The Big Problem With Christian Books and Movies
I have a problem with Christian books and movies. Mostly, I don’t like them.
Sometimes I feel guilty for my dislike. After all, I’m a Christian. I get the feeling that I’m letting down my tribe or something.
But the truth is that a lot of Christian books and movies just tend to be pretty mediocre. Sometimes just plain bad.
I watched a Christian movie recently that was rated four-and-a-half stars on several movie review sites. It was also one of the most painful things I’ve had to sit through in a long time. The story consisted of a shallow, flaky rich guy who spends a week in a town where, surprise surprise, everyone else is a Christian. As he wanders around the town, everyone he meets gives him a sermon right out of Sunday school, delivered with a perfect smile and an inhuman dose of loving patience. And of course, because no unbelieving mortal could hope to resist such a flood of Christian-ness, he does a complete character flip, and accepts Christ on his knees. (The bonus being that he gets to marry the blond Christian chick who could have been a model, but decided to start a home fortroubled boys instead.)
God’s Not Dead
God’s Not Dead, the most hyped and anticipated Christian film of the last year, also disappointed me. The cinematography and acting were decent, compared to a lot of other Christian movies I’ve seen. But it wasn’t a good story. There were too many characters, all shallowly developed. The main storyline was basically a demonstration of Christian apologetics–good arguments, maybe, but nothing I hadn’t heard before. The end felt forced, relying on gimmicky melodrama to evoke emotion, rather than solid storytelling and character development.
Big Fishes, Little Pond
Both of these movies have hundreds of glowing reviews online, all written by Christians. They’ve won awards, all from Christian festivals and companies.
If you took the Christian message out of these movies and replaced it with an ambiguous or blatantly secular one, would they do well commercially? Of course not. They would be mocked and dragged through the mud all over the internet. They would be ridden out of town on a rail.
And therein is my biggest problem with Christian movies, books, and even music. Christian art happens in a small, cozy pond where the standards are nice and low. People aren’t looking for art, or good stories, they’re looking for sermons and apologetics, or possibly more often, warm fuzzies that make them feel good about following Jesus.
Something else a lot of Christians are looking for are movies that they can feel good about watching with their children on Saturday night, or books they feel comfortable with their third-grader reading. Stories without smut. And you know what, I have no problem with that. There’s a genuine need for clean, family-friendly stories.
However. Why do we have to sacrifice good storytelling for family-friendly?
I have a crazy theory that if the standard for Christian art was higher, the message would actually be stronger. Maybe if we stopped trying to wrap a story around a sermon and started working theme and story together organically, like good storytellers, people would stop associating Christian movies and books with words like “cheesy” and “preachy”.
Not finished talking about this yet. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks–I’m planning on getting a little more in-depth on this stuff. What are some of the most common problems you see in Christian books and movies today?