I recently stumbled across a blog post asking the question, “Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?” I had to read that, because I’d asked myself the question before about Christian (Evangelical) arts in general, and wondered if the author, Mr. Ambrosino, had an answer.
He does, and I think he’s right, and recommend reading the entire post – but for my time-starved friends I’ll boil it down to this: We Evangelicals care about the factual content above everything else. Tell (don’t show) me the old, old story, and then follow it up with a group discussion guide.
Mr. Ambrosino’s contention: Evangelicals love the Word over any “packaging”, and thus art takes a back seat to the message. Wooden dialogue, endless exposition, predictable chord changes / modulations / rhymes: it’s okay for art to suffer as long as God is glorified and the gospel preached. Except that only the choir is listening. To quote Mr. Ambrosino:
Old Fashioned, like many Christian films of late (see: God’s Not Dead, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real), doesn’t understand this marriage of content and form. As a result, the lessons at the heart of the story — i.e., the whole reason the film exists in the eyes of its core audience — are easily dismissed by the secular masses the film is ostensibly meant to reach. This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.
This approach to art also explains the reactive nature of Christian art and writing, why it sometimes feels like there’s so little originality in the Christian bookstores. Da Vinci Code? Write rebuttals. Fifty Shades of Grey? Shoot a not-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey movie. Harry Potter? Promote Narnia. I love Narnia, but it should be promoted in its own right and not with the nervous intent on keeping up with the Joneses. The children of a creator God, who calls us to excellence (Php 4:8), should be leading the way with fresh, creative art – but as long as the obvious presence of a gospel message trumps quality artwork, we’re creating a self-sustaining market for lazy art, and if the world mocks us for our bad taste (if it even notices), well, Jesus promised us persecution, right?
But “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” True, they can’t, but can they hear any better with someone preaching to them poorly? We ignore at their peril the basic principle that communication is more than just the factual content of phrases, and depends significantly on its packaging. Articles like Mr. Ambrosino’s give me hope that some people may be catching on and taking more care to marry content and form, which I contend will not only give us art we can take pride in, but better and more effective preaching as well.