When I was a runaway wanna be filmmaker in the late ’80′s and early ’90′s, I studied Hollywood renegades like John Milius, Martin Scorsese and William Friedken. I was especially intrigued with Milius who helped write Dirty Harry and Jeremiah Johnson and direct flicks like Conan The Barbarian and Red Dawn.
Milius never fit in with the secular left of southern California. He volunteered for the military but, like me, was turned down for physical reasons. He turned to film and quickly won over the accolades of his fellow upstarts that happened to include George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Milius earned their respect with his talent even while they were slack-jawed by his routine of carrying a .45 1911 pistol while riding a Harley and turn up his nose at fine restaurants preferring to eat at burger joints. Everything about Milius seemed crazy to the secular left but they still admired him for his talent. After all, he penned dialogues like the “U.S.S. Indianapolis” speech in Jaws (one of the greatest scenes in film history!).
I learned from Milius and others while working in Hollywood that it is possible for an individual who is totally “countercultural” to still be respected and earn influence among his or her peers. A documentary on the life and influence of Milius has recently been added to Netflix instant and I would encourage you to watch it.
Christians can learn a lot from a talented, passionate maverick like John Milius. Let’s face it, we live in a post-Christian age. I often tell people the church now resides in Babylon instead of Jerusalem. The only Israelites in exile who seemed to earn the respect of the pagans around them were the best educated and most faithful to the Lord (see Jer. 29:7 and the Book of Daniel).
In our modern Babylonian culture where the false gods of wealth, fame, power and sex cast dark shadows, the Kingdom of the one true God needs Daniels,Shadrachs, Meshachs and Abednegos. The world needs well-educated men and women who graciously speak truth to power out of their unrivaled loyalty to Jesus Christ. Like John Milius, they will be seen as renegades. Some will write them off as contrived contrarians and some will be offended by their countercultural stance. But if they are willing to do the hard work of prayerful study and thoughtful reflection they can win a true hearing and a true hearing by skeptics is all we can really ask for the rest is up to the Lord.
By prayerful study, I mean hard, hard work. Note that John Milius wrote brilliant works Apocalypse Now and that is first and foremost what opened doors for him. Milius wasn’t just born a great writer, he made himself one. He is well-versed in both the great works of literature and the culture of the day (even though he rejected the latter).
Likewise, the greatest Christian apologists of our time, C.S. Lewis and Francis Shaeffer, were also as well versed in both academic and popular culture. If we are to influence our culture as we should to truly love our neighbors (Matt. 22:37-39), we too must do the hard work of understanding the zeitgeist of the age and the best scholarly work addressing it from a Christian worldview in order to produce truly great art and apologetic pieces. The world needs academic works like Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig (Crossway) and Darwin On Trial by Phillip Johnson (IVP) as well as hypnotic tales of fiction like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. We need to all aspire to nothing less than great heights to the honor and glory of God.
I often encounter Christians today who hold a cynical view of the future. They believe America is going to hell in a hand basket and there is nothing that can be done about it but history is replete with examples to the contrary. If we do the hard work and are bold we can earn the respect (and hopefully the souls) of those around us.
We American Christians are exiles in our own land. In Babylon, we need not just be right and dutiful but faithfully wise and contemplatively creative. It won’t often be pleasant but if we work hard than we can make a difference. But that work requires a lot of time and reading dense tomes on science, philosophy, history and art. Oh, and no pressure, but all of western civilization depends on it!