That's why David Bruce spends hours every week watching movies and writing about them—all in his free time and for no compensation. Bruce says he's a missionary to a "pre-Christian" world, one so influenced by motion pictures that they have become the world's "common language."
jesus.com). "The myths and stories that ask the big questions in life in our culture are found in the sanctuaries of our cinemas," Bruce says. "[A Web site with movie reviews] seemed like the best approach to reach this culture."
Bruce is pastor of the 130-member Patterson (Calif.) Covenant Church. He describes Patterson as "a town of 9,500 surrounded by cows." While attending a Billy Graham crusade in San Jose in 1997, Bruce heard Graham cast a vision: "I challenge Christians to use the Internet for good." A few days later, Bruce began planning a Web site to review movies from a Christian perspective and use those reviews as a springboard to the gospel.
Bruce had never used e-mail before starting Hollywood Jesus. He took a crash course in creating Web sites, and Hollywood Jesus launched in March 1998. It has registered almost two million hits since then, and more than 800 Web sites link to it. Web surfers from around the world visit the site regularly. Bruce, a father of seven, has enlisted the help of his daughter Kathleen to manage the ever-increasing pile of e-mail he receives.
A representative of New Line Cinema wrote Bruce to let him know the studio appreciated his review of Pleasantville. Bruce has also been interviewed by German television and the Wall Street Journal.
Through Hollywood Jesus he engages "pre-Christians" in an exploration of ethical, moral, and even Christian themes in popular movies. When these bridges are built, Bruce says, he is able to cross over them with the gospel. Every review ends with a link to a presentation of the gospel and an e-mail address for responses.
"One of the things you're going to do as a missionary," Bruce says, "is to listen to the stories of the people. In their stories you're going to [hear] connecting points you can use to tell them the story of Jesus Christ."
Hollywood Jesus differs from most other movie-review sites by Christians in that it presents the parallels between individual films and the gospel without passing judgment on a film's objectionable elements. This reflects Bruce's missionary intentions. "The personal struggle has been to divorce myself from a moralistic approach," he says. "I try not to blast Hollywood for sex, violence, and language. I have to stay away from throwing rocks or moralizing to win and keep my audience."
Bruce believes this strategy liberates Christians to enjoy movies. "You have this sense of freedom when you think, I can enjoy this movie—not accept everything that it says—because these people are using their gifts and, in a lot of ways, presenting pro-God themes unwittingly."
Reviewing the movie Forces of Nature by Bronwen Hughes (who also directed Amy Grant videos), Bruce addresses the concepts of human destiny and God's intervention; Life Is Beautiful opens a discussion about having hope and joy amid crushing circumstances; Patch Adams affirms the value of human beings as created in the image of God. Bruce likens the heroes of Saving Private Ryan to the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost lamb.
Based on the pile of responses Bruce has received, Holly wood Jesus is drawing seekers. Bruce's mailbox gets fuller by the week, and he responds to all letters, many from "pre-Christians" who thank Bruce for giving them a different perspective on various films. A German visitor to Hollywood Jesus wrote to say The Thin Red Line "stimulated me to think about what's after my life [and] what am I going to [experience] after my death."
The popularity of Hollywood Jesus has come as a pleasant surprise to Bruce, and he is investigating ways to expand the site, enhancing its television section, and launching a section for fashion. He hopes his daughter Kathleen will begin coverage of popular music.
"God uses our culture to tell us about how much he loves us," Bruce says. "If I can get a person to see Jesus in the films they see, I've done my job."
Matt Donnelly is assistant editor of Christianity Online magazine (comag@ChristianityToday.com).
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