Why Are Christian Movies So Bad?

A call for Christians to get serious about being artists.

Christian culture is often the enemy of quality. Independent Christian film, in particular, has a history of being seriously and deeply flawed, routinely dismissed by secular critics and audiences as intellectually vacant and disconnected from reality.

The term Christian film has become synonymous with substandard production values, stilted dialogue and childish plots. Why is Christian film no more than a side note to modern culture? Why are Christians left behind?

Throughout the 1960s, heavy-handed Christian values were overthrown by the hippie generation. Christians retreated, overwhelmed by social changes—but we still wanted the pleasures of modern culture, only without any tempting content or foul philosophy.

Our reaction was to build a cultural wall around ourselves complete with self-prescribed content filters and an isolationist attitude. This cocoon was a comfy, safe place for Christians, but the cocoon became a time capsule. We spent decades discussing what we hoped the world was like rather than dealing with how things are.

Our isolation also bred well-intentioned but poorly trained artists. Instead of playing with the big boys, Christian filmmakers remained in the minor leagues.

Christian audiences learned to accept substandard artists who make substandard works. We no longer have any expectations of quality. Like expecting a church youth group to compete with off-Broadway, we are ill-equipped and out-matched.

A preachy pig

Even with successes (Bella, Facing the Giants), we are on the outside looking in. You can have the huge budget, skilled and experienced technical crew and a firmly executed marketing plan, but if you film a pedantic script with summer-stock-reject actors, your better-looking product is simply lipstick on a pig. Throw in Christian film’s inherently agenda-driven plots and dialogue and you have lipstick on a preachy pig.

Rather than developing organically, the average Christian film is more pushy and sanctimonious than the global-warming agenda movies. Violence is almost non-existent, salty language never happens, unmarried people never struggle with lust and evil is never very bad, because showing various forms of sin is not allowed. By movie’s end, everyone is converted with no residual issues. Life is reduced to an after-school special with prayer thrown in for good measure. For me, this is where the dry heaving begins.

Restrictions on content are there, presumably, because people believe it to be biblical. Such restrictions keep me from producing a movie accurate to Scripture, itself. It is a tough argument to think modern Christians cannot handle a simple kiss or rough language when God allowed Joshua to slaughter thousands behind the walls of Jericho.

It is wrong to blame only the artists and producers for the saccharine muck that lines the walls of Christian bookstores—like being mad at a chef for offering no variety after demanding he serve nothing but macaroni and cheese. We, the audience, are to blame for the failure of Christian culture. Christian artists cater to us, give us what we want, what we prefer, and Christians’ expectations have tended to not stress biblical truth, moral clarity or technical achievement, but a watered-down, unrealistic view of the world.

Christians are not the only audience trained to not expect quality. Audiences in general have had their tastes dumbed down to accept the pitiful, disposable paradise of the corporate cinema. We simply are not taught the Arts in this society. Lack of education coupled with the tsunami of crud flowing at us on a daily basis has left us unequipped to discern the good from the bad from the ugly.

So what can we do?

We must be ready to offer a viable alternative to today’s smutty nonsense. We have something genuine to offer that secularists can only dream of: Truth. Life in Christ feeds the hungry spirit and gives definition to life. No amount of existential claptrap will ever compete with the nourishing truth of Christ.

If a film claims to be Christian, it was supposedly done for the glory of God, but we do not glorify God by making lousy movies.

We need great films.

A two-pronged approach is needed; the focus should be on two separate groups: artists and audience. Artists are partners in the development of a movement, but without an informed, alert public, who will hold the artist accountable? Who will keep them focused?

We have the makings of a movement that can change this culture. I honestly believe this. But I also believe the first step toward establishing the groundwork for a vibrant, relevant cultural movement based on scriptural thought is to stop producing “Christian films” or “Christian music” or “Christian art” and simply have Christ-followers who create great Art.

Culture is like a garden. You must keep it healthy and growing or the weeds take over. It is not the artist who is the gardener, it is the audience. We are responsible for which artists take root and grow, and which ones die on the vine. With work, we can cultivate a healthy culture that will flower and bear fruit.

We must maintain a need for a moral and just culture.

We must demand quality.

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We must be open about our faith. That is why it is far more important for the filmmaker to be identified as Christian than his work be labeled as such. Even a pagan can make a movie and label it Christian.

People have a natural hunger for knowledge. They desire truth no differently than they desire water and nutrition. We, as Christ-followers, are the keepers of truth; all we need to do is tell it.

When a Christ-follower produces a film that speaks to Biblical truth and morality, he has made a Christian film. The product itself should not carry the label; the artist is the Christ-follower. His fruit will bear His name.

This article is an excerpt from You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens (RightLine Publishing) by Scott Nehring. Used by permission.

Top Comments

Joseph Varner

1

Joseph Varner commented…

Man this article hit the topic right on the nail. Christian films do not allow conflict because it would cause too much distress in the homes of those that watch them. Kids would ask questions and parents would have to actually teach Biblical truths versus letting the movie do it for them. Current Christian film makers are so afraid to make their films realistic and teach truths based on real life ideas. And as far as Facing the Giants to be a success well that is an opinion. Did it reach others for Christ? Did it cause believers to go out with boldness to spread the Gospel? Nope. It was a feel good movie that only appealed to the Christian. And even that is questionable. I think it is time for the Christian film movement to get it's head out of the sand and start realizing that film should be a medium used to reach others for Christ and stop preaching to the choir.

Evan Schmeits

1

Evan Schmeits commented…

Wait a second, you count 'Facing the Giants' as a success? Such terrible acting and an even worse script.

185 Comments

Evan Schmeits

1

Evan Schmeits commented…

Wait a second, you count 'Facing the Giants' as a success? Such terrible acting and an even worse script.

Perry Sorensen

1

Perry Sorensen commented…

So glad I came across this article, even though it's over four years old. I was starting to wonder if maybe my wife and I were the only ones who thought that "Christian films" really lack. The writer said it how I would've said it. I wouldn't add much else to this if I had written it myself.

Joseph Varner

1

Joseph Varner commented…

Man this article hit the topic right on the nail. Christian films do not allow conflict because it would cause too much distress in the homes of those that watch them. Kids would ask questions and parents would have to actually teach Biblical truths versus letting the movie do it for them. Current Christian film makers are so afraid to make their films realistic and teach truths based on real life ideas. And as far as Facing the Giants to be a success well that is an opinion. Did it reach others for Christ? Did it cause believers to go out with boldness to spread the Gospel? Nope. It was a feel good movie that only appealed to the Christian. And even that is questionable. I think it is time for the Christian film movement to get it's head out of the sand and start realizing that film should be a medium used to reach others for Christ and stop preaching to the choir.

Pauline Shepherd

1

Pauline Shepherd commented…

You ask anyone--Christians included--what their top 5 favourite movies of all time are, I guarantee that 99.999% of the titles mentioned are non-Christian, "secular" and/or Hollywood films (I actually believe it's 100% but I want to be charitable in leaving some leeway for any possible exceptions). In terms of ingenuity, cultural impact and memorable performances, "Christian" films just aren't on the same level.

To me, "Christian" is just a label to categorize a specific genre to appeal to a certain type of consumer. It's become like a ghetto within the film industry--restrictive, stifling and stigmatized. A film like "The Godfather", for example, wasn't made just for Italians and those connected to organized crime. It had a great storyline combined with great performances and memorable scenes which have left deep impressions on audiences everywhere. It was transcendent of its time and place. And it was violent. It is now considered a classic among multiple generations.

For mainstream filmmakers, there is no taboo subject matter or odd approach to storytelling; "the sky is the limit" is their motto. Not so for "Christian" films. The creative process is run like a shareholders meeting where every move must be approved and benefit the sensitivities of an isolationist Christian culture (predominantly American, I'll point out). The result is the propagation of very bland, "safe" movies that are big on having a "message" but lack creative muscle. Here's another question: which Christian film can you recall for its unique camera angles, its non-linear time frame or by its original soundtrack alone? Honestly, I can't think of any. All of those factors I mentioned are as vital to the film experience as the script or acting. Why are "Christian" films so devoid of colour and edge? Why can't the gospel co-exist with the pushing of artistic boundaries?

The sad thing I realize is that some secular films have done a better job of containing Christian themes without needing to be so overt about it (e.g. faith, redemption, forgiveness, hope, etc.). Viewers are allowed to draw their own conclusions and, in the process, wrestle with some weighty issues. Real conversation starters. Outside of the Christian community, Christian filmmakers aren't leaders in their field. I'm not saying they aren't talented but that their talent is extremely underused. Like their musical counterparts, they tend to follow standards that others have set instead of creating them. This is depressing

postwardreamz

3

postwardreamz commented…

I believe that Christian films have made some headway over the years.....but it's, well, not there yet. For example.......whenever a "new" Christian film is announced, and many in my church go see it...it's always "amazing, an awesome powerful story, a solid message for Jesus! Every person Christian or not should watch this! A great movie! "
Every-single-Christian-movie gets this review and review. Every single one. Frankly, a lot of Christian / faith based movies are not that good. They're not. Saying otherwise gets fellow Believers "upset" and the head-shaking that traditional "movie critics" of secular movies do with a "you just don't get it" attitude.

Sure, some of the acting, directing and budgets have indeed gotten better over the years in Christian / faith-based cinema, I think we can all agree on that. What the issue and crux is the *story* still.

Sure, some scenes from 'God's Not Dead' are solid. I liked a few of the humorous exchanges in 'Courageous' that even made me snicker, and probably non-Christians as well. I liked "The Passion Of The Christ" and "The Ten Commandments" stand as a truly classic movie for believer and unbeliever alike.

The story in most Christian films tends to be the same. A broken family, a misunderstood woman, a man who needs to be come what "God intended him to be" or issues with family. The conclusion is always for the best, someone comes to Christ, a family is healed. Lives restored. Jesus is proclaimed. When we Christians live the Gospel, and accept Him......we know firsthand that "God's wonderful plan for our lives" may indeed be one of struggle, strife, pain and a wrestling with God about past choices, resentments, unresolved sin and daily living. Our cinema barely touches on the "lukewarm" aspects of many in our faith and sometimes living a life worthy of His favor may be lonely. many of these movies never deal with hard biting issues like poverty in a Believing family, struggles of belief.......no, it's always the hero / heroine coming to Jesus and mopping up all details with a popular Christian song.

These stories make good for a Hallmark Channel afternoon made-for-TV-movie but cannot stand on their own in the theaters outside a Christian audience for the most part.

I am CONFIDENT there is some writer out there of faith who is seeing this as well, and I know some really solid punching story in a Christian realm is out there! God grant that person the tenacity, the courage and the determination to write one....even if criticism from the "church" in general puts up roadblocks to stop that person.

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