BOOK: Living into the Life of Jesus

Living into the Life of Jesus:
The Formation of Christian Character

    Klaus Issler

Retail Price: $16.00
Length: 240 pages
Publication Date: April 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8308-3811-0

Recommended Movies Related to Book Themes

About Jesus  |  Formation Journey  |  Relationships  |  Work and Business


Cinematic portrayals of Biblical stories can be a helpful means to encourage our Christian walk. Especially is this the case for me when I watch a movie about the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Of course, not everything in a film will be theologically accurate—but no film can accomplish that task. A movie is the director’s and actors’ interpretation of the Gospel events. I have appreciated the following five movies about Jesus. There are sections in each film that touch me deeply and nurture deeper appreciation and love for our Lord. Perhaps one or more of these films will benefit you in the same way.

The Jesus Film (G-1977, 117 min.)
Director: Peter Sykes & John Krisch, and Brian Deacon as Jesus. Narrator: Alexander Scourby. The film generally follows the events and words from the Gospel of Luke. Campus Crusade for Christ continues to use the film for evangelistic purposes around the world, having translated it into 1,000 languages to date, thus making it the most translated film in history. (

Matthew: The Visual Bible (1997, 265 min.)
Director: Regardt Van den Bergh, and Bruce Marchiano as Jesus. The film follows exclusively the order and words [New International Version] of the Gospel of Matthew, scene by scene (with verse references) which lends itself for convenient use with Bible studies of Matthew. The portrayal of Jesus by Marchiano is primarily one of joyfulness—much smiling and laughter.

The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus (1999, 87 min.)
For children. done in claymation, 3D animation. Director: Stanislov Sokolov and Derek Hayes, and Ralph Fiennes as voice of Jesus. The story is tied together by introducing a twelve-year old Tamar and her father Jairus, who is seeking a cure for her daughter’s illness, and then her healing by Jesus later in the film (“Tamar” is Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead by Jesus, Lk 8: 40-56). This film won two awards in 2000: Best Children’s Film at the Bradford Animation Festival and the John Templeton Foundation Epiphany Prize.

Jesus (1999, CBS mini-series, 174 min.)
Director: Roger Young, and Jeremy Sitso as Jesus. Initially, I was put off by the “humanness” of Jesus in the film. Yet I have since come to appreciate this as a distinctive contribution of the film. The wilderness temptation scene, with special effects, is outstanding—it offers a credible portrayal of each of the three temptations (I have used that particular scene in class). Of course, not everything in this film is theologically accurate—but no film can do that. In this film, as in the next, Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays a key role. The Roman political context is given much place in the film.

The Passion of the Christ (R-2004, 126 min.)
Director: Mel Gibson, Jim Caviezel as Jesus. Rated “R” for the scenes of Jesus’ brutal scourging by the Roman soldiers. The film focuses on the final week of Jesus’ life—the week of his passion (i.e., suffering) and death and resurrection—with several flashbacks to earlier times of his life and ministry. Viewers must read subtitles in English since the languages spoken are Aramaic and Latin. The portrayal of the brutal scourging of Jesus is difficult to view, yet it’s been my practice to watch this film each year, just prior to Easter Sunday.


Groundhog Day (PG-1993, 101 min.)
Follow “talented” weather forecaster Phil Conners (Bill Murray) to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover their annual Groundhog Day festival. But Phil stays longer than he expects. He experiments with differing strategies for how to live a meaningful life. [Note: There is one brief scene of aggressive love making.
  Question: How would you live your life if you didn’t have to suffer the consequences of your choices? What is Phil’s final understanding about a meaningful life?

The Truman Show (PG-1998, 103 min.)
Truman (Jim Carrey) is the star of a reality TV show. Watch how Truman becomes aware of what is really real.
  Question: At the end of the movie, Truman is given a choice. If you were offered the same choice, which would you choose, and why?

Chocolat (PG-13, 2000, 121 min.)
A newcomer opens a chocolate shop (with the perfect creation for each villager) in a small French village during Lenten season —and she doesn’t attend church. The upright mayor (also a leader in the main Catholic church) tries to uphold the village’s moral traditions, yet it’s this atheist master chocolatier who displays grace and ministry to all, including the mayor. (Along a similar line see “Babette’s Feast,” 1987; G).
  Question: How is each key villager “imprisoned” and how is each eventually set free?

Get Low (PG-13, 2009, 100 min.)
“Based on a true tall tale,” starring Robert Duvall (Felix Bush), Sissy Spacek (Mattie Darrow), and Bill Murray (Frank Quinn, funeral home owner); set in the backwoods of Tennessee, 1938. Mysterious loner Felix Bush plans his own funeral he wants to attend while still alive, to see what others would say about him.
  Question: What do you think were the sad consequences of waiting so long to make his confession? Imagine what might have happened if Felix had not waited so long?

Shadowlands (PG-1993, 133 min.)
Director: Richard Attenborough, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. A docu-drama about the life of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) including his developing relationship with American Joy Gresham. Through the experience of Joy’s cancer and death Lewis grows in understanding and experience of love with Joy and with God.
  Question: What did Lewis learn about love?

I Am David (PG-2004, 90 min.)
Director: Jim Feig; Jim Caviezel and Joan Plowright co-star. The movie chronicles the journey of David (Ben Tibber), a 12-year old boy, who is a young prisoner in a Communist concentration camp in post-World War II Bulgaria. He manages to escape and begins a lonely quest in search of someone to trust. Based on Anne Holm’s young adult novel North to Freedom.
  Question: Identify some key moments when David begins to trust others. How important is it to learn to trust others?

Nobody’s Child (1986, made-for-TV, 94 min.)
Based on a true story. As a young child, Marie Balter is adopted by a family, who sadly abuse her emotionally and physically. After trying to commit suicide at age 16, Marie (Marlo Thomas) spends the next 20 years of her life in and out of state institutions. Marie's nightmare is eased by a kind doctor Blackwell (Caroline Kava), who eventually provides a healing treatment. As a result Marie is able to live independently without crippling fears. (Marlo Thomas won an Emmy for her performance of this mentally-ill woman.)
  Book: Nobody's Child by Marie Balter and Richard Katz (Da Capo Press, 1992), 240 pages. “Balter's courageous story of hope and healing has inspired millions around the country. After spending the first twenty years of her adult life in a mental hospital, she gradually emerged from the terror of the back wards, eventually to attend graduate school at Harvard University and become a champion for the mentally ill.” Product Description.
  Question: Contrast the different results of an austere rule-keeping approach with an emphasis on grace in Marie’s life. Do any names come to mind in your circle of acquaintance of those who would benefit from a good measure of grace?


Fireproof (PG-2008, 118 min.)
Movie by a Christian producer/writer/director: Alex Kendrick. Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron) is a firefighter who’s marriage to his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea) is on the rocks. Challenged by his father to take a 40-day “Love dare” toward his wife, Holt responds by doing loving acts to his wife and begins to be transformed in the process, though it’s not an easy experiment. (Awarded “Best Feature Film” at the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival)
  Question: What ideas about daring to love another were the most important to you? What are the keys for a person’s heart to change from avoiding another to approaching another?

The Spitfire Grill (PG-13, 1996, 117 min.)
A small town (Gilead, Maine) is suspicious of newcomer Percy Talbot who has been recently released from prison. Hannah (Ellen Burstyn) owner of The Grill, reluctantly hires Percy at the urging of the local sheriff. It’s a story of grace and healing that debuted at the Sundance Festival.
  Question: What significant changes take place among the people in Gilead through Percy’s personal journey toward healing?

Lars and the Real Girl (PG-13, 2007, 106 min.)
An unusual film. Have you ever been around someone who laughed at or made fun of someone who probably had a disability? How does a small community care for someone like Lars (Ryan Gosling) who has a disability, ? The movie deals with these serious issues, but within the context of a comedy. The movie will make you laugh, and probably cry as well. (The movie is set in Wisconsin, though filming mainly took place in Ontario, Canada).
  Question: Imagine you were member of Lars’ community. Which part of the movie would have been the most difficult for you to participate in, and why?


Faith Like Potatoes (PG-2006, 116 min.)
Based on a true story. How do we trust in God at work? After coming to know Jesus as an adult, Angus Buchan, a farmer in South Africa, trusts God for rain to put out a fire, and for a harvest of potatoes during a time of drought. Angus is a man whose growing trust in God is genuine. (The production of the movie behind the scenes required many steps of faith in God to bring the project to completion). The Special Features includes a series of interviews with the real Angus Buchan who hears and trusts God, developing an orphanage for children of parents who died of AIDS, and spending the past 20 years as an evangelist to various African countries, praying for the salvation of many and for their physical healing as well. (won “Audience Choice” award at the 2006 Sabaoth International Film Festival in Milan, Italy)
  Book: Faith Like Potatoes: The Story of a Farmer Who Risked Everything for God (Monarch Books, 2009, 176 pages)
  Question: Were you specifically encouraged and challenged in your own God-confidence from the move and/or the interviews with Angus Buchan? Explain.

Schindler’s List (R-1993, 195 min.)
Rated “R” for graphic violence, nudity, adult situations. Director: Steven Spielberg. Based on a true story. This black and white movie highlights the journey of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German businessman during World War II Holocaust, who moved beyond focusing on the financial bottom line as a war profiteer to rescue the lives of over a thousand Jewish refugees through his business ventures. The film received seven Oscar awards including Best Picture. In 2007, it was ranked as 8th best American film of all time by the American Film Institute).
  Question: What does it take for a person to develop a heart that dismisses people as only objects? What does it take for a person to develop a heart that views people as people worthy of respect and dignity?

Facing the Giants (PG-2006, 112 min)
Director: Alex Kendrick. After 6 years of losing seasons, Coach Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) is on the verge of being fired. Among other life challenges he finally seeks God’s help and God’s way in his life and in his coaching. This new perspective impacts his job. Taylor leads the football team at Shiloh Christian Academy (high school) through a new team philosophy to honor God above all, and in which football is just one way to honor God. Slowly various team players are affected and turn toward God to honor him, and amazing results occur.
  Question: Why do you think it is a challenge to trust God at work? What ideas about growing in trust in God challenge your from the movie?

The Call of the Entrepreneur (2007, 60 min., Acton Media)
The documentary focuses on the stories of three entrepreneurs: Frank Hannah a New York merchant banker who finances other’s dreams, Brad Morgan a Michigan dairy farmer who struggle to keep his farm and eventually developed a very successful business, and Jimmy Lai a refugee from mainland China who became a media mogul in Hong Kong. Included are interviews with Michael Novak, George Gilder, Robert A Sirico, and others. The film highlights several key entrepreneurial characteristics.
  Question: What risks did each entrepreneur take? What do you learn about the character and values of each entrepreneur?