Soul Surfer Thoughts and Considerations

Tonight I was able to be a part of a special screening for the upcoming release of the Movie, Soul Surfer.  I really appreciated the opportunity to get a first look at the film before its release next month and felt compelled to write a brief reaction to it.

The movie follows the story of Bethany Hamilton, the young surfer who had her arm bit by a shark leaving her to wrestle with the implications of her true identity outside of the normalcy she had previously enjoyed.  Bethany’s real life story is nothing short of remarkable and at every possible chance she gives glory to God and acknowledges Christ as her Savior, a truly compelling young woman.

I had high hopes for the movie on two fronts; one was the message of the movie and the ultimate reality of our need for Christ in our lives as the true source of our identity.  Secondly I had hoped for a compelling film that was well made.

As it relates the latter the movie far exceeded my expectations.  The casting, including Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, was top notch and the film as a whole was the best of this genre I have ever seen.  The movie was truly compelling to watch and not only captured your attention but also your heart as you relived the experiences of her trials with her injury.

Where the film was surprising to me was the coffee cup theology they employed through poorly used Scripture verses and a complete lack of the name of Jesus or the Gospel.  I knew that since this movie was being created with a multi-million dollar budget and from a mainstream studio that it would be difficult to incorporate strong Christian elements but I think it’s worth pointing out some of these concerns.

The two passages that were used in the movie are commonly cited by well-intentioned Christians with the same thrust.  One was a passage from the Old Testament in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  The way many Christians use this verse and the way the movie did is to directly apply the passage to us today as though that was it’s original purpose but that simply isn’t true.  The passage is referring to a specific people and a specific situation, neither one of which do we fit.  Additionally there are better passages with clearer theology that could have been used such as Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  This passage is meant for Christians and not only points out that God wants good things for us but also puts that good in context to His plan and not primarily our desires.

Secondly they used Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  They communicated this verse several times to convey the idea that Bethany could overcome her physical challenges and return to surfing.  This verse is often used by Christians to indicate that we can accomplish any task simply by tapping into this superpower that God has waiting for us.  Again, this isn’t what the verse means.  Paul is writing the letter while in prison and having received lots of different persecutions that he has already outlined.  The verse communicates the idea that no matter what our circumstances might be we can find contentment in our relationship with Christ because He has us there for a reason and He has given us the resources to find peace in the midst of it.

These may seem like minor grievances, and to be clear, the movie is excellent but I think they’re worth noting.  The important thing I want to put forward is that while the movie is good and highly moral, it may not be as ‘Christian’ as you think.  The content of the movie itself does not explain the Gospel or even mention the name of Jesus (except for the real Bethany Hamilton during the credits receiving an award).  If you want to start spiritual conversations I think this could be a great springboard to do so but it isn’t the main course of the Gospel that people need.  In fact it may be in some ways contrary to the message that people need to hear.

The celebrity-like Bethany in the movie experienced hardship, sprinkled on some faith and hard work and rose back to the top of the surfing world.  This sort of moralistic deism is prevalent in Christian culture but not the Gospel.  The message we must deliver through this movie and any that we see and interact with others around is that we as humans are separated from God because of our failings in nature and choice (sin), that a loving God made a way through His son’s sacrifice (Jesus) for us to experience eternal life and be reconciled to a Holy God.  It’s only in accepting the gift God has given us and turning our lives over to Him that this fallen world can begin to make sense and we can get the hope necessary for life and eternity.

Let me once again say, this is a good movie that I would recommend far more than many others but it isn’t perfect and don’t send people to it so they hear the Gospel…share the Gospel with them so they’ll hear it.


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