What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking?

god is not dead

This morning I read a review of the film God’s Not Dead over at Gospelspam.com, and was struck by the thesis of the review, which is found in the title, “God’s Not Dead but Christian Screenwriting Is.”

The review had plenty of good to say about the film, but also plenty to say about the problems currently found in Christian filmmaking – specifically the writing.  This issue brings up strong feelings and thoughts in me, as I am a Christian, and I have been a student of screenwriting since 2007.  I’ve written screenplays (both produced and un-produced), and have recently published my first novel, Thimblerig’s Ark.  I felt led to respond to the article in the comment section at Gospelspam, and then decided to reproduce the bulk of my comments here.

Let me say from the start that my intention with this article is not to attack my fellow Christian artists.  I generally have great respect for anyone who carries an idea from imagination to the screen, and with Christian artists, I also respect the intention behind the process.  And I know that there are probably some very good independently made Christian films that try like crazy to break out to a larger audience, but are unable to do so for many different reasons.  The intent of this article is more to express my frustration of the limitations faced by Christian artists, put there by the church at large.

flanneryFor centuries the church was the main sponsor of amazing art.  Christians were responsible for setting the tone of art for the culture, and we have the amazing work of artists such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and many others as the fruit of that labor.  But for some reason Christians have rarely been able to accomplish dramatic storytelling effectively on any large scale, which is ironic, considering that we are the custodians of the Greatest Story Ever Told.  While there are the occasional mold-breakers (thinking about C.S. Lewis and Flannery O’Connor in the literary world, to name a couple), modern Christians seem to have a hard time jumping feet-first into the story-telling deep end, telling a compelling story that will go beyond the church walls.

This is a multi-layered conversation, and it is thankfully a conversation that is taking place among many creative Christian writers and artists.  In 2007 I was privileged to take a month long intensive screenwriting course in Hollywood with  Act One, an organization that trains Christian writers and producers how to write and produce good films with integrity.  It was one of the most stimulating months of my life, as we wrestled with these issues on a daily basis.  From that time, and since, I’ve thought of three major hurdles that Christian artists face when attempting to write, sing, or film something that will have the potential to impact the world.  For the sake of this article, I will focus on Christian filmmaking.

The first problem is that Christian filmmaking needs to be SAFE.  When is the last time a big “faith-based” film had an R rating because of it’s true depiction of sin?  It’s a huge dilemma, because we – as followers of Christ – don’t want to sin ourselves in making a film, or encourage sin, but this really handcuffs us and our ability to realistically portray life.  If you are a Christian, when was the last time you saw a Christian film that truly challenged your faith?  What was the last Christian film that asked questions without giving answers?  Does the greater Christian culture allow for that?

Facing_the_giantsThe second problem is that Christian filmmaking needs to be PREDICTABLE.  When I was doing drama in summer camps in Kazakhstan, a friend pointed out that the representation of Satan was always more interesting than the representation of Jesus.  He also said that it wasn’t saying much, because Satan was fundamentally not so interesting because no matter the drama presentation, he always acted the same way, and the same was true of Jesus.  I see this carried through in expectations for Christian filmmaking – the protagonist and the antagonist usually act a certain way, and if they don’t, the film won’t be received well.  What does the audience want?  The non-Christian needs to become a Christian, and the Christian needs to find “victory” of some sort.  My major disappointment with the Kendrick brother’s film, “Facing the Giants”, was that it was a wonderful opportunity to show how a Christian deals with failure, but in the end the filmmakers decided to make it a fairy tale where a prayer changes the direction of the wind.  It was predictable, and the film was wildly successful.

The third problem is that Christian filmmaking needs to PREACH TO THE CHOIR.  With the exception of Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, how many films made by Christian filmmakers have made any sort of dent in the culture beyond the church walls?  When is the last time a film made by Christians received substantial praise from non-Christian film reviewers?  This past weekend, God’s Not Dead had good box office – earning a respectable $9.2 million, but how much of that cash was from non-Christian wallets?  The film also currently has a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is high for the typical Christian-made film.
Noah 1

Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming film, Noah, is a very interesting case to me, and it is a movie I’ve been looking forward to for some time.  Unfortunately, a  big reason that I’m hopeful for the film is that it was NOT made explicitly by Christians, and while the studio also wants a piece of the “faith-based audience box office pie”, Aronofsky made the film he wanted to make.  I am much more interested in this film than I am in God’s Not Dead or the recent Son of God, because it will be everything a typical Christian film is not:  it will be a dangerous film – forcing the viewer to rethink the traditional way of viewing the story of Noah; it will undoubtedly be unpredictable, because Aronofsky is not handcuffed by an allegiance to modern evangelical sensibilities; and finally, thousands and thousands of people are going to be flocking to see it, and not because of their church allegiance.

How cool would it be if a film made by Christians could make the box office that Noah will make, with audiences from every different walk of life?  Here are my tips on how the body of Christ can come closer to making that happen:

1)  We need to permit our artists (writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers) to take more risks.  And artists, whether you are permitted or not, take more risks.  Did you really get into your artistic field because you liked playing it safe?  Why play it safe with the most important thing you have to say?

2)  We need to encourage our artists to challenge rather than stroke our sensibilities.  A pearl is made when dirt is irritated inside the oyster, after all.  And so artists, don’t wait for permission.  Start challenging your audience.  They will undoubtedly resist you, but we need to be challenged or we’ll stagnate and fade away into irrelevance.

3)  We need to recognize that art is art, the pulpit is the pulpit, and while the two might cross paths from time to time, they are completely different animals.  This goes for everyone.  Does everyone truly understand this?  With all the recent criticisms of Noah because it “is unbiblical”, I have to think that lots of people don’t.  Read here for more of my thoughts on this.

4)  We need to be okay with movies that don’t give all the answers.  If they succeed in asking some good, deep questions, they might actually open the doors to conversations where answers can be explored.  Artists, isn’t part of our job to provoke questions?  Don’t feel you have to end every sentence with a period

5)  And most importantly:  tell good stories.  As Frank Capra famously said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.”  If you are an artist, the quality of your work should be at the top of your list of considerations.  Jesus wasn’t known for telling mediocre stories that ticked off all the correct religious boxes.  He was known for telling compelling stories that challenged his listeners while communicating God’s truth.  Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus?

I need to conclude this article by saying once more that I do respect that there are Christians out there trying to bust into the filmmaking business, and I wish them well.  I just hope we can figure out how to tell The Story – truly the Greatest Story Ever Told – in the manner in which it deserves, and in such an excellent way that people outside the Christian subculture will receive it.

Update:  If you have read this far, and you want to read more of my thoughts on this subject – especially as related to what artists of faith need to do – please go here for my follow up article:   What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking Episode 2

You can also respond further about the things brought up in this article here.

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455 Comments

  1. Thoughtful article. Very good stuff. Christians would never make a great movie like Das Boot (Director’s Cut) because of how the movie ends. You can’t save the characters all the way through the movie only to have the submarine sunk at the port! Who does that? Answer: good writers who represent life as it is.

      • Get out of the Christian subculture! Be a filmmaker – forget trying to be a subcultural christian filmmaker.

        In the historical scope of things – The christian subculture has, and will have, as much to do with being a follower of Christ as a rat dropping has in being part of a loaf of bread.

        It is possible to have a christian subculture claim to be the church as it is that a rat dropping could be in a loaf of bread.

        In some cases, it may be prevalent BUT it does and will make everything around it taste bad and in the long run will be detrimental to your health as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a human being that God has created..

    • Appreciate your article! You show the gift of wisdom here. I love movies, especially love to support people making movies about God’s Word. It is hard to watch some of them though. Doesn’t “budget” have a lot to do with film making? I believe Hollywood greats like Steven Spielberg have tons of money and influence in the industry. Maybe the Christian’s all need to be praying and believing for favor with those with influence, for God to open the windows of heaven and pour blessings we couldn’t contain for finances. I think we are starting to see glimpses of it and I continue to support their efforts and always get excited to see how they’ve improved.

      • Hi Kim,

        I do believe budget can make a difference in production values, but all too often money isn’t an issue. There are actually quite a few wealthy Christians who would love to finance God glorifying movies. I’ve got friends in Hollywood who have told me about meeting them, and where these wealthy Christians fall short is that often their interest in telling good stories falls far down the list.

        Organizations like Act One (I mentioned them in the article) teach that for good filmmaking to take place, STORY has to be high up on the list, if not the top!

        If we’re just making movies for ourselves, then we can make our movies as message heavy as we want, and that’s fine. However, if we’re truly desiring to use the visual medium of filmmaking to reach people outside the church, we MUST tell compelling stories!

        Thanks for the comment!
        Nate

    • Unfortunately, unless the creative Christian maintains the integrity of Jesus’ teachings, no matter the controversy of the topic, the viewer will not be lead to Christ but will perhaps be inspired to hate God even more or believe, in Noah’s case, the story to be a fantasy like all the other sci fi themed movies. The church is dumbed down today as it pleases the culture and the same is happening with tv, movies, books and art. The majority of church goers and the public won’t research to see what’s true in the bible. They take what the preacher says as the final word. Same with the media. How did Nazi Germany happen if the public wasn’t influenced by a campaign in all media to teach hatred of the Jews? Ultimately there were government controlled churches — true Christians went underground and the believers were killed or imprisoned if found. Don’t quite understand the goal of the author — assimilate or ridicule Christians who try to keep the integrity of the Word. I understand the reality of life could be depicted no matter how bleak, but not at the expense of the hope offered in the teachings of Jesus.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You articulated much of what I think about Christian filmmaking, but haven’t been able to put into words. And helpful thoughts for me as I pursue my own art – writing.

  3. Tell me about it, man. My husband is an amateur filmmaker who grew up very atheist, and the first place he felt any inkling of the presence of God was watching American Beauty, which is NOT a Christian film. But God was there, trying to get to him. Storytelling is so powerful, and it’s such a shame that the established evangelical Christian subculture will not allow or accept storytelling that isn’t… well, all of the boring, formulaic, fearful stuff you talk about in this article.

    I’m about to start self-publishing my first novel (and congrats on yours!) and I am nervous about the reception that people from church will give it. It is not a clean-cut, straightforward, message-filled tale. And it doesn’t end with everyone finding Jesus, either. There are heavy Christian themes and I hope they make it across to someone, but I’m really not writing it for Christians. I’m writing it for people like my husband was, who might just feel God tugging at them when they read my words. That’s the hope, anyway. :)

    I will check out your book!

    • Thanks, Cara! I’m glad the article was an encouragement. Meanwhile, I wish you the best with your book. My book’s first review was from a Christian who insisted that other Christians would be offended by my book, mostly because of the things I didn’t have in the story. I think this article was – in part – written because of that review. I just wish believers would be more open to art that doesn’t fit into a mold (like yours, sounds like), because God doesn’t fit into a mold, either.

      Thanks for checking out Thimblerig! I hope you enjoy it.
      Cheers,
      Nate

      • I like the article a lot, I think you make a good point. As far as having a message that might not be the exact “coming to Christ” story, the movie that always jumps to mind is The Last Temptation of Christ. I’m not inclined to think that Martin Scorcesse or Willem Dafoe are Christians, but the story (which the author of the book describes as a work of fiction based on the Gospel) gets to a side of Jesus that no one seems to think about, his humanity and weakness. That movie earns it’s R rating no doubt, and I don’t blame Christians for not wanting to expose themselves to it, but I also think that they in some ways choose not to appreciate the full glory of God’s story. To do that, you really need the very difficult parts.

        It also makes me think about musicians like U2, who while I am quite sure that Bono at least does have a passionate relationship with God, also are not afraid to vocally call out the church with their music (if you’re unfarmilar, look up the song “Crumbs from your Table”, and know that it’s about aids. I think Bono is to interested in helping people the way Jesus would want to have any desire to affiliatte himself with a church that won’t do the same.

        I like what you have to say about portrayal of sin in film to. I am not uncomfortable with portrayals up to an R rating (I see it as a bit of a food sacrificed to idols issue). But I also can’t stand it when actors think they’re adding a really significant artistic benefit to a film by acting nude. It adds nothing but shock value. Alfred Hitchcock actually said it best I think in an interview describing the editing in Psycho. He said “When it came time to film the shower scene, we obviously couldn’t simply film a man stabbing a naked girl to death in a shower, we had to do it impressionistically”. That scene, with no naked Janet Leigh, is by far one of the most influential pieces of filmaking in history. So I think that filmakers especially Christian have a lot to learn from directors like him from that time.

        I’d never heard of you until I saw a freind had posted this on Facebook, but I think I want to follow your blog. Thanks for all the insightful ruminations on Christianity and culture! The Kingdom needs more people like you!

      • Hi John,

        Thank you for the comment! And don’t feel bad for not hearing about me. Before my article went out, nobody’d heard of me, and I’m still a bit in shock that so many people have read my words.

        I can appreciate your thoughts on Last Temptation, and on some levels I can also appreciate what the filmmakers were attempting. Personally, setting aside the theological implications of what the movie, I felt like it was a failure of a film. To be honest, it’s been quite a while since I watched it so the reasons escape me at the moment, but I remember that I just didn’t like it as a movie. It might have been because Scorcese and company were trying too hard? I’m not sure, but it seems that whenever anyone attempts to make a film based on Big Ideas, they can fall into the trap of making A Really Important Film. If Noah fails, it might be for this reason, too.

        Did you get the chance to read my follow up post yet? I was looking at some ways artists of faith can help avoid falling into sin when attempting to portray sin. I’d love to know your thoughts.

        Blessings, and welcome to the blog!
        Nate

  4. I’m a bit confused as to how you could write an entire article on Christian filmmaking without once mentioning the MPPC and the Catholic Church’s reign over film in the early and mid 20th century. Clearly your screenwriting studies have omitted the study of cinematic history, as well as the study of grammar and proper English (as evidenced by the multitude of problems in this article.) Up until the 1960’s or so, Hollywood films were closely monitored by Church officials who demanded positive story lines wherein good triumphed evil and any form of sexual relations and violence were completely prohibited. It’s really crucial to note the MPPC’s impact on film today, while acknowledging that some of these ridiculous rules are still upheld by annoying writers who too obviously push their beliefs, because in the 21st century it’s clear that audiences can only be reached through realistic storytelling.

    Your thesis here is, for the most part, correct, but I think your biggest mistakes here are the omission of the MPPC and also the idea that “Christian” is somehow a qualifying term for filmmakers. As a filmmaker, I don’t feel the need to introduce my occupation with my religion or gender or any other source of identity. “Christian filmmakers” ARE filmmakers, and production studios are composed of people from all different religions. It’s offensive to categorize religious people aside from the successful non-identifying filmmakers of our time.

    • Hi anonymous,

      There’s a pretty good reason why I didn’t discuss the MPPC and the Catholic Church’s influence on film. Mainly, it was that my article wasn’t a discussion on the history of filmmaking – others can do that. You can do that! And I apologize if my grammar and English usage bothered you, but it’s just me and my laptop sitting here, and I have no editor. Mistakes happen!

      I do agree with you about “Christian” not being the greatest qualifying term when it comes to any profession, but it’s the language that people use, so I used it. And the article was specifically written for people who practice the Christian faith, and who have a particular artistic craft they are trying to promote, and who feel limited in their ability to do so by the unofficial Rules of Appropriate Art set down by the church in America.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

      Cheers!
      Nate

  5. to be clear…you wrote this having read reviews but not yet seeing God’s Not Dead, right? I appreciate having an unapologetic “let’s do something” compelling movie to a “loosely based on Scripture” movie sometimes. After all, there are plenty of people who profess to be Christians that are actually misguided and confused and may be in need to something more direct.

    • Hi Amy,

      I did write this having not seen “God’s Not Dead” – but it wasn’t meant as a critique of that film. I was just spurred to write the article based on a review of God’s Not Dead that I read, that got me thinking about the basic state of art in the church.

      I definitely don’t mind the direct approach – my wife was brought to faith in part by watching the old Jesus movie, and you can’t get more direct than that. I just wish that believing artists had more freedom to practice their art, and be supported by the church in general in the process.

      With film, that support is seen by Christians turning out in droves for more than just the “Christian” film that ticks all the right boxes, and also looking for what God might do or say through a non-Christian filmmaker who is approaching a faith-based topic.

      Cheers!
      Nate

      • I did see God’s Not Dead a few days ago. Personally, I found the film to be very well written, and the actors were very good in their respective roles. Kevin Sorbo played the Devil’s advocate to a tee. Many feel-good moments, and the audience was very receptive and appreciative, resulting in applause at the end. I encourage everyone to see this film, even those like myself who do not subscribe to any religious beliefs.

  6. You are a gifted wordsmith…therefore I totally trust you to put flesh on stories in which we may only have “dry bones”. I long to see it in art but I also wish it occured more in the art of storytelling that goes on within “church walls”. I am praying that through talent like yours we are teaching (discilpling) young storytellers to take these leaps of faith and spirit when weaving The Story for the benefit of those who don’t yet see it…as wordy as this is I hope it makes sense. Thank you Nathan!

  7. Great post! Christian movies and christian art in general lacks that something, the one that needs to captivate the non believer and deeply satisfy the hearts of the believers, it needs to dissect our hearts as Christians and point out all the hurt that comes with it, the doubt and all the mixed feelings. For obvious reasons, I do feel though that movies ABOUT Bible stories should not be distorted in any way, nor they should be BASED upon. It’s the Bible and people should take it as it is, with no sugar coating or fact obstructions. Unfortunately, as far as I’ve read, that’s the deal with Noah and Son of God.

  8. Nate this is so great & thank you for writing it. I’m a fiction writer and have these same feelings so often re: books/stories and I wear myself out thinking abt it sometimes…how do I best represent myself as an author who is also Christian…while also staying true to the work. ? There is freedom there, I believe! Of course. And I refuse to settle for always being safe! You’re so right about taking risks. And reading this was a blessing to me tonight, so thank you. :)
    All good things,
    Leesa

  9. While I am a Christ follower, I am not an artist of any sort, but I still enjoyed reading your article. As a somewhat reluctant movie goer these days, your comments have given me reason to reconsider whether I want to see the Noah picture. I might go see Noah if for nothing else to be able talk about the film with friends if the chance occurs. I do like seeing Christian based films being made, but I would like to see more challenging movies that as you say do not play it so safe. There is so much potential material to draw from, I for example would love to see a movie about Paul (perhaps from a companions viewpoint), that it almost hurts to see some of the lame stories being made into movies these days. I hope some aspiring artist sees your article and it challenges them to be bold and write a screen play that glorifies God without feeling forced to be safe. After all, Jesus was not safe, he was revolutionary.

    • Hi Todd,

      Re: Noah, now that the movie’s been released, I’ve been continuing to hear conflicting reports. I don’t think it will be released in China, so I don’t know when I’m actually going to get the chance to see it, but I still plan to check it out for myself.

      Even if the movie turns out to be a complete bomb, the thing that I’m still excited about is that it has all kinds of people talking about the Bible, and my guess is tons of people who haven’t cracked a Bible in years have gone and read the story in Genesis. That’s God’s word they’re opening, and that’s pretty cool.

      Blessings!
      Nate

  10. As someone who knows the writers of this movie, please do not blame them. After having spoken with several writers of Christian films, do not blame them. Blame the producers. The writers turn in good scripts that would make good films, but these get rewritten by the producers who say that movie MUST slap the viewer in the face with messages and thus the good bits of writing are weeded out for heavy handed messages the producer wants. So don’t blame the writers. Blame the process.

    • Hi Koosie,

      First, I apologize if it came across that I was blaming the writers – which was not my intention. I know the difficulties screenwriters face – Christian or not. They’re typically at the bottom of the filmmaking fishtank in large productions, which is incredibly unfortunate.

      I wrote the article after reading a review of God’s Not Dead that was critical of the writing, and I wanted to take it step further and look at what is holding the writers back. You make a good point about the producer’s influence being a part of the problem, but the producers do what they do because they know it’s what the faith-based audience will accept. And so I still contend that it falls back to the church “at large”.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Cheers,
      Nate

  11. This article would mean something if I didnt read my Bible because i thought it was bland . But i know Bible to be interesting and amazingly adventurous. I feel that if I pay to go see Noah all I would be doing is denying my belief in the story and paying for a misrepresentation of the story. Deception. I will not pay to go see Noah when the Bible has written it so beautifully. You are complaining that Christian movies are not Hollywood with all its sex, death and foul language which is sin. Im suprised you dont think the world already knows they are all morally wrong already and dont need to witness it again to be reminded through a movie screen. Ill give you an example: a boy checking out a couple making love. What would be the guarentees action of the couple ? Believers or not? They would yell and call the cops. Lets say the boys goes to the movies and see this through a screen (glorified window) and watches a couple having sex. Does that make it any better ? So why are you promoting sin to be shown?

    • le·gal·ism
      ˈlēgəˌlizəm/S
      noun
      noun: legalism; plural noun: legalisms
      1.
      excessive adherence to law or formula.

      THEOLOGY
      dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.

      You clearly miss the big picture. Millions will be thinking about God on Noah’s opening weekend. Aronofsky is using his creativity to display a story that will touch the masses. It would be arrogant and ignorant as to believe that the approach used for Facing the Giants will have nearly the same effect.

      The Bible talks more explicitly of sin than any R rated movie I’ve seen. Such is the Fall; such is humanity. However, there is no redemption without it.

      You want a sin-less approach to the Gospel? You want perfection in a broken world? Your argument here contradicts everything Jesus said and was. It’s unsettling.

  12. WOW! I am a songwriter and I was literally just praying like “you know Lord, I’m all for a positive message but I don’t want to sell people on this idea that as soon as they come to know you all troubles go away and they live in euphoria. This is why people think we’re crazy for believing in You. We still have problems! We still cry and go through crazy things. I want people to know the truth…that You are sustaining grace…You bring us THROUGH…You bring us OUT. You are a better solution to our problems.” I want to write about my pain and how God is glorified through the peace that surpasses all understanding when life throws us under. Like you’re saying though, this isn’t popular. If the Bible was made into a movie verbatim, would the Church today even like it?! Would they approve? This was so much confirmation for me. God Bless! -Lauren

  13. I agree. Thanks for posting this! I want to be a filmmaker and for so long people have told me not to– because Christians didn’t belong in the world of film. But I’ve chosen differently and have a degree in Film! Thanks for the encouragement and reenforcement of my own thoughts!

    • Saying Christians don’t belong in filmmaking is basically saying Christians shouldn’t proclaim Christ where He isn’t known. I understand why they would say it – because Hollywood is not a safe place for a Christian – fraught with all sorts of potential dangers and ditches on multiple levels. But we don’t balk at sending Christians overseas, do we? Doesn’t “Go ye into the world” include Hollywood?

      Blessings to you and your filmmaking career. May God use you mightily!

      Cheers,
      Nate

      • Nate — Are you talking about sub-cultural Christians or follower of Jesus Christ ? Because the former is not needed cause the already have them and the only make Christian propagand films like “God’s not dead” but the latter it and the world yearns for and needs to create transcendent truthful stories

  14. BRAVO. I’ve been thinking a lot about this very topic and I’ve written about it on my own blog. I YEARN for Christ-honoring art to become respected in the culture. Great thoughts and great points, especially from the screenwriting perspective relating to Facing the Giants. Gained a subscriber here!

  15. *begins slow clap*

    BRAVO. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, and you’ve articulated many of my thoughts on the subject better than I could. I’ve written about Christian movies on my own blog along with the “Secular vs Christian” debate, and I agree with you 100%. I really hope a day will come when Christian art will engage the culture head-on and give it a run for it’s money with its artistic quality and bold storytelling. Great post sir! SUBSCRIBED.

  16. You sir, have fully encapsulated exactly how I feel about this subject. I’m a filmmaker, as well as a Christian. As artists, many times we are constrained by the pressure the church puts on our creative expressions. Am I bitter? No. I understand where it comes from because I used to be the same way. But in many ways, artists are prophets. That means communicating hard to swallow topics and asking the hard questions. I know that my intention is never to pick fights or to insult the church body and I really respect the way represented us artists! Cheers.

  17. What an awesome word! I come from the angle of being a writer and have struggled with the desire to break out of the oh-so-predictable mold of the Christian novel. I recently told my wife “I don’t want to write a ‘Christian novel’. I just want to write a novel that will inspire and impact the reader.” What I meant was, as you said, a story that doesn’t have all the answers but asks the right questions, a story that reflects actual life not some make-believe-everything-works-out-perfectly-because-I-said-a-prayer-fairy-tale, a story that points without preaching. I have written so many drafts and developed so many story lines but end up shelving them because I have feared the proverbial “burning at the stake” by fellow Christians because I was too dangerous, (I like that word), didn’t follow the safe path or didn’t write the expected predictable ending. Thank you for the on target and inspiring article. You have touched and stirred me. Now, God give me boldness!

  18. Hi! I’m not sure I agree with your article with all due respect, yes I agree that some of these films may have some flaws the truly remarkable thing is that we are finally seeing more Christian movies on the big screen and I can’t help but see that as a good thing , many Christian artists worked really hard to make the whole process work and I know for a certainty that they have impacted millions, I for one applaud there work and am grateful because from these I know many more films will follow. Be blessed!!

      • Oh…I will have to buy that one. Thr3e? By the way, thank-you for writing this post. What a blessing to have found you. I’m one of those writers who has been asking herself if-how-if-it doesn’t (concerning works) align with the word of the Lord. One who is continually speaking to the Lord about them.

        It’s an interesting little controversy we must meet and handle huh?

        Then as my faith deepens I also ask: are these works appropriate Lord? But the leading isn’t pulling me out…

        Still glad to have bumped into this, I think it may help me settle in! :)

      • Yes, it’s like that. When we stay in relationship to the Lord he works through us even when we don’t know he is at times (but using exactly who, what, and our particular way). Lol.

        And beyond that, I can’t grasp it.

        What do I write? Well http://archaicsugar.wordpress.com/about/

        But before you look, know that I don’t have it all sorted yet. I accept and follow the Lord, but this letting him lead is new to me. So I am a filmmaker, and right now it’s probably more out of what “I” know. No idea what this is gonna be when I give it completely over to the Lord. Probably much more out of the box b/c I won’t recognize the inclination.

        And by the way? Walking with the Lord I consider to be the riskiest thing ever, especially in the places we’ve given it up to the almighty. What he does is never recognizable and always completely out of the box.

        And in my opinion any safety in film, is out of fears (whether writers o producers) not inspiration direct from the Lord because his leading? Doesn’t include ‘safe.’ I don’t know a lot, but that I’ve gathered lol.

        Cheers.

  19. What a fantastic article. I have been involved with a movie made by Christians all employed by a Christian organization. Its been refreshing to just see a movie with a great story and written by a real screenwriter. The only agenda was to make a great movie with the people and resources available. The best sermon that a movie made by Christ followers can preach is, excellence.

  20. As an artist and a Christian, I am often shoved in a creative box by religious culture. I get niched there. I am equally shoved in a box by Hollywood to not say “Jesus,” or anything too religious, unless it’s popular this week. I worked in LA for decades so it’s hard enough to get anything made without genuine storytelling. When are we just going to have truth in great narrative with faith intertwined? To be able to swear in appropriate dialogue? Watch people break and bruise and then honestly have God show up. I am not creating material for just Christians, I am creating because I have a gift and I want to help all people in a non-judgmental, sometimes raw and real way. And, because I find so much beauty in the ashes. I am writing to start a love revolution for everyone and the teacher I had was the Teacher. We need to have the courage to show people how effed up we all are/were — all the grime and dirt and fear to illustrate how far His love and grace can go to reach us! Incredible article. Thank you! Carrie Gerlach Cecil

  21. I studied both cinema and pastoral ministry. It can accurately be said that there are huge areas of weakness in both. The main problem I have with your article is that you seem to have a high view of man’s ability and a low view of God’s. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, and is powerful in EXACTLY the way it was given. A screen writer will not improve the story. If screen writers, Christian or secular, want to tackle a those stories, then they should leave the content factually the same. They don’t do that with any other books they make into film, but those books are not the Bible. What do people always say about the movie? “It wasn’t as good as the book.”

    Christians could, and should, write and produce much better films about life. There are great stories to tell other than Bible stories. Depicting R rated scenes of sinful behavior isn’t where they need to be improved. There were great films made before our culture had to be visually assaulted to gain our attention. Some of the best written and well produced modern secular films have been animated and PG rated films. Many of the scenes that get a film an R rating add nothing to the story telling or impact of the film. They are placed in the film to appeal to man’s sinful nature.

    Christians have no mandate to produce movies. We have a mandate to proclaim the gospel. Artists always consider what they have to say as important (Christian and secular). Christians are supposed to be primarily focused on what God said through Christ in the gospel. We can lose the simplistic happy endings, but people do get saved and God does impact and change things in the “real world.”

    • Hi Tim,

      If I gave the impression that I have a higher view of man’s ability than God’s word, then I didn’t do a good job explaining myself. But I will say this – I think you can have a high view of Scripture but also thoughtfully adapt Scripture for another medium.

      For example, I’ve often thought that a modern retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son could be extremely powerful. Are you saying that an artist shouldn’t attempt it? Or are you specifically talking about narratives – like the story of Jonah or Paul?

      Of course, this might just be a Romans 14 situation.

      As far as the need for films to be rated R, of course I agree with you that films with PG ratings can be far better. I have two kids in their early teens, and we love watching films together, and we always watch PG films. Pixar has made some of the best films made in my lifetime, and they are all PG films. But what about those stories that deal with such difficult situations that the story demands an R rating? Can you make Schindler’s List as a PG film and retain the power of the story? Saving Private Ryan? Shawshank Redemption? Passion of the Christ?

      I’m beginning to think that some people who read my article think I’m advocating Christian films with senseless cartoon violence, or explicit sex, or something like that. No, that’s why I said our filmmaking shouldn’t cause us to sin, or encourage sin in others.

      But anyway, I appreciate that you took the time to comment.

      Blessings!
      Nate

      • Nate,

        I wasn’t making any accusations against you or your article in particular. I was making an observation about the current trend i see among Christians. We have set ourselves and our personal interests and opinions on a very (dangerously) high pedestal. “Artists” (I live in a family full of them) tend to up the importance of what can be accomplished by what they love.

        I believe the entire scripture is inspired. So changing the revealed would be unacceptable to me. If I ever went back to my film making interests, the first film would be the story of the prodigal. A great deal of interesting “story line details” could be added to the truth of the story told in scripture. My script would be sadly too autobiographical. That story would also answer the question about R ratings. I was discussing primarily gratuitous sensuality and violence. I caught your “cause us to sin” disclaimer. I just am not sure what some Christians consider sin. I am “old” so I draw a pretty tight line for myself in Romans 14, while still trying to challenge without condemning others.

        We just involved our church young people in a competition where they were challenged to present the truth of scripture in drama, music, story telling, preaching, technology, and more. I was thrilled and challenged by them, and many other young people there. I was also very concerned that I saw so much “self” importance on display. It was probably the nature of making it a “competition”, and not a ministry, that tipped things in that direction. My intention here and in my church is to try to make sure Christians focus on the fact that the gospel is what the lost world needs to change, and that scripture is the power, not how or what WE do to deliver it.

        You got people thinking. That is good. Making sure we think Biblically is best, and is the challenge to all of us who know God’s grace.

        Tim

  22. Great piece here. Glad that you voiced what’s wrong with these films. The point is to minister to sinners, not preach to the choir. We have to create films that appeal to non-Christians.

    I’m dying to see Noah, by the way. I can’t wait until this weekend.

  23. I found this very insightful, mostly because I am a musician who plays hardcore and metal predominantly. There are a lot of bands and artists who do the same thing I do, but yet.do not understand that a crowdwho is either drunk or high will not pay attention to a 5 minute long sermon in a bar about how they need Jesus. I feel it is almost counter productive and the most that will happen is they go out to smoke a cigarette and trash talk the bands because they are a “christian metal band” and preached to them. If there is a message in your songs of mans need for salvation, whygo the extra five minutes preaching it to them if all they are going to do is go and trash talk the message? Those people needto see ordinary people living out their salvation, and if they have been drawn by God, they will talk to you about it… Iunderstand there are bands like for today and sleeping giant who use their stage time as a means of using the holy spirit to reach people in the heat of the moment, but a genuine repentance does hardly ever start with emotions… something Ithink the church relies too heavily on. Genuine repentance starts in the mind, questioning your beliefs and how you live and then realizing in your heart that jesus is pulling you to himself. I think in using solely emotion, we are leading people astray. We need to be able to appeal to the mind first and then have that connection with the heart. This is why provocation of the mind is so neccesary rather than appealing to an emotion that is likely to change at any moment. A life change is forever, not just in the moment. We need to start asking questions and applying the holy sprit in more brilliant applications. Then we shall see how the Lord uses things such as this. I came to christ after watching hellraiser. It inspired me to question the very existence and reason for hell and all the things pertaining to it. We do not need christian values thrown in our faces. We need God tobe drawing people using any means neccesary. I aplogize for any spelling or grammatical errors here… Iam using a very small phone to say all this…

    • That’s intense, Luke! One thing I’ve learned that is also instrumental for salvation is helping a person to see why they need a Savior. You probably know this, but it’s been revolutionary for me to have it articulated in a simple way:

      Most people think they’re doing pretty well without a savior, but if you hold up the mirror of the law, taking the person through the Ten Commandments, you can very quickly reveal to them that they (and we) are in big trouble. Because God is perfectly holy and just, he has no choice but to condemn us because we are lawbreakers. Then you can explain that the whole reason that Jesus came and died on the cross in the first place was to pay our penalty, satisfying the wrath of God, and that all we need do is turn from our sin, turn to Jesus, and follow him. Not sure if you can fit all that onto a stage at a heavy metal concert, but maybe for the talks afterwards?

      Anyway, you are definitely in a mission field, brother! God’s blessings to you as you labor there for him!
      And you wrote all that on a cell? You are the man, Luke!

      Blessings,
      Nate

  24. Great article. As much as I love to see a Christ centered movie at the theater and have enjoined a lot of those movies they are way to clean cut. Christ didn’t come into a clean cut world and didn’t live a nice life that wrapped up neatly. The apostles were left hurting and in shambles for days. Christ rolled up his selves and got dirty saving us. And not every one will except him. Christian films need to show our mess and show that not everything ends well but that here on earth that is why we believe in heaven. Every movie doesn’t need to end perfect. That is one reason I liked Cold Mountain, he dies but she lived on. I have an idea I would love to see turned into film but have no idea how to go about it but it would be about redemption but it is a sad story that would involve loss and sadness and not really end happy. It would step on toes…

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment! Just to clarify my earlier point – I’m also a fan of clean cut movies. I have three kids, and I like being able to sit and watch a movie as a family that is not CGI, and not having to worry about language, violence, sex, or the like. So, please don’t take my original article as a call for no more clean cut movies! ;)

      I just wish that Christian artists had a little more freedom – or felt more freedom – to explore reality a bit deeper. I mentioned Flannery O’Connor in my article, and she took her fiction to some pretty dark places, but with purpose. And it’s powerful stuff.

      Blessings!
      Nate

  25. Nate, thank you for this post. I love Jesus, and I love the art of storytelling through movies. The first movie I ever remember watching was “The Sound of Music” at the age of 2 with my sister and my babysitter, and I think my appreciation of films just exploded from there.

    I am a pastor’s kid, so as a child and teen, my parents had a strict stance on what we were allowed to watch. I didn’t see my first rated R movie until I went to college (I’m pretty sure it was “Braveheart” or “Last of the Mohicans”). Quite frankly, I was stunned by the violence as well as the sexual content…but I was also impressed by the storytelling.

    Because I believe that we should guard our hearts and minds, I think we have to be careful about our media choices – both musical and visual as well. But there are parts of the Bible that are not kid-friendly, full of family values, or having a happy ending.

    A “Christian” movie shouldn’t glorify sin at all – and I know that’s not what you’re advocating at all – but it could show the difference between a life full of self or a life full of Christ.

    I’m about to show my corny side by admitting this, but one of my favorite Christian movies is “Extreme Days,” and I also enjoyed “To Save a Life.” The former is pretty silly, but hey, it’s a fun flick, and the latter seems full of almost every possible teenage life issue, but it has a good balance of showing what his life consisted of before he encountered Christ and what happened afterward. There are some good lines in that movie, but one of my favorite is when he’s listening to his youth pastor’s podcast and he says (something to the effect of), “We often ask God why he lets bad things happen, but I wonder if he ever asks us the same thing.”

    Whatever movie I watch or book I read, I am constantly looking for the Jesus figure, the redemption story, and the truth that always seems to be bursting out of it – even if it’s not a “Christian” book or movie. Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” is coming to mind at the moment as a great example of love like what we find in 1st Corinthians 13.

    As Christians, we should take a stand for our faith, but life isn’t always a fairy tale. People lie, steal, and murder, and while we don’t need to show every detail in film, we also shouldn’t gloss over it and make our art out to be a sugar-coated flannelgraph lesson.

    • Hi Julie,

      I enjoyed your comment, and don’t have much to add except, Amen! Actually, I will say this: what did C.S. Lewis have Aslan say in “The Last Battle”? “No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.” In other words, there is no truth that is not God’s truth – and so we can find God’s truth even in a Jason Mraz song.

      Blessings!
      Nate

  26. I’m leading an artist collective at my church, and everything you just wrote made me want to stand up and shout: YES! FINALLY! Someone who states what needs to be said!

    Have you read Philip Reyken’s Art for God’s Sake? His arguments were all I could think of as I read your article… The most beautiful thing God ever created was not the world, not mankind, but the broken, completely marred, and grotesque body of Christ on the cross… because it CHANGED EVERYTHING. And God-honoring art reflects not just redemption, but also our fallen-ness.

    I’m a performance artist, writer, and painter. I invite people to participate in food rituals with me, and the encounter encourages intimacy and vulnerability. Sometimes I pour wine over my head or soak my feet in honey or ask to hold your hand. People get weird-ed out by the things I do, but no matter how your art manifests, the best thing I’ve learned over the last few years is: 1) Be faithful with what you have, and 2) Ask God to show up. And He will. Some of the most anointed times I’ve had in performances were when God just showed up… and I didn’t even mention His name.

    Art SHOULD ask questions. I think “Christian art” is an anomaly. Yes, Christians make art. Non-Christians also make art. And God can use whoever (and whatever) He wants to show His glory and speak to the human heart.

    By the way, where/when can I buy your book? :)

    • Hi April,

      Thank you for the comment, and I’m glad that I found so many kindred spirits through the writing! I haven’t read Reyken’s book, but it sounds like something I would enjoy. I’ll put it on my list over on Goodreads. Your performance art sounds interesting. What is a food ritual? I’ve never heard of it before. How does that work? I’d love to hear more.

      And fundamentally, I agree with you on using the label “Christian” before just about any profession. I’ve had several people make that point to me, and I do agree. I’m just not overly fond of the “faith-based” label, either.

      I visited your blog, and it looks great!

      Blessings,
      Nate

      • Hi Nate,

        For me a food ritual is anything we do with food that can take on metaphorical significance in relationships, things as simple as sharing tea or taking communion together. Have a look at my website: aprilmariedean.com to get more visuals of the art I make. I’m interested in how everyday food objects can become spiritually and symbolically significant (like in the way my mom used everyday olive oil during prayer for everyday healing and blessing. Also, from when I was very small, we often took communion at home with Ritz crackers and welches grape juice.) I’m often drawn to images such as honey and pomegranates to describe sweetness and healing in life, as well as complete brokenness before the Lord (in the way Jonathan Edwards said that the only way to truly understand the sweetness of honey is to TASTE it.)

        Best,
        April

  27. For me, a great Christian film would be something along the lines of The Chronicles of Narnia. Being the fiction story it is, yet showing the story of Jesus and very obvious connections to the Bible (like Adam and Eve reference and the lion), the themes of salvation, redemption, and Christ-like love can shine through while removing any bias and disinterest from unbelievers to see the film. Another good Christian film I liked was the end of the spear actually although that is another story and it’s been awhile since I’ve seen that one.

    • Hi Lexi,

      You are speaking my language! The Narnia books and movies are on the top of my list of favorites. In fact, my son’s middle name is Aslan! (In my wife’s home country, it’s a typical name, which I was excited to learn ;) ) And if you like that sort of story, you might enjoy my take on the Noah story – Thimblerig’s Ark. I was heavily influenced by Lewis in my ideas. Not my writing style, but my ideas. You can find the link up beside the start of this article if you are interested.

      End of the Spear is sitting in my computer waiting to be watched, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it yet. The story of Jim Eliot had a profound impact on me when I was in university, and I’m a bit nervous to see it, although I have heard it’s quite good.

      Thank you for the comment!
      Blessings,
      Nate

  28. Have you seen Blue Like Jazz (the film)? Its based on the book of the same title by Donald Miller and he also co-wrote the screenplay. I thought it was wonderfully done, and a welcome departure from the sappy predictability of most christian films.

    • Hi Dylan,

      Thanks for the comment. Re: Blue Like Jazz, I loved the book, but wasn’t as excited by the movie. But you’re right – the movie definitely went more into the territory I’m talking about! Donald Miller also has a very interesting book about the idea of story: Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God’s Story. I’d highly recommend it.

      Cheers!
      Nate

  29. Question Nate, have you seen the independent film “Ink”? It’s not Christian perse, although the further in I got the more obvious the overt Christian themes seemed to be in the film. It is an incredible film, VERY dark, poetic, and beautiful. It might fulfill a little of that itch for you.

  30. So timely! My daughter and I finished writing a book about her journey through anorexia. It explores cutting, depression, first love, and the breakdown of a Christian family. The manuscript went through evaluation under a Christian pub house. They wanted to cut content that was “not wholesome” and “overly sexualized” – it described a first kiss. Curse words were to be removed (including the description of a tattoo). My husband and I were on a trip in Israel with church leaders/pastors when we received the news about the required changes. I read the questionable material and prayed about whether to take it all out! We all agreed that kids have real feelings and make real mistakes and are met by a real Savior who meets us all where we’re at and loves us into the Kingdom. We changed to another house that took the manuscript as is and are still on the path for a June release. It’s hard enough to delicately and prayerfully expose ones life with the hope of helping others. It’s quite another to then have Christians tell you to clean it up and make it sterile before the story is pure enough for the market. Our main thought was the kids out there who need Jesus. Our message is not for those who already have the Answer! Thank you for encouraging words that go against the grain of having to keep it safe and clean! Please keep it up!

  31. Good stuff, Nate. As a corollary thought: “Christian” films aren’t the only ones that fall prey to predictable, formulaic, sappy story lines. Hollywood filmmakers often cut different endings and go with the one that test audiences respond to most favorably. Writers also fall into the “happy ending” trap at times. Take the decidedly non-“Christian” film The Lovely Bones, a compelling, uniquely crafted (and yes, highly disturbing) movie based on Alice Sebold’s page-turning novel. In both the book and the film (SPOILER ALERT), the killer eventually is done in by a large icicle falling on him. He gets his comeuppance, and the reader/moviegoer breathes a deep sigh; at least some sense of justice has prevailed. While in the context of the story’s far-fetched plot this event could be interpreted as plausible, it still came across to me as awfully convenient: let’s make sure the bad guy gets his in the end. In real life, bad guys don’t always get theirs. Victims often suffer without justice. The winds don’t always change just in time for state-championship-winning field goals. My point: Let’s scrutinize “Christian” films and spur their creators toward a higher standard of storytelling. But let’s also keep in mind that all of Hollywood is prone to sugarcoat reality for the sake of winning box-office favor. (See also: more $$$$.)

    • Hi Phil,

      Thanks for the comment! And you are totally and completely correct. And I’m aware that it’s all about the box office, which is why we get so many part 2’s and part 3’s and part 4’s. Easy money. The good news for filmmakers is that the studios are no longer the sole gatekeepers for films, just as publishers and literary agents no longer stand alone on the gates of publishing. The great equalizer – the internet. On the one hand, it means a lot of subpar materials are being made, but it also means that anyone can give it a go – both filmmaking and publishing. Personally, I think independent and digital is a great way for Christian artists to go, even if it is much harder to get exposure. Lots less of the pressure from above to conform.

      Cheers!
      Nate

  32. As a film maker ho is a Christian, I see my calling as being to make films aimed at a non-Christian audience which open their minds to think about God. Inevitably, therefore, I get criticism from some Christians about the content of my films but that’s OK because I’m not making them for Christian audiences.

  33. I love this article! I am pursuing writing as well. I have a storyline that actually, breaks the mold, is not the traditional story and challenges the audience. I have been afraid of writing it for fear of what people in the church would think. I honestly think I have decided not to pursue getting published as a Christian novelist, and instead to try to reach a broader audience by pursuing publishing for normal fantasy, not “Christian” fantasy. My writing isn’t perfect, and I don’t feel like trying to fit the mold since my writing isn’t for entertaining Christians. Its for displaying Christ, in a unique and different way to those who don’t know him, by writing something that challenges their way of thinking. Tolkien once did the same with LoTR.

  34. Hi there,

    I’m blessed to have found an article on story telling. I used to be very legalistic and judgemental but after coming to know Christ personally, I learned not just to receive His love but give it to others who need it. Other than plays, books or movies that highly influence a lot of viewers, I was influence more by anime or some animated series that somehow delivered a lot of life lessons and some similar to the Bible like about sacrificial love, forgiveness, grace etc.

    I’m praying to pursue a story that I dream to be animated one day so that the fandom of that genre (which is a very big one for the youth and adults of today) would want to know the character of Jesus. The story will unfold from a secular point of view with hidden biblical elements that were inspired by it. Each episode will purposely unfold a message that would be inspirational to the audience. A lot of Christians would get it but non-believers and maybe even conservative Christians would question it but it would make the audience in general think a lot. I meant to make this story for the lost and those who would want to seek Jesus in the future. It will tackle real life issues such a broken familes, war and chaos, free will, child abuse and even rape. It’s not meant to be for children but for those who are mature enough to relate to it and see God’s role in the characters who struggle with the world and try to find the light in the dark :)

    I would appreciate it if you had some tips of advice for me on this one if you aren’t too busy since it’s a different approach from live action media.

    Thanks for your time and praise Jesus :D

    -Sammy

    • Hi Sammy, thanks for your comment, and sharing your vision. It sounds like it could be a pretty stunning peace of work! I think anime is an unknown quantity to a lot of Christians, who may not realize the power and influence this genre has on young people. I’ve seen a Manga version of the Bible before, but I’m not aware of anything done with anime. It doesn’t mean it’s not out there, I’m just not familiar with it.

      I suppose the advice I would have would be to make sure that you are not going it alone. Are you in regular fellowship with other believers – where you have good time in the Word as well as accountability? Church, or Bible study, or something like this? Creative endeavors can often be very isolating, especially writing, so make sure you’re always rubbing shoulders with brothers and sisters who can help keep your eyes on Him.

      Not sure if that’s the kind of advice that you were looking for, but hope it’s helpful! Blessings to you as you try to seek Him for your art!

      Cheers,
      Nate

  35. It is important to remember that Jesus came to save the lost….
    If we are to appeal to people who don’t know Christ, it is important to meet them where they are, not where we think they should be. Our films and stories should be about life, with all it’s pitfalls and sin, yes sin. We are all sinners, everyone. So if we all sin, why is it difficult to portray people sinning. It is what happens after that makes Christians different. We are trying to help people realize that Jesus is the Way, the answer to life’s problems.

    Love one another. my hope is that we can portray this message without it being so Christian cliché. The movie “The Vow” has a great message of love without any Christian overtones. If it could have had a little Christian influence it might have been what I would say a “Christian” movie should be like. It is about love.
    Many movies could have some Christian influence without being exclusively Christian films. We should not be trying to bring Christians into the box office. We need to figure out how to bring Christianity into films that could benefit from it. Imagine what that would look like.

    -Albert

  36. Not that I disagree with this article, but I also like taking my family to a good movie that I don’t have to worry about the content. So I lived Gods Not Dead and my 8 year old daughter lived it and is talking to everyone she’s knows about it. I like that much better than a friend of hers coming over and trying to do evil things like playing and filming saying Bloody Mary at the mirror. We as believers should be putting out money to good wholesome movies instead of some the other crap out there.

  37. I thought this article made some great points! I worked in “Christian theater” for a few years and was always frustrated by the lack of artistry and expression. Creativity was basically stifled so audiences could be spoon fed pretty and clean versions of Bible stories. Christianity is wondrous and life-changing, but never would I peg it as pretty or clean.

  38. Pingback: The lies of the new NOAH movie | Michael BuckinghamIs the NOAH movie filled w lies?

  39. Nate: This thread also reminds me of when I read the book A Hope in the Unseen back in 1998. I was then part of a “church” that I later realized was a cult. One Sunday, between services (I was acting in a drama for both services), I was in the “green room” reading the book when a leader questioned me about it. “Is that a Christian book?” he asked. I said, “Um, well, sort of. It’s about…” My answer was enough for him to pounce. “Should you be reading that here on Sunday?” I was too befuddled to respond—and he didn’t want to hear my answer anyway, and he walked away. My answer would have been: It’s a book about a young man in the inner city struggling with life, trying to find his way, wrestling with his odd place in the culture, and about his mom’s faith and hope amidst extreme poverty. So YES, it is “Christian” in that sense, even if Nelson or Zondervan didn’t publish it. It’s ART and should be appreciated as such. Thank God I’m no longer part of that judgmental “church”, but the tribal, ghetto attitude still exists in too many quarters. — http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/271344166344?lpid=82

  40. I’m going to disagree with you here; the reason being – who the advertized market is… all the crappy stuff is meant to appeal to a specific crowd who want family friendly & feel good over quality. I think if you dig a little deeper you could list more quality writers & even directors whose narratives are truly incredible. Consider Terrance Mallick (especially Tree of Life), Chesterton, Updike, Charles Williams, Walker Percy, etc, etc, etc.

    Although I agree on your point that the American church, by-in-large, prefers safety to quality I think there have been innumorous Christians who’ve pushed this envelope. For me the problem is not ‘Christian Art’ per se, but rather what has been aimlessly tossed and heaped in that genre w/o considering some of the great modern works we ought to wrestle with.

  41. Nate,
    Have you ever seen “To End All Wars”? It is a great example of a Christian movie that pushed on the boundaries. Anyway it was fun to read the article and then the about to see how your family is. BTW this article was recommended to me by a Tien Shan grad majoring in film. Dake Erwin

  42. I am a Christian filmmaker and with our Christian movie making ministry, Extreme Christian Entertainment we produce christian films that cover extreme, controversial issues plus misunderstood parts of the Bible with a non-judging, friendly approach to non-Christians. We share the gospel of Christ through stories and characters real people can relate too. We take the risks, we so as this article is saying we should. GODS NOT DEAD also took this approach and am very impressed with the movie. We hope our films can have an impact like this one.

  43. The world needs “Christian Films” and “Christian Music” as much as it needs Christian Refrigerators,Teacups or Flowers.

    In other words – It doesn’t.

    This is the biggest problem facing many followers of Christ today.

    The need to have a “christian” label on art to make it “safe” – “correct” – “approved”. It reveals a paradigm that the much of the modern day Church is a subculture that must measurably protect itself from the big, bad, evil, dangerous, misguided, wrong, sinful world.

    This paradigm is, as Christ called it, ‘the leaven of the Pharisees’ that he warned so severely against because it produces a false outlook and practice in about everything it does. In art it demands and creates propaganda. Which is the problem with “Christian art” of any stripe.

    The Church is and always will be a vulnerable, super/infused culture, that doesn’t not build walls and qualifiers to define herself but rather walks/travels/moves and operates in love, grace and truth throughout time, throughout the world. It is to be a real/authentic manifestation of the love, grace, truth, creativity, redemption, justice, and kindness of God.

    Therefor the real underlying questions that any artist, that is a follower of Jesus Christ, should authentically ask in their creative pursuits and journey are: What is real beauty? What is grace? What is love? What is true? What is redemption? What is justice? What is kindness? these are at the heart of what makes us, humans, tick.

    Jesus Christ and the world does not need any more commercials or bumper stickers made by well meaning and talented artist trying to be “christian”. It is a waste of time and energy.

    Rather dear artists, that love Jesus Christ, tear your minds, hearts and lives open to find what is; beautiful and ugly, graceful and bitter, hateful and loving, false and true, ignorant and redemptive, tyrannical and just, harsh and kind. While you do this weep and laugh with the creative and loving God in Christ.

    Then ask the BIG question of WHAT IF these realities in me and others showed up in a marriage, a cafe, outer space, a factory worker, a super hero …..?

    This is at the heart of all great art and what makes it so wonderful and challenging. BUT it isn’t easy and it definitely isn’t what many in the modern church consider “christian”.

  44. Hahahahahahahaha risktaking hahahahahaha in mainstream hahahahaha modern day hahahahahaha Christianity hahaha. Oh man, thats a good one. Actually you could replace the laughs with tears, it is so sad.
    Well said. I would add that sometimes the accepted story is not really the correct story. I have not seen anything in the trailers of Noah that leads me to believe it is not a depiction of the actual story. Maybe there is. It is just real looking, not flannel graphs in sunday school with no emotional angst, no animal poop, no struggling with a God telling you to do crazy things. I, for one can’t wait to see it with the same intensity I won’t go see the other two.
    Live on the edge my friend, if you are not making religion mad at you, you probably are not following God.
    For the Kingdom
    Alex

  45. Hello! You UNDERSTAND ME! haha Well, I’m here to ask you to translate your text to portuguese and post it in my blog called “CriStividade” (the name plays with the words Christianity and Creativity, mixing them just changing one letter, that in portuguese is easy to make the ‘joke’…)… Can I? I’ll give the credits!

  46. Good read. One of my fav movies from the past is Chariots of Fire which was a great bio of a Christian runner. I have seen some great movies by Christian men like Tree of Life and To the Wonder by Terrence Mallick, Of Gods and Men is awesome, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose by Scott Derrickson. There are some great movies out there but you gotta search. I would love to see some great bios movies over Tolkien and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

  47. thank you thank you! My writing partner and I have been working on a story for 2 years and we have been struggling with the ending in an attempt to make it “redemptive”. The problem is that it is not…and that is real life! Your article was a burst of inspiration for me! I have already called my partner and said we have to rewrite the end. thank you thank you!

  48. I agree with the author when he says that film makers need to be more creative and think outside the box when it comes to producing Christian films. *However* towards the end, he insinuates that we should be making films similar to Noah, where we will have thousands upon thousands of non Christians attending the theatre to watch our Christian movies. What I think the author here majorly fails to understand is that “The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe.” The Bible is *clear* that a true and undefiled gospel is *not* going to be popular. *This* is a major problem for some Christian film makers out there- they see the secular world producing films based of of Bible stories and they get upset that they don’t have a reputation of producing films nearly as popular. But that’s the problem- WE ARE NOT CALLED TO BE POPULAR FILM PRODUCERS AMONG NON CHRISTIANS. Hundreds of texts in the Scriptures make that clear. If film producers are wanting to be majorly popular with millions of people hearing about their new movie, they should simply go join Hollywood where that will be more likely. We can certainly preach the gospel through our movies and hope that non Christians will go and see it. However we have to remember that it will be *non Christians who are open* that will enjoy the film and possibly receive the gospel because of it. The reality is that we are NOT called to tailor our movies to reach every single person- not everyone wants God. If we tailored our movies to every single person, then we would *have* to compromise like the movie Noah is compromising. We are called to hold to the Bible standard and reach people who will in some way be attracted to GOD, which means the truths of Scripture. If we can’t face the reality that this *will not* be the masses, then we need to make the decision if we want to be in the Christian film making business or Hollywood. I feel this author definitely holds art above the Bible by commending Noah when he *knows* it could possibly have more of an entertainment bent than a gospel convicting bent and he *knows* that they didn’t hold the script true to God’s Word. Anyone who thinks that they can mess with the Scriptures freely so they can better entertain people is not Scripturally balanced. The author says “art is art and the pulpit is the pulpit and they are completely different animals.” He needs to be very careful, as it is God who gave us the ability to create art, and who says we can’t use art in the pulpit or even use God to show off art? God says we should glorify Him in *everything* we do, so to say that art and the pulpit are completely separate, I think is very ignorant to say. God used art all over Scripture to help preach the gospel. I think this author needs to go back to the Bible to get back in touch with true Christian reality when it comes to art. It seems to me that he is craving to be more popular, rather than lifting up the Scriptures. If Noah truly did not stick to the script of the Bible in it’s main story telling- I think that any film maker who lifts up this movie “because it was so popular” doesn’t completely grasp what it means to be in the Christian movie making business.

    • In line with Rachel Hyman’s comment:

      II Timothy, Romans and others make it pretty clear that earthly ‘creativity’ is simply making up new ways to rebel against God. The world will go from bad to worse, and sinners will devise new ways to rebel against God.

      If you want to be unique, speak the truth.
      If you want to be radical, speak it loudly.
      If you want to be revolutionary, scream the truth at the top of your lungs.

      We should be improving and be creative to glorify the majesty Lord God Almighty. The artist cannot say to the scholar, ‘I don’t need you'; just as the theologian cannot say to the care worker, ‘I don’t need you.’

      God has put the Body together as He sees fit–stop trying to amputate the Church.

    • I SO agree with you, Rachel. If God is not our God of everything, is He really our God at all? What’s more important…being liked, popular, well known for our work? Or giving it ALL to God? I’ve read an article about “Noah” based on a rough cut(I believe that’s what it was called) of the movie, and it’s pretty scary what they’ve done to the true, biblical story. This “tweaking” of the Bible is dangerous, can lead people astray, and can fool others into following a false god…not the true God of the Bible.

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  50. Thoughtful article, though just from what I’ve heard about the Noah film, all Biblical beliefs aside, it sounds goofy.

    One thing about when you talked about Christian film being “predictable.” My impression is a lot of great secular films are predictable to an extent because they follow a story formula which works well. Star Wars is a spaghetti western, most successful anime follow the story formulas established by Osamu Tezuka, etc.

    I’d be interested to see a conversation about how a Christian artist and story teller can learn from and adapt from non-christian stories and formulas. The thing is, if you go against the mold for the sake of going against the mold, you may spark discussion and controversy, but that’s not the key to a good film. Peter Jackson made some sensible changes to the Lord of the Rings to make the story work better in film. He also added a giant rabbit chase to the first Hobbit movie. Being risky can result in bad film and stories too.

  51. Here is what I think. I want Christian films to be different. I don’t want to see what I see in Hollywood’s fare. I want to see a happy ending.

    I am sick to death of the Hollywood heroes of the stories being hit-men and bank-robbers and thieves. I want my heroes to be actual good guys. I go to movies to be entertained not challenged. I could do with an increase in the skill level of every step of the production though =).

  52. Hmmm, while I did enjoy this article, I am wondering how your view on “Noah” is to be ok with it, or rather, think it’s biblical (maybe I missed when you said it wasn’t or was, forgive me if I’m wrong)

    I too, am interested in seeing it but I do see it as kind of unbiblical.

    Awesome article by the way! :)

  53. Thank you for a very insightful article. I am a Christian novelist, and some of the exact things you talked about were some of the pitfalls I wanted to avoid. My Chadash Chronicles books (Fool’s Errand (book 1) and Mystic’s Mayhem (book 2)) were written to be in the genre of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, but to take a less subtle approach to truth and God. The goal was first and foremost, however, to be an engaging story that does not just appeal to a Christian audience, and is not merely a sermon dressed up in fantasy clothing, but a story with deep, real, flawed characters that portray a reality in how they think and interact.

    Recent reviews from unbelieving readers have left me feeling I achieved that mark. Will these ever get noticed to the point of hitting the big screen, that is in God’s hands. But when Christian writers “settle” for just telling a nice, safe story, and are unwilling to put the time and effort into crafting a tale that CAN reach across worldview barriers, then we lose all around.

    Honestly, if I read one more sappy, predictable, sermon wrapped in the trappings of a story, I might be ill. But sadly that is the state of most Christian fiction today. What are the top selling stories? Amish Romance and Clean Romance stories. Safe books with pristine characters that appeal to the church-lady reading clubs.

    I write Speculative Fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, etc) and run a Christian Speculative Fiction authors group on Facebook called Iron Sharpening Iron. Our goal in that group is to find Christian spec-fic authors who are willing to critique each other, push each other to write better, to shed the stereotypes and take a foot off of “safe ground” and find ways to share truth through quality, engaging fiction. If we don’t find a way to get more quality writers who are Christian to write in ways that are capable of crossing belief and worldview boundaries, we are giving up the ground that Lewis and O’Connor and L’Engle and others fought to take to begin with, and which authors like Dekker, Lee, Lawhead and others are fighting so desperately to hold against the onslaught seeking to seize the ground from us.

  54. While I see your perspective on your points and very well thought-out opinions, I have to disagree on your “Noah” opinion. The only problem with allowing the artist to be “dangerous” in his portrayal of a “biblical story” is exactly that – it’s DANGEROUS.

    You’re speaking more from an artistic point of view. I, too, am an artist. But I’m a Bible-speaking, God-fearing, Gospel-loving, Christian first. You need to be careful with artistics views when it comes to an “Already Done” story.

    Many of the scriptures are “Already Done” and don’t need our artistic input. The PASSION OF THE CHRIST did this so beautifully due to the writers and directors counsel for its screenplay. This is why Christians flocked, and continue to flock, to the movie theaters for this film because of its protrayal of scripture and artistic freedom that captured the essence of the story, not an artist’s thought-provoking opinion.

    My thoughts here are that we need to be careful of a “screen written” movie that is being derived from an already written book – The Bible. If you want to make a movie from your own thoughts that you came up with, GOOD…go go for it. But don’t try to plagiarize a biblical story (NOAH), do your own “artistic” spin to it (especially coming from an Atheist director), put some Rock Men in the story and pull in the Christian family for a story they’ve been told for thousands of years and change it for your own gain.

    As far as GOD’S NOT DEAD, FACING THE GIANTS, COURAGEOUS, SOUL SURFER, and the many other Christian-based films, they’ve done a pretty good job sharing their faith through screen. Could it have been better? Sure….I agree. But taking an actual story (SON OF GOD, NOAH) and manipulating its story line is a “dangerous” thing.

    The Word itself is challenging. The Word itself is true. Taking a truth and trying to change something for “artistic” sake is very dangerous. Maybe I’ll write an article on SCRIPTURE SCREEN WRITING. Just a thought.

    While I agree with all 5 of your points, my perspective to the points is to DO THAT TO YOUR OWN STORY, not the Greatest Story ever told. Just my thoughts. Thank You and God Bless.

  55. Ironically, in the past, some of the best Christian movies were made by Jews. “Song of Bernadette,” so well done, earned Jennifer Jones an Oscar and also won other Oscars. The novel was also written by Hanz Werfel–a jew, who took refuge in the town of Lourdes to escape persecution. Also, other great Christian movies–Our Lady of Fatima, Going My Way. How about The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur? A movie that gives great food for thought was “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” a chilling movie about faith. I just think the writers are not challenging the audiences any more. Something to think about.

  56. Good topic, Nathan. Several genuinely interesting replies… and a few head-scratchers. ;)

    2 cents from a Christian who makes secular and Christian films…

    It’s a lose-lose situation for so many Christian filmmakers. They want to please the church, so they keep their stories “safe”. The choir likes the movies because they are “safe”, but those on the outside looking in see a Santa Claus God that they know doesn’t exist. Yet, if we, as Christian filmmakers try to portray REAL LIFE where the good people sometimes lose, the choir gets upset and calls us out as heretics.

    The best is when the self-appointed pious (you know, modern day pharisees) take Bible verses out of context to prove how “lost” the risk-taking Christian filmmaker is. Until we stop bickering and judging each other inside the church, how in God’s Name are we ever going to succeed in what we are called to do (which, by the way, is love God and each other)?

    • Hi Justen,

      You get it! I think my article might have ended up doing the very thing I lamented – preaching to the choir. It seems like most people who comment here are like you – artists who are tired of being held back because lots of other people control the purse strings, and aren’t willing to be stretched. The crazy thing is that I’m not advocating heresy, or sin, or falling away or the like. I’m saying let’s let our artists do the thing they were made to do! We might have the next genius filmmaker in our pews, but is he being encouraged to be the best he can be, or is he – as you say – being condemned for his desire to glorify God in an unusual way?

      Good word, brother!
      Nate

  57. Hmm…that gave me a good bit to chew on and consider for my own first novel, a fractured fairytale. Though to be honest, I really started writing the novel for girls like me: young adult women looking for a good romance written with a more challenging style and 100% God-centric. I don’t think I’d alter this one to have an unhappy ending, but I also have no intention of leaving everything perfect because even fiction is loved because of its connection to reality.

  58. Sam Goldwyn, not Frank Capra, said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.” Capra was quite content to send messages, although he realized that entertaining his audience came first.

    A good example of a fairly mainstream movie with Christian themes is Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle” (1997). It dealt with a greatly flawed believer, who was, nevertheless, greatly used by God. It was nice to watch, in a crowded theatre in Washington, D.C., a movie that took Christianity seriously. The audience seemed to be engrossed. The film wasn’t “nice” – it had some rough edges and some violence. But God was not mocked.

    • “The Apostle” is along the lines of what I was talking about, Jeff. And notice again, it was made by someone who isn’t famous for being a believer. Another example from that era is “Dead Man Walking”, and then there is Speilberg’s “Amistad”, which literally made me cry when one character shares the Gospel with another, using the pictures from a Bible. God won’t be held back by our limitations, I think, and he shows himself where he shows himself. This is why I’m hopeful for Noah.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Cheers,
      Nate

  59. Nice job with this. I linked to your post from the comments of a similar post I wrote last year. Glad this is stirring in the hearts of Christian creatives all over.

    And looking forward to reading your book. From what your sidebar says, it’s a free download on my birthday! Score!

  60. Amazing. Love this post. I recall an older man who preached to my young adult’s group in Houston, TX last summer. He basically told us that the church’s struggles resulted from an inability to separate from sinful “Hollywood” culture.

    I believe that this prominent viewpoint in the evangelical church–that sinful culture ought to be avoided–largely prevents us from engaging the greater public.

  61. Thanks for the interesting article. Here’s what I see happening with most Christian films – they stink and they only reach out to believers. They tell the same story the same way and take no creative liberties. When they do, they get pounded by their own audiences. Take “Son of God” which you said played it safe. I had a minister friend denounce it as heretical and blasphemous, and didn’t even see it. You can’t win!

    I like to write books. I don’t write “Christian” books, but I’m a Christian writer, so I tend to pull my punches and never get into what you talked about, a Rated R kind of story. It really would reflect on me as the writer I think. I still struggle with the fact that I don’t even try to bring a message with my books, but I don’t want to preach to the choir and tell a purely Christian story. That choir tends to eat its own. Sad state of affairs.

    And then you have “Noah” where the director brags in an expletive-laden rant that he doesn’t care what Christians think. He’s not taking risks to tell a story. He’s just grabbing a grandiose fable and making a fantasy movie. He shouldn’t be applauded for this – he’s just a non-believer ripping off a Bible story.

    Thought-provoking article. Glad you didn’t end it with a period, so to speak!

    • Thanks Brandon! I think it’s important to say – and you know this, I’m sure – that I’m not advocating “R” rated material for sake of “R” rated material. I’m saying that we need to be true to the story, as well as true to the Scriptures, and sometimes the ugliness of life needs to be shown so that the beauty will be clearly seen.

      Best wishes on your writing! As Rich Mullins used to say, “Be God’s!”

      Nate

  62. Thanks for this article. Christian movies has to be good movies. And for that to happen, the creators have to get out of the “rated for everyone” box. It is the only way to bring non- Christians or even non – christian filmmakers to Christ. God Bless!

  63. Thank you so much for posting that! I agree wholeheartedly. I work at Lifeway and whenever I mention to anyone that I am a musician and a songwriter, they automatically assume that I am writing Christian and worship songs (which I’m not, primarily). Honestly, I probably only listen to two Christian musicians because I don’t find very much creativity and risk-taking in any of the others! I hate it when it feels like a musician is popular because of what they SAY at their concerts rather than how well they play. I’m a huge skeptic of Christian movies and music (yeah, how do I work at a Christian bookstore again?) and I hate that it’s that way, but there it is. I believe that as a musician, God has called me to grow my skill, and as a Christian, God has called me to take His Gospel to the world. (As a side note, I believe that it’s more effective to share the Gospel with someone we actually have a relationship with rather than put it as a subpoint in a movie or something.) I haven’t yet seen Son of God or The Bible, but when The Bible was playing on TV I mostly had Christians coming to my store complaining about how bad The Bible was because it left stuff out (what do you expect, a 14 year-long TV show???). However, I did have a few customers come in and tell me that they know people who swore they would never go to church again and The Bible made them interested enough to look for answers in God and His church again. Some people I know are freaking out about Noah in the same way (especially about the fact that it’s made by non-believers) but I’m pretty sure it will make even more unbelievers interested because more will most likely watch it since it’s not made by Christians. I’m with you, I’m excited to see it because risks will be made.

    The long and short of it is I want to see ART come from Christians because we should have the best of it! We have the Creator of the world IN us, so why are we not reflecting that?

    Thank you so much for this post, I’m excited to share it!

    • Thanks, Aubry, and good story! I’ll bet working at Lifeway has given you a unique perspective on the Christian publishing and entertainment industries!

      After reading your comment, I do want to say that some Christian music artists have had a huge impact on my life and my theology. Some of the older stuff, like Rich Mullins, Keith Green, Michael Card, Steven Curtis Chapman, to name a few, are some of my favorites, because of their theology and their biblical focus. I’m sure there are more. I guess I’m saying this because we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – there’s some good stuff out there in the creative Christian world!

      Blessings to you as you wrestle with these issues yourself, as a musician who loves Jesus.

      Cheers!
      Nate

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  65. Thank you for the article and great thoughts. I couldn’t agree with you more. I recently saw the first “christian” movie that I actually enjoyed and left being challenged. It’s called Raggamuffin, and it’s the life story of Rich Mullins. For once they gave a real depiction of a christians struggle. Thanks again for your great article

      • I haven’t been able to see “Raggamuffin” in a screening yet either, but I hope to be able to see it after it is released through Wal-Mart on May 6. I do hope it will be picked and presented for viewing in theaters, and I am praying to that end. I would be interested in your comments on it once you have seen it. I enjoy the Kendricks Brothers movies because they remind me of things about God and the Christian faith that I sometimes forget as a part of my own Christian journey, but I acknowledge that they are not going to be particularly attractive to, or embraced by, non-believers. I think your comments and suggestions are valid and offer an important challenge to the Christian film-making and other creative arts industries. We must recognize that true faith in Christ lived out is not neat and clean and tied up in a nice package with a pretty bow. If it is lived out authentically…as a relationship with Jesus Christ that transforms us and not as a religion…it is messy, unsightly, brutally painful, dangerous, and unpredictable. How one portrays that reality through the arts with integrity and truth will always be a journey, a process. Faith cannot be put in a box, on a screen, played over the airwaves, but the witness to that faith can be shared. The more authentic, realistic, honest and uncompromising of the truth it is, the greater its impact. I look forward to hearing more from you and others.

  66. I’m a mom, wife and kindergarten teacher who is a Christian. I don’t know much about “good art” and I definitely don’t understand what movie critics are talking about. But I know God and I know His truth and His voice when I hear it. And I’ve often seen it in “secular movies”. Examples:
    Signs – shows that if we are faithful to believe in God, even when He may seem absent, He will be faithful to work all things together for our good.
    I Am legend – (too scary for kids) shows and even states in the script (Anna) that we have to listen carefully for God’s voice and be looking expectantly for His hand to move in our lives.
    Book of Eli (very gory, NOT family friendly) – shows how God uses the weak (the “least of these”) to achieve His purposes
    I loved these movies because of the message I received in very captivating movies. But I received those messages because I know the shepherd’s voice. I would LOVE to see movies this captivating whose messages are just a little more obvious, not in your face, but just not as easily missed by unbelievers. Some books I think would work well for this are the Ted Decker books. I would love to see The Shack on the big screen. Talk about captivating, real characters, real life.
    I would love to see film makers make movies that show God’s character through the lives of the movie characters.
    Now, this is going to seem a little schizophrenic, but as much as I want to see this kind of well written, well acted, captivating, moving, Spirit filled movie, I also think it is the writer’s and film maker’s responsibility to avoid anything that would dishonor God or lead any viewer into temptation, just as it is any Christian’s responsibility to live a life that, in as much as possible, honors God and does not cause others to stumble. (I know, leave it to a woman to want it ALL!) But really, is there a way for us (believers and followers of Christ) to have our cake and eat it too? I have no idea. I guess it remains to be seen.
    Thank you for your article. I look forward to reading your book.
    Traci

  67. I think when it comes to reaching non-believers with Christian movies the truth is powerful enough. Telling stories of missionaries in history who have died for their faith. Showing what tradition says about church history from a factual stand-point and story telling to weave it together (Braveheart for example) will bring in far more spectators and show truth in His purest form.

    Another approach which I believe would be effective is looking at struggles everyone faces and sharing the testimonials in them. Talk to Christians around you who have struggled with things like drugs, alcohol, bullying, murder, sick dying etc. Get testimonies, look for patterns and reveal God’s glory in it. And make sure to say this is a true story, that will rock some people. And those people will also relate with it.

    In response, to your article I don’t like movies that don’t have a happy ending, I’m personally not going to see a movie so I can feel sad. I watch it for pure enjoyment and I think many viewers feel the same way.

    There is definitely an audience that likes more rugged, edgy, realistic films… but like your kids I like Pixar films. And I stay away from Sundance films.

    As a marketer by profession, I think the biggest issue comes when the film-makers/writesr try to speak to too many audiences. If it’s for unbelievers the truth will be different than the Bible because if they wanted to read the Bible they know where to find it. And if it’s to Christian audiences it will be the Bible itself with maybe some great acting and story line. One Night with the King is a great example of this, but I don’t think it did very well.

    Regardless I think Christians should support any and all films made by Christians and for Christians. If we want more of them, we need to vote with our dollars.

    • Good word, Christopher, especially about telling true stories of the lives of Christians. I’ve had some folks mention the new Ragamuffin movie here – the biopic about Rich Mullins – and I’ve heard some positive things about it. I’m hopeful that filmmakers working independently like David Leo Schultz can help bring about the kind of renaissance in Christian filmmaking that I long to see.

      Thank you for commenting!
      Blessings,
      Nate

  68. I appreciate your perspective and also want art of all forms including filmmaking by Christians to be of the highest quality . I did see God’s Not Dead and was pleasantly surprised. It is the best film I have seen in a long time. It will make some uncomfortable because not everything gets tied up with a nice bow. It is not often that a film invokes laughter, tears and spontaneous applause in the theater. The other thing I have seen as a result of the film is people are talking. A dialogue is happening that hopefully will cause Christians to more fully understand why they believe what they believe and have an answer for the hope that lies within them. While it may be preaching to the choir, it is still a wonderful film with Actors (David AR White) investing their own money to touch people in a way only film can. Bravo for the effort! I would encourage you to see the movie. It is not perfect but well worth the time.

  69. One movie that has held me in awe lately is Unconditional. I normally avoid the “Christian” genre because…well…like you said. Predictability, bad storyline, bad acting, etc…I didn’t realize Unconditional was a “Christian” movie until I was already in it but it didn’t have the typical “preachiness” and was *such* a good and powerful movie that made me bawl at the emotions in it. If we want non-Christians to watch a movie, definite has to be quality which many aren’t.

  70. Great read!

    I am a Christian and a filmmaker. My most recent film is still in post and is based on the concept of Grace and Faith, but it is completely rated R. It does have some rather horrific acts of violence in it – torture, murder, language – we joke that at least there’s no nudity. The initial reaction from the cast was that they thought they were in a faith based movie and frankly, I think a few of them expressed some concern – then they saw how we were approaching the material – unrestricted.

    I set out to write a film that would scare me. Demon’s, aliens, and other beasties just don’t do it. I’ve worked on enough of those shows that my suspension of disbelief is impenetrable; so our villain is a religious zealot. A man who has twisted God’s words into justification for murder. I based him on several persons from the Army of God. The film does take a typical stance on pro-life/choice but instead leaves that argument up to the viewers; instead we argue that true Faith in God will carry you through. As I mentioned, most of our characters reject that faith and fall prey to the twisted words of a very violent man.

    I’m a believer that God will move your art the way it is meant to be moved. As a kid, we used to talk about the force (Star Wars) as a parallel to the Holy Spirit. It’s all about perception to me.

  71. Reading Carrie’s your words… It as if she reached into my mind and pulled my feelings onto paper. I am starting film school in two months and I am still wrestling with myself about how much “worldly” things I can put in my stories. Can I let my characters curse when it would happen in real life at that moment? I have already decided that my stories will include drugs, sexual sin, controversy, suicide, murder… but I still can’t settle in my heart how far is too far. I’ve been listening to the audio Bible lately and there are no punches pulled in talking about violence, gruesome deaths, rapes, affairs, and even some bitter language. It’s probably best I follow the Bible’s lead on that one. I fear this article, although well-meaning, will inspire many to compromise their values in the effort to avoid being legalistic. I think it’s important to note that just because Hollywood does it one way, we don’t have to do it the same. We are still supposed to be pursuing sanctification while understanding we are not under the law. As Paul said, just because grace abounds that doesn’t mean we get to sin that much more. This is a dangerous line and many will cross it. Some will not; I plan on being part of the “some”. I will not lose Jesus in a movie because I want Hollywood to accept it. But I will not hold back the rawness of life because the church at large wants me to play it safe either. We are stuck btwn a rock and a hard place — neither world will accept us fully! Ever! Not if we are taking risks and showing life as it really is, while still pointng to Jesus Christ. We must simply write. Write good stories that God placed on our hearts and pray the film reaches and touches who will glean the most from it. And to the author of this article, the acting/writing in the Facing the Giants/Flywheel movies weren’t great, but the message was excellent. Not everyone wants to see the hero lose. In fact, I’ve hated every movie I’ve ever seen like that. People like happy endings. Their life sucks as it is and they want to live vicariously thru the characters on the screen. And they want hope. Hope they don’t have from a character that’s just like them. I pray I can write films that give them that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving us all something to consider.

  72. Reblogged this on The Mystical Axis and commented:
    “We need to recognize that art is art, the pulpit is the pulpit, and while the two might cross paths from time to time, they are completely different animals. This goes for everyone. Does everyone truly understand this? With all the recent criticisms of Noah because it “is unbiblical”, I have to think that lots of people don’t.”

  73. Nate:
    Your article was interesting and compelling. I’m a writer, but my background is in news, so I have no background in your field.
    But I have a story idea for you– the conversion of an Hassidic Jew in New York City.
    Having spent a summer in Riverdale, where there is a mega-population of Orthidox Jews, rabbinical and Hebrew schools , I found it interesting and perplexing that the Orthodox did not interact with Gentiles.
    I’m a Chrustian from the rural state of West Virginia, so was not used to the segregation of social relating.
    I believe a story about how two young people from such extreme differences in faith cultures could come together as part of The Greatest Story Ever Told would be intriguing.
    It would also be worth exploring the fact that the Jewish religion is meaningful to us as Christ followers but our faith is not given a nod by the Jewish Orthodoxy .
    Just an idea for you… God bless you.
    Ronda Gregory
    Morgantown, WV

  74. I really enjoyed your article and I think there is room (more than enough really) for the kind of movie you write about. Considering that many Christian writers have really stepped out in dramatic ways with their writing, there is not much reason why a film cannot be made as well. The redemption message and need for a savior is found in quite a few books that definitely have some edge to them.
    Still Christian films need to work better in their non edgy roles too. There are so many family friendly Christian films that involve dialogue that honestly I never hear come out of even Christian’s mouths. People don’t act like people. They act like characters. They are nothing more than generalizations of what the “bad girl,” “the boy next door”, or even the “tired single mom” or the “finger pointing Christian” would be like. I don’t blame the actors. Christian film would come a long way if people really acted like and spoke like real people.
    And to answer one question, one Christian film that really made me think was “The Cross & the Switchblade.” I was really young when it came out, and it may stand better in my mind than if I saw it now. It was pretty powerful for me.
    Lastly, I think that maybe there needs to be a bit of a Christian market switch. A powerful movie that can really show redemption to someone who is more innocent on a relationship with Christ would maybe be better off being marketed to a more secular group. The preaching to the choir thing is true. The choir really also doesn’t need the same message, but that doesn’t mean the message shouldn’t be shared. Does that make any sense? I haven’t had my coffee and I really need to get ready for work.
    Thanks for sharing your message. I enjoyed it a great deal. Lots of food for thought.

  75. Good article, but one problem! How does a Christian film deal with, well detail? Lets take Noahs flood. First of all in the science of Geology, there is no evidence of a global flood shown in the rocks of the Earth. Some say it was a local event. How do Christian films deal with this? You are on one side of the fence or the other, with no riding the wire! Now I dont claim to be a Christian, but do want to see Noah and God Is Not Dead, due to Kevin Sorbos alinement with it! As to Christ, there are countless interpretations of just what he was, which has been demonstrated in various movies from time to time. As you say unless the Christian theory vrs. the nonchristian theory can show challenge, then the film will continually be one sided! I understand the new show Cosmos, has been attacked by the Christian element. This due to the one sided take on evolutionary theory. If strictly a Christian view is put forward, what happens too with all the other religious views out there. Should they all get equal time? The old saying is: You can’t please everybody all of the time applies!

  76. Very interesting and thought provoking article. Thanks for that. Although I may agree with a good portion of your thoughts, I’m still struggling and begging the question, how would a Christian artist take the risks you challenge them to take, and avoid the risk of relinquishing key elements of the very foundation of the message of faith they purport to communicate through their art? Taking the risks you challenge could bring Christian artists dangerously close to surrendering the biblical and Christ-like lifestyle that we as Christians are supposed to witness to others. We are constantly under the judgmental and fingerpointing microscope of non-believers who eagerly wait for and rarely miss the opportunity to seize that AHA moment when a Christian stumbles, to then ridicule us and “prove” that our actions do not coincide with what we say we believe. By taking that step into the “unsafe” zone which you purport, aren’t we giving non-believers additional ammunition against us? I’m purposely ending my sentence with a question mark and not a period. Thanks, and God bless.

    • Great point, Mike, and I wish I had the answer that everyone could apply! I quoted C.S. Lewis earlier to a similar comment, and I’ll do it again now. In the forward to Screwtape, Lewis said: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” I’d say the same thing about sin – and that any artist needs to make certain that they have fellowship with other Christians, and accountability from someone to help keep their feet to the fire, so to speak.

      Anyway, if nothing else, I hope that the blog has spurred conversations, and that believers will continue to explore this issue to try to find the answer.

      Thanks so much for the comment!
      Blessings,
      Nate

      • Hello again Nate. As I watched God’s Not Dead, which I truly enjoyed and even had tears brought to my eyes, I couldn’t help but think of your blog. While there were many poignant parts to this movie, and the debate aspect was intellectually stimulating, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat dissappointed at the “Jesus/God as a magical solution ” take on it. Again, too many complicated life issues, i.e., family rejection, cancer, low self esteem, etc., that the writers failed to elaborate on and most definately failed at resolving in a truthful, real way. We were left with “just pray, and these complex life altering problems will dissappear.”. Now, I’ll be the first to shout to the four winds, about God’s amazing, supernatural healing power, and that no problem is too big for Him. But, we understand this as Christians. To the unchristian eye, and mind, this is received as fairy tale, hocus pocus, and in a blink of an eye, you’ve lost the audience you want to be impacted by the message of the movie. For all that could have been gained with the solid intellectual debate for and against God’s existence (which was excelently written, and masterfully portrayed by Sorbo and the student), it becomes watered down, with the back stories of trials and tribulations that were too profound to just be resolved with a prayer. The Bible promises that we will face wordly afflictions, and further promises that we can hold strong because Jesus has conquered the World. But to understand the depth of this promise, it cannot be portrayed as a magic wand that will bring ease in a time of pain, as pixie dust brings flight to Peter Pan and Tinker Bell. God, Jesus, the Bible is so much more profound than this, and it saddens me that we have yet to see someone truly convey this meesage through story telling. Maybe one day, before Jesus comes back for us.

        God Bless, and thanks again for allowing us this forum to vent.

  77. I love how God takes a man and gives him just the right ingredients to be able to stand up and proclaim truth. Here you are with your experience, education and relationship with the Spirit who intercedes and speaks to your heart- calling you to such a time as this. Thank you for being obedient to where He has called you, I am humbled and will make changes in my own way of thinking to better support reaching the lost.

  78. I love this article and totally agree with everything you said. I apologize if this has been mentioned (I didn’t read all of the comments) but I find it interesting that many Christians are opposed to Noah because it depicts Noah getting drunk. He DID get drunk – it’s right there in the Bible. I think it’s a bit sad that Christians want to focus only on the “safe” parts of scripture and neglect the negative, when the majority of the Bible is anything BUT safe. It is controversial, challenging, and contains every sin under the sun, portraying imperfect people living in an imperfect world. I personally love a film that challenges my thinking – and one I can relate to, rather than ties everything up with a perfect bow. Sending a message is great, but subtly is definitely the way to go, in my opinion.

    I am also a published novelist and have found the same issues with Christian publishers, although it seems to be changing and more realistic, gritty novels are hitting bookstore shelves. Those are the types of stories I gravitate towards.

    Thanks for writing this and for your honest, thought-provoking opinions.

  79. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking? | Plumb Line Community

  80. How can a believing actor/actress portray the vileness of sin without sinning? I believe such things can be put into a book much easier than a movie because it requires portrayal of sexuality and violence. I would love to know your answer to this dilemma. I don’t think the answer for an actor or producer should be, “Well, just get over yourself.” Such portrayals are uncomfortable for both Christian actors and Christian viewers who are trying to follow Phillippians 4:8 and Psalm 101:3. All of life is spiritual and art cannot be put in a secular “box.”

    • That’s the question, isn’t it, Brittney? First of all, as a writer, I’m not sure that if it’s easier in a book, because the writer still has to “go there”, and take the reader as well. What did C.S. Lewis write as the forward to Screwtape Letters? “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” I would say the same thing about sin – that’s it’s dangerous business to explore it, because the nature of sin is that it is sticky and can capture you like quicksand.

      While I don’t have the answer, I would say that it’s vital that the artist not be attempting this alone. You need to be in fellowship with other believers, and you need to have accountability. It would be nice if that fellowship of believers was spurring you on in your endeavors!

      Thank you for the comment! Great thoughts.
      Nate

  81. Thank you!!!! I love good movies, and as much as I usually like to support Christian films – I am disappointed walking away b/c they could be so much better! One of my favorite movies with a “Christian theme” (but hated by most Christians) was the movie “The Apostle” with Robert Duvall. This showed someone I believe that truly was after God’s heart, that struggled with humanness and sin. I remember thinking it was a great movie, so I showed it for a movie night with the singles group at my church…. I got FLAMED – they were like that guy isn’t a Christian, he’s a joke and went off on their usual Christian diatribes. I’m like get out of the bubble!!!! Do you not struggle with sin in your darkest parts??? Anyway… enough about that movie – but with Christian anything, we need to up the quality. I did see Son of God – but I was disappointed again. “Pretty boy Jesus” was really not deep…and I walked away feeling like something was missing. I thought Mel Gibsons “Passion of the Christ” was by far better….blew Son of God away! Seeing Son of God made me want to run out and rent the passion so that i could fill in the gap of what was missing from Son of God.

    On a side note, I have probably been labeled a “sinner” by my church people for years….as I listen to secular music (ooooooo LOL) My mom was a professional opera singer, so I grew up back stage listening to some of the best music in the world! I appreciate musicianship. I appreciate depth…which is sorely missing from Christian music. To me most Christian music is “wimpy”…. we have so much power behind us, why isn’t there power behind most Christian music!?

    The same carries over to movies. Unfortunately – we have to keep up with the times to be able to reach those who might not ever set foot in a church. We need to challenge, anger, “bother”, and any other emotion that people experience in a secular movie. The namby pamby “Everything always works out in the end and God always answers prayer the way we want it…” doesn’t work. I grew up thinking that b/c that’s what I learned in Sunday school. I found out once i got into the real world, that things don’t always work out, God sometimes disappoints, and sometimes you have to go to Hell and back before something seems OK – but it always does turn out OK….but rarely the way it seems to come out in Christian movies!

  82. I more or less gave up on “Christian films” when some one pointed out Kirk Cameron’s “Fireproof” to me as a sterling example of “faith-based” filmmaking, and insisted that I watch some of Affirm Films’ efforts. Kirk Cameron is a mediocre actor at best, and Affirm Films fulfills the definition of “vanity projects.” The only faith based film of late that I can relate to was “Faith Like Potatoes,” just because it was a well-told story. It’s always been “Go into the world and preach the Gospel…,” not “actually become the world.

  83. Hey Nate,
    Lots of good thoughts in your article. I too am a filmmaker and have been working in Hollywood since 2001, mostly on visual effects for the summer blockbusters, but with the intent to eventually write and direct my own material. Although I’ve seen a measure of success in the visual effects arena the writer/director dream is still a bit elusive. I directed a short in 2005 to critical acclaim but limited distribution beyond a good festival run. I say this to put into context my following comments. Like yourself and many of your readers above, I too have struggled with the issues of being an artist (specifically a filmmaker) and how my faith impacts my art and craft. I wanted to share some things that I’ve found helpful to keep a perspective and focus while pursuing a career as a filmmaker.

    First, to address you article, I think what you’ve expressed is great, namely that we as artists should strive for excellence in our story telling and artistic expression and be free (or at least less restricted) to take the stories where they need to go to be true to the story and the experience we’re trying to portray. I do believe we have to be careful how we proceed so that we don’t “fall into sin” or “cause a brother to stumble”, but that we also can explore material that the Church has traditionally been afraid to venture into or placed into the “taboo” vault. If we explore a film about Satan for example, should it not have a measure of horror to it? I would think to lessen our presentation of him for a more favorable rating would actually be doing a disservice to the truth and therefore we would be more in error. Often we look at the ratings as the moral stamp of approval on a film. This position that Christians often take, “I will not watch a rated R film”, I thinks is misguided and has led to a lot of the problem. Somewhere along the way we’ve given our moral judgement over to a secular group who has little in common with our world view – the MPAA. Their ratings are really nothing more than a cultural compass on what is considered age appropriate for that particular film in that particular time, yet we’ve allowed it to be a moral judgement and have given up our opportunity to influence and impact our culture by being involved with the media and making our own moral judgements. This has improved over the years but the Church largely still defers to the MPAA.

    Regarding “Christian Films” I believe we’re in a similar maturation cycle to the “Christian Contemporary Music” scene of the ’80s. In the 80s, Amy Grant came under fire for wearing a leopardskin jacket, Leslie Phillips got driven out because she was too edgy, and Petra drew criticism if they failed to mention Jesus enough on their albums. Music was considered and act of worship or evangelism during those days and anyone who tried to venture further into artistic license often got attacked by the Church; Steve Taylor, Stryper, Mylon Lefevre come to mind. Much has changed since then and these conversations are all but gone now as these artists paved a way for a more liberated expression of faith and art enjoyed by more recent artists. Likewise I believe “Christian filmmaking” is still in its infancy and is just now being recognized by the Church and the film industry. Unfortunately I think there will probably be a season where these films are still largely evangelistic in nature and kept at arms length by the film industry as a separate genre, much like the music scene did with CCM in the 80s. Only after we have more crossover films where a Christian message or theme can find wide appeal in the secular market will the film industry begin to desegregate “faith based” projects. Aronofsky’s “Noah” is potentially good in that it may show marketabitlity for projects that may have been deemed untouchables by the film industry. Perhaps it and the History Channel’s “Bible” series will by the film industries’ equivalent to “U2″ – establishing that some Judeo-Christian story lines can have wide appeal. The other unfortunate trend I’m currently seeing is self-segregation. Having worked in Hollywood now for a while I have come to know a lot of talented Christian artists in various crafts in the film industry yet few if none of these have been involved in the making of these “Christian Films” we’re talking about. This is because there is an attitude among many of these Christian filmmakers that Hollywood and all that are in it are corrupt and thus have no business making “Christian Films”. This has led to a “go it alone” approach by the producers of these films excluding an army of talent that could raise the bar of these films and instead they often rely on substandard resources to produce these films – and it shows. To their credit though, I agree with you, that I applaud anyone who is able to get concept to screen at any reasonable level of production quality. These films don’t suck and they do serve a purpose (albeit limited) so I am happy they’re being made and I cheer them on from the sidelines with hope that God will continue to develop this sector to bring more glory to himself and open new opportunities.

    For those of us not so interested in straight forward evangelistic films but aspire to create films with a wider range and reach I do see some encouraging trends.

    1. An army of talent. Since I’ve been involved I have seen an army of Christians “infiltrating” all aspects of the film industry. To date I haven’t seen God move in a way that takes significant advantage of this but I believe He has something up His sleeve. I see it as similar to amassing a nation in Egypt to prepare for the Exodus and the promise land. He is preparing us “for such a time as this” when He will open up a new wave of opportunity but will need seasoned talent in place to achieve this objective. I take comfort in this idea as I embrace the long haul of keeping to a “calling” that is over 15 years in the making so far. This helps me to stay at the task the Master last gave until He returns. One of the most encouraging passages in the Bible for me as an artist is Ex31:1-11 where God chooses the artisans for the tabernacle. There’s a lot of good stuff here but the best is that A.) being an artist is a legitimate calling. B.) art doesn’t necessarily need to be evangelistic C.) excellence is desired and reward by God D.) these men were chosen for be renowned in their craft implying that they pursued excellence for years in their craft before God chose them and God’s reason for choosing them was because of their achievements in their craft. E.) by my count they are the first men mentioned in the Bible to be filled with the Spirit and that filling was expressly to performs their artist crafts clearly indicating that God is directly invested in art and desires for it to stand out above the rest.

    2. Shift in the industry. I see great opportunity as the film industry is increasingly looking East to find new markets and as such is reworking their storytelling to be more universally palatable across cultures, especially those in the East. The result is that our Judeo-Christian heritage will become more and more subdued in the secular films produced by Hollywood. This may be seen as a negative initially but I see it as a positive. Hollywood has made a mess of the Judeo-Christian worldview and I embrace the idea of them moving away from it because it will leave a void – an opportunity for a new and fresh presentation of God’s view that will find a new audience in the void. This is what I believe being a “city on a hill” is all about. A bright light in the darkness. The other major shift is that the gate keepers are changing. The studios and their agenda can now be circumnavigated through new distribution channels. I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg and new paradigms and technologies will continue to reshape the landscape and provide new opportunities for filmmakers to get their films made and presented to their audiences.

    So in summary. Kudos to those making “Christian Films” but, with you, I encourage those in that position to continue to push the envelope and strive for excellence. For those of us entrenched in a different calling requiring us to continue to hone in our crafts until God calls us into action, be encouraged that He is pleased with everything we do “as unto the Lord” as we look forward to that day when we will be able to contribute to His plan. Like Israel had to be ready to travel on the day of Passover we too should continue to ready ourselves for the day we will be released.

    Dan Trezise
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1225132/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

    • Hi Dan, and thanks for the great response! I’m so pleased and humbled that my words have reached and encouraged people like you – people who are actually living in the mission field of Hollywood. Blessings to you on your own journey, and on your career as a filmmaker.

      As I’ve been trying to make my way through all the responses, I’ve seen two distinct camps:

      First, the artists like you, who want to be faithful to God, to not sin, but really want to tell the stories they feel God calling them to tell.

      Second, the church, who – in a desire to be faithful to God – either stand in direct opposition to granting artists this freedom (and if the artist makes that film, writes that book, sings that song – they must not be Christians), or they see the value but don’t know how to help.

      It seems like the first group needs to do a better job explaining their position to the second group. But, it’s an uphill battle. With my blog, for example, I had people questioning my salvation because of what I wrote! Misrepresenting what I wrote, taking my words out of context, using circular reasoning to connect something I said with something I didn’t say… it has been interesting.

      But again, I’m really pleased you commented, and would love to continue this conversation. I’m wondering if perhaps that is why God had the article get spread out so far and wide – so that Christians would continue talking about it – and the future you suggest will come about.

      Blessings!
      Nate

  84. Hi Nate:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. We made a film recently, “So This Is Christmas” and because we realistically depicted modern teen problems like drug abuse, pregnancy, alcoholism and parental physical abuse we took a lot of flack from the religious community and were even required by our distributor to purge these scenes from the version that they marketed through CBA.

    Our mandate as Christian film makers is given by Jesus (from the Message translation) –

    When Jesus was teaching the parable of The Sower, his disciples asked:

    Why Tell Stories?
    The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
    He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them.

    Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.

    That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it.

    Our job is not to preach, if the unsaved desired preaching they would go to church. Our job is to stimulate interest in the gospel and lead them to Christ by providing great entertainment that challenges them to look at the message of Christ in a new light.

    BTW we are developing our second film now and I would love to communicate further with you.

  85. Haven’t read all of the replies, so I don’t know if this has been mentioned, but as a Christian artist who has made a feature and gone through the distribution channels, let me tell you that distribution gate keepers won’t endorse the kind of R rated film your talking about. My film had a diabetic who took insulin. Both Family Life and Dove slapped on warnings about drug use.
    I attempted to show the angst of a woman struggling with her faith and finding most of her opposition coming from within the church. Although that is a very real scenario, it was deemed as not having a “Christian worldview,” despite the fact that the message was in lockstep with Christian orthodoxy.
    I tried to keep within my artistic integrity,and tell a compelling story from a Christian point of view. Resource can limit the best of intentions. Christian St. John from Christian film guide was one of the only reviewers who got me. Other than that it was nothing but loathing and punishment for my labors. Make a Christian film and somebody or everybody’s going to hate you, because they are more critical of Christian film than even a sermon.
    Faith based films are held to both ministry/ theological and artistic standards even when those standards are in opposition.Every film released with a Christian theme has some public brouhaha, or box office failure.
    Another obstacle is that most faith based films have the budgets of student films or micro budget films. Even Sherwood pictures keep budgets down by paying almost no one. Crew and actors are all volunteers. However these low budget films with budgets in the 20-50K range will be judged against Hollywood films with budgets of 200 million.No wonder they can easily be called “cheesy.”
    If you attend a secular film festival and see some of the work of new artists, you have to have a very generous mindset to appreciate the burgeoning talent. I don’t find faith based films from first time film makers to be any worse than the films I see at these festivals. A faith based film has no real platform to be judged as an experimental or development piece, so many faith based film makers have to stop at one.
    My distributor takes 80% of all revenues, so it is a miracle that I am approaching budget pay off. Pureflix has a built in production, distribution and promotion platform, including their own film festivals that seems to work well, but that doesn’t offer a channel for the film maker who is not part of the Pureflix group.
    Nate, I feel ya, but I don’t think the problem is with the the artist vision, or understanding of story telling. All artists struggle is to be skillful and truthful. The problem seems to be that in the filmmaking collaboration, when it come to distribution that there no there, there.
    Some of my fellow Christian film makers are looking to web based, micro budget projects to do their art. seems to be a good way to go.
    There’s some awesome work out there, it’s just having a problem getting to it’s audience.

    • Hi Michael, thank you for your reply, and I appreciate your struggles as a filmmaker and a Christian. You mention that the trouble isn’t with the artist’s vision, and I agree with you. Through Act One, I met many very committed Christians who longed to tell good stories. Who doesn’t want to tell a good story? The issue seems to be that the gatekeepers are trying to make sure that the audience isn’t challenged, because the large bulk of Christians don’t want to be challenged. Sometimes, the motive is pure – not wanting to be exposed to sin. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t want to have to think through the issues, because it makes them uncomfortable.

      I wish that some producer would see this article, note all the “exactly!” responses, and attempt to change things. I wish that pastors would figure out how to teach their congregations to actively engage with artists, and to promote their artists when they do take risks. I wish that believers in general would learn to recognize and see the value in a non-explicitly Christian film (book, song, etc) that is – under the covers – a Christian work of art.

      And I agree completely – that the internet is a big key in changing things up. People are still trying to figure out how to monetize the web, but meanwhile, people are making and put up all sort of interesting things!

      Lots to talk about here, I think!
      BLessings,
      Nate

      • Thanks for the reply Nate. Yeah I met some ACT ONE folks at some film maker events and they are great.
        Sadly the church historically has never done a good job with it’s artists, however I have found God comes through anyhow.
        One of the tasks of the artist is to press through the resistance. Keep making films, keep blogging, keep perfecting your craft, keep looking for new inroads, and keep striving for that shred of truth. Thanks for putting this issue in front of people.
        Blessings to you as well.

    • Hi Dis,

      Is adapting for film the same as rewriting it? What about something like Noah’s story – which is so short in the Book – how do you film that story without embellishing? I’m not talking about Aronofsky now, but imagining if a faith-based group decided to make a film of Noah’s life. Is it wrong to imagine the dialogue that Noah and his family might have had? Is it wrong to create an antagonist, where one isn’t explicitly mentioned, so that your adaption will have the requisite conflict?

      And I’m curious – is there a Bible film that you do approve of? Which one and why?

      Thanks,
      Nate

  86. I feel you!

    I’m a writer and I am having the biggest struggle with wanting to write stories that present Christians/Christian themes in a positive way without being too sappy. There’s a place in this world for those writers (and you know who I’m talking about), but I wanna be like Lewis or Tolkien. And it is definitely a difficult balance because I know some of the writing I have done, my family wouldn’t like because it’s not “Christian” enough.

    I just wanna tell something true and not sugar coat things.

  87. Thank you so much for helping me to loose the shackles. Free to write what I really think and feel. I am currently writing my first book; a science fiction/ fantasy type novel that deals with life through typical christian issues; however, my biggest challenge is that I don’t want to offend my beliefs. Although I want this work to “minister” outside of typical tradition, I am afraid of presenting my belief as it really is, i.e, “not so perfect” For this reason, I have sat on this project for 10 years unable to let go because I am concerned that I will appear to not be the “good Christian” that I think I want to be.

    The project is science fiction/fantasy… Portraying the real reason for creation as the ultimate directive from the Great Alien Being (GOD). For the first time, I think I am ready to “let go and let God” and do what I want and feel with this work.

    Again, thanks!

  88. Very interesting and thought provoking read. I appreciate your perspective and want to also just add something else: Even though movies are good way to “get the word out”, it should not ever replace the simple conversation over coffee with someone who doesn’t believe what you believe and just listening to their story. These movies should not replace evangelism, but I very much agree that there needs to be more thought provoking questions that could maybe spark up a conversation with someone and not just give them all the answers we “think” they need. I would love to see more risks taken that create those meaningful conversations. Great article!

  89. I guess my biggest question would be why do we need Christian films. Why not just make films that speak to the aspirations & dreams of people. I shouldn’t need to stand on the street corner & proclaim to everyone that I’m going to live my life every day as a Christian. I should be able to live my life & that fact should be obvious in the way I live. Same should be true for writing stories & making films.

    • What about the person who comes by their Christian point of view honestly? What if that’s just how they see the world and it seeps into their storytelling because that is their orientation? Are you saying that only films with a world view that is devoid of Christian thought is worthy of being made? If so that wouldn’t be honest, and it would be just as false as someone who forces their Christianity into a story to manipulate the audience.
      We need Christian film because the person of faith deserves a voice.
      Now if you’re saying that Christian films that are no more than contrived propaganda are not needed, well, I can agree with you there.

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  92. I strongly disagree with his position. Have you seen great movies like Fireproof where he is dealing with anger and masturbation (None safe issues–especially in church). Would you like the movie to be Rated R so you can see porn on the TV just like Hollywood movies. Courageous has shooting, drugs, their daughter dies. Faith Card deals with a family falling apart because of the sons death and the dad’s anger. I will not support a movie just because the mob doesn’t like Christ–He quoted Rotten Tomatoes which is notorious for giving bad ratings to movies that don’t have nudity, sex and immorality. I love Christian films and the Industry way better than attempts to show God as a tyrant like the new Noah. The director of the movie is an atheist—–The producer of the movie “Noah,” a self-professed atheist, says he is proud of the fact that he’s taken a story inspired by God’s word and turned it into something so secular.
    Director Darren Aronofsky called his movie “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” The Telegraph reported.
    Christians need to start backing up Christians and stop being secular because its easy and popular. Enough is enough. You don’t have to boycott non christian films but real people.

    • Hi Sean,

      First of all, Christian porn? Do you seriously think I’m suggesting that Christians make porn? Where in the world did you get that in what I wrote? I’d recommend you re-read the post, a bit more carefully this time.

      Second, I’d love to hear where you your facts that “Rotten Tomatoes is notorious for giving bad ratings to movies that don’t have nudity, sex and immorality”. Let’s test that fact:

      1) “Frozen” has a 89%
      2) “Toy Story 3″ has a 99%
      3) “Avengers” has a 92%
      4) “Life is Beautiful” has an 80%
      5) “The Iron Giant” has a 97%

      What about some of Common Sense Media’s top 15 family movies of 2013?

      1) Gravity – 97%
      2) The Croods – 70%
      3) Ender’s Game – 60%
      4) Hunger Games 2 – 89%
      5) Despicable Me 2 – 74%

      If you want to talk facts, the fact is faith-based films typically get bad reviews by reviewers because the movies are typically not very good movies. The perplexing thing is that there are some incredibly talented filmmakers of faith. What’s keeping them from reaching their full potential?

      The thesis of my article was that a key ingredient in this soup is the church. We, as followers of Christ, need to figure out how to support our artists in their endeavors to be salt and light in a tasteless dark world – to give them the freedom to make the films that they need to make! (And you can check my follow up article to see how I recommend that artists make certain they aren’t becoming too “secular” in the process. I think you might end up agreeing with me – on that point, at least.)

      I guarantee that if a Christian makes a film that is not preachy, predictable, poorly produced, or pretentious, they will have a good chance of being seen by all sorts of people – Christian and non-Christian.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and being a part of the conversation!

      Nate

  93. Nate I agree with you. God’s not Dead was made for Christians but it also would be good to take a non believer to and open up discussion. Or for a Sunday School in Junior or Senior high but depth no it lacked some. David A R White produced this movie and he has been several others. Almost all were bad. I mean bad. The best Christian film I have seen is “Not Today”. Yes it had the happy ending but the story was rough and it made me care. I don’t think Noah will be a great movie from the Christian stand point or the secular. It looks luke warm. I am not sure who would do a god job. Directors and producers are not my forte. Peter Jackson no, The makers of the Narnia Movies probably not. The last director of the Harry Potter movies maybe. I hope we as Christian will be able to make or at least go see an adaptation that has some meat in it. I hope I have made some sense, Thanks Ben

    • Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your comment. I haven’t had the chance to see God is not Dead, but plan to. I also see the benefits of such a film, and hope that it does very well for the filmmakers. As others have said here, films made by Christians are getting better all the time, and I hope that the trend continues.

      I haven’t seen “Not Today”, but will check it out. I also haven’t seen Noah yet (living in China has it’s drawbacks where weeing religiously-based films are concerned), but I look forward to it as well, even with all the negative press it’s been getting from mostly Christians. I like to see a film and make my own mind up about – whether it’s the latest Liam Neeson film, or a movie about a Biblical character.

      Cheers!
      Nate

  94. Read the post, agree completely. I so wish I had time tonight to read all these comments; many seem extremely interesting and thoughtful. And therefore if someone already offered this Lewis quote I apologize.

    “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

    ― C.S. Lewis

  95. Suggestion: A victory through willing sacrifice movie. The best Christian stories for me are when people are putting their money where their mouth is. The theme of Christian love IS Christ’s victory OVER death. We need to let our heroes die for the sake of others. THAT would be a change over the anemic stories I’ve been watching. Let’s have sinners in our stories: No perfect people, but people who are changed BY love. Let’s have a Rick Blaine or a Sidney Carton: A bad boy (or modernize it with a woman) who willingly sacrifices for pure love. Someone who comes to know God’s love through the smaller sacrifices made on their behalf, so they sacrifice themselves because they come to know the story of the servant who was forgiven more, thus loved more because they had been forgiven more.

    THAT is the story I want to see. I want to see pain and redemption of sinners, NOT just self congratulation of saints.

  96. Make me love the sinner, then kill them for love. Like John Green’s TFIOS or Looking for Alaska. Christian love is about redemption. I am hoping there is redemption in God’s Not Dead, but the character of the teacher would have to be a likeable ass and the student would have to be willing to die for him BECAUSE he was not a believer yet. Haven’t seen it yet, but that would be the victory for me in the movie.

  97. Although I don’t disagree with all of the article, it seems you are asking the AUDIENCE to change, and that doesn’t make sense. Yes, I want movies that are safe. I have high standards because I believe that is biblical & God-honoring. I could never be comfortable watching a scene that would lead to lustful thoughts. I would be betraying my own conscience. Nor could I show a movie like that to my kids. I do believe it is possible to create great, compelling movies without putting trash in them. Yes, it is easier for the world because they can fill their movies with content that will draw in sin-seeking audiences & easily please them. The Christian audience is not (nor should they be) so easily pleased. BUT this greater challenge should spur on the Christian artist to greater creativity, so it is on you, the artist, not the audience, to change. You can’t ask me to like what I don’t like or to accept what I can’t by my own conscience accept just to make your job as a filmmaker easier or broader.

    I will say that the Christian movies that are out there right now have served well as teachable moments for my kids because they do confront real life issues, way more than any if those “just for entertainment” movies produced in the secular realm. In the end, it’s not the movies that will change the world, it’s me & my kids who are touching those around us day to day. Maybe the focus shouldn’t be so much to make movies that please both the Christian & the secular, but rather to create movies that teach, inspire, & spur on your audience to change the world.

    With that said, God truly is the best Story-teller, so you may not always have to be so creative as to invent your own stories. Some of the best stories are those of real people whose lives have been written by Him.

    • Hi Amanda,

      You make several good points here. I would only add that even if an artist isn’t a Christian, they still carry the burden of trying to be as creative as possible. It’s not just a faith-based thing! I think most filmmakers want to be acclaimed for their creativity, even if the studios are pushing all the sequels and the common complaint from the audience being, “Why doesn’t Hollywood do anything original”?

      In that case, the burden does fall partly on the audience, doesn’t it? I mean, if people stopped going to see movies like Grownups 2 and Robocop remakes, the studios would stop making Grownups 2 and Robocop remakes. The studios make what they think will sell – thus all the remakes and reboots and sequels.

      In the same way, I still stand by my words that the faith-based audience bears part of the blame for the quality of faith-based films (or other forms of art), because of the expectations and limitations we place on the ones doing the creating. Please read my follow up post to see my thoughts on that.

      Finally, I agree completely with your comment, “In the end, it’s not the movies that will change the world, it’s me & my kids who are touching those around us day to day.” Amen!

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment!
      Nate

  98. I am a Christian on campus and I face Christophobia regularly. “God’s Not Dead” was a disappointment.

    I think it is a bad movie at least partly because it is an Evangelical Protestant movie. Nothing against EPs as people; merely as filmmakers. I think Catholics make better movies and I said so in my review: http://save-send-delete.blogspot.com/2014/03/gods-not-dead-christophobia-on-campus.html

    btw, the “Western Union” quote is attributed to Sam Goldwyn; it’s very much not a Frank Capra quote.

    • Thanks, Danusha. I’ll check out your review. And I do agree that Catholics tend to be ahead of Protestants in the filmmaking biz, but Protestants are getting better! As others have said here, protestants have finally started to catch on, that we’re getting left behind in getting our message out creatively.

      Regarding the Western Union quote, it’s been attributed to both Goldwyn and Capra.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Cheers,
      Nate

  99. Mind awakening article. I totally agree with challenging the mind of the Christian and non-christian BUT hoping that in the process of taking our thoughts where we fear to go you will not leave us in the ‘hell’ of fighting off imagery that haunts to tap us! Images inform our thinking, let christian art ‘transform humanity by the renewing of our minds’ in a positive transcendent way.

  100. I don’t know much about Christian filmmaking because of my Jewish upbringing, but I can see some of the problems with it when you’re trying to please a certain audience or check off boxes. As a writer, I’ve always felt that trying to gear a story to a certain theme or topic doesn’t usually work. My best stories always have come from an idea of what the story will be about. The themes usually come in later, when I’ve gotten a better idea of what will happen in the story. So far, it’s worked out great for me.

  101. Something you know well enough already is that to make money in a niche, you do what the niche wants. The Last Temptation of Christ, Stigmata, The Exorcist, Devils Advocate, are movies that took chance in supernatural twanged in religious views but did not follow the requirements to the “T” and either the Christian wing liked it or not. The real problem with Christian films is that Christian people for some reason think God is a cuddly bearded man that loves everything all the time. At least that’s the message after a few thousand years religions has promoted to this point with Jesus being the representative in human form. Fact is, that the new Christians Gen Y on are getting tired of the message, and want a real view of spirituality. So the test of Noah the movie will show the smaller film houses if people will see something like this, and treat the bible as a historical tome that can be used as suggestion based movie maker it can be. Cant wait for Solomon!

  102. Amanda says:” In the end, it’s not the movies that will change the world, it’s me & my kids who are touching those around us day to day. “
    This dear sister is the point. I’m so sick and tired of all this artistic idolatry. Hollywood is a godless reprehensible morally decomposing filth factory. I only hope for a view when the Lord of glory consumes that disgusting abomination with the blast of His holy nostrils.

  103. I am an artist/ writer and Christian who has spent a good part of my life in ministry. I agree with you and have worked with some Christian film makers. There are many folks afraid to cross the line (that isn’t drawn.) Risk takers are we who draw new lines. Can’t wait for Noah to hit the screen. Best with your writing!

  104. It’s a fine line sometimes, especially since we’re responsible for our readers/viewers souls as well as our own, and they might not have the self-control we do. You can’t write scared, though. You’ve got to be fearless, fearless and righteous—not for the faint of heart

  105. I appreciated reading your thoughtful article. As a Christian artist (my medium is not film, but the underlying challenges are the same), it can be very difficult to find a balance between portraying the world as it is and portraying sin in a way that offends Christian audiences. I love your argument though, and think you’ve hit the nail on the head insofar as pointing out what we can do to tell good Christian stories.

  106. I kinda can’t believe I’m adding my voice to this conversation because there are numerous eloquent replies already, but just wanted to say well done. Challenging post. Two thoughts:

    As you basically said, The Word of God is the Word of God and art is art. Art leads me to the Rock that is higher, found in the pages of the Word. I’m fairly confident you’re not advocating art as a replacement for God’s truth, which many commenters seem to believe, but as a means of coming alongside it. Great art leads us to His truth and on that rare occasion, encapsulates it. Secular films, books, music, etc., have all done that for me. To deny that one can be directed to God’s truth through “unsafe” means is to limit a limitless God (who, yes, to all you dear naysayers, will always and only work within His characteristics).

    Secondly, the gospel was so radical and dangerous that Jesus died because of it. Has that danger been lost sometime over the past two millennia? Hopefully not. Should our art perhaps reflect that? Just a thought….

    Interestingly, someone recommended your post to me the day after I created a grassroots Facebook group entitled “Human Voices Wake Us” with the intent of celebrating the ways in which the arts lead us to the Rock that is higher. I’d love for you to check us out.

    Blessings.

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  108. This is a very interesting topic. My first thoughts have to do with how carelessly we toss about the term “Christian”. Christianity has survived for two thousand years because – like the English language – it has always been amenable to changing with the politics and values of the times. Today, it seems to me, people who profess to be Christians, probably might more correctly be described as Fundamentalists. At least, that political faction of the church tends to be the loudest voice in the room. I agree however, with Harold Bloom in his book “The American Religion” that at least in a historic perspective, American Fundamentalists are not really Christians in the traditional sense. Just being required to profess a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, separates Fundamentalists from the 2000 year old tradition where Christians were never required to profess such a belief. But back to the topic, I feel that Anthony Burgess’ script for the made-for-TV film “Jesus of Nazareth” most accurately adheres to the wholeness of the four Gospels. Take just one scene in which Christ addresses the crowd about to stone someone to death. In other scripts, the content seems to be that Christ has picked up a stone and offers to throw it. The crowd rebukes him as if to say, “Oh no. You are without sin. You can’t throw the stone.” In Burgess’ script, Christ offers the stone to anyone in the crowd who might think they are without sin and there are no takers. Finally, I am bothered by the latest film “The Son of God” just by virtue of the expressed assumption that Christ always stated he was the son of God. Again, tradition and current values face off. The only time that Christ even comes close to stating that he himself identified as being the Messiah is in response to Peter. So, before the current class of film makers can make really challenging Christian films, they all need to go back to seminary and do some serious studying of scripture that is based on the traditional scholarly approach of historical-critical exegesis rather than the dumbed down version of scholarship presently in vogue at Bible colleges.

  109. Your article caught my attention when you stated the Christian sub-culture wants things to be message heavy.
    This has been the main opposition I have had from Christians since I started a local news website for the area in London where I live.
    I saw it as a chance to have an influence in the way things get done in politics and in the community without directly preaching. And I have been told by some of my fellow Christians that I should fill the website with testimonies, sermons and news from churches, leaving out local issues unless I link them back to the Bible.

  110. It’s funny that I would read this today. I was actually building a play list for a nephew who really likes rap music and I thought he might be surprised that there is some great Christian Rap (not an oxymoron). I have artists that I really like and that I think would hold up in a secular radio mix. But there are some really rough attempts at current music that people listen to only because it is said to be “Christian”.

    As I build this play list I know that this young man is not going to really listen to it if it is mediocre musically or not real culturally. I can almost hear Jesus telling that same thing to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law of His day. We are following a REAL GOD who is Loving to REAL people in a REAL world. So when we present a fairy tale people believe it about as long as they believed fairy tales. When we send them off to college to make their own choices the fairy tales will fall away.

    I admit I enjoyed “Facing the Giants”, but that I gave it a wide berth because I am a Christian and biased. But when I went to work and talked about it with a young man there he literally laughed out loud at how bad he thought it was. His critique revolved around the same things that bugged you. The fantasy ending that wrapped up each problem in the end was too much. How does that play to people who know better?

    Movies, Painting, sculpture, writing, and frankly even preaching needs to be REAL.

  111. Very brave article. As a Christian and a writer, I tend to explore uncharted territories and it was evidenced in my current book.

    I read through your article slowly and must confess that you wrote it with conviction. I can’t wait to watch ‘Noah,’ I am sure it would be very unpredictable. I wished we could make films that would challenge and provoke Christians and non Christians alike.

  112. I think this article raises some really good points. I think the ‘take more risks’ thing (or allowing artists to take more risks) is vital. As Christians, we have the creator of the universe inside of us yet we’re expected to conform and play it safe by producing a watered down copy of whatever is popular in the mainstream spheres. It’s very sad actually.

  113. This is an excellent post, friend. I’m a Christian that dances ballroom. I haven’t had anybody ever ask me about the relationship between my faith and dance, except in jest.

    However, I know God gave me this gift, I will use it to wordlessly proclaim the Truth I know in my spirit. There’s something about voiceless, artistic mediums that communicates this communion with the divine better than any song can. If my dancing opens up questions, then I will use my words.

  114. As a Christian, young uni student and writer, the argument that is going on here is very close to my heart. On my uni campus, the Christian student organisation is stigmatised, rightfully or not, and belonging to it can at times act as a hindrance rather than a positive when trying to show love and care to non-believers. I think what hasn’t been discussed here is that many people, particularly in my generation, don’t have a strong sense of morality and may not know that their actions are wrong. In addition, ‘Christianophobia’ is alive and kicking. One of my close friends from highschool told me some time after we met that she was extremely intimidated when she first heard I was a Christian, because of previous experiences with ‘Christians’ who caused her a lot of hurt. She’s not the only friend who has told me this. There are many teenagers and young adults in today’s Western world who hate Christians, or are afraid of their ‘evangelistic aggression’. This makes movies such as ‘Facing the Giants’ completely useless in reaching them as they just won’t watch them, as Nate pointed out.
    While I appreciate my fellow believers’ fears that going down the path of risk and danger may lead to movies that contain sex, violence and sin, I believe that we must not shy away from discussing these things in our artistic endeavours. Just look at the Bible and you’ll see it is full of sinful people and horrendous acts of evil. It’s this evil that is causing so much pain in the lives of my non-believing friends today; that’s what they care about, and that’s what will engage them.
    I also think that the reason many Christian films are predictable and take the easy way out is because Christians as a whole don’t know how to deal with failure/disappointment. There are no easy answers, and certainly no ‘feel good’ ones. Personally, the fairytale ending of ‘Facing the Giants’ did nothing for me because the whole film seemed out-of-touch with reality. My mother has suffered with a mental illness for as long as I can remember, and I still find myself asking, Where is God for her? Where is He in her life? There hasn’t been and probably never will be a miracle or fairytale ending for her in this life. To show films like this to non-believers is to suggest to them that a prayer will fix everything up just the way they like it, which is a slap in the face to those of us who are struggling daily to live our life with faith – not sugar-coated Christianity, but faith.
    We who are artists need to find ways to address this truth in a realistic and meaningful way.

    • Your post is very heartfelt and beautiful. I’m sorry to hear of your mother’s struggle with mental illness – it must be very hard for her and for your family.

      I respect and admire the distinction you make between sugar-coated Christianity and faith. As a non-believer, I can respect the latter and find it difficult to digest the former. I think the idea of faith is universal and something that can bring people together, regardless of their ideological differences.

  115. Exactly. I hate Christian “literature” into which the Gospel is crow-barred so they can slap Jesus’ name on it. MAKE GOOD ART. Period. If you are a Christian, the faith and the Greatest Story will shine throughout in unexpected, beautiful ways.

  116. Good! In the Christian community where I live in Australia there is so much difference from Conservative Anglicans to extreme Pentecostals that it is little wonder that Christian films are unsuccessful. Most of Jesus’ message came via parables which raised questions without answers.

  117. Hello! This article is awesome and I agree with you 100%!

    On Facebook, I do this thing called “Morning News” where I share the (often made up) news for the morning. This morning I wrote:

    “Morning News (more like a Morning Rant): I have not seen God’s Not Dead yet, but I keep hearing that it’s good. Here’s the thing though…I’m only hearing Christians talking about it. I have yet to see one unbeliever in the Christian faith talk about this movie. It’s cool that all the Christians thinks it’s good, but let me just say this…WE ALREADY KNOW GOD’S NOT DEAD! WE don’t need to be convinced! Why do you all seem surprised by this fact, why am I seeing upteen millions of Facebook pictures and stuff about it…from Christians! “It’s so good! You need to see it!” Why?! I know the truth! I believe in God, it’s the WORLD that needs to see it! Stop trying to convince ME to see it, and start telling your non-Christain friends to see it, as they may gain something from it! I won’t gain from it because I already believe that God is very much real and alive in my life and in the universe.

    That’s my main problem with these kind of Christian movies…Christians are the only people watching them and talking about them…the people who already know the truth and don’t need to be convinced of anything. Why are you surprised that it was “touching and true”!?

    Sorry for the non-news. I wanted to get that off my chest.

    P.S. This doesn’t mean I’m against people watching God’s Not Dead, I intend to see it at some point; it does look good. I have a problem with Christians making a big deal out of it to people who already know the truth as opposed to the unbelievers, who, I’m assuming, was the intended audience of the movie.”

    A buddy of mine shared your article with me because of this. And I want to thank you for telling it like it is. I, myself, am an artist of sorts, I’m an aspiring novelist. I’m also a Christian. I do enjoy some Christian books, but a lot of them are safe, predictable, and preachy. That’s why I love Ted Dekker’s novels, he write stuff that makes you think in his fiction. I’m not trying to write for the Christian audience, but if I did, I would want to write novels that tells a great story, but also gets the idea (Idea…not message) across.

    Anyway, thank you for this article. It was great.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Sorry it took me so long to respond, but I want to thank you for your comment, and I do need to say that I believe there is a place for explicitly Christian films. I don’t mind a bit of preaching to the choir, because the choir needs to hear the message as well! However, as I said in my article, we need to make movies that sell tickets because they’re good movies, and not because youth groups pull together to go and see them.

      Blessings,
      Nate

  118. Great post. As a cinema and video production grad from a Christian university who was once able to work on a Christian production, I’ve heard a lot of similar things. I confess I’m not in the field, and I’ve never been a writer at all, but I still have to ask when the powers that be will wake up. It’s not a sermon. It’s art, and it should have some subtlety to it. Not every film should have a salvation scene either. I hate how they can’t choose an audience. On one hand, the film is for church people. It appeals to that sense of humor and body of knowledge. But, everyone always talks about how many people they want to “see saved” from the film. If you want that, make it something more understandable to those outside the church. You may need to ask non-Christian friends and family members about their perceptions to get ideas.Impersonal scenes where someone is giving a speech in an auditorium need to go. They fail to introduce people to a personal God. Your comment on “Facing the Giants” was also spot on. We shouldn’t portray Christianity as getting what you want if you are sincere enough and have all your “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed.

  119. You wrote an intriguing article.

    The problem is not in the church, nor is the problem with Christians.

    The problem is that hollywood, and the courts, and most of our politicians are corrupt.

    ‘G’ rated and ‘PG’ rated movies make so much more money than ‘R’ and ‘X’ that Hollywood has tried for decades to lower ‘X’ to ‘R’ and ‘R’ to ‘PG.’

    Wayne
    Luvsiesous.com

  120. Quite insightful piece. As the past decades of Christian Rock has proven, the Church can be its own worst enemy, artistically speaking. But look how it’s grown! The watered-down ‘metal’ of three decades ago (with a mandatory minimum mention of ‘Jesus’ per song), to truly awesome bands like Avenged Sevenfold, The Devil Wears Prada, P.O.D., and As I Lay Dying, to mention but a few. I believe, sooner or later, that Christian filmmaking will soon escape the predictable dogmatic confines of the church and blossom creatively very soon. Best of luck on your novel, and again, nice piece!

  121. I don’t think it’s the case at all that Christians can’t make compelling art or films.

    It’s that *nobody* can make compelling art under the number of foregone conclusions that the specific genre of “Christian filmmaking” requires.

    It’s the same reason the songwriting of “Christian rock” is atrocious. It doesn’t mean there aren’t Christians writing great music, but they’re not doing it to fall in line with the incredibly narrow and specific strictures of that particular Christian subculture and genre of writing.

    Most Christians I know don’t even consume this stuff.

  122. Some points made in article are good… but I think one major thing is being overlooked. You talk about how christian films don’t raise the same amount of “conversation” or reaction as this noah movie but the difference $130 MILLION DOLLARS!!! That gets you big names, big advertisement, wild theatrical scenes which in turn gets you A LOT more reaction/conversation especially in the secular world. The best Christian film makers out there could not compete, even if they wrote and produced the exact same storyline in the exact same way. Compare any 130 million dollar house to a house even 1 million dollars (which would far exceed the budget of a Christian film) and the difference is clear! I feel this is a flaw in the logic of your argument.

  123. While watching Facing the Giants many times, i felt that a better way for them to end the film would have been them losing and having to come to terms with the reality that having faith doesn’t always mean having your way. I was disappointed by the films representation of how we will praise him in the down times as well as the up times.

    Thank you for your article Nate. I’ve been a writer for some time. A few short stories are ready to go if i wasn’t such a perfectionist when it comes to my writing. I’m also an aspiring game designer. Putting God into games is something that I have questioned for years. How do you teach God through games without being as cheesy as Bibleman. No offense intended, Bibleman appeals to a certain audience, just not me.

    God has placed upon my heart to use my writing to glorify Him and tell His message. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that this means taking a risk and being more creative, to reach more people. I’m still new to writing, even though I’ve done it for a while. I know I’ll make mistakes. But everything I do from game design and writing, to taking care of my son, will have God’s fingerprints all over it.

  124. Oh, yes, Nate! Thank you for your blog (which seems to have caused a lot of excitement!). It is sad to me when we settle for either copying that which is in the world or for wrapping everything up in a neat little package (with an “Approved by God” stamp on it). We do try again and again to market our faith. But “marketing” is not up to me. I am only called to be a storyteller. (I tell my story in the classroom with a beautiful bunch of little kids here in Zululand.) Some of the most profound and truthful stories I have ever seen on film have been by those who were not setting out to tell the story of Jesus. I believe that the One True Story echoes in every beautiful work which reveals grace. We can’t sell grace (grace has a great cost), but we can live it and thereby testify to it. Your work, your life, your writing is a testimony of that grace — and I, who have been encouraged and delighted by it, thank you! :)

  125. Reblogged this on Jacob Timothy Lange and commented:
    I haven’t yet seen God’s Not Dead, bu I’d like to. It’s not showing in Cyprus cinemas, so I’ll get the DVD. Noah, on the other hand, is, and I’m thinking of going to see it in the cinema.
    Very interesting post, a bit long but to-the-point in the end. I think it applies not only to Christian film-making, but also to other arts.

    One big reason I’m prob’ly gonna go see Noah is because it’s a ‘Christian movie’, but it doesn’t have a ‘this-is-a-Christian-movie-so-it-has-to-be-boring-and-predictable’-ish ring to it. It actually seems…. interesting. Hmm.

  126. Thank you so much. You hit the nail on the head. I’ve had similar, though much less discerning, thoughts as I’ve looked at Christian writing and film making. You make much needed points. I appreciate and applaud the challenges you make to artists/writers.

  127. Thank you for this thought provoking article. It has always been a struggle to explain, even to myself, why although I am a Christian I just cannot bring myself to watch Christian movies. I, too, hope we can come into an age of great Christian-based art.

  128. ‘…it will undoubtedly be unpredictable, because Aronofsky is not handcuffed by an allegiance to modern evangelical sensibilities’

    And what sensibilities are those? That anyone would or could expect him to stay true to the Bible? Those are not just “sensibilities” it is the Word we’re talking about here. Will you please state that a watering down is wrong? Yes be creative, yes make special effects, go for the sin nature in this time period, but make Noah as he is “righteous” to love God. And what does “righteous” mean? In interviews Aronofsky could not define it. I don’t expect him to. Some of your points are good, but be realistic too; Hollywood is out to exploit. Let them have this then because they have free will & even so—the truth is greater: He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.”

    • Hi Arlene,

      The sensibilities that I mean are those sensibilities that get vocally upset about a movie based on rumors and unfinished scripts. I’m talking about the sensibilities that are offended that Noah is reportedly shown getting drunk after the flood, while this is what the Bible says happened. This whole Noah controversy had a huge part in my writing what I wrote, because I was so irritated by the way that so many of my brothers and sisters were being so reactionary without knowledge.

      Now, if someone wants to tear the film apart after seeing it, more power to them! But we are at a point now where the hint of something that we disagree with causes us to go ballistic.

      And here’s a question that will not be answerable, but is worthy of thought – how many of those vocal pre-screening Christian armchair critics spent time in prayer for Darren Aronofsky or the others involved in the film?

      Thank you for your comment!
      Nate

  129. Nice post, Nate! I too am a Christian and a screenwriter, though I have not written a Christian-themed script. I have thought about how a screenplay, based on the life of the apostle, Paul might be received. The book of Acts has so much to offer both Christians and non-believers alike – action, adventure, journeys, shipwrecks and supernatural forces. As others have said, it’s not so much the writing, but what likely happens after the rights are purchased and the material falls into Hollywood’s paws. Still, we as artists and Christians must take those risks. God can overcome the barriers…

  130. I watched it with my wife and 6 kids on Friday night. I was hesitant to bring my kids to a PG-13 film, but I felt they could handle it, and I was glad I did. It took twists and turns that made my kids question what was right and wrong, and opened up some good questions. We ended the night with reading Genesis 5 through 9 followed by an hour long conversation about Noah and his family, the naked butt of Russell Crowe, and why Ham left. We talked about many things that night and I believe we are better for it.

    4) We need to be okay with movies that don’t give all the answers. If they succeed in asking some good, deep questions, they might actually open the doors to conversations where answers can be explored. Artists, isn’t part of our job to provoke questions? Don’t feel you have to end every sentence with a period

    I approve of Noah.

    -Lucas

    • Hi Lucas,

      After hearing some of the negative reviews coming out, I’m very glad to hear this. To me, this is what makes a movie like the Noah movie so valuable – not that we’ll agree with all of the director’s choices, but that it will spark more and more conversations. But there’s almost a manic glee in a lot of what I’m reading from Christians – the worst forms of “I told you so!” – that are driving me crazy.

      Shameless plug time – make sure you get the free download of Thimblerig’s Ark for your kids this weekend. It was written for ages 8 and up. You can find the link on my blog.

      Thanks for the report!
      Nate

  131. Thanks so much! I am fortunate to be connected to other artists who are unapologetic about both their art and their beliefs, but it is difficult to create art within the confines that the church has put it. I think a lot of younger Christians are becoming more aware of what it means to pursue artistic excellence and if we stick together and really encourage each other both artistically and spiritually we can really make a difference.

  132. I agree to almost all points. Your first suggestion however, about taking risks is too risky I think, especially because we are promoting the movie as a Christian film to be watch by Christians too. I will lw=eave you with scripture from Mark 9:42 and Matthew 18:6 (they both say the same things=double emphasis): “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.” Anyway, maybe we there’s another way. :)

  133. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking? | sunesiss

      • http://thimblerigsark.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/whats-wrong-with-christian-filmmaking/#comment-376

        I haven’t been to the movies in years. Complete waste of life, but I went and saw this one today so that I could say I did.. Just being in that temple of Baal made me feel polluted already. I had to put my hat over my eyes during the previews to keep the filth out and then endure 2 and a half hours of bible butchering blasphemy. I left literally short of breath, hands trembling and tears in my eyes.

        Not because of Aranofskey. He’s a God hating pagan. This is what God hating pagans do. But because of a dead, whoring, decomposing idolatrous church that is utterly consumed with worldliness and carnality disguised as “art” and “cultural engagement”.

        I pray with all my heart that God grants repentance to many who claim His name and then marry His holy spotless lamb to the purifying death of Hollywood.

        You people tear my out. You really do.

        (this is the part where all the accusations of self righteousness and legalism start that you learned from your prophets of perversion)

  134. Reblogged this on Defeating Dragons and commented:
    Very good article. I watch very few “Christian” films for this very reason. The Narnia movies are the best Christian films I’ve seen in a long time, honestly, though I did enjoy Fireproof when it came out way back when. Although if you don’t like cheesy dialog, don’t see Fireproof.

  135. Love the article and feel the same way. I like the part about taking risks, I feel that fear of judgment holds too many people back. The church should be setting the parameters of culture instead of culture setting the parameters of the church. The only way that the church can influence culture instead of imitate is is to take risks. We should also realize that Jesus used the medium of the day (parables) to convey his message. If Jesus was here today you better believe He would use film and television to convey his message and He would do it in terms that the culture would understand and relate.

  136. I so agree with you, especially about provoking questions. I’m also a Christian and as I do appreciate a nice heartfelt “everything works out fine because of faith and prayer” movie every once in a while, I would really much rather see something that pushes me to question my way of thinking and causes me to reaffirm my beliefs.

  137. What exactly is “Christian” film-making? By this is it meant biblical events or advancing some sort of view-point/consensus of Christianity? If it’s the latter it’s because an informed audience would not accept the moralizing which always pokes it’s head out therein.

    Further, the historical Christian artists referenced were that way because they didn’t have too many other options, that is not evidence for a superiority of Christianity in any way shape or form.

  138. Being Christians first limits the artist right there… they come with preconceived ideas. They need to produce films with no presupposition – We need as Christians to produce films for non-Christians – not to appease our faith base.

    Noah may spark some interest in the Bible and the Creator, but many Christians will reject this film because of the creativity that was shown.

  139. Terrific post. I think your “preaching to the choir” point pretty much covers it all. As an agnostic who grew up in a Christian household, I had these very arguments with my Christian parents every time they tried to steer me from secular music and movies to those produced by people of faith. I found the Christian arts to be safe, milquetoast and uninteresting. The art that challenged me came from the secular world that was not constrained by the narrow view of its target audience. It was not afraid to offend or push boundaries. The art and the artists were fearless. I’ve largely avoided – not always successfully – Christian art since then. Hopefully, more creative Christians such as yourself will find their way into the mainstream.

  140. Well put! I once heard a speaker who stated, “We don’t need more Christian radio, television, or books. We need more Christians IN radio, television, and books.” His point was that no one is watching, listening to, or reading clearly defined Christian materials. So, instead, let’s as Christians find our way out of that limited category to reach a wider audience.

    I have struggled with my writing for years. I enjoy writing very much but often find myself stuck in my stories. I feel guilty that my writing contains non-Christian themes or behaviors, but then I feel as though my story is incomplete when I try to stick to a “Christian format”.

    Thank you for your courage and your words.

  141. While i get what you are saying I think in general most Christians just don’t like it when people take artistic license with the Bible and scripture as a whole. Sure you can make any story really interesting with embellishments. But to do so you have to be careful. When you talk about being excited about this new Noah film, sure it may be a great idea but the fact that it’s not a christian who is doing it, is a major turn off for me. I mean really what do they know about the Bible and it’s stories? Do you think they are really going to study it and make a point of following the story? Well now that it’s out we can say no, they didn’t in fact they made it into a whale of a tale with rock people and the like. There is plenty of storyline there I think to create a great story but the freedom they took with something that is sacred to many is discouraging. Personally I think for a lot of Christian movies there are two things that are lacking, money and skilled actors. Because many times these stories are done on the smallest budget, with limited talent. Because what a-lister wants to be scorned for acting in some no name film? So they do what they can with what they have. I think in general there have bee some good films and some not so good films but I hope that Christians in the future as technology allows their films will continue to get better but will stick to scripture they are trying to represent. That doesn’t mean some artistic license can’t be used. But really Rock people? Come on, Noah wasn’t a fool!

    • Hi Vforba,

      I appreciate the comment! And since writing my article, the reviews for Noah have started coming in, with thoughts across the board. A reviewer who I know, who I admire, who was not on a witch hunt when she went to see the film, blasted the film as one of the worst ever made. Another reviewer friend, who is a pastor, and who was also not on a witch hunt, found much more to appreciate, and gave a much more positive review – but with reservations. I’ve not seen Noah yet (it’s apparently not coming to China), but will as soon as I can and then I’ll give my thoughts.

      Did you read my follow up article? I’d recommend it, as it gives more details of what I believe should be a part of Christians producing art.

      Blessings!
      Nate

  142. This is a very interesting topic for me. I am Christian, and I’m also a singer/songwriter. Out of the plethora of bands I listen to, only a handful of them are Christian because I tend of find overtly Christian music bland or cliche in some way. Of course that doesn’t apply to all of it, but I think some digging is required if you want to find the good stuff.

    From I writing standpoint, I tend to try and avoid blatantly Christian lyrics. For example, I’ve written one song called “Passenger” which on the surface is a love song that could be applied to anyone, but which is sort of secretly about the idea that we don’t actually know where we’re going all the time, but God has a plan, so it’s best just to trust him. It’s sort of weird though, because I have no idea who my audience really is. I do obviously want to tell our Story, but the way I do it will probably turn off some Christians and some non-Christians. I’ll be releasing my first album soon, so it will be very interesting to see what happens.

    • Hi flyingguineapig,

      Wow! That’s fantastic. I wish you all the best with your new album.

      I think everyone has a different calling, too. There are those who are called to write specifically for the church, with explicitly Biblical lyrics or scripts or stories. That’s wonderful! And my article came about because I see that group overly supported, while those who are called to be creative outside the church are not necessarily supported at all. I would love it if my article led to a change in thinking of ANYBODY – helping them to see people like you as musical missionaries – with songs that are written for people outside the church. Same with filmmaking and other forms of art.

      Blessings!
      Nate

      • Thanks a lot. As soon as it’s done I’ll be releasing it on iTunes, and I’ll be announcing stuff on my Facebook page if you’re interested.
        https://m.facebook.com/KatieRoseCurtisMusic

        I totally get what you’re saying, and that’s exactly right; I felt called to write for God, but not necessarily for the church. My thinking from the start was that I didn’t need to write for Christians because they’re already Christian, but if I write for everyone, meaning ALL of God’s people, then I might be able to really do something good. It’s partly because a large part of my family, coworkers and friends are not Christian, and I grew up in a very secular, liberal town, and since I’ve been exposed to a lot of things, I feel like overtly Christian culture can be a bit stifling. Of course this isn’t always true, and I go to a Christian college, so I know first hand how awesome it can be. Anyway, I will stop tangent-ing now. :)

  143. Dear Thimblerigsark~~ I just read the comment from Anonymous and your response. I am a Christian and a writer. There are NOT enough Christian films out here and that is a sign of the time I am afraid. I admire anyone who will stand up for what they believe, and puts their name on it. So, I wonder, why if someone can talk a big game and committed enough to write a comment, would they want to stay anonymous?? I like your comment Themlerigsark….keep them coming.

  144. Good points – all of them. Unfortunately, the problem is that Christian film making, Christian churches, and other Christian endeavors WILL NOT AND CAN NOT attract the unsaved unless the spirit is drawing him at that time. Christianity and unbelief has nothing in common (at least according to God).

  145. Great article, I am so often cringing at christian movies or waiting for the obvious line or scene. But Christians need to keep influencing art in a way that is not formulaic. Thanks for posting

  146. Reblogged this on Best Of and commented:
    An interesting blog post.. “This morning I read a review of the film God’s Not Dead over at Gospelspam.com, and was struck by the thesis of the review, which is found in the title, “God’s Not Dead but Christian Screenwriting Is.”
    The review had plenty of good to say about the film, but also plenty to say about the problems currently found in Christian filmmaking – specifically the writing”.

  147. Not sure if anyone else mentioned this, but a movie (from a Christian book) that breaks the mold is Blue Like Jazz. There’s certainly no preaching to the choir or much predictability in that film, and it was anything but safe if you asked the traditional Christian media. Christian blogs and figureheads were tearing that movie apart for its raw look at life at a very liberal college and what that was like for a young man wrestling with the faith he was taught as a youth. But what’s more Christian than a confessional where Christians take the box to confess their sins of being less than loving to the very folks Jesus would have hung out with?

  148. Great post. My impression is that most people doing “christian filmmaking” couldn’t make it elsewhere. I read very little Christian fiction, listen to little Christian music or watch Christian media because it is artistically so weak. I think this comes from so many Christians staying in “the enclave” and not mixing it up in the wider culture and figuring out how to do good art in their chosen media while continuing to go deep in their faith so that there is a seamlessness between their art and their faith that is not schlocky but rather compelling.

  149. Pingback: When “Christian” is an Adjective | Scribe of Theran

  150. I agree that to often films with a christian theme are cheesy. But I also have a concern with the mentality that christian themed films have to be like the worlds films. There was a philosophy going around a few years ago that said you have to look like the world to win the world. It caused many a christian to compromise their walk. I don’t believe the world wants a carbon copy of itself. It’s looking for the real thing. If we can improve the quality of christian film without compromising the integrity and message of Christianity, that’s great. But to add some of the trash from Hollywood to make the film more worldly would only cheapen the message.
    Sincerely in Christ, Bill

  151. Interesting article. I also just wrote about ‘God’s Not Dead’ as part of my review of the latest group of faith-based movies, primarily ‘Noah.’ We talk about a lot of the same things: the Church monopolizing art in Western history, and the problems with Christian cinema, except that you’re a lot nicer about it. Check out my review, let me know what you think!

  152. Pingback: Noah and the Christian Artist | A Sentimental Journey

  153. Pingback: Dreamworks Animation to make Thimblerig’s Ark Film? I’m BUSTING! | thimblerigsark

  154. Great article, good points, and great articulation of a very complex subject. I love that you left it open to questions and debate, which are abundant from the looks of the comments. I am not a Christian and would not go to see a “Christian” movie because I don’t want to be preached to, and such movies can be exclusionary to non-Christians…plus I prefer movies that ask more questions than they answer. As you pointed out, art should challenge us…not tow the line and play it safe. If the goal of Christian filmmakers (or artists) is to convert non-believers to faith, the old formula of Christian storytelling is certainly not effective. And if the goal is to tell a good story, then the current formula is equally ineffective. But some people don’t want to be challenged, perhaps because they are afraid that once questions get asked, they won’t like the answers.

  155. 1. Christians eat their own. This causes all purveyors of Christianity to play it safe and, as you say, stroke sensibilities. No one wants to be a blasphemer.

    2. Look how the church crucified Matthew McConaughey after he dared to mention to God. He didn’t play roles acceptable for a christian to play, according to many. Therefore, he shouldn’t say God’s name in public.

    3. The church doesn’t want to be challenged. People specifically go to church to hear their beliefs echoed. They don’t want to be told that preventing gay marriage is unkind, unconstitutional, and not a good way to love their neighbor. They don’t want to be told that accepting others for who they decide to be is ok. Ever.

    4. Christian films aim at evangelizing. No one wants to be evangelized by anyone. When was the last time a Baptist looked forward to a straight-forward conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness (or worse, an atheist! Gasp!) with an open mind. Nope. Close minds are safer. And the typical American audience doesn’t want the evangelism, especially when it’s indicting at the expense of entertainment.

    Ironically, I think a successful Christian Filmmaker will not claim to be a Christian. This has worked for many a band comprised of Christians. That’s the first step.

  156. I am a Christian screenwriter with 12 produced faith-based films. I agree with a lot of your points. I dealt with some of same points in an interview, which I am quoting here:

    In what area(s) do you think Christian screenwriting/filmmaking needs to improve in?

    Almost all Christian films suffer from the conflict between two incompatible goals. On one hand, Christian films are supposed to proclaim the gospel to an unbelieving world. But, on the other hand, Christian films have to be pure enough to play in the sanctuaries of churches without offending the sensibilities of the righteous. As a result, we often end up with films that are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Every church I go to I ask people, particularly young people, if they watch Christian films. They say no. I ask why. They usually answer is: “Because they’re phony.” This is coming from kids who happily listen to Christian music. Why? Because contemporary Christian musicians successfully battled those within the church who objected to it solely on the basis that it sounded worldly — as if a backbeat and a distorted electric guitar are inherently evil. Contemporary Christian music learned to speak the language of its audience and to address its needs and as a result is proving to be a blessing to many people. Christian films haven’t done that yet. Issues of sin and temptation can’t be conveyed and dealt with in a way that seems authentic and honest to nonbelievers in Christian films because the gatekeepers don’t want to bring “the world” into their churches and ministries. But if the problems feel fake in the film to the unbeliever so will the solution we offer. Real problems need real solutions. Sadly, however, we end up making films to suit the needs of the church rather than the needs of the unsaved. I think that’s a huge mistake. Jesus went into the world and ate and drank with the sinner to the consternation of the religious authorities. He went out and spoke their language and addressed their needs. He didn’t wait in the church for them to come to him. We should be doing the same thing.

    I would also remind Christian filmmakers that you don’t have to work only on Christian films. Bring your talent to every kind of movie and television show. Work to bring your values and sensibilities to mainstream entertainment community. One of the reasons why Hollywood seems so hostile to our worldview is because Christians have abandoned it. Engage it instead.

    • I agree, Sean Paul, although I do think there is a place for explicitly Christian films – just like music. And Christians will start to pop up in the most unusual places with greater regularity, I think – in the casts and crews of major films and TV shows, as writers, producers, directors, etc. I think it’s just taking time for us to find our way back into the land that we abandoned a while back.

      And you’re one of those, I think! Blessings on your work, and your attempts to embody these sorts of thoughts and ideas.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Nate

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  158. Wow! That spoke to my heart, I was liking it halfway down, because my mind was saying “Yes! Yes!” I wish the masses didn’t get their knickers in a twist as soon as something jumps out of the “Politically correct” and “safely bland/mild” Christian tick box. I think C.T. Studd said it right with “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” Sometimes we have to get real, and I pray I will live to that.

  159. Wow. This post just came at a time in my life where I have been pondering the same thing. At twenty two years old and as a recently professed christ-follower who just began her journey as a screenwriter and filmmaker, the thought of sinning or being too dark has plagued my mind. I believe that storytellers should portray real life whether a Christian life or a nonbelievers. But its still a pendulum of fear, for there is a stigma to what Christian artist should be..sadly. We as a community should also learn to judge less I think. Well thank you for the wonderful post.

  160. Nate,
    As I read your post I could not help but find myself questioning. I do not agree with you on most of what you are saying. I do not feel that you understand the true value of art. When you said “art is art, the pulpit it the pulpit” I could not disagree with you more. Art is not just art. It is not just for the look it is not just for display. Art is made with intent. No matter what the genera no matter what the material of the art it ALWAYS 100% is meant by the author or creator to have some kind of message. There is meaning to every art work. And as far as the pulpit is concerned I really don’t think the idea of the pulpit is “preaching”, no, I see it more as a place for teaching. Also, regarding your comment about “Facing the Giants”, it is NOT fairy tail. The point that they are making at the end of that movie (and I am sorry you cannot see it) is that by God’s grace you CAN face the giants in your life AND be VICTORIOUS. God does not leave His children to fend for themselves and be left alone. If David had not made that field goal at the end of the game the message that the movie was presenting would have been contradicted. You may argue then that they should not have had the wind change directions like it did, but there again I would have to disagree with you. The need to kick the ball into the wind to make the field goal just out of reach for the back up kicker was necessary to show that man cannot face the giants alone, you have to face the giants with God’s strength. The change of the wind was also helpful for David in this movie, because it was like a tangible sign for David that God was going to give him strength for this kick and all David had to do was his best and leave the rest up to God. Such is life for the believer. No, being a Christian is not “a life of ease”, far from it; it is a hard and difficult task to truly follow Christ, but God give us the grace that we need to do it. This is their point. All of the odds are stacked up against the Shiloh Eagles, they should not, humanly speaking, have won that game. In that aspect the Giant’s coach was correct, but the fact of the matter was that God gave that team the ability to show the world that anything really is possible with God and that God is faithful. Yes, it is just a film, yes, it was written by man, but that absolutely does not invalidate the truth that is in it. God will bless those who put their trust in Him. God is faithful to those who trust Him and helps them to face the giants in their life. Oh, and the film Noah that is coming out soon, I do not see any problem with people being upset by its lies. Say it for what it is. When people lie in art it is not a good thing, it is misrepresentation. I may not know much about the film Noah that is coming out, but if what I have heard is true (and I have good reason to think it is) then it is not okay, because Noah isn’t a big jerk. Noah was righteous, Noah did not prevent people from getting on the ark. No one believed. And once God shut the door of the boat, it was too late. people could have banged on the door all they wanted as the waters grew higher, but it was too late and Noah had NOTHING to do with their free will to not get on the boat while they still had the chance. And after the flood when Noah had his issues, um I’m sorry, but you cannot say that that proves he was a jerk. It just shows that Noah wasn’t perfect. Noah was not always wise in his decisions. Do you think you (and by you I mean any given person save or not) could have done much better if you were in Noah’s position? I don’t think so. I may not do the exact same sin as Noah, but I too have sin that I struggle with and that I need God’s help to overcome. The same is true for EVERYONE. That is the point that God is making. NO ONE, no one, is perfect, NO ONE, can pay the price for what he/she has done. We cannot live up to God’s standards, but that is why Jesus died for us. Jesus who did no wrong, did not deserve to die, died for us, because God demonstrated His own love toward us in this, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. For by grace are we saved through faith, yet not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. NOT of works, so that no one may boast. We cannot save ourselves and I think that this needs to be the point of Christian films. The point is that God is the only one who can help us overcome the trials in our lives. I don’t know exactly what you are looking for in art. I don’t know if you want to please your senses or be edified, but I do know that a biblical film would be one that edifies and tells truth. And I know that Facing the Giants, and God’s not Dead does that (even though I too have not yet seen God’s not Dead, but trust me first opportunity I want to see it).

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  162. Thank you for this read, and I very much enjoyed it. I myself professed the Christian faith for my younger years, and learned a lot. As I am older, and lead more to just a spiritual life as opposed to a lable I began to reach out, and understand a little more. I still love the teachings, and follow a few, but I find it is limited in understanding. This may sound erelavent, but from the way I feel the Christians are looking at film just as in film like everyone else. Wile the more devout may have more of a Christian, or scripture based entertainment, I feel the majority lean more to the main stream media not limiting their entertainment just to faith. You made a wonderful point about Christian doing rated R, and I think this is absolutely acceptable. God doesn’t limit our minds, and Damn us for contemplating sin in my opinion because all things give depth to life in every degree. In fact I think a warrior of light should walk deep in the darkness with a torch held high. Personally if I were to utilize the ability to express the ultimate forgiveness of sin in film, one would be inclined to show the degree of the sin as well. This to me would be a block buster Christian film I would buy. Thanks for the post once again. NAMASTE, HARIBOL, and God bless.

  163. Interesting thoughts. I agree on some things and disagree on others but you’re totally right on one thing: artists should stop playing safe. There’s no creativity nor real artistic communication when you play it safe.

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  165. hello there! good read. could i give my two cents then just come back some other time?

    on the year first day of class, my prof in script writing gave us two words we aspiring writers need to understand and live by, “what if?

  166. I have been doing some posts on the theme of the reformation of American Christianity. I had not considered the need for a reforming of Christian cultural expression but I think you are right. It should be a part of what reformation encompasses.

  167. Great article! I’m not any kind of an artist, but I appreciate film, and you expressed many of my own frustrations with Christians films. While they’re well intentioned, they are rarely real enough to reach people outside the church. All too often they gloss over everyday struggles and give you prayer and quiet time as a cookie cutter answer to all life’s problems. I would love to see more christian films like Machine Gun Preacher, a biopic about Sam Childers. It’s rated R, which is unfortunate, but it deals with a lot of things that Christian film usually doesn’t. It’s honest about Sam’s struggles and how hard it can be to follow God. He has been under fire since the move was released, I don’t know much about that, but the movie is good and I think it addresses some of the problems you brought up.

    • Thanks for the comment! I haven’t seen MGP yet, but I have the disk at home waiting to be watched. I might have to give it a try the next time I’m awake after the kids have gone to sleep.

      Here’s hoping that as Christian filmmaking matures, the audience will mature as well, and we’ll be able to work together to make powerful stories come to life.

      Cheers!
      Nate

  168. Not a “Christian film,” just a film about a disillusioned young man who takes a job as a pastor “for the paycheck” … check out the teaser and see what you think of the writing. This is the first of three features with faith themes coming from Highway 29 Motion Pictures. We’re hoping to shatter the paradigm of cheesy Christian filmmaking, or at least give it the ol’ college try. http://igg.me/at/thegardenoflife/x/6975009

  169. When I find an article that expresses so well what I have felt for so long, but have only had limited success articulating, it goes in my ‘My Sentiments Exactly’ notebook. Just printed this out to add it in. Thanks for your thoughts

  170. Thank you for writing about this subject. I have a suggestions for a Christian film. I believe that people of this generation,especially, are looking for ReAL. How do you deal with real life? How does the spiritual world interact with the physical world? How do you deal with your own darkness? How do you live the life when your flesh is in direct contradiction with your faith? What about demons? There is so much about supernatural things in media but no one in the church even talks about it.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Logan. As the father of three (from 10 months to 13 years), I know the pressure we’re under as parents that our kids follow the paths we set before them. But they are only going to do that for a short time before they head off in their own directions. As my oldest has started stretching his wings (so to speak) and making his own choices, it has become very real to me that the only truly effective weapon we have in our arsenal to properly defend them is prayer. Even when they make the choices we’d rather they not make, we can continue to be the ones standing between them and the world in prayer.

      And the biggest thing is to remember that we’re all on a journey, and that God is God of the atheist as well as the religious (sorry, atheists, but it’s the truth) – and He’s not done with your son.

      Blessings to you,
      Nate

  171. Loved your blog. The quality of Christian art is a huge personal soapbox of mine. I wrote a whole series on the relationship between Christianity and the arts, and what caused the schism. Some of it is on my blog, you might be interested.

  172. I honestly feel like some christian movies are sooooo watered down and diluted, we are suppose to be set apart. I also feel like some of the movies are low budgeted, but its just a opinion. I saw heaven is forreal and its Good. should review it. http://www.averykey.wordpress.com Some part of this blog, i disagree and some i agree, just some very opinionated stuff.

  173. Thank you for posting this. Movies made by Christians should be written and crafted with excellence — otherwise they will not be seen as credible by the general public, which nullifies the chance of starting a substantive cultural conversation.

    Thank you also for calling out the “preaching to the choir” phenomenon that is all too popular. In my opinion, this only contributes to a rift between Christian films and the rest of society.

    If a film deals with heavy subject matter, it doesn’t make sense to sanitize it. Sin should not be glorified. But, if evil is softened/sugarcoated in hopes of a more family friendly rating, how can there be contrast between dark and light?

    There’s also a difference between promoting “family values” (which sadly often fall into the trap of stale, predictable themes as this article mentions) and promoting Christ crucified. There’s a place for each, but they are different.

    Please continue to facilitate conversation on this important topic.

  174. Pingback: Replying to Some “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking” Questions | thimblerigsark

  175. Awesome article. Every Christian filmmaker needs to read this. I love ‘Blue Like Jazz.’ Check out that film. It raises questions about the journey off following Jesus, but without the cheesy conversion experience. Why on God’s green earth does every ‘Christian’ film have to have the cheesy conversion experience! Thanks for explaining the behind the scenes reasons for some of that. I personally love movies like American Beauty that help us question what really matters in life. Or, Mel Gibson’s Signs. These films aren’t Christian, but encourage us to examine life. Thanks. http://Www.refuelblog.com

  176. I agree with all of this. I think that’s why I loved “Seven Days In Utopia” with Robert Duvall. I’ve also been reading a lot of the Missional Movement stuff which is talking about living life exactly as Jesus did.

  177. Pingback: A Ragamufin’s Review of Ragamuffin | thimblerigsark

  178. Wow thanks so much for this posting. (I have not yet read all of the 400+ replies!) I googled this subject matter today after last night watching a Christian indie film that while good, had broken some of the golden rules of script writing. I am a screenwriter of 15 years and as such it probably bothered me more that other viewers. I am passionate about not just making films with faith-based content, but making them GOOD! The film I watched did not look cheaply made and the subject was intriguing. My gripe is not so much about the subject matter, but with the quality of the writing. Not all filmmakers are writers and should really get the script the attention it needs before getting involved in casting and what song to put where. I don’t claim to be a professional, but I would like to offer to collaborate with anyone on their faith-based script (I’ll read it and provide notes free of charge). Send me a message at ambassadorca (at symbol) juno.com.

    • Shelly, thanks for your post. You mentioned that you have been writing screenplays for a while now. We are in Greensboro, NC, we have a production company here – highway29motionpictures.com – we do “secular” films but we’re about to launch a faith film fund for three features. If you have a lower budget or micro budget faith-oriented screenplay you would like to show us … well, just keep us in mind or drop us an email via the hwy29 website. BTW, we value quality writing!

  179. Okay now I’m reading through the posts and it seems there are so many of us saying the same thing – we are passionate about faith based film making – does anyone know of a website or Facebook page where we can all get together (in an online sense), share and collaborate? (I would love to be a part of some of these projects people are posting about and yet I’m going to go blind with all this clicking and reading!)

  180. Pingback: The Sacred Arts Revolution | thimblerigsark

  181. In my eyes there isn’t anything wrong with Christian filmmaking! Lots of the Christian films did exactly what they were supposed to do: Change lives. That’s the goal of most Christian films. And many of them did exactly that.

    • Hi KS, thanks for the comment. However, I would have to ask if you are serious that “there isn’t anything wrong with Christian filmmaking”? Really? You really believe that Christian filmmaking can’t improve? It has reached it’s zenith at this point in history, and will never be better? While it might be true that some Christian films have changed some lives, my argument is that Christian films can and should change many more lives, but right now the filmmakers are constrained by the expectations of the subculture that will mostly go and see these films.

      Thanks!
      Nate

  182. Pingback: The Christian Perception Problem at Comic-Con | thimblerigsark

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