I recently read an article titled “What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking?” by Nate Fleming. He is a screenwriter, so he has more experience with that specific genre than I do. I am, however, and experienced writer, both of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a Christian of many years. I want to go through his article point by point. You can read here: http://thimblerigsark.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/whats-wrong-with-christian-filmmaking/ . I have serious questions that need answers, because clearly there are things he says that I do not understand, and even words he seems to define in ways I don’t agree with.
Like most people who write commentary, he begins with something positive, applauding some aspects of recent Christian films like God’s Not Dead. He rehearses the grand historical tradition of Christians sponsoring and producing masterpieces in all genres, and yet you can hear a huge “but” coming. There are, in fact, multiple buts on the author’s mind.
He says Christians are limited because they want films to be “safe”. What does he mean by the word safe? I get the impression that he wants films that offend. We wrote a post some time back about the Son of God movie. There is such a painful division every time one of these films called “Christian” comes out. Some support such a film wholeheartedly and attack angrily, with venom and unchristian vigor, anyone who disagrees. Some express concern over minor or more major points they disagree with. Unbelievers sometimes try to be objective in their reviews but the overwhelming point everyone seems to agree on is that most of these films divide believers and do not change the unsaved. Christians have differing opinions, but Fleming is correct that it’s mostly only Christians who go to or give thoughtful attention to such movies.
Will this change if Christian films are no longer safe? If there are R-rated Christian films, will the unsaved say, “Yay! There’s swearing (or explicit sex, or lurid violence) in that Christian movie! I’ll go see it because it’ll be realistic.”? In the words of the Apostle Paul, “I speak as a fool.” But I am not entirely sure that Fleming doesn’t think this way. As an author, I hear and see many negative books reviews about books that are “too Christian”. Even if the book’s description clearly says it is Christian, it gets attacked for the same “flaws” that Fleming is concerned about. I saw negative reviews on a fictional work because the Christian reader didn’t want the author to address the subject of incestuous rape. So Christians can write in “too Christian” a fashion, or be not Christian enough, or not take enough risks. They can’t win, in other words.
Fleming also ponders the question of “challenging” your faith. What does he mean? Paul admonishes us to inspect the fruits of faith, to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the faith. He also says there are unbelievers posing as believers, and people who are self-deceived, or deceived by others into believing what is false. These are pretty easy to understand. But to challenge a person’s faith is to say, “I don’t believe it’s real, or strong enough, or pure enough … “ Or does it mean that? I have a sneaking suspicion it really means “make Christians miserable”.
Fleming looks forward to Aronofsky’s Noah movie exactly because it won’t conform to Christian guidelines. I confess I am disturbed by that. He says that he expects it to be a blockbuster, and will draw non-Christians in a way Christians cannot do. Fleming wants us to be able to draw the unsaved in to see our films. He repeats that he respects Christian filmmakers. But he wants the pulpit out of the theater. Is he actually demanding that Christian filmmakers be provocative, that they start arguments? He practically begs them to stop giving people answers.
I am already uncomfortable listening to writers in Christian groups who claim to be grappling with these issues. We need to communicate God’s truth to the world. Whatever Fleming believes, presenting the truth of God’s Word is not always safe or comfortable for believers or unbelievers. Why do you think unbelievers twist and pervert and gut the Word when they make movies out of “Bible stories”? Solomon did not become an idolater because of the Queen of Sheba. Quite the opposite. Joseph was not a spoiled brat whose brothers had good reasons for hating him. Even believers attribute ungodly compromise to Esther and even Mordecai every step of the way in the latest retellings of Esther. These same believers insist that Jesus continually “hung out” with sinners.
I am sad to say that the other side of the coin is also true. Some Christians are grossly ignorant of what the Bible does contain. People eat their children. Soldiers disembowel pregnant women. Babies are smashed into rocks. There is a lot about sex in the Bible, good and bad kinds. But the fact is that such material is minimal compared to the overall content. What the Bible has is answers. Sometimes there are sinners sinning, questions raised that aren’t answered right then, and thought– and discussion-provoking events.
There’s a whole mythical belief set about the Bible that has grown up out of some wrongheaded people’s ideas. I don’t know if they are misguided believers or outright deceivers, but they don’t teach the truth about God or how He want’s His message delivered. They clamor to be edgy, to push limits, to strip away boundaries. What they often mean is they want to put the world in their works because that’s what attracts the world. Christian books are filled with flawed, fallen, out-of-control people who cannot govern themselves, have normal relationships, or guide others to spiritual truth. But they are real, insist the writers.
Listen, people: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the World. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
We cannot be guilty of compromise just by claiming we are going to attract a broader audience. We cannot approach the world on their own terms. We have to approach them on God’s terms, with God’s truth.
8 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Christian Films and Writing? — Post by Mary C. Findley”
Nate Fleming here. I wonder if you have had the chance to read my followup articles? I’d invite you to read and if you are interested, we could have more dialogue about what I wrote. I’m about to run and teach a class right now, but I’ll try to get back to your blog soon and answer some of your questions.
Thank you for reading! I will check out your follow-up, and looking forward to hearing more from you!
Excellent, Mary! You’ve said much of what I thought when I read Nate Fleming’s article.
While I think both Christian fiction and Christian films can be improved, I do not view backing away from God’s Word or inserting graphic sinfulness as an improvement. The improvement I envision would be, rather, greater expertise in technical execution. And we can work on that without trying to become more like the world.
TommieLyn, Thank you so much! From what I have read of your works, you are certainly doing your part to raise the standard of quality. This, I know, is one of the keys. We have to write irresistibly good stuff.
I can tell this is an important topic to you. It’s a tough one to me, and I’m not sure how I’d answer on this one.
One book I have found helpful in developing my views is ‘Finding Common Ground’ by Tim Downs. I don’t agree with him completely, but he has some valid points.
Thanks for commenting, Geralyn! I struggled so hard not to come across as divisive or uncaring. We need to know how to reach the world, of course, and I appreciate your book recommendation. I just wish I wasn’t hearing so many say we need to include worldliness to reach the world.
Well said, Mary!
As an author, I want my characters in my books to be real, but I also want to show the redemption of God in and through their lives, and I don’t want anyone led astray by my books.
Thanks, Krystine. This is a topic that’s been on my mind a long time. I really hope people give this some thought and consider what they say and think.