The Epidemic of Christian Films

By  Eric Totheroh

Ok, ok, I’ll admit it: I have a beef with Kirk Cameron.

Look, I don’t have anything against the guy as a person. I admire the way he lives his life with integrity, and he seems genuinely earnest about spreading the Gospel. These are good things and I’m fairly confident that he’s a good man.

My problem is with the Christian film industry, something Kirk Cameron has worked hard to jettison into popular consciousness.

Christianity as a prominent thematic element is not a new phenomenon in Hollywood. “Ben-Hur”, “The Ten Commandments,” and even the more recent “Passion of the Christ” all deal with Christianity in a unique way, while also cementing themselves as legitimate additions to the pantheon of cinema greats. What separates these works from recent additions to the genre like “Fireproof,” “Courageous,” and even the recently released “God’s Not Dead?” These movies were all well-received by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The most recent film to fail this test is the hotly anticipated “God’s Not Dead.” Seemingly based on a chain email in which a philosophy student shuts down a professor who proclaims it is foolish to believe in God, the film centers on a college student who makes it his mission to prove to his classmates and professor that God could, in fact, exist. The premise is ripe for the sort of campy, saccharine happy endings in which the Christians win in spite of persecution, lather, rinse, and repeat. Christians eat it up readily, probably because we are quick to say that we face mountains of persecution in our comfy lives.

Non-Christians, however, are not so readily accepting of this plot on good feelings alone. The popular media website AV Club, in their review of the movie, summed up this idea nicely. “To say ‘God’s Not Dead’ preaches to the choir would be an understatement. It’s the pastor, staring in a mirror, preaching to himself.” If the goal of the film was to prove that God’s not dead, it seems to have missed that mark by a long shot. So maybe it’s time the Christian film industry re-evaluates its priorities.

This is an issue that seems to be brought up whenever a new Christian film is released: Should Christian media work to appease both believers and unbelievers? In my estimation, it most certainly should, at least from a technical standpoint. Films are subjective by nature, given that the content can be interpreted differently by individual consumers. But there are also plenty of objective qualities that can give a film merit. Good cinematography, stellar performances from actors, and even something as subtle as good sound mixing can go a long way in improving the experience. If these are good, people are likely to take notice. I mean, just look at Grammy-winning recording artist Lecrae.

Wait, wasn’t this an article about movies? Sure, but I think Lecrae’s opinions on music have plenty of merit in this discussion, as all Christian media could benefit from a little quality control. He has championed a new breed of rapper, those who do not want to be tied down to a Christian label, but rather as an artist first. He and fellow label-mate Andy Mineo are trying to influence the hip hop culture by making quality music a priority over making music that appeases Christians alone.

The result? A growing fanbase of Christians who appreciate the clean, uplifting music and also the notice of non-Christian critics. Both Lecrae and Andy Mineo have been featured on secular networks and cyphers, letting the world know that Christians can, in fact, be talented.

These Christian films could benefit from a little artistry. According to Lecrae, “hip hop let the saints in,” and they did so after the saints elevated their art to the level at which the world performs. Kirk Cameron seems content to let the saints stand on the sidelines and cheer on themselves. God’s certainly not dead, but from a quality standpoint, the Christian film industry may be.