(Author's Note: I started thinking of this before an article was published about the very same topic. Go here to read that)
I'm conflicted. I love Jesus, I love His Word, and I desire to honor Him with every thought, word, and deed. There is a ton of content out there that does not honor God.
However, the internal conflict isn't due to the "bad" content. It's due to the content that we would call "Christian." "Family-Friendly." "Encouraging and Uplifting."
I'm conflicted, because I agree with the idea, but am appalled by the execution. And the execution has the potential to influence the "faith" demographic in a way that is unhelpful.
When I was younger, I watched the TV show 7th Heaven. It's a great example of how "family-friendly" and "Christian" can be bad. It had morals. It was relatively clean. But it had no biblical foundation, and therefore, bad theology. This isn't a problem if it's secular entertainment, since you all ready know that it's coming from a differing worldview. However, it's really unhelpful if it's marketed to church-goers as a "Christian" program. For some, Reverend Eric Camden (one of the main characters) became a more influential preacher than the preachers in the viewer's churches.
I wish I could stop there. But it gets worse. There are a lot of these "faith-based" films that have their theology wrong. And even the ones that get it somewhat right suffer from poor acting, poorer plots, and awful stereotypes. The hope is that it will encourage Christians and evangelize to non-believers.
What we don't realize is that some of these movies cater to an over-persecuted, 'sky is falling' mindset in the church, while the non-believers rightfully mock them and us for believing it.
I'll use Fireproof as an example. I appreciated the message that Christ has to be in the center of our marriage to transform it. But there are a lot of things that left me wanting more:
1. The "Christian" way solves the problem: It's true that without Jesus, marriage will never be as satisfying as God meant it to be. However, both Christians AND non-Christians can struggle in marriage, and both can struggle for a long time. It sets up an unhelpful paradigm that could lead to self-righteousness.
2. The laughable acting: It's terrible. It's distracting. As believers, we should desire art that increasingly declares the glory and majesty of God not just in it's message, but in its portrayal. Yet, Fireproof's best actor, Kirk Cameron, is better suited for TV sitcoms and not deep method acting. He doesn't do a great job delivering lines. Pair him with the his on-screen wife, and the pair are unwatchable. The cast overall isn't believable, nor do they inspire.
3. It's too simple: What fixes their marriage? Jesus. Repentance of sin. Confession. Community. These are all good things. But what happens the next time they hit a roadblock? We forget that the Christian life has simple solutions that work in the context of complex lives and hearts (Proverbs 20:5). Yet, we repeatedly see in the film that once you have Jesus, each character immediately puts in the hard work to make things work. This isn't to say that they don't try to make it more complex. Kirk Cameron's character does go through a "growing" process. But it makes me leave desiring more depth to him and the struggle of sanctification.
Now, if you are a fan of these movies, I'm not saying you're wrong for liking them. There are admirable things about them. I cried during the movies Courageous and To Save a Life. (And not because they were torture to watch!). I own Fireproof. There are good lessons to be learned by them.
But, I find that we could maximize impact by doing a couple of things:
1. Tell good stories: Don't make a film just to give a moral. There's a reason why many movies and stories reflect the cross of Christ: it's because it is the best story! And it's true! (As an aside, I find it valuable to reflect on what about each film I view reflects the Gospel story, and what doesn't)
2. Make, or advocate for, worthy art: We should desire films (and other art for that matter!) that are well made, and that can point to a true hope. This should remove the need to "preach," and instead, we can rely on the character of our characters to leave people thinking. (A good example is Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings films)
3. Don't give the film our job: Many of us try to bring our non-Christians to these films with the hope of sharing Jesus with them. While films can influence our thinking, we need to remember that God came as a person to communicate with us. It's our glorious calling to share Jesus with people. It's our glorious calling to bring people to God's Word. Don't depend on a movie to do the job God has called you to do.
My hope is that we would see the glory of God in the art of film so breath-taking, so moving, so awe-inducing, that we would merely have to ask what people thought of it so they could share the themes they enjoyed. That's when we can do our job, to share that those themes are a picture of a better story.