This Tuesday an amazing thing is going to happen. The kind of movie that evangelicals loudly claim to want is coming to a video outlet near you. Letters to God -- a film directed by one of the producers of Fireproof -- is a family drama about Tyler, a young boy who literally writes, and mails, letters to God. In the letters, Tyler speaks to God as a close friend in a way that recognizes that he may meet his Maker before too long. Tyler has cancer.
As you can imagine, the U.S. Postal Service does not have a lot of luck getting Tyler's mail to God, so the task falls upon a troubled mail carrier, Brady, to deal with the letters. He tries to take them to a church - a seemingly fine place to deliver letters to God - but the local pastor makes it clear that the letters were entrusted to Brady for a reason. So Brady, a divorced dad struggling with his own demons, suddenly discovers that he is on a mission from God.
Letters to God has a lot of talk about Jesus. People openly pray in this film, discuss death, and rejoice in their lives. Maddy Doherty, Tyler's mother, is a single mom trying to raise two boys. The family - including a helpful grandma -- cares about each other, though they are not perfect, and not all endings are happy ones. If this sounds a lot like the real life of Christians you know it may be because Letters to God is based on a true story. Young Tyler's real-life letter writing campaign has changed the lives of countless others.
So where do you come in?
Christians lament the realistic portrayal of Christians on the screen. They say that they want to see more positive content - films that move them spiritually and that they can use to make an impact in the lives of their friends. But when To Save A Life came out earlier this year, it grossed only $4 million - despite being a better (and more thought-provoking) film than many Hollywood-produced small films. Even Fireproof, a movie that many Christians viewed as a success, brought in only $33 million. Just to compare, the completely dismal film The Bounty Hunter so far has raked in $50 million and is still climbing.
Are the films produced by Christian production companies completely up to Hollywood standards? If you are going to compare them to movies such as The Hurt Locker or expect the special effects to rival Transformers, well, no. But are they as good as, if not better than, many of the films that achieve wide release? Absolutely.
But the most important thing is that if we want these studios to get better at their craft, we need to support their efforts. In medieval times, artists in the church had patrons who supported them in their art. Today ticket-buyers and DVD purchasers take the place of patrons. In this case, you literally get what you pay for. So this weekend you can choose to buy or rent some Hollywood production with great special effects but not much story. Or you can purchase or rent a little film that will challenge the way they choose to deal with adversity and that will help them to reach out to others.This is a great week to see Letters to God.
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D., is the president of MovieMinistry.com, an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations, Bible studies and discussion cards, drawn from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people. Dr. Newman is an associate professor in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University. Requests for media interviews, or reprints of this article, can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org