Blind Sided by the Gospel
S. Michael CravenMichael Craven's weblog
- 2010 Mar 01
My family and I recently saw The Blind Side, the surprise blockbuster movie that tells the remarkable story of Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher. Michael's story is a true-life tale of nearly hopeless beginnings, the generous love of neighbor, and redemption; it is a powerful representation of the gospel of the kingdom.
Michael Oher was one of thirteen children (fathered by several men); he didn't learn the identity of his own father until he was in high school. Michael grew up in Hurt Village, a dilapidated, crime-ridden public housing project in Memphis, Tennessee—a place of darkness from which few ever escaped (it's since been demolished). His desolate mother, frequently absent, was addicted to crack cocaine. In short, Michael's was a situation filled with despair and lacking the essentials of a loving childhood.
If you've seen the film then you know the story centers on the involvement of the Tuohy family—Christians—who ultimately adopted Michael and worked to redeem the whole person of Michael Oher. This is, in my mind, what makes this movie so compelling as far as "Christian films" go. In contrast to most Christian attempts at moviemaking, The Blind Side doesn't preach to its audience by driving the storyline toward that inevitable moment when one character can slip in the plan of salvation. This strategy often feels forced, and only serves to limit the audience. Christians may like these films—they may make us feel good—but they rarely transcend the Christian subculture.
Furthermore, I think they do a disservice to the mission of the church by once again reducing the gospel to a set of propositions to be presented and accepted with little or no regard for the material needs of the human person. This serves to perpetuate the false dualism (spiritual vs. physical) that the bifurcated gospel represents. By contrast, The Blind Side expresses a vision rooted in the good news of the kingdom.
Life for Michael Oher took a dramatic turn when Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy saw this 6-foot, 5-inch 350-pound boy in light of the kingdom. They saw a child ravaged by the fall, a boy suffering from broken relationships, poverty, and neglect, deprived of the care and love that God desires for his creation. Whether the Tuohys consciously considered these things, I do not know. However, what I do know is that a vision of the world rooted in the reality of Christ's redemptive kingdom come into the world is more likely to motivate us to radical (and costly) acts of love as demonstrated by this family than a vision driven by evangelism as the only expression of the gospel. Now, before you react to this statement, pause, take a deep breath and process what I'm saying. I am not saying that we should not share the plan of salvation with people.
When Jesus was asked, "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22:36, NIV)—or "What is the most important thing that God desires from us?"—his reply is telling. "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus doesn't say anything about evangelism in the sense we think of today. He doesn't say go out and win lost souls—something we are utterly incapable of doing—he says love God and love others.
One of my favorite Old Testament passages, Micah 6:8, underscores this same sentiment. The rhetorical question is asked, "And what does the LORD require of you?" The answer? "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (NIV). Both Jesus' answer to the Pharisee and Micah 6:8 suggest action on our part that is relational, self-sacrificing and oriented toward serving the needs of others. Furthermore, Jesus' answer to the question is universal, a commandment to every follower of Jesus, whereas the gift of evangelism given to the church appears to be limited in its distribution to the body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, Ephesians 4:11).
The good news of the kingdom should fuel the vision of every Christian. Do you imagine a world redeemed by the loving reign of God in which all that sin has caused is made right? Is this not what Jesus meant when he told us to seek first the kingdom? And is this not the source of our hope—the promise that one day the enemies of God (sin, death, and Satan) will be forever destroyed? It is the truth of the kingdom that animated the vision of William Wilberforce as he imagined a world free of slavery. What foolishness this was to the world, and yet his pursuit of the kingdom was honored by our Lord through the abolition of a centuries-old evil. This same vision has driven Christians throughout the ages to "foolish" acts that changed the world!
This is what drove the Tuohy family when they saw this young man walking in the cold wearing shorts and a T-shirt, alone at Thanksgiving. They stopped to inquire of this boy's need; upon learning just how great his needs were, they knew they had the resources to do something about it and they knew God would have them do nothing less. They weren't alone, there were many—a Christian community—at Briarcrest Christian School who contributed to the redemption of Michael Oher; the very fact of his being there was due to the compassion of Tony Henderson, a man who had been quietly leading sports programs for troubled youth in the Hurt Village for years. Tony also saw the effects of sin and the fall and was moved to reverse these effects in the lives of these kids. Tony didn't have material resources like the Tuohys, but out of compassion he brought Michael to the place where such resources were eventually found.
The Blind Side conveys the gospel as much as any film I've ever seen, and probably more effectively. Even an unbeliever watching the film would likely be impressed with "these Christians" and might by God's grace be prompted to ask, "What love is this?" To which we can say, "It is the love of Christ, the same love that saved me!"
© 2010 S. Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org