Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible

There are 20 Comments

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

As an aside, it seems like World Magazine doesn't give good reviews about a movie unless there are some objectionable elements in it.  Too many Christians "endure" bad stuff in a movie as long as they feel like the movie is artistically superior and/or has a positive overall theme.

A mediocre movie with a great message is ALWAY superior to a worldly movie with objectionable elements -- Philippians 4:8

TylerR's picture

Editor

Confession: I thought "Mission Impossible: Fallout" was better than "Courageous" or "Fireproof" ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

My favorite Christian movie is Sargent York with Gary Cooper.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Seems to me that the Bible has a lot of rape, murders, idolatry, fornication, words then considered objectionable (many from Christ's mouth; "whitewashed tombs" and "that fox" come to mind).  Are we going to revise it for that reason?   I was told once that Thomas Bowdler tried and got well-earned derision for his efforts.

Now granted, there is some room for maneuvering due to the differences between the impact of the written word and graphic art--though perhaps that gap would narrow more if we read good literature--but at the same point, I think we've got to deal with the reality that Christian movies and fiction are in general contrived and saccharine in exactly the ways that real people are not.

And we also ought to think of what is lost when we "Bowdlerize" life; we lose, to a degree, the ability to deal with life, and human sin, as it actually is.  It is not for no reason that bad Christian movies are strongly linked with bad theology like prosperity theology!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Wayne Wilson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Seems to me that the Bible has a lot of rape, murders, idolatry, fornication, words then considered objectionable (many from Christ's mouth; "whitewashed tombs" and "that fox" come to mind).  Are we going to revise it for that reason?   I was told once that Thomas Bowdler tried and got well-earned derision for his efforts.

Now granted, there is some room for maneuvering due to the differences between the impact of the written word and graphic art--though perhaps that gap would narrow more if we read good literature--but at the same point, I think we've got to deal with the reality that Christian movies and fiction are in general contrived and saccharine in exactly the ways that real people are not.

And we also ought to think of what is lost when we "Bowdlerize" life; we lose, to a degree, the ability to deal with life, and human sin, as it actually is.  It is not for no reason that bad Christian movies are strongly linked with bad theology like prosperity theology!

Very successful art can present the realities of human existence with good taste. It was done for generations.  Abusing and degrading human beings for "art" or, more accurately, entertainment, is evil.

John E.'s picture

Bert wrote:

I think we've got to deal with the reality that Christian movies and fiction are in general contrived and saccharine in exactly the ways that real people are not.

No disagreement from me on that point. However, we can find plenty of examples of movies/TV shows that include objectionable elements that also have contrived characters dripping with saccharine. A good artist can tell/show truth using a multitude of instruments. Objectionable elements are not necessary in order to craft compelling characters set within nuanced stories and truthful plot devices. 
 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Don’t forget the secular TV shows and movies also often preach a message.  Both sides do so. 

And, there are some real life Christian and human issues that will probably never be seen in a secular movie, because it does not fit their beliefs. 

David R. Brumbelow

WallyMorris's picture

I think it's interesting that when some new "Christian" movie comes out, people say how this will be a great evangelistic tool. Where is the objective evidence that 1)people trusted Christ as Savior, 2)became part of a Bible-believing church where they were discipled and taught? For all the money & time spent on producing movies, could that money have been better used in other, more effective evangelistic & discipleship efforts? These movies seem to have an effect for a brief period, then fade away. Movies are basically a passive tool. The medium of film can be used effectively, but those are rare.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

John E.'s picture

Wally Morris wrote:

"Movies are basically a passive tool."

The passivity of the medium, that the audience sits back and receives, is, in large part, what gives the medium its power and is also what makes it so potentially dangerous. Movies and TV are not only didactic in that they tell us what we should think/believe/respond; they also shape how we think. Film/TV is an epistemic-shaping medium.  

This is why I'm so very much opposed to "Christian" movies that steer into the prosperity gospel (if not flat-out promote it) or any other number of heresies and/or errors. Well-meaning Christians believe that because the movie contains no cussing, sex, or gratuitous violence, it's okay. They can sit back and "receive" the medium without feeling guilty. Except, unless they're intentionally engaging the movie with discernment, they are receiving bad teaching that will subtly change them. And, bluntly, if you think about your friends and family movies who like movies like War Room, do you really believe that they're engaging "Christian" movies with careful discernment rooted in the authority of God's Word?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I used to believe that the medium of movies/television was passive, but I've changed my mind. It usually takes hundreds of people and many thousands of dollars to craft a commercially successful film. The use of camera angles, lighting, musical score, sound design, etc are purposeful, and the goal is to elicit an emotional reaction in the viewer. There's nothing passive about that. We just accept that it's passive because viewers don't necessarily need to engage their brain to enjoy the story.

Christian movies could be much more compelling if they realized that storytelling must come first, and "let that be a lesson to you" happens as a natural result of authentic character progression.

John E.'s picture

Susan, that's exactly what I mean by passive. Obviously, the filmmakers are not passive. It's the viewer response that the medium encourages to be passive. 

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding the notion that secular movies fall into the same trap, certainly.  I've seen a number of them.  The key issue is that the argument proves nothing--it's the "Tu quoque" (you too) fallacy.  

Regarding the notion of old movies managing things without objectionable content, we probably need to define what we see as objectionable.  Most of us would answer profanity (like the last line in Gone With The Wind, 1940), violence (like  The 10 Commandments, 1956), nudity and sexuality (I'll pass on naming Hays Code era examples--they exist).  Reality is, though, that the Hays Code was not absolute, and really it was pretty much broken down by the early 1960s.  It lasted about 25 years, really.

Even within "our" framework, there is a fair amount of objectionable content that may be going under our noses without our ever catching on.  For example, a common theme in movies, including those of the Hays era, is that of the love of a good woman redeeming the lovable rogue--e.g. The Music Man, Robin Hood, Sea Wolf, etc.  Let's be honest here; how many of us do not know a few women who come to church alone because they fell for that?   Sex may not be shown (technically it still is just simulated), but the train goes into the tunnel.   We may not get it, but our grandparents did.

Now process that little bit.  The thing that made a lot of those movies work was not that they were as pure as the driven snow, but rather that the objectionable references were subtle instead of blatant.  We might infer as well that if we learned this art of poetic subtlety, we might be able to get people to buy tickets without resorting to gigantic special effects budgets and "nudity clauses" in actor contracts.  

Or, put differently, if the movie-goer is never surprised, you're probably not doing it right.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

When I use the word "passive", I am not referring to the production of the movie. I am referring to how people (including myself) usually just sit and watch, with their brain in semi-sleep mode, a passive activity.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think that's the problem--we think we are passive, but if we are paying any attention at all to what's on the screen, we aren't truly indifferent. We may not feel engaged intellectually, but the whole point of the way movies are produced is to at least affect us emotionally. I think movies are successful at this more often than not.

I agree that objectionable content is more than just nudity or foul language. I'm much more likely to feel a movie is objectionable because of the themes. I think The Little Mermaid is one of the most objectionable movies ever made, regardless of how much I like the singing lobster.

WallyMorris's picture

I never said that movies do not have any effect on people - just that people are mostly passive while watching movies, with their mind not actively engaged. My post was not concerned with the subtle psychological effects of movies on the mind. Yes, movies can affect people emotionally, but usually only for a brief period of time. Usually three months later, they don't care and can't remember much. And my MAIN point was that we should consider other, more efficient and effective ways to spend that kind of money. How much money have Christians wasted on movie tickets, buying movies they will only watch once, and subscribing to movie channels . . money which could have been invested in evangelism, missions, Christian education, church planting, etc? I think it's a question worth considering.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Ron Bean's picture

Here's the basic plot of an imagined Christian movie.

-Joe is unemployed, his family is in poverty and under terrible stress.

-Joe has a number of encounters with the local pastor, most of which end with Joe losing his temper.

-An accident befalls Joe or a family member, causing Joe to remember some of the things the pastor told him.

Now, pick your ending:

A- Joe gets converted but remains in poverty.

B- Joe gets converted, gets a new job, and peace reigns in the home. (I call this the Osteen Ending)

NOTE: Joe has to get converted because it's a Christian film.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

WallyMorris wrote:

I never said that movies do not have any effect on people - just that people are mostly passive while watching movies, with their mind not actively engaged. My post was not concerned with the subtle psychological effects of movies on the mind. Yes, movies can affect people emotionally, but usually only for a brief period of time. Usually three months later, they don't care and can't remember much. And my MAIN point was that we should consider other, more efficient and effective ways to spend that kind of money. How much money have Christians wasted on movie tickets, buying movies they will only watch once, and subscribing to movie channels . . money which could have been invested in evangelism, missions, Christian education, church planting, etc? I think it's a question worth considering.

I mostly agree, and I hope I don't sound like I'm arguing with you, because I'm not--it's just that because when our minds are not actively engaged, I believe we may be MORE affected by what we see, not less. We think the messages are bouncing off, but I think they're sinking in. Remembering the movie itself isn't IMO an indicator of whether or not one's affections are altered by the content.

As for how we should spend our money. . .  that's a sticky wicket. Of course we could all stop wasting money on entertainment, but there's always going to be a huge difference in opinion about where that line should be drawn, whether you are talking movies, restaurants, clothes, cars, homes. . .

Bottom line IMO: I think stories are effective tools for getting important messages across, and helping us see different perspectives. The medium IMO isn't the measure of whether a story is good or bad. If it's a good story, it's a good story. 

Which is why Christian fiction in print suffers from the same problems as Christian movies. The stories themselves tend to be formulaic (as Ron so pointedly illustrated) and character development is wafer thin.