Christ is the fulcrum of history, and in one sense the centuries after Him are all end times. On the day we celebrate Christ's birthday, maybe it's appropriate to get around to reviewing The Omega Code, a PG-13 (for violence) end-times movie funded by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I've been hesitant to criticize it for the same reason I am very careful about criticizing a small child. Filmmaking by Christians for general distribution is in its infancy. I applaud TBN's guts in spending $7 million on a very risky production. I also applaud TBN's marketing moxie. The cable network publicized the movie for a whole year by televising segments about its production. In August TBN pleaded for volunteers to promote the movie, and 2,000 respondents circulated posters and fliers. Some 300 regular commercial theaters agreed to show the movie, and some churches bought huge blocks of tickets. All that advance work allowed the film to gross $2.4 million on its October opening weekend, good enough for 10th place and more publicity about a film from religious broadcasters running with the big boys. The Omega Code has now made back its cost and grossed some $5 million more. Having said all that, the movie has three problems. First, its central premise is that Scripture contains a secret code, now decipherable by computer, that states everything from the date of Princess Di's death to the exact name of the Antichrist and his key adviser. This is dubious, to say the least, and smacks of gnostic ideas that pop up periodically: God's Word is not sufficiently clear and valuable, so search for a secret treasure map. The second problem is the movie itself: thoroughly predictable plot, two-dimensional characters, clichéd chases. I realize that the movie's fans are probably sputtering as they read this, so again I say that I'm impressed to see a Christian movie with decent production values fighting it out in commercial theaters. But, sorry to say, I have to raise a third question: How exactly does The Omega Code point to the gospel? That's my definition of a Christian movie, and not just a film that plays off end-times prophecies. After all, Christians don't claim recent and upcoming films such as The End of Days (a foul film pitting Arnold Schwarzennegger against Satan) or The Astronaut's Wife (she's pregnant with the Antichrist twins). And, since I'm making Christmas unmerry for some folks, here's one more question: Why this fascination with the apocalypse? Are our lives now so boring, so lacking in spiritual combat, that we have to see the Antichrist on screen to get our juices flowing? Do we thank God for putting us in contests here and now that are (or should be) enormously absorbing, whether they concern family, work, or church? Do we say that if Christ were to return tomorrow that would be a great blessing, but if he does not, there's no reason to complain, because-as Paul told the Philippians-"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean faithful labor for me"? We have plenty of godly work to do. With all the recent and upcoming spiritually themed movies, Christians have an enormous opportunity. Imagine Paul strolling into one of the multiplex theaters a few miles from my home and seeing posters for Armageddon, The Rapture, City of Angels, Dogma, The Messenger, Stigmata, Stir of Echoes, Lost Souls, The Lambs of God, The Ninth Gate, and so on. He might say, "Men of Austin, I see that you are very religious, but what you miss as you worship in darkness before a lit-up screen, I now proclaim to you." Shouldn't Christian films communicate as Paul did? A critic from the Austin Chronicle, a hippie-yuppie weekly in my town, reviewed The Omega Code to find out "what we can expect from the evangelical Christian movement's artistic wing." He noted that "the most surprising thing about this film is how little it actually deals with religion per se." This critic would not have liked movies with altar calls at the end, but wouldn't it be better for the evangelical artistic wing to put out films like Tender Mercies? That was the Robert Duvall movie about the drunken and divorced songwriter who hits bottom but, through gospel grace, bounces back. I'm not, by the way, calling for quiet movies; I like car chases and explosions. But it's vital to show both God's justice and God's grace. Come to think of it, here's a sensational story that did both: Some 2,000 years ago God took it upon Himself to have one of His three persons become a fetus. Then He was a born and bawling baby. And then a testosteroned teenager. And then a man thought by His critics to be demon-possessed or nuts. Amazingly, He showed true compassion by suffering with us and, although innocent, deliberately dying for us. And then He rose from the dead. What a hero! What a God! Merry Christmas.