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The Judge: should Duvall have played the role?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Robert Downey Jr as big city lawyer Hank Palmer, who returns to his childhood home to defend his estranged father Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Oscar winner Robert Duvall, starring with Duvall for the first time in a courtroom scene from the new Warner Brothers movie The Judge (Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures)

{source}<iframe style=”float: left; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #C0C0C0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”400″ height=”225″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ZBvK6ni97W8?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source}Robert Duvall calls his encounter with God years ago in an Arkansas Pentecostal church “the greatest discovery I ever made.”  The actor has made no secret of his Christian commitment.  At one point, wanting to get the gospel more clearly to the culture, he wrote, directed, and acted in The Apostle, a movie he also financed.

One of America’s most honored actors, Duvall has been nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actor in Tender Mercies.  He has starred in some of the most acclaimed films of all time, and has appeared in 84 movies.  He made his first movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, when he was 31 years old.  At age 83, he is starring in The Judge, now in theaters.

Reviewers are praising the work he and Robert Downey, Jr. did in the film.  When I saw it recently, I could see why.  The plot moves too slowly at times, and the outcomes are somewhat predictable.  But Duvall and Downey are terrific, as usual.

Duvall plays Judge Joseph Palmer, an elderly man who has presided over court in a small Indiana town for more than 40 years.  The judge is an honorable man known for doing the right thing.  However, his language is profane and his treatment of Downey’s character is cold and abusive.  When asked if he believes in heaven, he jokes about the question.

Here’s my question: Should Duvall have played this role? As a Christian, he portrays a character whose spiritual life and worldview are clearly unbiblical.  While the film is not blasphemous, it does nothing to glorify God or advance his Kingdom.  As a result, one could argue that Duvall hurt the cause of Christ by accepting the role.

At the same time, what role could he play that does not express something unbiblical? Even biblical movies such as Son of God are controversial for some.  The more an actor wants to engage the culture, the more he or she will make movies the culture wants to see.

Extend Duvall’s dilemma to other vocations.  Should a Christian work for Nike, given past allegations of unfair overseas labor practices?  If she does, is she endorsing these practices?  If she doesn’t, how will she influence the company for good?  Is there any organization or vocation that is impervious to sin?

Here’s the bottom line for me: (1) do all you do with excellence; (2) refuse to do anything that blasphemes our Lord or clearly denigrates the faith; (3) pray honestly and humbly when confronted with ambiguous opportunities.  There will be times when God calls you to be salt and light by engaging culture actively, and times when he calls you to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17).

God knows how your life and influence can best advance his Kingdom today.  So ask and expect to be led in his “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).  Your influence, whether you work in Hollywood or not, is your mission field.  God measures success by faithfulness.