Last week God’s Not Dead 2 released in theaters nationwide, and the response it got was fairly predictable. Christian viewers lauded the movie as a powerful display of faith and courage, while critics panned the film as a thinly-veiled propaganda piece. Overall, the message was pretty clear. This was a movie by Christians, for Christians, and it didn’t have to be good in order to be successful. This has been the state of faith-based media for some time now, but change may just be on the horizon.
Over at Relevant, Jesse Carey has been reflecting on the critical feedback Christian movies have received. He argues that, objectively speaking, faith-based movies aren’t very good. They’ll please Christian viewers looking to have their beliefs reaffirmed, but won’t attract anyone else. Carey believes Christian movies have the potential to be both critically and commercially successful, but to do so, they need to abandon easy answers. He writes,
“One of the main ways Jesus taught His followers was through the use of parables. He told stories to underscore different themes, ideas and concepts. Not only were the stories memorable, they also had a certain power that traditional teaching methods didn’t: They could leave room for ambiguity…”
“These parables are challenging because Jesus understood that it was better for stories to challenge pre-existing ideas than to simply tell people things they already know. Sometimes, big questions are more powerful than easy answers. Because the bigger the question, the bigger the truth it can reveal. All of these parables not only require the listener to deeply engage with the story, but also to wrestle with the meaning. Each holds a deeper truth about God, but none of them sound like the plot of a Christian movie.”
Take the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. A man hires workers to pick fruit from his vineyard in exchange for a silver coin. Some are hired early, and work throughout the day, while others are brought in mere hours before sunset. When all is said and done though, all the workers are paid the same amount. This was a concept Christ’s listeners could relate to, but it also packed an emotional and spiritual complexity they were forced to grapple with.
For a more modern example, consider the 2014 sleeper hit Calvary. The film centers on an Irish priest living in a village which has largely turned its back on God. The priest wants to help his community, but continually struggles with questions of faith, justice, love, and repentance in the midst of cruel cynicism. His frustrations are something modern Christians can certainly empathies with, and in the end, the film gives no answers. Instead, it asks the viewer what kind of person they want to be.
Christian movies have matured a lot over the last few years. Films such as Risen are challenging the way we view scripture, and upcoming projects like Silence are clearing the way for even more striking films. Our generation has the potential to reinvent the way the gospel is preached, but doing so means leaving the old methods behind. Christian filmmakers and audiences need to let go of their preconceptions, and started working toward true, biblical craftsmanship. Easy answers may be comforting, but they rarely make a good story.
What about you? What are your thoughts on Christian movies?