Entertaining Churches, Preachy Movies

Entertaining Churches, Preachy Movies October 29, 2014

photo by Josué Goge, Flickr
photo by Josué Goge, Flickr

I had breakfast with an old friend of mine yesterday morning. He’d done some work for The Song, a Christian movie that got reasonably good reviews and was largely ignored at the box office. My friend drew my attention to the Twitter account of Richard Ramsey (@RichieRamsey), the writer and director behind The Song—and one tweet in particular.

“Evangelicals,” Ramsey wrote. “We choose churches that entertain us and movies that preach to us.”

I am now a Richard Ramsey fan.

I go to a huge, non-denominational church. I covered a lot more in my days as a religion writer. And I can tell you that no one does church quite like modern evangelicals. We’ve got a rockin’ worship band, a dynamic preacher, multimedia bombast and ever-changing stage décor. The production is more polished and professional than found for many a traveling rock band.

And don’t get me wrong. I dig all that. In fact, I think I’ve come to expect it.

And while I’m about to engage in a lot of broad and somewhat misleading generalizations here, I think many congregants have gotten used to the polish of modern-day church-going. Indeed, when I was covering religion, I learned about a phenomenon called “church hopping,” wherein Christians would comb through church websites to see which church “home” they’d visit that weekend—looking, it would seem, for the best show.

We evangelicals like to be entertained by our movies, too, of course—as long as they’re secular movies. If they step into a Christian space, then our collective radar goes up. Evangelicals demand so much from their Christian movies: authenticity, biblical accuracy and, often, a clear altar-call at the end. The one thing we’re not so much of a stickler for is artistic quality. If we get it, great. If not, well, maybe next time.

There’s an interesting dynamic at work, here. Christians are very conscious now about how historically “church” (despite its best intentions) can turn off, and sometimes hurt, people. And I think that our churches have become more approachable, more welcoming places because of that.

But I wonder whether our movies have taken on some of the characteristics of those old-school churches. I wonder whether, in our movies, we sometimes come across as so confident in the truth we’ve found that we seem smug. I wonder if we make the Good News SO good that we sorta minimize the fact that even Christians still hurt and doubt and ask hard questions. I wonder if our movies not only preach to the believers, but feel preachy to the non-believers.

But maybe that’s just me. What do you all think?


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