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.

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.

181 Comments

Stephen

1

Stephen commented…

It's sad that most faith relevant films worth watching don't come from the central branch of our culture. The whole lack of creative spark is sickening and the mediocrity of it all is worthy of the criticism. It's not a matter of finance - look at Beasts of the Southern Wild made for 1.5 million. I'd rather give my hard earned cash and time to films that aren't afraid to be honest and challenging like Higher Ground or Tree of Life. A lot of people feel guilty for being too critical of Cloud Ten and the like, but if their expression does not resonate with an honest depiction of reality as much as it does biblical truth they aren't connecting with a secular audience and getting the job done. I would rather be challenged in heart and mind than be entertained, but it is possible to have both, just unlikely through mainstream channels. I enjoy the under the radar discoveries like the Fellini Rossellini collaboration The Flowers of St. Francis - rarity of rarities, a Christian film with humor and sublime powerful imagery. Anybody knows of any true creative artists out there, apart from Darren Wilson, making relevant film of faith let me know.

Sarah

1

Sarah commented…

Well, in the Philippines they are not..

Brennan Smith

1

Brennan Smith commented…

As a screenwriter/story analyst, I know two reasons we have bad Christian movies. One, writers don't know their craft or scripture. Here's why: http://www.bren.us/why-christian-movies-suck
Two, Christian production companies and funders are cowards. They want a safe return on the safe, tepid , sentimental straight-to-video and refuse to champion better content.

The solution? Artists, get serious about competing. There are many options and I have a seminar and script analysis to help. Prodcos and funders? What can I say? Your business model has painted artists into a ghetto. Why write better content if this is all you support?

William Thornton

2

William Thornton commented…

Christians don't support alternative storytelling. When they want something edgy, they go looking in secular movies, books, music, etc., and in some ways, this is because they are more familiar with those forms, but also because there are things secular artists do that Christian writers don't - and I don't mean sex, violence, but just alternative storytelling.

For example, go to www.smashwords.com and look up my two novels. "The Uncanny Valley" and "Brilliant Disguises." Just read the free excerpts and see if you like them. If you don't, no problem. But give it a try.

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.

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