In a community where we believe “In All Things Christ Pre-eminent,” Christian entertainment gets a bad rap. We believe in common grace as one of the reasons The Silence of the Lambs is an artful movie, and I have seen more “not church-approved” movies in Covenant classes than I have all my life. We know doing art and entertainment for the glory of God doesn’t always mean painting a Thomas Kinkade picture of perfect houses glowing with perfect lighting in front of a perfect sunrise.
So movies like Fireproof aren’t on everyone’s top list. And Christian fiction novels, especially the contemporary ones with Amish buggies on the cover, are practically non-existent in our summer reads radar. The same thing goes with Christian music. “I don’t have anything against it,” we say, “It’s just not… good.”
In “Christian entertainment is destined to be boring,” published in rawstory.com, Amanda Marcotte argued that, more than its over-emphasis on sending a message, the problem with Christian entertainment is that it is missing humanity. “… plenty of movies have “messages” that they knock you over the head with and still manage to be good movies,” Marcotte argued. The humanity piece, according to Marcotte, “…is true when we’re talking about great art or just diverting entertainment.” Her examples are Citizen Kane, which addresses the dehumanizing nature of ambition caused by capitalist forces, and Fifty Shades of Grey, which, in short, “amuses you with fantasies.” Christianity, according to Marcotte, suppresses “the humanity in people and [tries] to force them into cookie cutter roles that eliminate all the human messiness created by desire.” And that’s why it’s inherently boring.
I guess it’s a fair opinion from someone who is not a Christian. Marcotte isn’t buying the whole Christian-entertainment-is-too-preachy argument, and I agree with her to an extent. It’s not about the messages we’re sending, it’s about how we send it. After all, a lot of stories that aren’t technically “Christian” are well-loved exactly because of the important messages they’re standing for. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Dicken’s Hard Times, Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, and one of my all-time favorites, 3 Idiots, are some examples. Most of the time, contemporary Christian movies are just not very good story telling.
But how sad it is for non-Christians to think that Christianity suppresses humanity. How could Christianity be inhumane and “inherently boring,” if at the heart of it is a messy, messy scandal where humanity is so broken that God was murdered and raised again to redeem it? Knowing Jesus has been the most beautiful yet sometimes hurtful thing I’ve known in my life; how could it be boring? It’s not that we don’t try to portray humanity. After all, the person-in-crisis-meets-Jesus theme that has been prevalent in Christian entertainment is about humanity, right? But I guess we need to learn that stories where the characters just end up going to church and have a great community life are not always believable or delightful to those outside the church.
We haven’t been the best moviemakers and storytellers as Christians. And yet a lot of things go behind that, and there’s a lot of interesting tension between entertainment and Christianity. While self-proclaimed Christian movies and novels could be dubious and disappointing, let’s not throw the baby away when we hurl the dirty bathwater out with all our zeal. Courageous, a movie made by the same producer who previously made Flywheel and Fireproof, is proof that the art of Christian entertainment will improve over time as more Christians invest in it and gain more experience. Courageous is a big jump from the heavy-handed and choppy Flywheel.
Christian contemporary novels aren’t always bad, either. Melody Carlson, for example, a Christian teen lit and chick lit writer, writes stories with endearing and relatable characters that has often helped me mirror my own life, laugh at the things I so often stress about, and see life with a little bit more humor in what God has crafted it to be.
So, give Christian entertainment a chance. After all, once in a while there are Tolkiens who become world-wide legends and Lewises who keep everyone wondering whether there’s another world beyond their wardrobe.