[Q]Jay Leno once said that if God does not destroy Hollywood, then he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. Is that an accurate assessment of the town and its stories?
[Q] Do Christians have any business in Hollywood?
[Q] Do you think popular entertainment would be noticeably different if all the Christians quit the media?
Discover the Eternal Principles
Early in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus establishes the purpose his disciples will have in the world. First he gives several snapshots of his disciples. They are peacemakers, they are humble; they have no spiritual bragging rights; they are hungry for his righteousness. Then Jesus describes their effect on the world in the verses we are examining here (Matt. 5:13-16). They are salt and light for a decaying and darkened society. In the remainder of the hillside sermon, Jesus gives examples of how this is lived out: what to do when you are angry, when you are tempted, when you are compelled to give up.
As we study the “salt and light” passage, consider the implications for Christians in show business. Ask how this text applies to any of us who have the opportunity to influence our society and to witness for Jesus Christ in places that are increasingly hostile to the gospel and those who want to share it.
Teaching point one: Disciples influence their surroundings.
Jesus tells ever-so-common listeners that they have great influence on the world. He calls them “salt.” Salt for these hearers was probably sea salt, extracted by boiling vast amounts of ocean water until only the solids remained. Some of this salt’s minerals were used as fertilizer. Salt was also one of the few disinfectants of the day, for household and medicinal use. “Rubbing salt in the wound” expresses something painful today, but Jesus’ listeners understood that salt was a cleansing agent. Salt might hurt for a few minutes, but it would promote healing. And salt was mostly used as a food preservative, preventing or delaying decay. Without it, few vegetables and little meat could survive a winter. Without salt, many people would have gone hungry, and in desperate times, some might have died.
[Q] Consider these roles: fertilizer, disinfectant, and preservative. How are Christians in places of influence acting like these things today?
The article’s author, Marshall Allen, says, “Believing screenwriters serve as gatekeepers, winning battles to keep depraved content off the screen.” One writer says, “You can’t trace it, but I see it constantly.” Ask your students how they or someone they know served in a similar way as a “gatekeeper.”
Teaching point two: Disciples spread the truth of the gospel.
Jesus’ second word picture is a lamp. The gospel is the light that shines in the darkness of human need, and the followers of Christ are the bearers of that light. Just as an ancient city, often built of white limestone that gleamed in the sun, could not be hidden, so the gospel cannot be hidden. True disciples of Christ have a holy obligation to share the gospel, but that isn’t easy in some settings.
Allen points out that few of the moguls in Hollywood are religious people. It’s a big deal if someone on TV goes to church, he says, for the producers have little to do with church. The stumbling block for them is that Christianity is an exclusive religion in a place and an age that prides itself on being inclusive. Because of that, Christians in Hollywood are careful how open they are with their faith, especially when writing for the screen.
Robert Johnston, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, says there are three types of Christians in Hollywood; those who:
see professional excellence as their calling and testimony to God.
“Which is right?” he asks.
Ask group members to pick a position and discuss it. You may wish to form teams and debate for a few minutes.
Ask your students if they think Ralph Winter’s statement— “If you want to get into screenwriting because you want to convert people, it’s the wrong reason” —contradicts Matthew 5:13-16, or the Great Commission for that matter.
Teaching point three: Disciples face threats of dilution and darkness.
Jesus warns his listeners that salt can lose its flavor and usefulness and that light can be hidden. In other words, careless disciples can lose their usefulness in the kingdom. If they do, they deserve only to be thrown out. Disciples who fulfill their purpose by living their faith publicly will cause others to praise God.
Theologian D.A. Carson summarizes: “If salt exercises the negative function of delaying and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan). Or, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.”
Martha Williamson had to battle with CBS over Touched by an Angel so that the angels would be depicted as created beings rather than deceased humans, that angels would work for God, and that the star of the show would be God. Today she is admired for her stance. But at the time, her reputation and her career were on the line.
[Q] Where would you be most tempted to compromise your faith if you worked in Hollywood?
[Q] Which of the Christians in the article do you admire most for being salt and light to Hollywood? Why?