Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Noted Review: What Is the Gospel?

The Least Among You. Santa Monica, CA: Lion's Gate Films, 2010. Video DVD. 97 minutes. http://www.theleastamongyou.com/ (N)
A movie with an impressive soundtrack and a cast led by Lauren Holly, William Devane, and Louis Gossett, Jr. should not disappoint. 

Yet, The Least Among You disappointed me and the small movie party I invited over to see it.

Yes, racism is a problem. 
Certainly 1965 post-Watts was a challenging time. 
Even more importantly, racism is a sin. 

Richard Kelly, played by Cedric Sanders, accepts a plea deal to avoid jail. Mama wanted him to be a preacher. He had a computer job lined up after UCLA. 
Kelly's character, inspired by the real-like Dr. Charles Marks, is enrolled at Wesbury Theological College. He is the only minority on campus except for a female professor and former missionary who appears to have lost her faith.

Devane plays the seminary president. His false god is a new media center that gets canceled due to the controversy over integration at the seminary. Here I found problems with the film's message. Integration has become a substitute for the Gospel.  
Social Gospel or Social Justice is a lousy substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Kelly has two friends at the sem. Fred, the roommate, is full of good surprises. Gossett plays Samuel Benton, "the gardener in the basement." His was the most compelling and authentic character. 
Benton rescued abandoned books from the trash including Kierkegaard, Augustine, and Bonhoeffer. A famous quote of Bonhoeffer's becomes a major inspiration to Benton and Kelly. Here I had another problem with the plot. Many of Bonhoeffer's works were not yet widely available in English by 1965. Even then he was "the" trendy theologian. That the seminary library or professors depicted in this movie were already abandoning Bonhoeffer is hard to swallow. 

The Least Among You does well to connect the title's Matthew 25 scripture allusion to a servant of the Word in-waiting like Kelly/Marks. 
Unfortunately, Dr. Marks fails to full confess the main Gospel message of Scripture in the special features interviews. 
The film is interesting, well-paced, and not predicable, but Christ remains on the sidelines, an example, not all that the Bible confesses He is and still does. At best, it is an incomplete illustration and commentary of what Jesus means when He speaks about The Least Among You.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.