Churches Making Movies: A Few Thoughts
September 7, 2010 § 2 Comments
I found myself browsing the Internet and ran across an article from July 2010 in USA Today entitled, “Churches Making Mainstream Movies”. The article focuses on Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA, the force behind movies such as Facing the Giants (2006, Kendrick) and Fireproof (2008, Kendrick) and the reasons why other churches are beginning to follow in the same footsteps as Sherwood. As I was reading I was bothered by some of the statements quoted and by some of the things contained in the article. Now before I begin to explain why, I want to say I’m not discounting God’s ability to use anything and everything for His glory and I know people who have been touched through these films. I don’t want this to be a hate-fest on my fellow Christians. That being said, there are several troubling implications of the marriage of art and faith offered by these films.
“And every ending is on an up note: Once characters start to peacefully, prayerfully trust God in adversity as well as success, all their prayers are answered. They win the big game, pay off the bank, have the long-wanted baby, reconcile with loved ones.” This quote from the author of the article is one of the most troubling parts of the article. Can God do miracles? Yes. Does He always do them? No. When a “Christian” movie purports that everything will work out as soon as you start trusting God it is veering into “prosperity gospel” territory which stands in stark contrast to the Bible itself (read Luke 9 to see what Jesus tells his disciples about this life). The Christian hope is not a perfect life in this world, but one in the world to come. Paul’s life was not fun or great in terms of his physical existence. Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want them answered. Are we bringing people into the Church by lying to them, by confirming our hopes and dreams in this age instead of the one to come?
“Movies are an escape. They offer hope. And Sherwood is stepping up to claim that the only hope that matters is Christian,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor at Sherwood. While I take exception to his assertion that movies are primarily an escape from life, I agree that the Christian hope is beautiful and worthy of being told to everyone. But in light of the films that Sherwood is producing, what is this hope? People are going to identify the “Christian” hope with what is said by the film. They will begin to identify the “Christian” hope with peace and prosperity in this life. This is not the Christian hope as I and many leaders of the Church throughout the ages understand it. To be sure, there is a peace that comes with knowing that you have a purpose in this world, but the Christian hope is the world (and human beings within it) being restored and reconciled to God. The picture is bigger than just what happens to me or you, and even if this is what Catt believes it doesn’t come through in the films produced by Sherwood. Do we want a very individualized version of Christianity (regardless if this is how we actually think about our faith) being presented through the screen?
Later in this article comes this: “Every movie has an agenda,” says Catt, citing James Cameron’s Avatar, widely noted for its vague eco-spirituality theme. “Clearly, (he) had a spiritual agenda there, and he’s out to reach his audience. So are we. We have lost this culture, and we have to fight back.” What he says is true: every movie contains an agenda or purpose, even if it is unaware of it. It is frightening, however, that he is proud of the overt agenda in these films. The best films I’ve seen are the ones that subtly introduce their points and quietly subvert other stories. Avatar was not a good movie, due in part to its glaringly obvious agenda. Also worrisome is the fact that Catt is proposing a battle over culture, when perhaps Christians are no longer vital parts of the culture because of films like Facing the Giants. I firmly believe that Christians need to be making culture, but the only way that we can actively participate is if we make good culture. That is how we “fight back”.
The rest of the article talks about different people making other Christian movies and I wish I could be excited about that. I’m glad Christians are making movies but if the movies aren’t good, then is what they’re doing really good? If our faith has to be simplified to put in a movie, is it still our faith? What is really being said about the Gospel in the name of evangelism? These are questions anyone who is a Christian making film (or art in general) must ask themselves. The way in which we present the Gospel effects how it is perceived and thought about. A serious responsibility rests upon us as artists and creators created in the Image of God to think critically about how we present the Gospel story in art. Presenting the Gospel as an “escape” from this world and its problems and using art as a way to sell the Gospel is a dangerous proposition.
All quotes taken from this article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-07-19-churchmovies19_CV_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip
A movie made by a Christian that serves as a great example of how I think Christians should approach film is The Sensation of Sight. You can watch it on Netflix instant or get more info at http://www.thesensationofsight.com/