Photo by Leonardo DaVinci – linear perspective study for The Adoration of the Magi
I read this post from Salon recently that asked the question, “Why are Christian movies so awful?” I was intrigued by its title question, because if I’m honest, I’ve asked it before myself.
I was especially struck by writer Andrew O’Hehir’s statement here:
“But when we use the buzzword “Christian” in contemporary American society, we’re talking about a distinctively modern cultural and demographic phenomenon that has almost no connection to the spiritual and intellectual tradition that fueled Dante and Milton and Leonardo and Bach.”
This question — why the awfulness of Christian movies — begs a logical follow-up question. What, exactly, is a Christian movie? How would you define a “Christian film”? The movie’s message relates to the gospel? The plot is taken from a scene in the Bible? The motive behind making the movie is to tell people about Jesus? Or perhaps the majority of the film’s moviemakers follow the teachings of Christ?
I’m honestly not sure.
His post does bring up a thoughtful topic — whether faith fuels your work. The artists brought up by O’Hehir — Dante, Milton, Leonardo, and Bach — produced some of the world’s most brilliant displays of majesty, and at the heart of their work lies a similar passion — devotion to Christ.
Scene from Chariots of Fire
To be fair, there are plenty more movies than the few listed by O’Hehir. Arts & Faith has compiled a list of their Top 100 Films, and they’ve included some definite classics. Also a number of controversial ones.
But even a quick glance at this compilation begs the same question — what is a Christian film?
So today I thought it would be fun to discuss this: What is a Christian movie? What do you think?
There are also plenty of follow-up questions. How does your faith fuel your passion and work? How directly does “Christian” art need to point to Jesus? Are these questions valid for other art media — music and writing, for instance?
And of course, there’s the first question — Do you think Christian movies are awful?
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.Leave a Comment
I think Christians movies 1) should not be produced for monetary gain but for God’s glory. Meaning, the person who produces the movie and all that jazz, shouldn’t be doing it with the intention to make money but the intention to glorify God. 2) They should point to God and what He’s done for us, maybe not directly because that might turn some people off but it needs to be clear that it’s about God’s doing, not ours, whatever the case may be.
I don’t make movies, I take pictures. I’m not professional by any means (especially since most of my time now is taken up with photo-ing small children going crazy around the house) but when I go out and do serious “work” I do so with the aim of capturing the beauty in things. The other day we went on a drive and I saw an old falling apart house so I jumped out of the car and took pictures. There was an inherent beauty in it that I saw and I tried to capture it as best I could while three children and a husband were waiting on me in the car. I’m just so amazed at the beauty in nature and I can see God’s hand in it, so I try to capture that in hopes that maybe someone will catch a glimpse of it too.
As for the original question: It depends on who made it and whether or not the message is clear. Some are awful, yes. Some are for fun, and that’s ok too as long as they’re clean and obviously not a “worldly” fun. If that makes sense.
To be honest, the thing that frustrates me is that there is no happy medium. Let’s be real. I’m a 21 year old college student. I like to watch movies with friends. It seems, though, that our only options are either the racy, worldly films or the super cheesy, only good for a laugh Christian films (at least that is my experience). It is frustrating sometimes when we all congregate to choose a movie and even the more-acceptable Hollywood films contain sex, drugs, alcohol, and affairs. Does that make sense at all? I just would think that with all of the billions of dollars spent by the movie industry every year, there has to be some market for adult movies without the dodgy themes and undertones. I attend a Christian school. We spend 35 minutes in chapel each morning, as well a significant amount of time in Bible studies and classes, aside from whatever time we spend alone with the Word. When I’m going to watch a movie for enjoyment, I will be more likely to choose one that I can laugh at because I’m supposed to laugh at it, rather than one that I am laughing at because it is so poorly made/written/executed. Now I’m rambling. The point is, I wish there was some middle ground…some movies that I could suggest to my friends at home without being laughed at aside from those during which I am subjected to two hours of immorality.
jayme @ No Regrets Singles says
Alot of them are, I’m afraid. Sure, you have great ones now and then, but alot of them seem to be that way. I watched one the other day that was mostly about kids and their relationship to their parents. If I heard the phrase “gotta have their heart” once, I heard it 10 times in that movie. The movie was only 50 minutes long!
Christian movies today typically show moms being uber quiet and not with a personality, any lines or strength. Many times the relationship between husband and wife come across patrionizing or sterile, neither of which I want.
Just give me a good clean movie, Christian or not, and I’m happy.
Oh this topic brought me a chuckle because my family and I have discussed it so many times. We are all believers but we are kind of cynical when it comes to “Christian entertainment.” When I went through my Christian rap phase in junior high my dad used to grumble, “just because you slap a dove on the cover doesn’t mean it’s good.” I think that admonition is so true of many things produced today! Some entertainment marketed to Christians is just plain shoddy, and worse yet some contains theology that is just flat out wrong. Of all people Christians should be associated with and produce work that is the most excellent version possible, because our lives are meant to proclaim God’s excellence.
But on the other hand I have some real hypocrisy in this area because I will criticize Christian art on the basis above, yet have no problem watching secular TV or movies that are straight up contradictory to Christ in what they depict or the profanity they include. Hmm. Convicting!
In regards to the Christian rap comment your dad made…
This is very true, but at the same time, you have to listen to the lyrics. We have a lot of Christian rap around this house and it’s some of the best music we have for reaching people we know who don’t know Christ because they like the music, and when you actually listen to the lyrics, they’re more “theological” than a lot of the non-rap Christian music I’ve heard. Plus, just because it’s Christian doesn’t mean it has to mention God all the time. Christian musicians are allowed to make “fun” music every now and then and still have it be considered Christian music. If that makes sense.
Did you know that there are 6,000 committed Christians in Hollywood who are actively pursuing art and beauty in the form of Christian Entertainment? You might be intrigued to know that those same people design to transform the world’s perception of Christian entertainment as well! Not speaking for every one of them but there is a terrific industry thrust toward producing films, TV, books which are simply good art, and simply honor God but don’t lead you through the sinner’s prayer at the end. This is such an exciting time in history because media is so incredibly powerful and I just think of all of the people who are influenced through one good film, like Blindside, Secretariat, C.S. Lewis’ movies, as well as the movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. Rather than critique Hollywood I have decided to join forces and be part of the solution. You can too! Check out these links:
Cara @ WhimsySmitten says
I gotta say… for the most part, yes, they’re pretty awful. My expectations are just not as high for the quality of Christian films (acting, scripts, etc.) and, sadly, I tend to think of them like diet soda… a good enough substitute if you’re avoiding all the harmful junk, but expectedly not as good as the real thing.
That said, many of them are still worth watching, but I do wish we had more movies that dealt with the love of Christ in the portrayal of real life without glossing over the tough stuff with a preachy message or avoiding anything “taboo”. Our faith doesn’t excuse us from acknowledging the world we live in, and I think too often these movies aim to appeal to every Christian out there so as not to challenge anyone’s perceptions or step on toes — but shouldn’t that be the point?
Diana Trautwein says
I have a hunch that the most “Christian” movies being made today are being made subversively, under cover, planting seeds of righteousness and redemption without slapping the label on top. We serve a story-telling God, and movies are one of the most powerful contemporary means of telling stories in our culture. But to proclaim up front that a movie is ‘Christian’ is often to turn people off or invite derision. Sadly, we in the church have often allowed that to happen by not thinking just a little bit outside the box. Any movie that tells a good story well, that has a trajectory of redemption of some kind, that seeks excellent writing, production values, acting, directing, cinematography – any film like this can become a powerful means of opening doors to meaningful conversation and reflection. Seeking excellence, telling a redemptive/transformative story really well, inviting personal reflection – these are the attributes I and many others I know look for in a film we would call good. These can be found in most any genre – comedy/drama/fantasy/science fiction/etc. And there are a growing number of filmmakers who do have a personal faith in Jesus and who do embrace excellence professionally who will refuse to label their work Christian for some of the very reasons you have noted in your post – too much baggage, too many negative connotations. I often wonder – are churches encouraging their members to think about the movies they choose to see by offering opportunities for well-written reviews? Or class settings where clips are used to provoke good questions or to encourage meaningful conversation? Or planning group viewing of well-done movies with discussion to follow? GREAT questions, Tsh. Thank you.
Hello! I’d like to point you all in the direction of some amazingly engaging and high quality films that are neither classified as Christian or non-Christian. They are just productions of classic stories with well developed characters, plot lines, and imagery which have stood the test of the time. Check out Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on your cable or satellite menu and you may be pleasantly surprised at the many options of classics that portray Christian values, truths, and many even quote scripture! Only Old Hollywood could get away with that; these are treasures from a bygone era with timeless messages of truth, virture, love, and in the case of several; faith in Jesus Christ. Check out movies like David Copperfield, Friendly Persuasion, To Sir With Love, and How Green Was My Valley.
Dawn Camp says
Sadly, a lot of Christian movies aren’t as well made as other ones in the market, and critics seem determined to trash them. People like me make a lot of their movie decisions based on Rotten Tomatoes reviews, which fortunately lists critic and audience ratings separately. Fireproof, for instance, had a great Christian message in spite of sub-par acting. At Rotten Tomatoes the audience score was 87% and the critics score was 40% (actually higher than I expected).
I taught Challenge II with Classical Conversations this year. The theme of Challenge II is Western Cultural History and we spent a lot of time discussing worldview and the arts, how the arts impact the culture and vice versa. In C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, the three main characters have radically different worldviews, and it’s fascinating to see how it ultimately affects their behavior.
Some people may disagree with me, and I definitely don’t recommend it for the younger/littler set but one movie that made me think and brought up a redemptive storyline to me was Moulin Rouge. It reminded me of Fracine Rivers’ book “Redeeming Love”. Did it point directly to Christ.? No, was it as clean as I would like? No, but it brought up the question of what is true love? Why is it so rare? Can some as messed up as a prostitute receive it? And it didn’t seem to completely answer the first question with human love. That movie helped me see some of my own handicaps in love and I thought it was a great discussion piece. It also was powerfully moving. My sister refused to watch it at all because it was a ‘dirty’ movie.
I’m not saying it’s a movie every Christian should watch, I guess I’m more using it as an example of how secular movies can bring up very relevant issues and good discussions and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Movies are a very powerful medium and I think Christians telling stories from the heart and with excellence are the goal. But even secular movies can be used by God to speak to us.
Some examples, First Knight – great illustration of God’s sacrificial love for us and how we can miss it but it never stops Him, Moulin Rouge – “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return”, The Joy Luck Club – example of how our past can define us in ways we don’t understand and how it effects the generations after us if we keep everything hidden.
Anyway, there are a lot of cruddy movies out there on both sides, but as Christians I think we’ve lost the power of The Story. God reached out to us in His-Story, we are made for stories. We need to tell ours with excellence and it will show the world His amazing love.
Rachel Tatem says
Christian is a perspective not the people who work on it. Themes, plots, characters… not the actors or that it was based on a “christain novel” (again in my opinion a very broad term)
Is it possible that all artistic expression comes from God, the author of creation? Though some art is expressed in ways that offend the so-called Christian sensibility, is it not all a cry for understanding, for acceptance, for something greater than self, the God-shaped vaccum in all of us? To label art as Christian or non-Christian, good or bad is to limit the power of God’s perspective through the Holy Spirit in us. We are not tainted by that which is outside of us but by the sin within us….That is why we have a Savior.
Diana Trautwein says
Love this response. Thank you.
I noticed that my response was not selected to be posted. Was there something wrong with what I said? I was just curious.