Christians live for one thing-to glorify God through the Gospel of Jesus, or as my church puts it-to glorify God, pursue people. With that in mind, I understand that the focal point of any and all Christian media in some way must advance the Gospel message. But I have one question: “Why don’t Christians make more good movies about Christianity?” I know what many of you think. “They’re not bad. I enjoy them, and besides, the movie’s not the point, the Gospel is the point.” On that last part I agree completely. On the first two, not so much.
In my entire life, I’ve seen maybe four (4) movies with a Christian message that I thoroughly enjoyed and admired, not only because of the message, but also because of the craft with which the message was delivered: Ragamuffin: The Story of Rich Mullins, The Hiding Place, The Passion of the Christ, and Chariots of Fire. The first three were made by Christians for a Christian audience. Chariots of Fire was not, but don’t judge it until you watch it. If you don’t see a deeply moving story of Biblical friendship and phileo love, then you’re not paying attention. Other than those four, I can’t think of one Christian movie that I thought was smartly crafted, professional, and well-told. I’m no expert, but I’ve seen thousands of films in my life. I know a well-made movie when I see it, even if I hate it.
Christian movies serve to edify the masses of believers because they tell stories with an overt message. But they rarely challenge Christians to think more deeply about their faith, and almost never convince non-believers to listen to the Gospel. In fact, few non-Christians see these movies unless they have Christian friends and relatives who invite them. What they typically see is a varnished, shiny tale about a near perfect saint of a Christian either converting an evil non-believer or standing up to injustice by an evil non-believer. And they often accomplish their goals with simple platitudes and pat answers, watered down from the original Bible message. Even movies such as Fireproof, which attempt to show the flawed human inside the Christian, avoid showing the most difficult consequences of sin. There remains little tension to carry the story, few details in the writing, and no suspense because the audience knows how the story ends when they enter the theater or press play on their Blu-Ray discs. The result is a film that reflects a Christian worldview, but not Christian reality. In other words, these movies show how we want to live our lives, not how we actually live our lives (most of us anyway).
Believers often complain, and rightly so, that Hollywood portrays them as self righteous, arrogant bigots, sleazy con men, or dimwits. But our answer isn’t to portray ourselves as perfect saints with all the answers. It’s time we made more honest movies, like Ragamuffin, that show our pews are really filled with men and women who struggle with depression, dishonesty, lust, drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, doubt, and any number of other sins (And why shouldn’t they be filled thus? Don’t churches exist to “seek out and save those who are lost”?). Films that show Christians as people who, like everybody else, desperately need the love, grace, and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. Smartly written films that show, rather than telegraph, that the work of transformation through Jesus doesn’t end with conversion to Christianity, it begins there. If we don’t, we risk leaving that task to Hollywood, who will control the message and shape opinions about Christianity. They’re better at making films with impact, and they don’t like us. Instead of taking umbrage with Hollywood, let’s admit that some of those unfair portrayals of believers are accurate. Admit that sometimes we can do a better job. Then, make better Christian movies than they do.
Now, I’m off to see “God’s Not Dead,” which I want to see mostly because Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel hated it.
Peace of Christ,