5 Reasons Shawshank Redemption is the Greatest Christian Movie Ever!

March 19, 2012 — 6 Comments

Can a film which is rated R for a host of obscenities, produced by an entire cast and crew of nonbelievers, and which paints the only Christian as an evil hypocrite be the greatest Christian movie ever?  Absolutely!  Here are 5 reasons why the Shawshank Redemption is the greatest Christian movie of all time.

1. Mass Public Appeal.

Polls matter. Who cares that it was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.  What do the majority of people think? According to the Internet Movie Database the Shawshank Redemption ranks as the number one movie of all time. Of course this doesn’t mean its everyones favorite movie but it does mean that its consistently among the top movies for the vast majority of people. Ask a person what their favorite movies are and chances are the Shawshank Redemption will rank at the top or near the top of that list.

2. Retelling the Story of Jesus

Watch for this!  Andy’s unexpected escape is a clear and intensional allusion to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  “Oh my holy God.”  Just as Red and others go looking for Andy’s dead body, the disciples went looking for Christ’s. Just as Red and the guards found the cell empty and Andy alive so too did Jesus’ followers. But the comparisons don’t end here.

The entire film is meaningful in light of the gospel.  Andy’s resurrection redeems Red, “the only guilty man in Shawshank.”  In a clear reversal of its prison film genre (think of Cool Hand Luke or Escape from Alcatraz), the Shawshank Redemption depicts prisoners dreading NOT imprisonment, BUT freedom.  And they dread it as they would death itself.  Brooks, for instance, tries to kill Haywood when he finds he’s been paroled and later kills himself because of it. The prisoners of Shawshank are “Institutionalized.”  Freedom for them means only to be empty and alone.

But there is life outside, a point Andy, Shawshank’s only innocent man, wants his fellow prisoners to see.  He offers them rare and extraordinary reminders of the outside world, like a beer on a hot roof, angelic music over the prison’s speakers, and a library, built by breaking down the walls of the prison.  In the process, Andy suffers greatly for these acts.  But its Andy’s ultimate miraculous escape and life on the outside which means hope for Red. Because Andy lives Red will live also.  He waits for Red, working the wood of a fishermen’s boat.  All before a eternal sea.

3. Doesn’t Hide the Bad News

Should brutality, suggestive rape, and a constant stream of vulgarity cause us to shy away from this film?  The Shawshank Redemption is rated R and for good reason.  But so was the Passion of the Christ.  And as with the later film, we find that the beauty of God’s redemption is often powerfully revealed in triumph over such evil things.  The Shawshank Redemption shows the world in all its wretchedness and in so doing reveals the answer to be the more powerful.

4. Mirrors the Teaching of Jesus

So you think the Christian message should be more overt.  Turn your attention to Jesus use of parables.  Didn’t he teach in a way that concealed as much as it revealed?  The parables were a kernel of judgement (Mark 4:11-12).  Ones understanding and acceptance of them demonstrated who you were.  Like the seed in the parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20), a person is judged by the way in which the word takes root.  Like the parables of Jesus, the Shawshank Redemption is seed looking for the right soil.

5. A Common Reference for Believers and Nonbelievers.

Because the Shawshank Redemption is well loved by Chriristians and non-Christians alike its the perfect starting point for a conversation about the Good News. With peoples knowledge of the Bible ever diminishing and cultural references becoming all the more readily available, the Shawshank Redemption is an easily accessible gospel track.  Like Don Richardson’s Peace Child or Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, its evidence of God’s continuing witness to a cultural that appears to have rejected Him.

If you’re looking for more secular films to dialogue with friends about your faith check out  10 Resurrection Films to Watch Before Easter.

Matthew Scott Miller

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  • John Bottone

    Hey Matt, I saw your post on hermeneutics.stackexchange.com and it brought me here. I tried to search for something regarding your view of the baptism in the spirit and couldn’t find anything. Is there a post you did regarding this theme? I noticed in your 25 random things about yourself, first you mention that as the greatest thing in your life but as I know – you know, words are everything. You didn’t say when I was “born again”. Can you share with me regarding your view and backing it up scripturally.

    On a personal note, I am a student of the Word, first the Living One, and second the written one. I was radically transformed in 1990 into the Kingdom of Light and am in process of being saved, thank God! I am in hot pursuit of others who are real, humble, and thoughtful towards the thing regarding Jesus / salvation. I see in you a purity, and appreciate it, and would like to connect. Look forward to hearing from you.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.com/ Matthew Miller

      Hi John! Thank you for the encouraging words. And I’m thrilled to hear that you yourself are passionately pursing Jesus. Yea, I done a couple posts on Luke’s view on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. “What Happens When You’re Filled with the Spirit http://logosmadeflesh.com/2012/07/25/what-happens-when-youre-filled-with-the-spirit/ and Why Did God Shut Zachariah’s Mouth http://logosmadeflesh.com/2012/07/26/what-happens-when-the-spirit-is-taken-from-you/

      I was raised in the Pentecostal Assembly of God church and began speaking tongues at the age of 13. I subsequently went to a couple non-pentecostal colleges and I was challenged to really evalluate my interpretations in light of Scripture. I think Paul and Luke have a distinct understanding of the term Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Paul uses it to refer to the believers salvation while Luke uses it to refer to a believers empowerment for witness, particularly an open mouth (Acts 1:8). I received the later at the age of 13. Being raised in a Christian home, I had accepted Christ as the age of five and more or less considered myself a Christian from an early age. But it was the Baptism in the Holy Spirit which solidified my faith and opened my mouth in witness and praise.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.com/ Matthew Miller

      When I used the term for my experience I used it in the same sense that Luke uses it in the book of Acts, namely as an empowerment for witness. I know that many Christians use the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit” only as a reference to salvation. Paul of course uses a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 with regard to salvation (“we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body”). Baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit are linked in the scriptures (Mark 1:8 and many others). The first signifies repentance and an acceptance of the Gospel and so it makes sense to see this Spirit baptism as being part of the overall transition into God’s kingdom. I therefore don’t have a problem acknowledging that all who are saved have in one sense been baptized in the Spirit. However, I don’t think this is the only scriptural use of the term.

      At the beginning of Acts Jesus tells the disciples that they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). And of course this event is fulfilled when the disciples begin to speak in other tongues on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). We find this experience repeated several more times in Acts: in the Samaritans (Acts 8), among Cornelius’ household (Acts 10) and in the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19). I know some regard these experiences as being simultaneous with conversion and therefore nothing other than what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. But I disagree. Not all these experiences can be conflated with salvation. The time lapse between acceptance of the message and the reception of the Spirit in the case of the Samaritans and the Ephesian disciples is telling. It appears to me that Luke wants his readers to see something else.

      That something is almost certainly empowerment for witness. Acts 1:8 is universally acknowledged as Luke’s thesis statement. Here Jesus tells the disciple that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon” them and they will be his “witnesses.” It’s therefore not surprising to find an opened mouth in witness or praise every time the Holy Spirit comes upon (i.e. baptizes or fills) some one in Luke-Acts. Elizabeth exclaims in a loud voice (Luke 1:42-43). Zachariah prophecies (Luke 1:67-79). The 120 “speak in other tongues” (Acts 2:4). Peter testifies (Acts 4:8). The believers “speak the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Cornelius and his household speak in tongues (Acts 10:44-46). Paul curses Elymas (Acts 13:9). The Ephesian disciples speak in tongues and prophesy (Acts 19:6). Luke, following a pattern in the Old Testament, continually points to the audible results of those moved by the Spirit; tongues, prophecy, boldness in preaching, even singing. It therefore appears to me that Luke used “baptism in the Holy Spirit” among other terms not as a reference to salvation (though it certainly may coincide) but as a particular experience of empowerment which results in Spirit directed speech.

      This was my experience. While I accepted Jesus into my heart at the age of five and probably several more times after that, I struggled with my faith, even more so as I entered junior high. I was overcome with lust. At school I was a sarcastic bully, trying to make it to the pinnacle of popularity. I dreamed of the freedom I would experience when I turned 18 and moved away from my families Christian home. But in youth group, I began to pray and repent, asking God to help me change. But the change never materialized the next day. I was afraid of what my friends would think.

      But I did change suddenly and radically one day on a missions to Mexico. One night after a time of worship and prayer, I asked my teenage roommates to pray for me to receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” They did. After confessing my sin and praising God for his forgiveness, I felt a warmth rush over my head and down to my feet. And as it passed my mouth I began to speak in a language I did not know. I knew it did not come from me since I had tried unconvincing to fake it some years before. This experience resulted in a strong passion and desire to share Jesus with everyone, no matter the cost. A desire I still carry with me to this day.

      I believe its important to earnestly seek this empowering experience. I don’t however think it is simply equated with tongues. The result of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is an opened mouth in witness and praise. Some people are empowered with that at salvation. Others, like myself, need a further experience of the spirit’s power.

  • Thomas Olliff

    Matt, very late to the discussion, but I just saw Shawshank for the 1st time last night. In addition to your good observations…Andy in essence performed miracles in Shawshank. True to the gospel Andy as his first miracle turned water to wine, beer in this case. In all of his “miracles” prisoners were given a glimpse of heaven or in this case the feeling of being men free from bondage. Andy told Red that he would find his redemption at the base of a tree. Andy went to preparea place for Red and in fact all others who would come. There he would take them out in his boat and guide them to fish. In fact it was the tree where Andy consumated his first love, a lover that sinned against him and betrayed him. Just as Adam forsook God at the tree of knowledge of good and evil. At the foot of this now calvary metaphor tree a black man, analogous to a Gentile finds his redemption. A great movie and like so many great movies tracks the gospel story that is embedded in our DNA from our Father.