The other day I was sitting shotgun while a good friend of mine and I were taking someone home from the airport. A conversation started that revolved around the movie God’s Not Dead. I only said one or two things about it; how my friends who saw it thought it handled the philosophical aspects of theology with kid-gloves, and how it was obviously made for a Christian audience instead of a non-Christian one. The other people in the vehicle talked about how it blatantly showed stereotypes like the Muslim family and the atheistic classmates, and how it only presented canned answers to easy questions.
[Side note: apparently they showed the movie at one of the local universities here and right from the beginning one of the Muslim students up and walked out on it (because it was one of ‘those’ movies: Christians and their families are good; everyone else and their families are bad).]
I have never seen the movie myself, so I can’t offer a meaningful critique outside of what others are saying. But, I have been noticing a trend among Christian media that is a bit disheartening to say the least.
Some who know me already know that I am not a big fan of ‘Christian’ films. This is mostly because I’m not particularly fond of the typical plot development they build off of: person has an imperfect home life > person rejects advice from Christian friend/relative > major life crisis happens > person fails at fixing situation themselves > ‘coming to Jesus’ moment > person struggles > another life crisis > everything gets fixed, and all conflicts are resolved > the end. Quite frankly, I wish that Christian movie producers and writers would wrestle with deep issues and not have every ending be ‘happily ever after.’ I’d even love to see someone develop a movie with a similar development and story as Requiem for a Dream. Let’s be honest with each other, just because you have a relationship with God does not mean that all your problems get fixed.
But that’s not really the biggest reason I’m not a fan of Christian films. I think my biggest reservation is that we tend to become dependent on them to start conversations with non-Christians, and we tend to rely on them to do the evangelizing. Barring the fact that most non-Christians would never see a Christian film (I mean, c’mon, how many Christians would willingly go see a film with an overtly atheist/Muslim/agnostic message?), we should realize something very important…
Some years ago I was spending Thanksgiving with my extended family and several of us were bemoaning the fact that stores had stopped displaying the message “Merry Christmas” and had opted to only use the phrase “Happy Holidays” on their banners, commercials, and wherever else stores display things. After a bit of discussion, my uncle spoke up and said, “Well, it’s not their responsibility to share the Christmas message; that’s our responsibility.”
I feel the same truth applies to Christian media in some way. Although I am glad Christians have stepped into the movie-making business and are producing some good quality films (in terms of production quality, not necessarily screenplay), and that they are using their talents to glorify God (even though I feel you can glorify God without telling an overtly salvific message), music and movies only go so far. In the end, true disciples are made through relationships, and you can’t develop a relationship with a movie that tells one story in almost two hours.
Christian films should not be used for evangelism. They can be tools in evangelism, but at the end of the day they serve mostly to support Christians’ pre-conceived notions and thus far have not truly wrestled with things that a non-Christian would wrestle with. At best, the message being sent through the screen is this: “Oh, you don’t believe in God? Well, you should! Why should you believe in God? Because something good happened to the person in this story for doing so, and his life was fixed. If you don’t believe in God, then your life will be a mess; but if you do then you won’t have to struggle with losing your daughter or having your spouse divorce you. You say the real world doesn’t work like that? …This movie says different, so don’t focus on reality; just watch the movie and have someone pray for you.” Not a very welcoming message.
Evangelism and discipleship are responsibilities we have been given. Perhaps someday ‘Christian’ media will be at the place where non-Christians will actually want to watch them, but the true heart of the Church’s mission still lies within each of us. And so it is up to us to not depend on televisions to do our work. If we are disappointed with how movies with Christian messages are received by non-Christians, then we ought to reevaluate what exactly we’re doing – we could be causing more harm than good.