7 Reasons Why We Might Want to Give Christian Films a Break
I’ve seen most of the “Christian” movies to hit the big screen: Fireproof, Facing the Giants, Heaven is For Real (I saw the sneak peak – more on that soon!), The Grace Card, Amazing Grace, Grace Unplugged, God’s not Dead, etc. Thanks to Netflix, I've also seen many that didn’t quite make it to the big screen, like my favorite Faith like Potatoes, Unconditional, etc. I know the polar responses to them. Some people criticize how hokey they are, the “bad” acting, the cliché, simplistic endings and convenient, miraculous answers to prayer… complaining that it’s a bad reflection on God when His people produce lackluster films. However, others are thrilled to have movies that are inspiring and hopeful and overtly Christian out there...and even enjoy them.
Maybe there is some truth in both perspectives. I tend more to the grace side, personally. It’s always easy for people to offer up their criticisms (and I’m not saying they are all wrong, either), but it’s not so easy for those same people to know how to fix the problems they’re so quick to point out. I’m not trying to hate on the haters—if Christian filmmakers are going to improve, then they need to listen to the honest feedback, even and especially when it’s critical—so criticisms and the people who offer them have their place. However, I thought it might be helpful to hear why we might just want to give Christian films and their makers a break from our criticisms and offer a little bit of grace and support instead.
1. The comparisons aren’t really fair, to begin with. Most of the Christian films have a miniscule budget and many, if not most, are made with volunteers and/or amateurs and limited equipment. (Did you know they apparently had ONE video camera when they made Facing the Giants??? ONE!!!) Just to put it into perspective, here is the estimated budget for the three football movies that came out in fall of 2006: Facing the Giants ($100,000), Gridiron Gang with Dwayne Johnson ($30 million), and Invincible with Mark Wahlberg ($30 million). The secular films’ budgets were $29.9 million (or 300 times) more than the Christian film. They had a bigger budget for Courageous and God’s not Dead, ($2 million each), but that’s still a $28 million dollar difference. Not that all blockbuster films are that expensive, some are more, some are less…but you see my point: If James Cameron was working with the same budget and equipment and cast as many of these Christian films, might we find that the Christian films looked pretty similar by comparison?
I forgot to mention, but one (obvious?) side effect of the smaller budgets (besides the technological limitations) is that they are limited in what they can pay actors. Most of the Kendrick brothers films were made with almost all volunteer actors...from their church (and other churches). Sally-Stay-at-home-mom-and-Sunday-School-Teacher vs. Jennifer-I-won-an-Oscar-Lawrence? It's just not a fair, apples to apples, comparison.
2. To further the not-fair comparisons, Christian films are rarely produced by veterans in the industry. Most of these films seem to be by people who simply have a dream of producing a quality Christian film. These are new ventures by people who are trying their best in a wholly new endeavor without any real Hollywood experience. They are little producer babies, learning how to walk, trying to take some baby steps and rather than coming alongside and encouraging them to keep trying, we are often found railing on them for being lousy athletes, forgetting that they have to learn to walk before they can run. If you look at the progression of films made by Alex Kendrick, you can see the growth—Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous—every film seems to get a little better (no doubt in part due to his increased experience and in part due to an increased budget, thanks to the success of the previous films). I’m personally curious to see the maturity in his next film, Moms' Night Out.
(It's now out and I've seen it...best yet! Read the movie discussion here!).
I wonder why it is that we can watch a show like American Idol or The Voice and understand that no matter how much talent and artistic vision a person naturally has, nothing can make up for experience and training. We give budding musicians so much grace as they learn and improve. We praise what’s good in their beginning efforts, but expect more from them as they grow. When it comes to Christian films, it seems to me that we don’t really do this. We expect a freshmen effort to have the maturity of a seasoned professional. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, but that maybe there’s also room for encouragement and understanding as Christian filmmakers work in a genre that’s new and relatively uncharted—especially knowing that many of them are new and relatively inexperienced.
3. Christian films have a bigger purpose than just our entertainment. I know that we, as Christians, want some good, clean, wholesome entertainment, but I also believe that we actually want more from Christian films than that. I believe that we actually want Christian films to glorify God by exalting the King and His Kingdom, building up believers, witnessing to non-believers, etc. So when we are evaluating whether or not a Christian film is any “good”, we have additional criteria to consider beyond simple entertainment value. Did it make Christ look good? Did it have a high view of scripture? Is it theologically accurate? Did it inspire me to live more like Jesus, to be bolder for my faith, to love better, to trust God more, etc? Maybe it wasn’t quite as entertaining as film X, but if it strengthened my faith in some way and/or made me more like Jesus even a little, then isn’t that a far more important criteria to consider?
4. God has a history of doing a LOT with a little. I agree that we, as Christians, made in the image of THE Creator, and following in His footsteps, ought to be the best creators. And I agree that if we, as Christians, create movies (or music or whathaveyou) that are sub-par, it’s kind of embarrassing, for ourselves and for our God. HOWEVER, I think that’s only part of the story, so to speak. The other thing that we need to factor into our thinking is the fact that God can do a lot with a little, it only it is offered with a right and humble heart. As Paul writes to the Corinthians:
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God…. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
I can’t help but think of the widow who gave her tiny little offering. It was so insignificant it was laughable, one might say foolish, but Jesus said she had offered up more than all the others, for she gave “out of her poverty…all that she had.” I also think of the young boy who offered up his meager lunch for Jesus to use as he would—a lunchable by today’s standards—and 5,000 (not including women and children!) were fed. Their offerings were not impressive, but they have been remembered for centuries—not because the offerings themselves were impressive, but because what God did with them WAS. You may just find that God takes that movie you think is unimpressive and, like that insignificant lunchable, does something truly amazing with it.
5. There is a battle going on in the heavenlies over the souls of men and without a doubt, Christian movies, because they are willing to declare the name of Jesus, are in the midst of that battle. I find it obvious that these Christian movies are created with an earnest desire to win souls for the Kingdom. You may or may not agree with their methods, or think much of the end result, but if you are a believer then how could you not at least hope that the movie is successful (whether or not you like it)? Paul writes about such a thing. He said that there were people preaching Christ in his time, some did so well and from a heart of love, others were jealous and only wanted to stir up trouble, but he didn’t care…he was just grateful and rejoicing that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed”. So, whether you think it was done well or done poorly, the reality is, when Christ is proclaimed we should rejoice. And not only rejoice, but get involved in the battle by praying for their impact, and for the people who see them.
6. Rather than criticize, we need to pray and ask. The Bible says “you have not because you ask not,” not you have not because you didn’t criticize enough. Again – I’m for constructive criticism—the kind that helps us all improve, but I’m not sure that that’s what circles around most of the time. Go ahead and speak honestly, but also pray and ask God to raise up better films. Let it not be said we didn’t have better films that honored His name and His Kingdom because we simply didn’t ask for them. And while you’re at it, let’s pray that God makes the most out of the ones that are already out there, whether or not they be akin to a lunchable!
7. Loves bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Part of being a Christian is learning to love like God loves. Loving like God loves does not mean that we are blind to reality or unable to speak the truth, but it does mean that we hope for the best. We hope and believe the best in our fellow Christians who endeavor to produce films that honor God. It means that we pray for and hope for their success, because if “one member of the body [of Christ] is honored, all rejoice together”.
I often wonder how the non-Christian world sees us. Sure they may think our films are silly, but more importantly, do they see us supporting and encouraging each other, even when we struggle and fail by worldly standards (producing a lunchable instead of a feast, for example), celebrating every small victory? Or do they see us as a bickering, dysfunctional family who criticizes each other’s every attempt? That’s why the Special Olympics are so special—the way they support each other for trying, knowing that there is something noble and praise-worthy in the effort and the offering, no matter how meager. Christianity should be like that. God didn’t choose the wisest or the most talented among men for the display of his glory. He sent a little boy named David with a slingshot against the might warrior-giant Goliath. He chose prostitutes and tax collectors and outcasts, paralytics and the deaf and blind…He chose the least in society over and over again and asked them to “compete” and to display His glory. When the world looks at us, they ought to feel like they’re at the Special Olympics—not just because of who He’s chosen to enter the race, but because of the way we encourage, support and cheer each other on.
Again, just to be clear, I’m not saying that we should produce crap. Certainly God cares about excellence! BUT if what we produce in our best efforts yet turns out to be but a widow’s mite, or a mere loaf of bread and sardine or two, know that God can multiply and honor the offering, meager as it is. Knowing this (which was really point #4) is what enables us to be able to do # 5 intercession, and #6 prayerful petition, and #7, hoping and believing the best…and therefore supporting and encouraging each other. It’s a progression that only happens if we first understand who God is and what He can do.