I recently got to watch an early release of the new Samson film with my older kids and we all loved it. I asked my kids if I should endorse it and they each gave a rousing “Yes.”
My friend Mark Mittelberg, author of The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, and the Becoming a Contagious Christian training course (with Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels), developed the church curriculum based on the movie Samson. He answered a few of my questions about the film, which releases on February 16. Enjoy, but more importantly, consider going to watch the movie!
SEAN MCDOWELL: How did you get involved with the Samson film? What’s your role?
MARK MITTELBERG: As an apologist and an evangelist, I spend most of my time writing and speaking in these areas. But a little over a year ago Pure Flix was ramping up to promote The Case for Christ movie, which is based on the story of how my long-time buddy and ministry partner, Lee Strobel, came to Christ. Both Lee and another close friend who happened to be the movie’s screenwriter, Brian Bird, urged me to approach Pure Flix about helping them get the word out to churches and Christian leaders about the movie. I did, and that led to an ongoing partnership with Pure Flix, with me now handling much of their communications to ministries, as well as writing the movie-related discussion guides for The Case for Christ, Same Kind of Different as Me, and now SAMSON. It’s a new arena for me, but I view it as just a different venue for what my life is all about — getting the gospel out in fresh and creative ways.
MCDOWELL: What are your thoughts on the movie? And what is your favorite scene?
MITTELBERG: SAMSON is really an exciting flick. So many Bible-based movies are touching dramas, and that’s great — but this is more of an action film! I heard someone refer to it the other day as “the biblical Braveheart,” and I think that’s a pretty good description. My favorite scene? Well, as a fan of high impact movies like the Jason Bourne series, I guess it’s okay to admit that one of my top picks would be the epic battle between Samson — who is armed with only the jawbone of a donkey — and 1000 trained Philistine soldiers. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but you can read Judges chapter 15 to get a pretty good idea of how it turns out. Let me add, though, that the evangelist in me also loves the later scene where a badly fallen Samson comes to his senses and reaches out again to his God. It’s a great reminder that our God is the God of redemption and second chances, and Samson certainly makes the most of the opportunity God gives him!
MCDOWELL: Why do you think it took so long for someone to tell the biblical story of Samson on the big screen?
MITTELBERG: Probably because it’s such a challenging story to capture. There’s a sweeping set of locations and big events to film, so many people involved, and so much of ancient culture to try to portray. And then there’s the violence. It’s pretty hard to show Samson taking on 1000 soldiers in a tame or toned-down fashion. That’s why the movie has a PG-13 rating — but it’s also what makes it so visceral and compelling. I could say more, but I’d just urge everyone to grab their friends and go see it when it opens in theaters soon, on February 16.
MCDOWELL: Can you walk me through the process of developing the church curriculum? Where do you start?
MITTELBERG: With SAMSON, I started with the scriptural account of his life in Judges 13-16. I read it several times because I wanted to be sure that whatever we had small groups discussing in churches would be deeply rooted in the actual Bible story. Then I read the movie script a couple of times, and toward the end of the process an early version of the film was made available to me by Pure Flix, so I watched that as well. From there I wrote a four-part discussion series that has a focus on transferable, biblical principles we can learn from and apply to our lives. You can view the discussion guide, along with four short video clips from the movie that go with it, at this link.
MCDOWELL: Does Pure Flix have plans to produce some more biblical stories?
MITTELBERG: I’m sure eventually they will, but for now we’re focusing on getting the word out about SAMSON (opening Feb. 16), and then God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (opening on Easter weekend, with pre-screening events available to churches a couple days earlier. I think it will be the best of the God’s Not Dead series yet! And, yes, I’ve already written the discussion guide for that one as well — to be used with four teaching videos by Dr. Rice Broocks. You can see the trailer for God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness too.
I should add what I think is obvious to anyone who has seen any of the films we’ve discussed: that faith-based movies have had a real breakthrough in terms of quality storytelling, cinematography, and the participation of top-notch and often award-winning actors. This adds up to increasingly more powerful tools for not only entertaining people, but also for communicating biblical stories and values and, ultimately, impacting lives with the gospel. Because of this, I’m getting more and more bold in my challenge to Christians and churches to do what Colossians 4:5 tells us to do: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”
These films are not just for believers anymore; they’re also great tools for sharing our faith with outsiders — so as the verse urges us, please make the most of these media-based ministry opportunities!