I saw a good many Christian movies while I was growing up. With very few exceptions, the following was true of each movie.
1. They were about the end of the world.
2. They were filmed in a church basement in 1972.
3. They were terrible.
Absolutely terrible. The Fast and the Furious terrible.
Well, that’s not fair. Imagine if someone tried to make The Fast and the Furious with a quarter of the initial budget, took out all of the cars and had Paul Walker play every character. That’s more like it. Terrible.
But why? Why does Christian art have to be bad? Wasn’t there a time when Christians actually shaped the culture with their art? What happened? Why did we start to settle for carbon copies of what the mainstream culture was doing two years before? And why am I asking so many questions?
A few days ago I saw a trailer for a soon to be released movie on the life of Rich Mullins. Rich was a solid Christian who also happened to be a solid musician. He was ahead of his time and he died when he was still making some of his best music. His life is a good story and hopefully it will play well on film.
But what really caught my eye was what other Christians were saying about the preview.
“Wow! Bad theology in that last line.”
“Oooh. I can’t believe they put that in there.”
“Straight from hell.”
And that’s why a lot of Christian art is so bad. There is the tendency to think that every song and film that is produced and every book that is published should be a systematic theology, saying everything there is to say about the gospel. This also explains why 75% of the Christian books coming out today follow the same template.
1. Put the word gospel somewhere in the title of the book.
2. Refer to Tim Keller and/or John Piper 15 to 20 times over the first seven pages of the book.
3. Take an idea that was originally developed by Tim Keller and/or John Piper and pass it off as your own.
But I digress.
For the most part, the best way to destroy a piece of art is to use it to prove a point or preach a sermon. Sure, you’ll have your supporters but the art will usually be bad.
“I just love that picture you painted of Jesus flying with an eagle with the complete text of Romans written out beneath it.”
“That sure was a powerful movie. Now, I’ve seen better acting on early episodes of Saved By The Bell and I think the editing was done on equipment from Soviet Russia circa 1957. But what a great message!”
Wouldn’t our art be better if, instead of trying to lay out the gospel message in every single production, we just allowed the gospel message to shape what we produce? That does not involve compromising the message of the gospel. It just means that we do a better job of applying the gospel to what we create.
My son recently drew me a picture of a couple of superheroes. This is not how I responded when he gave it to me.
“Crap! This is heretical crap! What does this have to do with creation, fall and redemption?! Now go and make me another cross and don’t come back until you’re done, pagan.”
Instead, the picture is hanging above my desk. And when I look at it I’m reminded of a boy who was created in the image of God with a story to tell. And, with pencils and crayons, he told it well.
Christians will always have stories to tell. But to do those stories justice, we must tell them with excellence.