Why Can’t Christians Make Good Movies…Until They Do

By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.

Seriously though, as a concerned individual, there are far too many shoddy religious movies out there self-purported to be Christian movies.

Okay, got the heretical and “spiritual” movies out of the way.

Let’s talk about those Christian movies with the plot beginning like: an average white suburban kid has a smile all day.  Then somewhere in the middle: the average white suburban family that the kid is in experiences a bad day.  Then somewhere near the climax: a white person or magic negro (usually older) shows up and tells them about Jesus, even though they already know Jesus.  Then: the family gets back together even though it was only one bad day and no one went anywhere.  Why?  Sunday school boy!

Because Jesus, that’s why.

Okay, if this got you thinking about the latest religious movie you have seen on TBN, the Word Network, or the movie at your last youth group Church lesson when the minister forgot his sermon, then you’re good.  If this got you fuming mad about the “sacrilegious” way I presented these moves, you’re good too.  Those movies were bad enough to be sacrilegious.

Now, if you personally know of a movie that renewed your trust in God or brought you to your senses, then God bless you.  But, from some things that I did take pains to type out, some of us come away feeling disconnected, unaffected, or just downright confused.  It sometimes is funny to me as a Christian when I sit and watch some of these movies (which will not be named).  I sit and go, well, in real life, the guy would be struggling with personality and identity issues at that age.  The suburban environment he grows up in would probably be perfused with illegal drugs.  The fact that most persons who aren’t white will be in the background of the movie would be pointed out as decidedly racist if it occurred consistently in any other genre than the pejorative “Christian” label.  And don’t get me started with the whole “Because Jesus” formula.  That doesn’t even work for me, and I’m pretty sure it is the exact opposite of what 1 Peter 3:15 means in its context of Christians living their lives for the faith.

Okay.  Now let’s get to the fun part.  I have recently seen some pretty rad Christian films.  Note this, all of them have the Gospel in them at some point (which is awesome).  And, with the sure creativity and humanity that any real writer can muster, the plots have come to reflect more and more of our real lives.  Now, I know that not every one of us grows up being ethnically part of a community outside of the usual mode taken for being “white,” and not all of us don’t grow up in pristine cookie-cutter suburbs.  Some Christian people really live those lives, and their story needs to be shown too.  But I’m willing to wager that the vast majority of us Christians do not live those lives.

I’ve seen movies like God’s Not Dead, which paints a rather accurate account of some of the challenges that a Christian college student could expect to face in a liberal arts environment.  It also provides a great introduction into the challenge of persons who did not necessarily come from a religiously Christian context and who may be struggling in their faith amidst sin and suffering.  I’ve seen War Room, which provides great lessons about the real life power of prayer and struggles that every family (hopefully in part) will face one day.  I’ve seen Courageous and Fireproof, which much like War Room center around the family and then extend into the other spheres of society.  I’ve even seen a television Christian movie called Brother White.  Most recently, I have seen Moms’ Night Out, a very good Christian comedy film that brightened my day.  All of these movies have diverse casts that reflect a bit more of the American Christian scene than the usual suburbia stunt that I have grown used to seeing.

But, we need much more.  What one may notice is that most of these films are produced by the same clique of production companies.  Also, these films provide Christianity from the context of persons in the United States.  Though this is to be expected, given that the American culture and international culture are somewhat interwoven, it provides another reason for what I am about to say.  We need more creators and artists who share the faith to produce entertainment that honors God.  It needs not be confined to one genre, but it needs to be as creative as we can reflect God’s creativity.  After all, the inspiration of all art is the world around us, and God has given us great stuff to work with.  He has made His house full of different cultures and contexts, full of laughter and crying, full of triumph in every set of circumstances.  We have the ability to portray even the darkness of real life, and to present the triumphant Light of real life in it all.  Even more, we can seize more control over our own public perception.  And trust me, that is powerful and exactly what we are commanded to do in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.

But, even in this creativity that we innovate in these modern days, we still should not expect the world to esteem our work so easily.  Moms’ Night Out was easily more funny than This Is The End  (but look at their ratings on Rotten Tomatoes).  Now, my opinion is no doubt influenced by my lack of appeal to very dirty jokes and the blatant attack on religion that ran through the core of This Is The End.  My opinion is also influenced by the fact that though both comedies depend upon slapstick situations for laughter, only Moms’ Night Out delivers in allowing persons to enjoy the situations the characters find themselves without having to have explicit sex on their minds all of the time.  And this has become the general norm in secular movies: things like sexual deviance and Darwinian evolutionary materialism are assumed throughout.  Why can’t and why shouldn’t it be the same with the Gospel of Christ in our films?  Surely, the genius is in the way that God’s truth navigates the waves of uncertainty and conflicting faiths, and triumphs in the flood.  Sides, the ways that we make the Gospel pervade our stories could be fun within itself, and an authentic reflection of our own lives in real time to the glory of God.  Just as a Christian shoemaker wants people to wear comfy shoes, Christian entertainers need to provide excellent entertainment.  The world is going to hate us anyways, so why fear the hatred?  And such is the way the world is.  If we are representatives of the Light, we shouldn’t be worried when the darkness doesn’t esteem us.  And that forms the basis of my title.

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Also, if you guys like reading a lot of Christian theology in order to develop strong critical skills (then you are one in a million) you can check out this blog site from a friend of mine http://aeromxundes.com/.   I’m not kidding about the length, but it does make for good discussion.   Maybe take a day to read for each section in order to get through it all; that may be the best method.

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9 thoughts on “Why Can’t Christians Make Good Movies…Until They Do

  1. Hello Mr. Holmes,

    I find your comments interesting. I am a Christian living in Trinidad and Tobago who has been called to create God-honouring, Christ-centred, Bible-based content for cinema, stage, radio and social media and to encourage the wider Caribbean Christian Dramatic Community, especially the Church-based Drama Ministries, to do the same. We believe that training, upskilling and nurturing the dramatic ministries in the Church is important for developing the industry. The intention is to increase the prevalence of this type of content for these media in the Caribbean, with an emphasis on Caribbean-generated content for mainly Caribbean audiences. God is just as present in the Caribbean and He is impacting our lives here as He is everywhere else. So we here want to share how He and His truth has affected – and is affecting – our lives, our communities, our countries and our region through dramatic content that Caribbean people can relate to. We also need to present an alternative to dramatic content (the majority of it imported from North America) which promote occultist, worldly and secular agendas.

    So, for us, the availability of Christian films from the US, even if they contain serious room for improvement, is very important. For many of us, such films are the only faith-affirming dramatic material that’s out there in our cinemas or on TV. Speaking for myself, I am grateful to US Christian film-makers for the work that they’re doing and I’ve been inspired by them, especially the Kendrick brothers, to also be part of producing such content. That said, experienced professional Christian film-makers and thespians in the Caribbean have sounded the bell about the quality of the dramas produced – from story to casting to performances – especially in terms of the dramatic content produced within the Church walls, where the congregation is more much more forgiving of flaws than the world is (which is understandably, since the message is most important to the congregation). An exploratory survey of the Caribbean viewing audience concurred with the professionals – quality of the drama was by far the most cited requirement. According to that survey, perceived poor quality seemed to be one of the reasons why Christians respondents who regularly watched plays to engage 3X more with the commercial theatre than their Church stage. So there’s definitely need to improve quality. Actually, Christian dramatists, whether we’re professionals or not, should aspire towards excellence anyway given Who our work is meant to honour!

    Another concern is one of support from the Christian community itself. Our professionals have cited the unwillingness of Christians, especially in the Church, to pay to see locally generated Christian dramatic content. There’s an assumption that Churches should get the dramas free-of-charge. And this assumption also applies when professionals are asked to produce dramas by the Churches – the professionals are expected to provide their services free-of-charge because it’s a Christian drama being produced. Needless to say the professionals who raised this issue were frustrated and have disengaged from doing drama for Churches for this reason. I’m not sure, but I don’t think professional Christian dramatists in the US have to deal with this. And, of course, financing the production of dramatic content is an ongoing challenge! I really thank God for the leadership of my Church in Barbados, The Power In The Blood Assembly (PITBA), who have willingly supported the Drama Ministry and have recently funded the Church’s first film (a short called Miriam’s Story that’s been entered in this month’s Inspired Faith Film Festival in Florida). Although I moved back to Trinidad from Barbados 3 years ago, I am still a member of PITBA’s Drama Ministry, since I’m one of their writers.

    So I’m just sharing some of the challenges the Christian Dramatic Community in another part of the world faces to say that some of us admire the commitment and output of the North American Dramatic Community, shortcomings and all. We look at these fellow Christians and aspire to produce the quantity and, in many cases, the quality of films that they do.

    If you’re interested, I invite you to check out the company’s Facebook page to see the kind of things we do https://www.facebook.com/pages/J-Yerachmiel-Productions-Ltd/254272911378808.

    Blessings,

    Joy

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    1. Hey Joy!

      I’m really glad that you found this opinion piece beneficial. I wrote it specifically in order to address concerns for those in the faith and from those outside of the faith that Christians produce sub-par films. I’m delighted that this message made it all the way out to Trinidad and Tobago from where you hail!

      It’s not surprising that North American Christian film is relied upon so heavily in the region where you are from and any other region of the world. North American (and United States’ American) culture tends to dominate the global entertainment world simply because we have become master exporters in that industry. Christians living in North America have a great deal of influence in the airwaves as well, and it is something that we should be sober-minded about. I’m inspired by your Church body’s tenacity to engage in film and drama with steps to accommodate the expenses that such efforts cost. It reminds me of how we often forget why the early disciples pooled together money to take care of any communal expenses or emergencies that were to come up in the Church. We often confuse this with social welfare benefits alone without realizing that the Church funded missionaries, paid for jailing costs, and also provided meals for believers to eat when they gathered (this was how Stephen and company were hired to serve). If we viewed every talent within the Church the same way (including the drama department) then we would be fulfilling our mission given by God to influence the culture and reflect His creativity. After all, this is what people with God-given talents do. They share them.

      I also love the Kendrick brothers’ films, I have them all. Their work at Sherwood in Albany, GA has changed the film industry leaps and bounds. But sadly they too will admit that there are few among the major Christian television and entertainment contributors here in North America who give the proper focus to quality…even as far as the Gospel message is concerned.

      I checked out your site, and you guys are doing some really radical stuff there! I pray that you too can become a beacon of Light to your community just as the Kendrick brothers have become in theirs. Every fire starts with an ember, and God provides the spark and the working conditions. Stay in His will, and He will bring the fire. God bless you and the family in Trinidad and Tobago! Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your own unique testimony. You have certainly given me things to consider.

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      1. Hello Mr. Holmes,

        Thank you for your encouragement ,which I’ll share with my Church and with other members of the Caribbean Christian Dramatic Community. To God be the Glory!

        Feel free to check out our annual conference for the Community, called Vocalise! Caribbean, at the following site: http://www.vocalisecaribbean.com

        God Bless!

        Joy

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  2. Have you watched Woodlawn? Beyond the Mask? Risen? All really good films, in different genres, dealing with different areas of life, and all faith-affirming.

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    1. I really wish that I had seen Woodlawn! And I saw the commercials for Beyond the Mask and was deeply impressed. As a small update, I believe that God’s Not Dead 2 (or Newsboys Aren’t Dead 2 if you read the Babylon Bee) is an improvement of God’s Not Dead. I actually have had a professor like the atheist professor in God’s Not Dead, so that film resonated with me. Yes, they do exist sadly.

      What do you think gives these movies a 1-up over the others that are also in the genres? Sorry for the late reply, sometimes I get busy outside of the blogosphere so I have to wait to respond until I am freer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi,

        I’ve seen Risen and I liked it! I really appreciated how Jesus’ death and resurrection was presented through the eyes of an initially non-believing Roman centurion. I thought it was well presented and held the viewer’s attention from start to finish. Haven’t seen Woodlawn yet. Not sure whether it reached Trinidad and Tobago (where I live) yet. God’s Not Dead 2 – same thing, I think. I’ll need to double-check those two.

        I think experience and improving understanding of the requirements of good film-making is what makes the difference, under God’s guidance of course! Securing the funding needed requires having a story than resonates with the audience or one with proven audience interest. I really though that, if we’re willing to commit our talents to God, and make the necessary investment (time, effort, money, practice, learning from others, sharing what we learn with others) in understanding the art of film-making and the industry, God will perfect the productions, even as He develops us spiritually.

        God Bless!

        Joy

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Well, I think Christian movies have come a long way since the old Pure Flix movies (like Check Mate). The reason I mentioned those specific movies is because of several reasons.
    1) They are very, very good quality. The quality finally matches up to the quality of secular movies in theaters.
    2) They have very strong redemptive/Christian messages, and they are actually made by Christians.

    I have read many articles about how bad Christian movies, but I believe the movies I mentioned are strong evidences that that is changing, and fast. On this I think we see eye to eye. Thank you for your article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No prob bro! I know how great it finally is to meet someone who sees eye to eye on an issue!

      As always, the goal of the disciple of Messiah is to perform our talents as best we can, enjoying our God and His world.
      Course, eventually that means that we reflect His creativity with practice. Eventually we will surpass others, I have faith! In some movies we already are.

      If you want to invest time in some pretty good movie media from Christians, check out the Lumo Project and The Bible Project too. God bless you as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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