Washington Times on “Christian movies”

Reporter Bekah Grim of The Washington Times wanted to know why I don’t get excited about “Christian movies.”

So I took a long, deep breath, tried to remain calm, tried to avoid R-rated language, and I told her.

(Note: The article says I used the word “propagandic.” I’ve never heard of that. I’m pretty sure I said “propagandistic”… but it’s too late to do anything about that now.)

I’m a film reviewer because I love great art, especially movies. You would think that a filmmaker who’s interested in crafting a beautiful, meaningful work of art would be interested in a thoughtful critique.

But Kim Dawson, producer of the upcoming Christian movie Letters to God responds: “We’re not really concerned with film critics. We’re concerned with the people in the theater who are going to get touched while watching these movies.”

Yeah, see, that’s the thing. I’m concerned about the people in the theater seats too. I’m concerned about how they are being… um… touched. There’s all kinds of touching, you know.

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  • That was quite enjoyable reading! Especially the following line “Yet, I go into the Christian bookstore, and the heavens have a Bible verse stamped across them.” I was just complaining the other day after leaving a Christian bookstore, at how poorly stocked their Current Events section was.. do we really want Christians to stay informed and influential?

    Whew! There are too many things to even discuss. Check Colson recently wrote a similar article about art + agenda:http://www.breakpoint.org/commentaries/13897-art-for-governments-sake

    The thing is that I think every artist has a definitely world view and this is conveyed through their art forms, its not always a blatant agenda per se.. but it is there if we look for it.

  • “We’re not really concerned with film critics. We’re concerned with the people in the theater who are going to get touched while watching these movies.”

    I read this and I hear a person making a movie who’s making the movie she and her backers and production company want to make. They’re not as interested in pleasing any one segment of the audience (which is all critics are) as they are in making their movie and saying what they want to say with it. Great art and literature does not always raise questions. Sometimes it offers possible answers as well.

    “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” and such aren’t great or even very good movies; they’re maybe average at some of their high spots.. Their message is delivered with little, if any subtlety. They’re not raising questions, they’re not even following Emily Dickinson’s advice to “tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” I haven’t seen “Letters to God,” so I can’t say if it follows this path or another one. We can be upset with movies that lack subtlety or are smack-you-over-the-head blunt with their message, but *every* movie makes some statement. Even the ones that raise questions make the statement “Well, we don’t know what the answer is to X, but we think trying to figure it out is worth the journey.” It may be much more nuanced and reflective than other statements, but the difference is in degree, rather than kind.

    I wouldn’t put words in Ms. Dawson’s mouth, but I wonder if one of the reasons she and people like her “aren’t concerned with film critics” is because once too often, they’ve been greeted with sneers and snark like “tried to remain calm, tried to avoid R-rated language” being used by people who discuss their work, even by people of their own faith.

  • John

    “Mr. Overstreet said he thinks a pointed gospel message makes for a great sermon, but not great art.”

    Not a direct quote, I know, but this makes it sound like you think these movies might somehow become good if they we shown in church. I don’t suppose that’s what you were going for. It also gives the impression that a good sermon doesn’t have to aspire to anything more than these movies do.

    Are sermons and art really two totally separate categories? Such a dichotomy (sermons have a viewpoint and deliver a message/art has depth and a sense of mystery) could be one reason why there are so many bad sermons in the world. It seems your complaint is not about movies that want to be sermons, but about preachy moralizing in general. Preachiness is just as bad in church as it is in the theater.

    But sermons, at their best, can be works of art, just as a profound movie can be a type of sermon. You refer to great Christian art of the past, much of which embodied the Church’s message. (e.g. iconography became a visual sermon to those who couldn’t read. Is it then bad art?) Unfortunately, many parts of the church have lost a sense of the mysterious, and a sense of artfulness in its mission. These losses came well before the marketing ploy of “Christian” movies was ever hatched.

  • Jeffrey, thanks so much for carrying the torch on this. I especially love the last line of the article and your analogy about the heavens declaring the glory of God and not requiring a Bible verse superimposed across the sky for clarification. While I hesitate to call this a “divide” between believers, don’t the two views of Art represented here constitute a serious worldview divide? We Christians seem to see art and evangelism (or is it Art Evangelism?) so differently that I can’t help but feel there is a growing division / sub-division in the Church. Where do you think that divide was started and, really, what would you call it? Is this a liberal / conservative divide — in a cultural, not political, sense? Blessings!

  • Yes, good to see a christian critic who has an eye for beauty, imagination, good (and evil) and wonder. These are the qualities in stories that connect us to what is real and worthwile.
    We don’t need to preach a sermon every time. Sermons transfer what I call ‘head knowledge’. Stories (well told) and art transfer knowledge too, but it’s another kind of knowledge.
    Chesterton said something like: “Beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the deep things of the soul.”

  • Doug

    Thanks for your responses that were included in the article, Jeffrey. It’s encouraging to me to see someone standing up for quality and good storytelling and depiction of beauty in art – art that then points to the creativity of the Lord who created the artists (and all good things, for that matter).

  • They want to “become the DreamWorks of the evangelical world.” I think the pastor/director in “Audience of One” used pretty much the same line. Of course, he wanted to build Christian amusement parks on Mars (honestly not much of an exaggeration) too.