Well, technically, Jesus was not the director, producer, or screen writer. But he is the creator of all things and he did produce the remarkably clever creators of “The Artist.” It is particularly good at evoking the early period of Hollywood — the time of the silents — and how radical the shift was to talkies. At the same time, it shows how charming those silent films were, even in suggesting the genre may have life in it still.
The reason for bringing Jesus into my enjoyment of “The Artist” is simply to remind the those who want Christian piety to be always visible and earnest that the joy — see, I can say it — that believers experience at the movies need not be in competition with their trust in Christ or desire to glorify him. John Piper has a post about Christians who take more pleasure than they should in movies:
What should you do if you know someone who seems to be more excited about movies than Jesus?
Many professing Christians give little evidence of valuing Jesus more than the latest movie they have seen. Or the latest clothing they bought. Or the latest app they downloaded. Or the latest game they watched. Something is amiss.
We are not God and cannot judge with certainty and precision what’s wrong. There is a glitch somewhere. Perhaps a blindness going in, a spiritual deadness at heart, or a blockage coming out. Or some combination. Christ doesn’t appear supremely valuable. Or isn’t felt as supremely valuable. Or can’t be spoken of as supremely valuable. Or some combination.
One important weakness in Piper’s point is that he begins with the word, “seems.” The great problem with the piety he promotes is that none of us can see into the heart so that every display of piety, from raised hands and psalm singing to sermon listening and eating the bread of the Lord’s Supper, only seems to be indicative of an inward reality. The joy that members of Bethlehem Baptist exude is not inherently more reliable a guide to genuine devotion than the Orthodox Presbyterian who memorizes the catechism.
But the bigger problem is that Piper does not seem to acknowledge that joy may take different forms. I was incredibly happy when the Phillies won in 2008. I was feeling much more energized that October night than any time I have left a church service. Did that indicate that I took more joy from the Phillies than I do from Christ? Maybe, and if I continue to wear my Brad Lidge long-sleeve T-shirt to worship the elders may need to pay a visit. But sometimes ephemeral pleasures produce intense experiences of joy. Eventually, those emotions fade and recede in importance compared to the ongoing and deeper joy a believer experiences in the week-in-week-out attendance on the means of grace. In other words, celebration is not joy and that distinction would have gone a long way to deciding the worship wars (that Piper’s piety unwittingly abets through an earnestness that rarely distinguishes between excitement and joy).
I would bet that Piper himself even knows this difference even if he does not talk about it. I suspect that he was remarkably joyful when his first child walked, or better, said, “daddy.” Was he at that point more excited about the love of a child than his love for Jesus? To an observer it might seem so. But to an Old Lifer, who knows that all of life is a gift of God, and that temporal joys are good but not ultimately great, Piper’s delight in a child’s development would not qualify as a sign of infidelity. To set up such a competition — the more you delight in aspects of human existence, the less you love Christ — is to take the joy out of life. How sad.