A Religion for Heroes: Gods and Generals

CHUCK COLSON

It's easy to take shots at major Hollywood studios. So much of what they produce is trash. But sometimes even major studios come up with something great.


When an actor or director is asked what attracted them to a particular project, the answer is nearly always the same: the story. Whether or not it's true, it's the right answer. Love of stories is in our very nature as humans. The problem is that nearly all films leave out an important part of many good stories: that is, the role of faith. A welcome exception to that rule opens tomorrow in theaters across the country.

The film is called Gods and Generals. It is written and directed by Ron Maxwell and produced by Ted Turner — yes, that Ted Turner. The same one who called Christianity a "religion for losers" has now produced a film that highlights credible and strong Christian faith.

The film is a prequel to the 1993 film Gettysburg, and tells the story of the first two years of the Civil War. The first hint that the film deviates from Hollywood's usual treatment of faith can be found in the trailer that tells us, "They read the same Bible," and "They believed in the same God."

These believers were the men who fought the Civil War, in particular the central characters of the film: Confederate legends Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson along with Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

While these men were on opposite sides of the war, they had one important thing in common: their Christian faith.

And to their credit, the actors who portrayed these characters understood the centrality of faith. Jeff Daniels, who plays Chamberlain, told writers that Chamberlain's faith was the most important thing in his life.

Stephen Lang, who portrays Jackson, went even further and called his character's relationship with Christ the "lens" through which he viewed the world-or as I'd put it, his worldview. In Lang's words, Jackson was an "Old Testament warrior with a New Testament theology."

A respect for history required that the characters' faith be an important part of God and Generals. And that's just what the producers did. And to their credit, the producers did not, as so often happens, caricature their faith or portray it negatively.

This film shows the vital role that Christianity played in the lives of these men, and the audience sees how their decisions and their character were shaped by their beliefs.

Thus, when Jackson tells a minister that they will see each other again in heaven, it feels natural. It is what the audience comes to expect from Jackson. Similarly, when he and Lee speak of something being God's will, there is not the slightest hint of irony or cynicism. We know and accept that this is what they believed.

The film accomplishes this without being preachy or leaving audiences with the feeling that they are being proselytized. Instead, they are entertained and left with something to think about.

Regular listeners to BreakPoint know that I don't hesitate to criticize Hollywood studios for the garbage they often release. It is only fair, then, to thank them for movies that Christians can and should support.

So thanks to Warner Brothers and I never thought I would say it to Ted Turner for Gods and Generals, a film that in telling a good story remembers to include the most important part.


For further reading:

Bill Kauffman, "The Civil War Returns," American Enterprise, March 2003.

"TAE Chats with Robert Duvall," American Enterprise, March 2003.

Learn more about the film Gods and Generals based on the book by Jeff P. Shaara.

Learn more about the film Gettysburg based on the book titled The Killer Angels (Ballantine) by Michael Shaara.

Rod Dreher, "God Bless Ted Turner," National Review Online, February 11, 2003.

Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Baker Book House, 2000).


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Charles Colson. "A Religion for Heroes: Gods and Generals." BreakPoint Commentary #030220 - 02/20/2003.

From BreakPoint (2/20/2003), Copyright 2003, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint " and "Prison Fellowship Ministries " are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

THE AUTHOR

Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. He has written 12 books, and his "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S.

Copyright 2003 Breakpoint
 


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