The Problem with Christian Movies (From a Christian)

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It was bound to happen. As soon as I saw the poster for the recently released Son of God movie, I knew exactly where this was going to go. Church groups would buy advanced tickets, it would be talked about by anybody that even heard a movie about Jesus was coming out.

It’s already much closer to being under the radar than Passion of the Christ was but then again, this wasn’t directed by Mel Gibson and acted in a completely different language.

And it doesn’t need to be Passion. I don’t hold that as the standard for biblical movies as much as I do the standard for movies featuring Jesus but even still, it’s difficult subject matter. But why couldn’t it have been better?

And for that matter, why can’t so-called Christian movies just be better?

I know a guy that thinks everybody has to like the same thing as him. He doesn’t just like to argue his point to make you feel wrong, he really thinks you’re wrong for not liking the same thing. I know the difference because I’ve almost always been a big fan of the former.

But when a movie comes out involving the military, you must be un-American if you don’t enjoy it. He himself was a military man and pushes it on you any chance he gets.

"THIS IS NO GAME...But it is a movie, so don't get too confused."

“THIS IS NO GAME…But it is a movie, so don’t get too confused.”

Him- “What? You didn’t like Act of Valor?”

Me- “It was alright. I said C. That’s right there in the middle. But those guys couldn’t act.”

Him- [Hands go up, cutting me off] “That’s because they’re REAL Navy Seals. You must not of known that.”

Me- No, I knew. Some of the tactics and action scenes they showed were pretty cool…But they still can’t act.

In the long run, this went on for a while. He would bring it up and I wouldn’t change my answer. Any time a movie came out that involved the military, he would quiz me on it, seeing what I knew and trying to figure out my bias against it. This included Battleship and Red Dawn, both terrible in their own ways.

He, like many others, wanted to feel like “his” people (The military, in this case) were getting fair treatment. Everything is equal. Am I supposed to like it because it has the military? What if it portrays the military in a bad light? Do I hold of on liking it regardless of quality?

I bring this up because of how badly Christians want fair treatment in the schools, the news and in every day situations, but when a movie comes out that’s directed at Christians, all fairness goes out the window. We don’t treat it like it’s a movie, wanting it to be good hoping for the best and reacting accordingly; we treat it as though God himself put a label on the movie with two thumbs up. It gets put on the same pedestal the Bible does. It gets put on the same pedestal Jesus Himself does.

Even beautiful Caucasian Jesus? Yes, him too.

Even beautiful Caucasian Jesus? Yes, him too.

And why? Is this movie going to fulfill a need you don’t already get from your church, your devotions, or fellowship with other Christians? Personally, I get nervous when I see a “Christian” movie coming out.

I know that the acting is going to be decent as best. I know that the dialogue will be cheesy and that the story itself is going to be mediocre. How do I know this? Because much like Hollywood, when something works well, it gets reproduced as much as possible so as to achieve the same successful results that the well-received movie did.

I knew what the reactions were going to be if a person watched Son of God and didn’t think it was as good as it could have been. It was going to be met with the same reaction as when a movie about the military is criticized- contempt and disbelief.

But criticism is a two way street, as we all know.

But criticism is a two way street, as we all know.

The disbelief comes from the idea that a Christian like myself could watch a movie about Jesus and not be blown away from the wonders that Christ has done for us.

But…Jesus isn’t in this movie. It’s an actor. And this movie isn’t made by God Himself. It’s made by people. Who are flawed. It’s fine for what they made to have problems.

Don’t get me wrong. I approve of the themes and ideas behind the same movies I’m criticizing. If anybody can get something out of any of these movies that makes a positive change in their lives, then that’s awesome and that is the desired result- to reach out to those who normally may not have heard God’s message.

But this upcoming movie, God’s Not Dead just looks like something out of a Christian’s fantasy.

Christian college student makes that hoity-toity Liberal professor look like a fool for denouncing God? Honey, get the kids- we’re going to the MOVIES! I hear there’s a new Amy Grant song in it!

For crying out loud, it’s got the dude from Duck Dynasty in it. Is he a Christian mascot now? Are they all pillars of Christianity because they’re Christians? I’m aware of the GQ controversy a couple months ago, yes. But I don’t care about the show. Being a Christian does not mean that I have to devour every single bit of entertainment that claims to be Christian.

But even then, I was being treated like I must not have a very strong faith if I’m going to leave a fellow Christian like Phil Robertson out to weather the storm like this. Sign this petition to get him back on his own show! You know, that multi-millionaire that became famous for hanging out with his millionaire family? Yeah, the old Duck Dynasty guy couldn’t do without my support. He’s got his fans and that’s cool.

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And the millions. Don’t forget the millions.

I imagine a lot of people reading this and still backing into the corner that I’m not getting the bigger picture of these movies, or the overall point of supporting Duck Dynasty even thought I don’t watch it.

You know what I want you to do? Find a band that claims to be Christian. A Rock band, or whatever kind of music that you absolutely despise. It’s an integral part of this experiment that you hate the music you find. But I need you to decide a type of music that you can’t stand but claims to have a Christian message.

And I want you to listen to an entire album. Or even just a song.

It’s going to be tough, but I believe in you. I believe that because you are a Christian, every single second of this four minute song will reach out to you and refuse to let you go with the message that God wants for us all to know and enjoy as well as learn.

Or you might just hate it.

You might just be like “You can’t even understand what they’re saying. How can you like this?”

You might even be so old school as to believe that any type of rock music is from Satan himself. For those people, I always find it funny that for anybody to really understand God’s message is to like the same things as them. Man, some people just can’t get behind a good Buck Owens tune.

"Oooh you kids!"

“Oooh you kids!”

The point is that different things reach different people. And for those of us that need more than the absolute basics to feel like they’ve dug deep and realized something new about themselves shouldn’t be alienated because they didn’t like Courageous.

Once again, I can appreciate the message behind any of these movies. If it’s changing anybody, I want it to be seen. I don’t make fun of people for liking them, I myself just don’t care for the way it’s handled. Wouldn’t the ultimate respect be to make a movie that doesn’t just preach but entertain?

Once again- don’t get me wrong. I don’t care for the “sampling” of churches these days if you even go to church at all. “This pastor really speaks to me. But they’re TOO friendly. Let’s go to this one over here. We can leave without being noticed and they have a cool laser light show!”

Oh yeah, and praise God!

Oh yeah, and praise God!

So I’m not saying that if you want me to watch your movie, it’s got to really blow me away. But I’m laughing as I type this because I was seconds away from typing “…if you want me to watch your movie, it’s got to be good.”

But is that really a problem? Who wants to watch a movie they don’t like? If I wanted a message and nothing else, why wouldn’t I just read the friggin’ Bible? And even then, Jesus spoke in parable. Why? Because it sticks when the idea is tied to something you’re already familiar with.

Notice that when you watch a movie like Gladiator or just about anything else you really love (I know you love Gladiator), it’s not just for the action, and the special effects, but for the plot, the drama, and themes. What do I mean themes? To quote Paul Meyer of Iowa State University-

A theme should be common in a movie if the movie is related to life in any way. The general purpose of movies is to entertain, but the greatest form of entertainment is achieved when the audience feels that it has received a moral lesson that will affect their own lives.

"But you can also admit that you want to BE me."

“But you can also admit that you want to BE me.”

What are the themes of Gladiator? Have you ever thought about them? Even if you haven’t, one reason that the movie may have stuck with you isn’t just because Russell Crowe fights tigers and kills Commodus, who totally had it coming- it’s because he has reason to do it. As he fights, he’s righting wrongs done to everyone around him even if he’s only doing it for himself. He misses his family and wants to see them again, but before he gets what he wants, he’s got to go through hell.

We’ve never been a gladiator, hopefully you’ve never had to kill anyone, and hopefully you’ll never have to fight a tiger. Don’t think you could win a tiger fight because you wouldn’t.

But you have been betrayed before. And you have missed your family. And we all know that you’ve got to go through some serious crap before you get anything really worth having.

"We WILL be back up dancers for Rihanna Larry- we just have to believe!"

“We WILL be back up dancers for Rihanna Larry- we just have to believe!”

And it’s reasons like this that Gladiator doesn’t feel like it’s fourteen years old. You’re always going to be able to get behind these ideas and you may never even realize why you like what you do, but there is a reason deeper than simply how cool it is.

Are you telling me a movie that sells itself as a Christian movie can’t be any deeper than what seems to be a fantasy of what you’d like to say to those atheist professors?

If the idea behind the film doesn’t quite fit with what you’re actually saying, some people notice something is off.. If the most epic scene looks like you paid your undergrad son to do the CGI, many will be taken out of the moment. If the dialogue is meant to be empowering but just sounds like you’re trying too hard, some people will hear it and it can hardly be helped.

Some people can do with the simple reminder of “Jesus loves you” while other Christians want it fleshed out, examined thoroughly, dealt with seriously. The latter isn’t necessarily skeptical or bitter, but something akin to needing more food to sustain yourself.

So when you watch Son of God, God’s Not Dead, or whatever else that’s sure to have Toby Mac in the credits, don’t look at others who didn’t enjoy it as not comprehending it, but as people who take things in differently, needing a different style of teaching than you. We’re meant to learn the same things but not at all the same way.

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