Yesterday I posted a blog outlining the various options that my readers have to take in content that is Christ driven. My hope when starting this blog was originally to bring to people’s attention these opportunities to see content that lifts up their faith instead of tearing it down. I also wanted to examine these works to see if they not only lift up our faith but does so with quality. I think that all of my posts can fall within those lines. The post yesterday was a quick post that I wrote while my two month old son slept after his morning bottle. It was simply informative but as I usually do I added a little bit of commentary with each project on the list. Under the listed movie “Do You Believe?” I pointed out that I have not seen the movie but the reviews have been better than you would normally expect from a “Christian Film.” I also pointed out the majority of what I have heard in the way of Criticism. I said:
“However, writing is being very criticized and words like “propaganda” and “preachy” are certainly being tossed around. These criticisms are meaningless to me since anytime a Christian theme is introduced they use these terms.”
I know, it was not my most well crafted sentence and I knew going into this blog writing endeavor that I was opening up to the world just how poor of a grasp I have on grammar and spelling. I also knew that people would disagree with what I have said and I might ruffle a few feathers. Just like in real life, I have trouble letting someone else have the last word. Well, out of all my posts the one that seems to have struck a nerve was my listing of Easter time viewing content. The writer over at www.reeltheology.com has taken issue with my above statement. You can view his blog post to me HERE. In it he makes clear that he is not happy that I put no stock in the criticism of being “preachy” or being “propaganda.” It appears that he thinks that when I say this that somehow I am saying that a Christian movie cannot be “preachy” or cannot be considered “propaganda.” In the post he listed a bunch of movies that have “Christian themes” but where critically acclaimed. I feel I should define some of these terms that I use so let’s start there.
Sometimes we get so caught up on terms. I have often been in discussions that turned into arguments only to be revealed later that the reason things went south was because of a misunderstanding on behalf of one or both of the parties as to what was meant by a term.
When I use the term “Christian themes” I am not simply saying “Moral Theme.” I am pretty sure that every living person has a “moral code.” In fact, if you took many opposing religions and compared their “moral codes” you would find that there is much overlap among them. It is very unfair to use an example like Changing Lanes as examples of movies with Christian themes. Do they tackle morality? Sure? Are there movies out there that have a sense of undefined spirituality? Yes, do these movies have uniquely Christian themes? No.
Basically, if the charge that reeltheology is throwing at me is that I believe that some movies are too specifically Christian to get a positive review from a movie critic, I would have to say I do believe that happens. I do not expect a spiritually ambiguous movie like The Life of Pie to get criticism based on “Christian themes?” No. However, even that movie had its critics who simply have an aversion to “faith” being explored within a cinematic experience.
He mentions the Lord of the Rings as an example of a film with Christian Themes that was not critically panned for them. True, very true, however, even though I love the Lord of the Rings and I love the Christian symbolism and imagery within those films you need to admit that those specifically Christian aspects of the film are so well hidden that if you do not want to see them you don’t have to. I have been in many discussions with fans of the movies who had no clue that Christianity was a strong influence on the story. Also, before you become all upset, I am not saying it was bad for Tolken to hide these themes as if I am accusing him of being ashamed of his faith. By no means!… or should I use the King James, God forbid! I am simply saying that I don’t think that the mark of a good Christian movie is how well you hide that it is a Christian movie. I am saying that if you want to tell a story that is that subtle in its approach to the influence go for it! Make us work to find it. I have fun doing this, it is like putting together a puzzle but what I am saying is that if I as a film make want to tell a story that is overtly, uniquely and in-your-face Christian that should be ok!
Included in the blog rebuttal to my sentence was a list of movies. Like I said, some of them I think are unfair to include on the list. I would also request that we remove movies like the Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. Both movies I love and if you are a frequent reader of my blog you will know that I am head-over-heels for the story of Ben-Hur but I would remove them because I do believe that during the 50’s Christianity as a whole was more accepted. We currently live in what many consider a “post Christian” nation. Do I believe this? That’s a larger conversation, but I do believe that statistics show that less identify with Christianity today than they did in the 1950’s. So just for the sake of the current discussion, let us focus from 2000 on and on movies that specifically show a monotheistic world view. I feel this eliminates much of your list but not all of it. I have already praised on my blog the film The Good Lie, and if you have not seen it, check it out. He did mention as “critically acclaimed box-office hits The Passion of the Christ and Bruce Almighty. I love both these films and consider the Passion of the Christ to be a cinematic masterpiece as a movie fan, not simply as a Christian. However, The Passion of the Christ was not “critically acclaimed” it was actually critically panned holding a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes which is missing a “fresh” rating by 11%. A lot of the criticism is due to it’s very graphic depiction of the crucifixion. I understand that, it is very graphic, but critically acclaimed it is not!… it should be… but it is not. The other film you mentioned was Bruce Almighty. It is odd to use this film to disprove this bias because first, it is also not critically acclaimed only reaching 48% on rotten tomatoes but if you read through the criticism you will find that terms like “sappy” where thrown around a lot. This is a term used for many Christian films. Here are some critisims of Bruce Almighty from professional critics (not the users section.):
“Leans too much into sappy sentimentality.”
“I was really rooting for Bruce to ignore the responsibilities and give God the holy middle finger.”
“Where The Truman Show delivered its sermon on Calvinism in modern times with humor, humanity and grace; Bruce Almighty tries the same with cheap sentiment and cheaper jokes.”
“The tale goes all sentimental and preachy.”
“the force fed pious platitudes coupled with Carry’s familiar rubber-faced shtick renders the pseudo-virtuous vehicle o one-way ticket to the pearly gates of mediocrity.
“Your tolerance for Bruce will depend on the sensitivity of your cinematic sweet tooth. Sweet to one viewer is sappy to another.
I included that last one here because I think it really gets to the heart of the issue here. “sweet to one viewer is sappy to another.” Do I feel that many film critics and many in the film industry have a bias against specifically Christian content? Yes. Do I believe many people in everyday life have the same bias? I do. Was I trying to say that the criticism against the film Do You Believe? Where some form of religious persecution? No but what I did say what that when I see those comments as a statement regarding the films quality I don’t pay it any mind. All film is subjective. As a Christian minister is it possible for me to see a movie and think to myself “That was uplifting, it showed Christ in a good light and was as bold with its faith as I want my congregation to be with theirs. I want to show this to my church family to embolden them, or to lift them up.” That should be ok. At the same time, I have had a lot of success with Church movie nights. How? I won’t just show the newest Christian film. I have a standard of quality and I have had a reputation for showing quality films that are also Christian. Are there films that Christian’s as a whole have loved that I refuse to show due to quality? Yes. Are there movies that I have shown, that I will not show again because my standard has been raised higher and so has the church community’s standards? Yes!
This is an odd reason to not like a film or story. Let me give you an example. The Dan Brown Novel, The Di Vinci Code was a novel I enjoyed reading. Don’t get me wrong, it has many problems in its historical accuracy that to spite Brown’s disclaimer at the beginning they have still gone to great lengths to show that it is plausible. Even going so far as Brown saying that while he was writing he did not believe these things but he has become a believer in the idea that there is a blood line of Jesus and all that stuff. I bring this up not to debate the claims of the novel but to show that this was a story with a message and spent much of its pages presenting its case. While reading I found the book entertaining. The movie I found disappointing. I have many reasons I was disappointed with the movie but one place I feel it failed was it spent so much time presenting the case for its premise. The critics didn’t like this but instead of the anthem being “It was too preachy” most negative reviews cite it as trying to be to faithful to the novel. So far I have not seen “preachy” used. Why? Because it seems in culture today (not just within the film industry) “preachy” is a word only reserved for a Christian message or at the very least more readily used when discussing Christianity.
As a Christian I long to be well represented in entertainment. I am sick of the only representation being the crazy right wing villain or Ned Flanders. As a Christian, an aspect of life I can relate to is sharing and expressing my faith. I can’t relate to a guy who is cheating on his girlfriend, or a husband cheating on his wife, or a wide variety of other life styles that are so far away from my own but every time I go to the movies I am asked to find common ground with these type of lifestyles because I need to find my way into the story. I don’t think it is wrong to ask for some films where I don’t need to try so hard to find common ground.
Now please, don’t get me wrong, I think a movie can present a Gospel message well and still be trash. I have seen Christian movies that have been “preachy” at the detriment to the detriment of the film. My reservation is that somehow, being “preachy” or presenting a Christian message somehow makes the film inferior. I believe it is possible to have a message and a high quality film. Is that what normally happens? No. But it is not because it can’t happen.
If film is indeed an art form (which I believe it is) then I also believe that every other art form can convey a message or have a specific audience that it is trying to please. In our church we have some beautiful banners hanging up. They are depictions of Jesus doing various activities, each one has written under it a Bible verse or saying. Does this mean it is not art? No! it means that it is art for the purpose of hanging in a church. The Kendrick Brothers filmed their first films Flywheel with the intent of having a movie night at their church where they could show a movie no one has seen before and have a specific message to discuss with them. Since the intent of their movie was to create it for a Church event does that mean it is not art? No! They used art to convey a message. I actually think it is pretty cool and which I had the resources to do that. They had such a positive response from this experiment that they just kept going. They found a distributor and began to sell the film. It wasn’t what they intended to do but it is what happened.
Propaganda is something that is used to promote or publicize a particular view point…. Yeah… ummm…. Often Christian movies are Propaganda… so? My sermons could be classified as that. A commercial is propaganda. We are exposed to propaganda every day. I can’t and wont defend against that.
All this to say that what I meant was not that I think a film critic is persecuting Christians when saying a film is “preachy” or “propaganda” I simply meant that what is “preachy” to them may not be “preachy” to me. It is a subjective and somewhat arbitrary criticism that doesn’t really inform me of the quality of the film but rather informs me of the personal taste of the critic. Which is what critics are suppose to do… I just don’t get scared off by these words.
[DISCLAIMER: The writer of reeltheology.com is a good friend of mine and one of my biggest encouragers to begin my own blog. We are in no way in any real fight or argument but rather a civil discussion between two film lovers who have opposing views on SOME subjects but not all.]