“The Fault in Our Stars” may be the best popular movie to come out this year.

It’s going to be seen by millions and tear up the box office even beyond prognosticators’ expectations.

It also, however, tears into Christianity with a brutal mockery of the religion’s trite shallowness.

Which is exactly why I suggest Christians in particular join the tens of millions of teens who are flocking to see this outstanding film.

Yes, I know the movie has premarital sex and partial nudity that will cause many believers to avert their eyes. I know it contains obscenities and profanities Christians would rather not hear (but do every day in the real world, if they’re honest with themselves – and if they’re in the real world).

But I’m still recommending mature, discerning people of the faith go see “The Fault in Our Stars.”

Not just because it’s a well-written film with captivating dialogue and a script funnier than most comedies Hollywood has produced in the last decade. Not just because it features a brilliant, breakout performance from an outstanding lead actress. Not just because it handles life, death, fear and grief with poise and authenticity, a model for every Christian filmmaker to aspire to and learn from, because it delivers characters, a story and a message with excellence, not just good intentions (though now that I think about it, this might be a good enough reason, if only it creates in Christian filmmakers an appetite for this kind of quality filmmaking).

No, I’m recommending it, because it so clearly reveals both how deeply the people in our culture around us need Jesus and exactly why those same people aren’t finding Him in American Christianity.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is based on a true story (I’ll admit I didn’t read the book, but my daughter, who did, said she was “conflicted” over how well the film followed the book on one hand, but left out or condensed too much on the other) of a teenage girl suffering from cancer and the expectation of death.

“Hazel Grace,” as she’s named in the movie, gives the rest of us a scathing slap in the face with reality, as she sees and experiences the world so differently from the rest of us healthy people and so differently from how we expect a cancer fighter would.

It’s clear in the opening few scenes that Hazel Grace is not going to gloss over, ignore, glamorize or minimalize her fight with cancer. She’s not a hero, a “trooper” or an object of pity. She’s a girl who just so happens to be dealing with her own death.

“This is the truth,” she says. “Sorry.”

And if she’s that honest with herself, she expects others around her to be equally honest.

But they’re not.

She knows the world is broken. She and Gus, her cancer-stricken boyfriend, know, “Apparently the world is not a wish-granting factory,” and, “That’s the thing about pain: It demands to be felt.”

So we see in these two, cancer-crossed lovers a pair of young people struggling with mortality, who have important conversations about whether there is an afterlife or not, whether love is worth it amid the pain, whether there is a purpose to life and whether love dies when we shuffle off our mortal frame.

And what does Christianity – as they experience – have to offer these kids with these questions?

As the movie states, “What a load of s—, eh, kid?”

They see both the trite emptiness of graveside prayers and the pain-ignoring fakery of happy-clappy praise songs. They see people talking about life in Jesus, but not about the dying that comes before it.

“The Fault in Our Stars” demolishes the state of modern Christianity – not Christ, mind you, but Christianity, because the Christianity these kids knew could not bring Christ to the pain.

This is why this film is such a glorious and instructive wake-up call to Christians. We live in a world that is broken. Jesus may win in the end, but for now the world hurts. And unless we carry Christ into the pain, unless we meet agony with love and doubts with authenticity, the world in hurt will sniff out the phoniness of our faith.

There’s an incredible scene toward the end of “The Fault in Our Stars,” where Hazel Grace attends a funeral, and the priest refers to her as Gus’s “special friend,” because he’s too pious to call her Gus’s “girlfriend.” If you can’t be authentic when you’re ministering to the grieving, when are you ever authentic?

Psalm 23 is then read, but even these powerful, immortal words fall flat without the authentic ministry of Christ entering into the “valley of the shadow.”

And when it comes time for Hazel to read powerful, agonizing, tear-jerking words, she folds them up and delivers a trite speech of shallow hope instead.

“I didn’t believe a word,” she recalls later, “but that’s OK. I knew this was the right thing to do. Funerals are not for the dead, but for the living.”

When the priest bows his head, the only authentic people at the whole ceremony turn to one another, and one says, “We need to fake pray now.”

“The Fault in Our Stars” just does not allow fake emotions, trite answers or false hope. And for far too long, in far too many churches, that’s what Christianity has been offering the culture.

But that’s not what Christ offers.

The Incarnate God, who bore our sorrows, who was tempted in every way as we, who was rejected, betrayed and who suffered, who lived in the muck of a broken world and loved so much He was tortured and killed for it – this friend is closer than a brother, more tender than a lover, and the hope He offers is anything but false, for it is sure and sealed by the power of the Almighty God.

So which do you offer to those who suffer? Christianity or Christ?

The challenge of that question alone makes “The Fault in Our Stars” a must-see movie. It won’t set non-believers on the right path, but it might just give a Christian the nudge needed to bring Christ to a world in need.

Content advisory:

  • “The Fault in Our Stars,” rated PG-13, contains just over 40 profanities and obscenities.
  • The movie also contains some brief, but significant sexuality, including some heavy kissing, a clothed boob grab, some sexual references and a scene where two lovers kiss and strip off their shirts. The girl also removes her bra, exposing her bare back and a brief “side-boob” shot. Sex is obviously implied, but not depicted.
  • There are some minor instances of violence in the film, including some reckless driving, a scene where an angry character smashes some household items and a scene that celebrates egging a car. There is also a scene where a very ill character vomits and bleeds on camera.
  • The film contains no overt occult references, but several religious references, including a scene in a church, a prayer and the reading of Psalm 23 at a funeral, a support-group leader who sings about Jesus and several, unresolved discussions about the existence of God, the afterlife and so forth. The movie both humorously and pointedly mocks shallow Christianity, but a faith-themed song and a conversation about the need for purpose in life both also provide strong, faith-affirming notes.

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