If you have a minute, go to this article from Vox and check it out. The writer, Brandon Ambrosino, covers the new film Old Fashioned. As you’ll see in the article, the movie was released to be an Evangelical alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey.
Now, say I was asking you to go see it and I explained the movie in that last sentence, would you go?
Ambrosino makes some great points about the failures of Christian writers and film makers to produce quality films and stories. Check out past films like, God is Not Dead and Left Behind. They gave many churches reasons to have a movie night but, in the big picture, how did they do for society?
Ambrosino quotes Brian Godawa, a Christian screenwriter, as saying:
But even if Hollywood films do contain embodied messages, they’re not always as explicitly drawn out as they are in Christian movies. That’s because, says Godawa, many Evangelical Christians, who are people of the Good Book, have come to value words over images. “They don’t know how to embody their messages in the story,” he says. “They have to hear the literal words [of the Gospel].”
Christian films are wrought with sermons wrapped in dialogue, thin characters, clichéd situations, and melodrama. If you gave me a choice for mainstream fare or a Christian film, as a believer, I’d take a Hollywood product any day and that pains me.
Or should it?
We must redeem our arts and recapture the power of a story. Jesus made his points in stories and images. Our Savior existed in a world of ugly truth, of oppressive governments, skewed religion, violence, and poverty. He cut a path through the darkness.
Ambrosino provides a final illustration that is key to the argument.
One remedy to this might be an apocryphal anecdote attributed to Martin Luther. After a cobbler converted to Christianity, he asked the German theologian how he could be a good Christian cobbler. Luther responded, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
The answer, then, might not be in striving to convey the message most full of surface-level goodness but, rather, in pushing for artistic greatness. Then, once form and content emerge in harmony, can barriers be broken down and conversation begin.
As writers, I believe we have a responsibility. The lines between secular and Christian art should be much less defined than they are.
If we want to be in the conversation, we must provide a reason for relevance. This reason comes through the creation of powerful, emotional, and meaningful art.
It is accepting our call to great craftsmanship, to fully execute the calling we have on our lives.
Until then, we’ll keep going in our groups, our gated communities of belief behind sub-par films, books isolated in a section of Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and music we can only find on two radio stations on the local channels.
A day will come when these lines vanish, when great films, books, and music of faith are consumed with those of mainstream culture. We must overcome our pride, fear, and insecurities and encourage our artists to send their work into the world.
We are allowed to be great craftsmen and women, to not hide our talents or our lights behind a bushel.
If we truly want to make an impact, the time is now and the Great Conversation is ready to begin.