Black, with a wry smile and a deep southern drawl, replies that if people don't pick up on that from the scene, there's something wrong with them. From that I gather that the story apparently explores Luke's faith journey, as well as his subsequent enlightenment, but it doesn't contain the "sinner's prayer" or present the "four spiritual laws." This begs the question: What exactly is a Christian movie? Some say it's one that embodies Judeo-Christian values. Others claim that a film isn't "Christian" unless there is a clear Gospel presentation. It's a complex issue to be sure.

We spend an entire afternoon mingling with the marketing team, the producers, the director, several PGA golf pros and the film's stars—including Duvall, Black, Academy Award nominee Melissa Leo (Frozen River), and The Hurt Locker star Brian Geraghty. Most of them are eager to talk about the story. A majority of my colleagues seem at ease with the implicit spiritual nature of the film, but a few are openly bothered by the fact that they perceive the writers/producers/actors/directors are "watering down" the message. And that brings up an interesting question: is there significant spiritual value in a story that doesn't spell out what it means to come to God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

As we mill around and prepare for dinner at the clubhouse, I strike up a few conversations to that end. One woman points out that approximately one third of Jesus' teachings were parables, and that he rarely explained them or spelled them out. Simple stories about ordinary things, she says, were apparently transformed into life-changing truths. I ask another colleague if he thinks God can reach people through stories alone. "Yes," he replies. "I think sometimes we act as though everything is up to us. The Holy Spirit clearly had a part in the enlightenment of the masses when Jesus spoke in parables, and I think He still has the power to do that today—if we'll give him the chance." I pose the same question to another colleague, however, and he gently but firmly explains that an unwillingness to be explicit about the Jesus element dilutes the message. "If we don't tell them," he asks, "who will?"

Though all don't see eye-to-eye, we have interesting dinner conversation about such things. It remains to be seen how redemption will be portrayed in Seven Days in Utopia. And it also remains to be seen how people will receive it. Until the last edits are lying on the cutting room floor, probably no one will know what kind of an impact the film may have. My guess is that with Robert Duvall involved, it will somehow be powerful.

It is dark when we board the bus to return to San Antonio. We make our way down the aisle and slip into our spacious, comfortable seats. It would be easy to fall asleep; our bellies are full of Texas barbeque and we are tired from the heat. It has been a long day. The bus makes its way toward Highway 90, but now it's difficult to see anything but headlights. For about five minutes things are relatively quiet as we settle our belongings and fiddle with our phones.

I begin talking to the woman in front of me and before I know it there are about six or seven who have chimed in, and have inadvertently formed a makeshift circle. We are telling stories about our lives and it occurs to me that the only things missing are a campfire and maybe a marshmallow or two. We listen, we laugh, and we tell. And somehow by the time the bus rolls into the hotel driveway, I feel like I've picked up a new perspective or two. Funny how listening to someone's life can do that.



A release date has not yet been set for Seven Days in Utopia, which is still in production.  For more information about the film, the book or Dr. David L. Cook, please visit here.

Photos © Laura Jenkins 

**This article first published on September 10, 2010.