“Noah,” “God’s Not Dead,” and Arguments About Evangelical Art

“Noah,” “God’s Not Dead,” and Arguments About Evangelical Art April 7, 2014

It’s been interesting to see the online commentary with “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead” released against each other. Obviously they’re not true competitors given the disparate budgets, talent, marketing, etc., but much of the social media discussion (which can be more interesting than blogs) has broken down like the following:

1. Screw Noah. God’s Not Dead is more biblical and God-honoring. (Ok, maybe those people don’t say “screw Noah,” but that’s the meaning).

2. God’s Not Dead is embarrassing. Evangelicals want propaganda, not art. They wouldn’t know good art if it bit them in the behind.  Noah makes you think and is beautifully shot, well-acted, and just better.

I’m not in the first camp primarily because I’m generally not motivated to watch a movie for its message. I want to watch good movies, and the message is secondary to me. Overall, I like to reward excellence over intentions — especially if the “excellence” is in special effects and swordplay.

But I’m not in the second camp, either. I just can’t get on board the train of trashing evangelical culture and art, for several reasons.

First, quite a bit of the trashing is done by people who don’t do jack or squat in the artistic realm. In other words, they’re not “in the arena” but completely on the sidelines, sniping, while possessing a weird sense of superiority that — despite not having talent — they can what? Recognize true art better than their fellow Christians? (To be clear, I think high-quality movie criticism is part of the overall art of the movie culture itself — and can enrich the movie-going experience. I’m not talking about true criticism by the critic-as-artist but instead about online whining).

Second, have patience. The Christian movie culture is a mere baby. I’m not an expert, but I tend to think that mainstream movies are better in part because the makers can draw on a deep well of talent — and that even a great screenplay can be ruined by bad acting, great acting can be ruined by poor cinematography, and an awesome overall package can be hurt by the wrong music. Now, imagine constructing the talent pool for all these things largely by scratch. The learning curve will be steep, and much of the early product will be bad, despite the best of intentions. People get better the more they do things, and I expect Christian movies will get better over time — better-acted, better-scored, etc.

Maybe they’ll even incorporate more broadswords.

Third, I think it’s completely legitimate to construct a Christian movie culture. Goodness knows the other side has its own various cinematic subcultures, and I’d love to see ours grow in quality and relevance.

Fourth, all that being said, I don’t want Christians to flee to their movie culture but move — like the other side does — from the niche to the mainstream and back again. I want Christians in movies (actors, directors, musicians, writers, etc.), and I want good Christian movies.

So I guess I’m in the following camp: I’m thrilled God’s Not Dead is doing well because that will spur investment in Christian movies and spur more competition which will help quality. Oh, and I’m thrilled that a truly talented secular filmmaker took on the Noah story because rock monsters and because it can be a rare joy to watch an epic story told by a talented storyteller.

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