is wrong with having a movie that you can take a unchurched friend to and then discuss the supernatural response from the people that this story portrays? Evangelism is planting a seed and then watering that seed. There is plenty in this movie to accomplish that task. A heavy handed gospel message would have made it much more difficult to get unchurched friends to the movie. If you can’t find enough in End of the Spear to generate a wonderful discussion of the power of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross then you are just not trying.

For example, how about this scene where Mincayani takes Steve Saint to the scene of the killing and he is overcome by his role in the death of Steve’s father. Because he still lives by the rules of the Waodoni he wants the younger Saint to take his life. But the young man says, “No one took my father’s life. He gave it.” This affects the Mincayani profoundly. It’s an effective and powerful scene. Are you telling me you can’t parlay that drama into a discussion of Jesus giving His life on the Cross? How about discussing the story of Waengongi  (God) who once had a Son who was speared but did not spear back? Can’t find the gospel message in there anywhere?

The world is fascinated by the question of life after death. This movie clearly communicates that the warrior Mincayani believes he saw a heavenly host coming to escort Nate Saint and the other missionaries to their reward, or in the terms of the tribe, “jumping the Great Boa.” No way you can dig up a little salt to sprinkle from that scene?

I visited dozens of websites that were apoplectic that gay actor Chad Allen had been picked to play the role of Nate and Steve Saint. Most of these bloggers seemed like the Stanley Johnson character from the Lending Tree television commercial. Nice guys. Wonderful families. Lovely home in the suburbs. But on this issue they just seemed to go a little too far.

Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote this is a column posted at
“It is disappointing enough when unsaved, worldly culture-mongers cannot see clearly on basic moral issues. It is even more distressing when professing Christians betray complete moral confusion. That is the case with the new movie from Every Tribe Entertainment, End of the Spear. ETE is supposed to be a Christian maker of Christian films. End of the Spear is supposed to be the film biography of Nate Saint, the missionary pilot and martyr who gave his life to get the message of the gospel to the Auca Indians of Ecuador.”

Comments. First of all, it is not surprising nor disappointing when unsaved, worldly culture-mongers cannot see clearly. That is called sin and that is what sinners do. That is why we are having this discussion to see how we can communicate the gospel to a world that cannot see clearly. I was frustrated by his comment that ETE is “supposed” to be a Christian maker of Christian films. That is just flat wrong. ETE is a group of Christian men and women who are committed to making good stories with a message that can be used to communicate Christian values. They are hoping that people who willing to change out of their judges robes into their “civies” will use these stories to generate salt and light dialogue.

Here is an example of how I think we are fighting the wrong battles. This was a letter that was sent to radio talk show host Janet Parshall.

Mrs. Parshall,

Thanks so much for representing the Gospel and Biblical positions on Larry King Live last night. I was encouraged to hear the truth communicated in your reasonable and articulate fashion.

However, I was discouraged to hear you indiscriminately endorse the film your co-panelist on the program Mr. Allen stars in. By allowing Mr. Allen to play an active role in creating this film, End of the Spear has, I believe, given a platform for the exclusivity of the gospel to be undermined. His activist agenda has been given a wider audience because of his connection to this story. Furthermore, the public response and perception of Every Tribe Entertainment and Steve Saint has been to defend their choice and express support for Mr. Allen, further adding to the public perception of the legitimacy of a pluralistic gospel. I plead with you to reconsider your endorsement of this film. I ask you to call for ETE and Mr. Saint to take decisive and public action acknowledging the grievous error in casting a gay activist in their film. Encourage them to take a public and prominent stand for the exclusive Gospel- to state clearly and unequivocally that Jesus is the only way, and that the only hope for anyone trapped in the bondage of homosexuality or any other sin is to repent and turn to Jesus Christ for deliverance.

In Christ,  A Pastor.

His name is not important and I do wish to throw him under the bus for sincere objections. My point is to look at the opening sentence and then what follows. Janet Parshall represented the gospel well and communicated the truth of the gospel on the Larry King show! What an incredible opportunity and she did a great job. But then comes the dreaded however. If Janet did a great job of communicating the truth of the gospel how about taking the wild tact of praying that her words would fall on fertile ground and the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of those who heard.

I have had the privilege of sitting with some of the leaders of ETE in recent weeks. These are good, Godly men trying to fulfill what they believe is a calling of the Holy Spirit. Can we allow that perhaps God has called them to something different from your vision and can we allow that the vision may ultimately have a great impact? Can we have enough grace to offer the possibility that maybe they just made an honest mistake in casting Chad Allen? Is it possible to offer grace if you feel that it was a mistake? Can we consider that we should be praying and supporting the mission they feel called to do instead of trying to hurt them financially just because we don’t like how they made this movie? Perhaps their next project will meet your criteria. Is it possible that a Sovereign God ordained Chad to play this role because that influence will change his life and that he will have a great ministry someday? Or do you, like Job’s friends, already know what God is doing? Perhaps we are just too busy icing down our elbows from the stone throwing session to seek the Holy Spirit and pray for these men and women who are actually trying to do something unique in the arena of popular culture.

Yeah, I know. I need to get out the paper sack and breathe into it for a few seconds. But I am angry at many of my evangelical family. I am an evangelical but I am not a particularly proud one over this debate. You see, I live in the secular world and I know how all too well how evangelicals are perceived. And we just added plenty of fuel to that perception fire with this ridiculous overreaction to who played Nate Saint. Have you thrown away your VHS or DVD of Chariots of Fire yet? Two key roles in that powerful movie (including the part of Christian runner Eric Liddel) were played by gay actors. Tossed your Lord of the Rings trilogy in the trash? Gandalf was played by an actor who has been a gay activist. The only difference with those movies was that we did not know or, at least, it did not create controversy in the blogosphere.

I read outraged comments from bloggers and readers who seemed to feel they owned the story of the slain missionaries because their parents had read it to them when they were kids. This is not your story! This is not my story. This is God’s story. If this particular story does belong to anyone on this planet that person is Steve Saint. If Steve Saint is okay with the person who played his Dad then I am quite prepared to quietly drop my stones and slink slowly away.

Others were criticizing making this story as a for profit movie. They did not take the time to research that half of the profits were going to tribal missions. So what is the sum total of our high minded cyber flogging of End of the Spear and Every Tribe Entertainment? Thousands and thousands of people did not see a story that could have helped them see how forgiveness looks. Maybe thousands more lost a chance to be moved by the power of redemption. The financial contribution to the tribes will be reduced and that will impact the outreach. The people who worked so hard to make this movie have been wounded by the attacks (and some of the commentary was far less than graceful) of their brothers and sisters in Christ. But I know they will press on. Because I have looked in their eyes and I have seen the conviction of their calling. I know that many will disagree with me on this issue. But I am going to suggest one thing before we react to the next “crisis” in the Kingdom. Can we stop down, pray, and see how the Holy Spirit would have us communicate. Jesus communicated the truth in love. We must seek  His Spirit to do the same.

So we have won another battle. The evangelical community has won many battles in recent years. But my fear is that we continue to lose the war for the eternal souls around us.