3 Very Different Documentaries on Christian Engagement: “Hell House”, “Jesus Camp”, and “Lord, Save us from Your Followers”

Posted: August 19, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Christ & Culture, Ecclesiology (Church Stuff), Evangelism, Missional Thought, Movie Reviews, Politics, The Mysterious World of American Evangelicalism, Theology
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Well, with my new Netflix subscription in effect, I was able to take in a few documentaries (I am a big documentary fan for some odd reason). I saw “Jesus Camp“, “Hell House“, and “Lord, Save Us from Your Followers“. These 3 documentaries offered 3 very different pictures of Christian cultural engagement.

“Jesus Camp” essentially portrays Pentecostal catechesis of children; full of intercessory prayer, tongues, and Spiritual warfare…all intended to claim the world for Jesus. Kids are taught to go all out, to ramp up their opposition to “sin” in the cultural battles of our day, and to share Jesus with everyone. Hey, to be honest, there’s a lot good there, however watching the film grieved me in many ways. There is no dialectical aspect to sharing the faith and engaging culture. Everything is an all out war. Also, a little girl “felt led” to share Jesus with someone at the bowling alley in typical “hit and run” fashion and the parents affirmed it. The interviews with some of the kids, including a young girl reveals some expected immaturity, however it is more dangerous because their is a spiritualizing of their immaturity. In one scene, a girl criticizes churches that don’t yell to Jesus when they pray, going so far as to say that Jesus only likes worship from the churches that yell and get exuberant. What is sadder is that parents are reinforcing all of this. So, not only are these kids at war with culture, they are also condescending of the broader church.

“Hell House” is somewhat similar to “Jesus Camp” in that the setting is Pentecostal. A large Pentecostal church in Texas essentially gears up for their “hell house” outreach. They brought in 10,000-12,000 folks through their hellish house, truly intended to scare the hell out of people. Lot’s of scenes of people making sinful decisions, dying, and then being dragged into hell, with accompanying torture and everlasting torment. Let me first state that I do believe in hell, but many of the scenes were distasteful in that some of the kids who kill themselves because they were victimized. One example has a boy who is constantly made fun of at school pull a gun out and kill himself. Another example is a teen girl who is given a pill by an attractive guy at a party, which happens to be a date rape pill. She is gang raped and then kills herself after the shame of being violated. I totally get that these kids could very well be non-Christians but I just thought it a horrible screenplay to have victims that we empathize with be the ones cast into hell, while the offenders face no consequences in the mini-drama. Anyhow, the end of the “hell house” tour gives the youth an opportunity to go through a door for prayer, intended to mimic the last seen of the tour, where people are brought through the gates of heaven. What is sad is that the Gospel was not proclaimed throughout the entire “hell house” tour and neither at the end. Basically, the guy says if you want to “get right” with God and go to heaven, then enter the door. He then counts down, offering kids their last chance. He then shuts the door and tells the remaining youth to move along. There was no loving engagement in any of the dramas, actually showing a Christian engaging a “sinner” and offering them love in their pain and suffering. What is sadder is that the whole production team of this “hell house” essentially viewed this as their way of evangelizing. Once again, this is a Christ against culture motif, where Christians aren’t really encouraged to actually befriend the rejected student, or to come alongside the gang-raped girl who was induced by drugs. That requires too much work, apparently. There is almost a smug arrogance that delights in the fact that these people in hell get what they deserve. I could go on and on with other troubling items in this documentary and the way in which they seek to transform the world. I think the ending scene is pretty telling when a teenage girl shares that the world is worse than it has ever been and laments all societal ills (abortion, sex, etc) and then says that it is all okay because it means that Jesus is coming back sooner. WOW!!! There is hardly a heart of compassion or desire to actually go into the world and befriend these sinners, but an actual delight in the fact that Jesus is coming back sooner to give these people what they deserve.

“Lord, Save us from Your Followers” was well-done and I recommend folks checking it out. I don’t agree with the oversimplified solutions of simply helping the poor and being really loving, although those things have an important role in the Church’s witness. I do agree with the criticisms of Christian engagement of culture. It was really embarrassing when it was pointed out that agnostic liberals understand the world and even the world of Christians than Christians understood the world and their agnostic liberal counterparts. This was all played out in a “Family Feud” gameshow pitting Christians versus Agnostics, and Conservatives versus Liberals. The challenge of this documentary is how we engage the world and truly befriend them without also affirming aspects of their lifestyle or thought. That is tough. I think most Christians view friendship as requiring a wholesale endorsement of everything the other person believes, which explains why we usually befriend people who think and act just like we do, creating cliques even within the Church. Being missional means to be loving and we can all do a better job of loving our neighbor.

  1. Chad says:

    You forgot to mention in Jesus Camp when they bring out a cardboard cutout of Dubya and start worshiping it.

    The other two are in my queue, look very interesting.

    • oh yeah, you would have thought that W was a Savior or something. What’s really creepy is that some Christians use teh religious convictions of a President to determine whether we have revivial or not. Taking our nation back for Christ is simply to elect a Christian prez. If only Christians would show as much zeal in loving and getting to know their “pagan” neighbors.

  2. joelmartin says:

    Jesus camp is disgusting IMO. It’s weird to be a total fundamentalist (like I am) in terms of the authority of the Bible and God’s law, and yet to not identify with those folks AT ALL! I think their America worship and lack of understanding regarding church history and hermeneutics is why I diverge with them.

    • Yeah, I try to be as gracious as possible, but this strand of Pentecostalism (which is the minority) really teaches children to demonize certain aspects of the world (which are usually actually correct in many ways), but to also exalt and associate certain cultural victories as something connected with the advancement of God’s kingdom…like in their joy at W. being elected. You’re right about histroical snobbery, but they do have their own present-day saints, W. being one of them when he was elected.

  3. Brian Westcott says:

    I have a copy of Jesus Camp at home. To quote my former Children’s Pastor, one word describes the documentary, “Creepy.” I may be Charismatic, but thank God I’m not Fundamentalist. Obviously, the little girl who complained churches who don’t yell never visited the Meridian Vineyard or New Beginnings Worship Center, an African-American church I’m a part of. The Kingdom Now/Dominionism/Militant philosophy is downright scary to me. Some things we need to take seriously, some we don’t.

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