The Dilemma of Christian Film

15 Oct

Hello. I’m Tyler Smith, of More Than One Lesson.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the quality of Christian film. It appears the conversation was sparked by the recent success of Alex Kendrick’s War Room, a film that I myself didn’t really like.

But that doesn’t matter. Anytime Christians can have a dialogue about art and its necessity, that’s a win and I’m excited.

As I look at the various articles about this subject, and the responses to them, I see that most people fall into two camps.

The first are those that love what has been happening in the Christian film industry. The success of movies like God’s Not Dead and War Room give them plenty of reason to be optimistic. They see these movies and are encouraged to hear the word of God spoken overtly in these films, which is admittedly a rare opportunity.

The second group is one that I myself usually belong to. These are the people that are deeply frustrated by the Christian film industry, both those that make the movies and those that watch them, for so often settling for what we see as an inferior product. We think these movies can be better- a lot better- and are discouraged by the level of enthusiasm that our fellow Christians show for movies that are, frankly, bad.

So, these are the two groups and they tend to be pretty aggressive towards one another. On one side, you get Christians doubting the faith and commitment of their brothers and sisters in Christ because they have the audacity to question the quality of these films. One Christian film director regularly uses the term “carnal Christians” to describe people like me, just because I demand more of my entertainment than he is apparently willing to put in.

On my side, you get elitism. You get Christians that can be a little bit snooty and snobbish. We pride ourselves on being so in tune with the art world that we can’t believe how other low brow Christians can be so content with these awful movies. We look down on these people, despite their being our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, here we are. Two groups of people with a sincere love of God fighting for our specific views and not backing down, complete with name calling and accusations of those that don’t agree.

But, as always, the truth of all this probably lies somewhere in between.

The fact is that there are thousands- if not millions- of Christians that watch these movies and come away feeling encouraged and emboldened in their faith. This is a good thing. We should be happy any time our fellow Christians feel a sincere desire to go out into the world and make a difference for Christ, whether it be on campus, in the mission field, or in our own homes. And if it’s a Christian film that helps get them there, that’s fine with me.

These films aren’t the best, but what Christians like me need to understand is that God doesn’t require perfection to use somebody. King David, whose exploits with Bathsheba are very well known, was called a man after God’s own heart. Jacob, who was duplicitous and manipulative, was the father of Israel. Clearly, God is able to use imperfect vessels to carry out his will. Our own limitations are not His, and it would serve us to remember that and not diminish it.

On the other hand, God’s ability to use David and Jacob does not excuse their behavior, does it? God may have been able to work His will through them, as He always does, but that doesn’t mean their actions were pure.

By that same token, God’s ability to use these films to touch people’s lives doesn’t necessarily make these movies good. The characters speak in a way that nobody- Christian or otherwise- would ever speak. The films go on long after the story is over. The acting is often stilted and unnatural. Conflict arises and is immediately resolved in a way so convenient that I challenge anybody to point to a moment in their lives that worked out that perfectly. These are not the elements of a good movie.

These are the elements that people are willing to forgive because of the message of the movie. It becomes all about the filmmakers’ intentions, rather than their results.

But I challenge those that would be so forgiving of these films to think of any other industry in which they would be so generous. If there were a Christian doctor whose practice was as reliant on the forgiveness of his patients as these films were on the forgiveness of their audience, could you ever in good conscience recommend him? Would you go see him yourself? Of course not.

In fact, you might actually challenge him to be better. Because, if he’s going to profess Christianity, but do a so-so job, it speaks ill of all Christians.

Well, I feel the same way about film. Because art is so often intangible, many untrained and unqualified people feel that they can do it themselves fairly easily. But, like any other profession- where we Christians are expected to work our absolute hardest for excellence- filmmaking requires training, discipline, and discernment.

And, of course, I recognize that, in the end, God is going to be the one to touch the audience, not the inherent quality of the film. But the same could be said for any industry. We do our absolute best, knowing full well that God’s blessing and provision will ultimately make it prosper. We may feed and water our plants, but God will make them grow.

This is something that I need to keep in mind so as not to rely too much on my own understanding.

But, the thing is, we still need to feed and water those plants. We have a job to do. We can’t just phone it in and expect God to do the rest. This is not because God is unable to do wonderful things, but because he expects us to try our best.

Did Joshua march around the walls of Jerico a couple of times and then say, “Ah, it’s fine. God’ll take care of the rest”? No, he didn’t. Did the Jews in Egypt shrug off the whole lamb’s blood around the doorframe thing, or did they do what they were supposed to do? Of course, they were obedient and did what they were told. Just as we should.

We have a responsiblity to demand excellence of ourselves and each other. Because the world is watching. And if they see that we champion an inferior product just because it has the right intentions behind it, it smacks a little bit of cronyism and it makes us look phony and unreliable.

These movies can be better, and I believe that someday, they will be.

I pray for a day when Christians make the best movies in the world.

But that day is not here yet. We still have a long way to go.

Yes, God can use these movies despite their many flaws. I take comfort in that, and I praise God for it. Because, if he can use these imperfect films, he can surely use me, who is about as imperfect as you can get. But just because God can use me despite my imperfections, that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to push myself to be perfect, or, at the very least, better.

And it’s the same with film. Wouldn’t it be nice if God touched the audience as a function of artistic quality, rather than in spite of it?

If God can do this much with C- level movies, imagine what He could do with A pluses.

That’s all I’ve got. Thank you.

2 Responses to “The Dilemma of Christian Film”

  1. Brendt Wayne Waters October 15, 2015 at 4:55 am #

    Well said. I find myself in the latter camp, but grow so weary of the snobbishness of most of my fellow campers. This was a good balance.

  2. Dan Parris November 5, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    Hey Tyler, thanks for always bringing some fresh air and thought to this discussion. Appreciate the podcasts and everything you do. Just wanted to say that this reminded me of the dilemma of the good ole’, underground documentary “Ice Shield of Alethia”

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