What the Gospel Co-Allies Could Learn from Non-Christian Movies

Jared Wilson (not at TGC website) makes some good points about the poor quality of Christian movies:

Christian movies are not made by artists but propagandists.

I don’t mean that these projects aren’t carried about by people who know what they’re doing with cameras, lighting, etc. The visual quality of Christian movies has definitely increased over the last decade. The caliber of talent on both sides of the camera has increased, as well. So when I say Christian movies aren’t made by artists, I don’t mean they aren’t made by people who are good at their jobs. What I mean is that they are made by people who don’t really know what the job ought to be.

I tracked this shift most notably in Christian writing (fiction) about 20 years ago. We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

Christian movies are more akin to propaganda than art, because they begin with wanting to communicate some Christian theme — the power of prayer, the power of believing, the power of something — and then the story is crafted around that message. This is true even when the story is something based on a real-life incident. Delving into the depths of human character and motivation is subservient to getting the message across. This is why so much of the dialogue in Christian movies violates the classic writing proverb, “Show, don’t tell.”

Wilson makes several other good points about Christian movies’ lameness.

The thing is, someone could make similar points about the content at TGC, whether current events, movie reviews, or even discussions of Christianity. The problem with the Christian intellectual bright web is that the Christianity or w-w on view is mainly about uplift and rooting for the good guys, that is, the celebrity pastors who sometimes leave their own parachurch platforms to perform occasional services for TGC.

A basic problem is an inability to regard non-Christians as confronting real life situations that believers also face, or portraying Christians as people with similar problems to non-Christians — juggling multiple loyalties, avoiding temptation, maintaining integrity, or even looking up to people without faith for insights into the human condition. Is it possible, for instance, for a Christian to render a non-Christian as a charming, likable, even wise person? I understand the challenges that non-believers have in portraying Christians as anything other than two-dimensional figures. That’s because Christians have such trouble admitting that they are both human and spiritual, justified and unsanctified. But is it so hard to portray human existence apart from Christ as a compelling story from which Christians can learn how to participate in all those parts of experience that are not obviously religious? If it is hard — and it is — it is because the victorious Christian living, teaching, and defending that TGC advocates is one where Christians are sanctified across all parts of ordinary life. Christians do Christian music, holy child-rearing, sanctified plumbing, and spiritual goat breeding. If everything has to have Christian significance, you are going to miss a lot of life.

That is why The Big Kahuna is such a great movie. Of course, we may no longer watch it because it stars Kevin Spacey among others. Plus, it has at least 20 f-bombs. But it also portrays the haplessness of an evangelical engineer who works with worldly salesmen and turns out not to be a reliable colleague because he (Bob, played by Peter Facinelli) is so eager to evangelize on the job. The movie, to its credit, treats this evangelical as a real life human being. When he says that it’s more important to follow Jesus than sell an industrial lubricant (at a business convention), you actually see Bob’s dilemma. It is not a ridiculous riddle. But the evangelical also lacks character, as Danny DeVito’s character points out, because Bob doesn’t see how his desire to serve the Lord has blinded him to poor performance on the job, or a distance from co-workers. Bob sees himself in two dimensions because his piety tells him to view himself that way.

It is a smart movie from which Christians and non-Christians can see the way life doesn’t proceed in straight lines.

If TGC wants Christians to make better movies, they should produce better content.

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12 thoughts on “What the Gospel Co-Allies Could Learn from Non-Christian Movies

  1. You’re gonna get this one day Darryl. I just can’t make myself believe you won’t.
    That comment has nothing directly to do with movies or art btw, and you can’t possibly have less regard for TGC than I do.

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  2. The Big Kahuna is a great movie? Wilson is in his own bubble. TGC also loves First Reformed, so excuse me for not listening much to their cadre or mutually-embracing critics.

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  3. Great post and good linked article. Christian artists should be concerned about making great art, not “Christian” art. Some of the most spiritually moving and provocative art comes from “secular” artists and non-Christians (e.g. No Country for Old Men). The best explanation of free will in the context of an absolutely sovereign God is found in Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, who is a Jew.

    One quibble with the article: he claims The Passion of the Christ and Silence were made by the “world’s artists,” yet that would be news to Mel Gibson and Martin Scorsese, both of whom are professing Catholics.

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  4. Speaking of TGC, some good content here this am – Life Is Not ‘Meaningless’ in Ecclesiastes.: “Want to live well? Prepare to die. Know that the breath will vanish, and enjoy the fleeting glory.”
    Movies more developed like Ecclesiastes might be as vv says -“Some of the most spiritually moving and provocative”
    Sure beats Jared’s underdeveloped conclusion of “In any event, if your movie’s gonna get laughed at for being Christian, maybe at least make sure it’s because of the cross and not because it’s corny.”

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  5. Wilson’s example is also problematic from the get go because Lewis and Chesterton are awful and heretical on many points theologically.

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  6. This is the fruit of the Pietist and Presuppositional error in the church. With their heads in the sand they do not know what reality looks like enough to make a good movie. When they do come up for air, like the three monkeys they cover their eyes, ears and mouths and live in their own minds ignoring the common sense truth just like Pilate (John 18:38). Propaganda is all they know. This is also what makes a lot of Christians untrustworthy as you are always wondering what their agenda is.

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  7. Christians preoccupation with vile pop culture is ridiculous. Up until about 60 years ago most all serious evangelicals despised pop culture, especially theater in all’s its monstrous forms. Many seem to believe their very presence sanctified the demonic.

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