“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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  • SisterCynthia

    I wonder, would you be stoked for a Jesus movie that was based on, say, the Gospel of Thomas, or some other gnostic nonsense, but the avowed atheist/agnostics helming the flick played coy about the ACTUAL “literary sources” they are using, and therefore the true worldview of God and creation which it promotes? All press is good press, even if it helps foster a heretical understanding of the faith and misrepresents the heroes of the faith? If it’s got some eyecandy, we can overlook all that? As long as satan shows up in his garment of light, rather than darkness, he’s okay to buddy up with???

  • jakeslaw

    Interesting that there was a time when most dramatic movies carried a serious message that conveyed to the viewer serious truths. Even the funny ones at one time carried a moral theme – good over evil, crime does not pay. It was only during the 1960s that the implicit concept of morality was dumped in favor of all out exhibitionism in so many films. The jaded side of the nihilists took over and now anything that smacks of a moral message is supposed to be a labeled. Well perhaps that is why i can enjoy the old movies by Capra, Hitchcock, Ford, and Wyler. Well done with powerful messages that reflected the truth of the ages.

  • ahermit

    Actually the Noah movie makers are Jewish, not “secular” (OK, they may be both) and they made a film that tells a Jewish version of the story…http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/the-lighthouse/.premium-1.583432

  • Al Cruise

    ” Reflected the truth of the ages”. The movie “12 Years a Slave” does just that. The truth about american Christainity.

  • David French

    The book “12 Years a Slave” — which is the actual history — demonstrates the truth that Solomon Northrop was a remarkable Christian man. He is a part of American Christianity is he not?

  • Richard Wolfe
  • Richard Wolfe

    “The main problem with “God’s Not Dead” is not its cosmology or ethics
    but its anthropology. It assumes that human beings are made out of
    cardboard. Academics are arrogant and cruel. Liberal bloggers are
    preening and snarky (well, maybe the movie has a point here).
    Unbelievers disbelieve because of personal demons. It is
    characterization by caricature.” Michael Gerson in the WaPo

  • Al Cruise

    I would say Solomon Northrop was remarkable Christian man. I would say the slave owners defined what a significant part of “American” Christianity was about and still is today.

  • Martha J.

    If your opinion about American Christianity is formed solely from examples like the Westboro protestors, who showed up at military funerals with their hatefilled signs, then I could understand. However, most Christians in America aren’t on the news–they quietly live out their life, trying to love their neighbors and asking God every day to forgive their sins. The world is full of ignorant people and fearful people and, yes, some of those people call themselves Christian, but don’t apply those traits to everyone.

  • Unah

    What is a ‘Christian movie?’ Who gets to determine which movies are Christian, and which are not. Is there a such thing as Christian dance, or Christian paintings? I, unfortunately, have heard about Christian pole dancing. Does that count as Christian art? I know there is Christian music, and my husband and I have been increasingly annoyed by how bad it has become. For the record, my husband is a musician, so I guess that means he can legitimately criticize Christian music. What is Christian art supposed to do that makes itself different from secular art? Why is Noah considered a Christian movie, but Evan Almighty is not? When I was growing up, my youth leader made us burn all of our secular CDs. He felt good Christians should only listen to Christian music. That was an epic youth leader fail. There are many many secular songs that can deepen faith. He failed to teach us how to evaluate the music we listen to, and instead he isolated us into a niche labeled ‘Christian.’ But was it really Christian? Is this what you want to happen with Christian movies? Will my children be burning secular DVDs, and vowing to only watch movies labeled christian?