I'm a Christian that makes films, though I haven't made any blatant "Christian films" yet. I actually do plan on it. Everyone knows that Christian films are horrible. Christian as a genre in any art is usually a little more lacking than secular art. But in the film industry it's especially bad. Why is that?
I've heard great things about Facing the Giants, I've heard a lot of people tell me "it's such a big step from Christian films". So I was interested. So I watched it and was getting ready for it to be good, it just got worse.
Film is story-telling, sure there are stories in all art, but film's backbone is story. A picture, a painting or a song doesn't need a story at all, though a lot of different art mediums can contain story, they don't have to. I think that is also a big reason why people connect to a lot of different art mediums, is because they are containers, a lot of music you can put your own story in, interpret it how you want or attach certain memories like a first kiss or a friends death with a song. So when you hear that song later in life you are reminded of that story. Sometimes the song already has a story, but it's certainly not needed to make a good song. Film on the other hand, is based on story and the whole ship goes down without a good story. I think a lot of the reasons that make Christian films horrible are the same reasons that I think should make Christian films a step ahead of the rest.
Christian films lack honesty. The audience has a very keen eye for dishonesty and Christian films seem to have it in bulk. Honesty should be our strong-suit but we seem to lie to ourselves and each other about our flaws. We have so many Christians trying so hard to look like "good Christians" by going to church, not cussing, not smoking and not drinking alcohol, while at the same time we are dishonoring our parents, looking at porn, gossiping about our friends and harvesting self-righteousness. The Bible constantly talks about confessing our faults to one another, bringing light to our struggles and being honest with ourselves. The core of our faith is about realizing we can't obtain righteousness without Christ and we can't earn God's love (because it's freely given). We try to sell Jesus, we walk around like infomercials making claims that we can't back-up. We want non-Christians to think that if they just come to Christ they won't struggle anymore. Which is a lie. In fact, in my experience, when you truly come to Christ He will show you a lot more of your flaws and how much more you need him. He will help with your struggles, but you'll still struggle, but you'll know in the midst of that struggling that He loves you and your salvation doesn't depend on whether or not you stop looking at porn. You'll realize that your salvation relies on Christ alone which will free you from hard-pressed guilt, shame and failure. The difference between the world and true Christianity, is that we all have flaws, but the Christians are aware of their flaws and are aware they can't do good on their own. So I think if Christian filmmakers would start reading the Bible and find a Church that preaches the gospel, I think that would change our films.
Honesty is so important in Christianity when we forget that, it ruins our films and our art.
Christian films worry about pleasing man more than pleasing God. In the same vein of dishonesty we are so afraid of having sin and struggle in our stories. So in these films Jesus is saving some guy from shouting "fiddlesticks" when he stubs his toe and having a non-alcoholic beer at the end of a long work day. There is no redemption because there is no true honesty of what they are redeemed from! We try to make films that don't offend Christians so we don't have any one smoke cigarettes, nobody swear, nobody actually doubting their faith with real questions. In these standards we shouldn't make films about 70% of the Bible! How about, Noah getting plastered drunk and naked in front of his sons, Lot getting so drunk that he slept with both his daughters, Moses murdering a man with his bare hands, King David and Jesus both crying out "My God, why have you forsaken me", King David Murdering a husband to justify his affair, John the Baptist asking Jesus "are you the one or should we look for someone else", Jesus praying "If you're willing let this cup pass from me", how about Paul killing and torturing men, women and children because they believed in God. The Bible is filled with struggles, doubts, temptations and sins. We have these standards in our art to keep things G rated but think about reading the Bible in the standards we put on our art. Where would be the redemption story? The whole Bible would be like 16 pages long reading like "God looked at creation, said it was good and Jesus brought everyone to paradise". If you take out the honesty because we are afraid it might make people think, then you take out the whole redemption story! Sadly, Christian films suck because they resemble Christian's mindset too much. Christians who are afraid of honesty and afraid of redemption. When we try to earn our salvation and God's love by works, then we spit on the redemption that God has for us. When we are dishonest with ourselves and others about how bad we've fallen then we assume we don't need to be picked up. "If righteousness could be obtained by the law [works] then Christ died for nothing!".
In Facing the Giants, the main character is failing at his job as a football coach, hears he's about to get fired, drives home in a car that's about to fall apart, to a home that has a weird smell they can't find and a wife that can't get pregnant. One kid in his team is practicing in the front yard while his cripple dad peels an orange and shouts fortune cookie encouragements anytime the kid fails. Finally the coach feels beat down, prays one prayer and what do you know it, team starts winning, coach gets a raise, someone gives him a new car, he finds and fixes the smell in his house and his wife gets pregnant. At this point I'm waiting for the crippled guy to stand up and start dancing. He does stand up in the movie, but he's still crippled, he was just using a fence to hold himself up. So why did all my non-Christian friends cringe when they saw this movie? Was it because it had praying in it? Was it because They mentioned God in it? No. It wasn't. In "It's A Wonderful Life" america's favorite 'Christmas' movie, he says, in all honesty, "Father, in heaven, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope, show me the way". To me, that proves that people don't cringe at praying to God. It's because that prayer was honest. I think a lot of times in Christian films they have a list of things they need to put in the script in order to get investors. The audience can tell. When E.T. started eating Reese's Pieces we all noticed. God should never be product placement.
When something that is false is told or taught it's not as obvious. But for some reason, if you put it in a story, you can tell it's not true. People have taught "trust in God and everything will get better" and people flocked to that message but when you put it in a story, people start remembering people they know that are devoted Christians with difficult lives. If they don't know anyone they think of the Bible and how many of the apostles got slaughtered. The reason that story is so important is because stories are such a transparent yet delicate container of truth. Even non-Christians know this.
I want to see a film about a Christian football coach that prays that his football team would win and they lose and how he deals with that. How about a King, after God's own heart, fasts and prays for a week for God to save the life of his baby and the baby still dies? (2 Samuel 12:15-23). Good story-telling, honest story-telling is all over the book we claim to know.
Every time I watch a movie on hope, joy, love, relationships and forgiveness. I think "if a non-Christian can make a film about this stuff so well. How much better should a Christian be able to? If we claim to know that love, that joy, that forgiveness and grace, then we should be able to put it in a film so much more.
If we focus on the beautiful story that we're a part of then we'll be able to tell it so well. But I think we might not be focusing on this story, but on our own or the story that we want.