Do you like Christian movies pretty much as they are now and think we should have more?
Do you dislike Christian movies as-is and wish they would either grow up or go away?
Do you generally ignore both fans and critics of Christian movies in favor of other movies?
In any case, here are seven challenges that apply to all of us.
1. What are movies meant to do?
Some answer, “To entertain.” Some answer, “To send a message,” that is, to teach.
Specifically about Christian movies, some answer, “To use the method of entertainment to teach Christian living, or to evangelize people who would not otherwise visit a church.”
These may be good reasons, but are these the primary reasons we should enjoy movies?
Imagine a world in which humans had never sinned. Would we have someday made movies as well as other stories and songs? If so, what would our movies be meant to do? Certainly today’s movies must not pretend our world is sinless. But is there anything we would have done with movies in a sinless world that we should also try to do with our movies today?
What is the chief end of man (God’s creation)?
Based on that answer, what is the chief end of movies (man’s creation)?
2. Why do we actually like Christian movies?
A friend reminded me that it’s wise to ask Christian movie fans why they like movies such as Fireproof, Courageous, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, and the recent War Room.
But when I ask this question, will some people give answers like these?
- We need a tool for evangelism, to reach unbelievers in a place outside the church.
- We need a tool to teach morality to Christians, such as prayer and family values.
- We need a tool in the “culture war,” to remind Big Hollywood that Christians exist.
Are these good answers? Are they honest answers? Or might they be mixed up with other, possibly more-honest reasons why we like Christian movies—reasons like these?
- I want to feel like someone, at least, is doing effective evangelism in the real world.
- I want to enjoy the humor and fun that’s safe and non-offensive for the whole family.
- I want to see “me” onscreen, especially when other movies don’t show Christians.
If we like Christian movies, how can we share with one another the real reasons why?
3. Why do we actually dislike Christian movies?
Now for the other side. I feel I need not ask actual Christian movie critics for their reasons, because I read their critiques, such as a negative review of War Room at Christianity Today.
But if I asked for three reasons to critique or dislike Christian movies, replies may include:
- We need a tool for better evangelism, to reach unbelievers outside of a church.
- We need a tool to teach better morality to Christians, such as the evils of racism.
- We need a tool to push back against the sentimentalist Christian subculture.
Are these good answers? Are they honest answers? Or might they be mixed up with other, possibly more-honest reasons why we dislike Christian movies—reasons like these?
- I want an outlet for my own embarrassment about beliefs Christians actually hold.
- I want more movie conversations about social/political issues I’m passionate about.
- I want to see an end to the type of Christianity I learned as a child and now dislike.
If we dislike Christian movies, how can we share with one another the real reasons why?
4. If sermons shouldn’t be like movies, why should Christian movies be like sermons?
Most Christians, if asked, would agree they do not believe sermons in church should be all about entertainment. Sermons can be interesting and include entertaining examples when appropriate, but above all they should be biblical. What if a church pastor failed to open the Bible—or even quote a Bible verse or truth—and instead played a movie for the whole time? Almost all Christians, even from the hippest megachurches, would disagree with that.
Why then should we insist, or even suspect, that a Christian movie ought to be like a pastor’s sermon or at least like an anecdote from a pastor’s sermon?
Hasn’t God already appointed two great means for us to understand of His word: preaching and teaching? Did He not instruct teaching elders to teach the word, exploring Scripture aloud in the context of institutional local-church worship? Don’t we also have nonfiction books and reading plans and other lessons to pursue this goal even outside of church?
If so, why do we need Christian entertainment that serves exclusively as sermons?
5. If Christian movies are like Christian sermons, are they at least good sermons?
Let us go further. Let’s grant that Christian movies can be like sermons. (The opposite view seems legalistic.) In that case, the Christian movie must play by sermon rules. That means:
- The movie must stick with a biblical text (expositional preaching), or as in some evangelical circles, at least stick with a biblical theme with texts (topical preaching).
- The movie must not seem to endorse some kind of behavior that is not biblical.
- The movie must fiercely strive to avoid teaching anything that is un-biblical—such as false gospels, mystical notions about prayer, nasty acts toward our neighbors, or the notion that Jesus is like a genie who grants wishes if we only wish hard enough.
- The movie must be good, with original work, mindfulness of symbols and images, and good organization, flow, editing, words, and realism yet appropriate idealism.
- The movie must stay focused 100 percent on the Person of Jesus Christ, and only secondly emphasize results of Jesus’s work, such as biblical doctrine and behavior.
- The movie must be realistic about human nature, showing that people can try hard and fail anyway, that nonbelievers do good things, and that Christians can be nasty.
- The movie, even a lighter movie, must show both a realistic vision of what the world is like and a profoundly gospel-centered vision of what the world should and will be.
Do most Christian movies-as-sermons go in this direction? If not, how could they improve?
6. If we think Christian movies are bad art, do we simply show/tell Christians better art?
Some say it’s pointless to critique Christian movies. They say: Just make better movies.
Making and showing someone better movies may be necessary. But should Christian movie critics also do some loving teaching about why Christians should do art? Should we gently and directly challenge some bad ideas about creativity that Christians have absorbed?
Should we consider avoiding some of our many critiques about editing, dialogue, and plot clichés that are arguably subjective and will confuse a Christian who isn’t a film buff? Could we instead focus on Scripture’s arguably mandatory commands to train one another in better theology about why God redeems humans and what humans do as a response?
Will this focused teaching naturally lead to higher expectations from movies and art?
Will such a focused teaching actually be more missional—reaching some Christians where they are, using things they recognize (such as overt teaching) to help slowly change minds?
7. What should we want to do as soon as we leave a Christian movie?
I admit I thought this question as a response to War Room. I have not seen the film and will not review or critique it. But all promotions and reviews indicate the purpose of the film is in short to share a story that will help families and churches commit to prayer revival.
In this case, may it be fair to suggest these answers by fans of particular Christian movies?
- Fireproof—You will enjoy the story and commit to strengthening your marriage.
- Courageous—You will enjoy the story and commit to being a better father.
- God’s Not Dead—You will enjoy the story and commit to telling others God is alive.
In either case, the movie’s goal may be to get viewers to enjoy the movie, yes, but then also to do something else. Perhaps a movie can indeed rightly get viewers to engage in a social action. But is that the first or primary response Christians have after we enjoy a story?
Are good movies, though made by human beings, ultimately a gift of God? If so, what does He say about what our first response should be when we receive His gifts to us?
When God gives us a gift, must we first go do something? Or should we do something else?
Next time: Seven More Challenges for Christian Movie Critics and Fans.