What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking, Episode II

Let me start off this post with a confession.  My original post, What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking, was not meant for mass consumption. It was written to the thirty or forty people who usually visit my blog – mostly friends and family.  What I’ve experienced over the past few days has made me feel a mixture of emotions – delight, amazement, fear, humility, surprise… and I could go on listing emotions, because it’s been a roller coaster for me and my family.

You see, I’m not a guru, not by any stretch of the imagination.  I haven’t made anything artistic that 99.9% of the people who visited this blog have seen.   I’m actually typical.  Extremely typical.  Mind-numbingly typical.  I do think of myself as a fellow artist, but more often then not, I am fellow audience.

Maybe God chose my article to spark a renewed conversation about Christians and the arts because of my normalcy?  After all, I don’t have a following or a platform.  I just have my first novel, and the reason I created this blog was to try and shill my novel.  Last night a friend suggested that perhaps God even led me to write my book so that I would write the article, so that the conversation would be sparked.  If so, then I’m even more amazed!

I’ve been most stunned by the comments supporting the thesis of the article.  I don’t say this because they were agreeing with me, but because it thrilled me to see that there so many folks out there attempting to be faithful to God through their art, who were encouraged by my words.  Of course, I knew these people were out there, as I’ve had the pleasure to encounter so many creative Christians over the years, through Act OneChristians in Theatre Arts, and in different walks of my daily life.  But I was still very encouraged to read all the comments about all the different creative things going on by the multitude of artists who are out there in the church.

If you are such an artist, and since I have been granted a platform for this time, I have a few things I’d like to say to you.  Just remember, I’m no ancient wise man sitting on a mountaintop; these are words from a fellow pilgrim.

1)  Do not be artists in isolation.

Artists tend to be introverts, and much of art is a solitary endeavor.  However, if you are a writer, a painter, a dancer, a filmmaker, or any other form of artist, and you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you need to make sure you are in fellowship with other believers.  Actually, this isn’t optional, as we’re commanded all throughout the Bible to be in fellowship.  The most famous example of this is Hebrews 10:25, but you can click here to see one hundred verses on the importance of fellowship.   I don’t know about you, but I tend to commit my darkest, most heinous sins when I’m alone.  I’m also the most convinced that my wrong thinking is right when I’m alone.  So, if you are not regularly meeting with other believers for whatever reason, allow me to quote Bob Newhart:  STOP IT!  Suck it up, find a gathering of Biblically-based Christians, and start gathering with them.

And that should only be the beginning.  It’s quite easy to simply slip in to a church, give a good listen to the singing and the preaching, and then slip out, but that’s not what I mean.  I’m talking about being vulnerable, transparent, and honest with your brothers and sisters.  Open yourself to other believers from different walks of life.  I contend that if you are an artist, you need this.   Especially if you are an artist who is trying to take risks – you need this.

2)  Guard your artistic heart.

I am a proud introvert, and I am exhausted by the idea of gathering with others.  When I do, it carries me far outside of my comfort zone and then I find that I long for alone time so that i can recharge.  The problem is –  as I said above, if I am going to sin, it will happen when I’m alone.  For example, the probability that I’m going look at pornography on the internet goes up exponentially when my family has all gone to bed and I’m alone sitting at my computer.  And what’s to keep me from doing it?  I mean, it’s there.  It’s free.  It’s instant gratification.

And the best part?

Nobody will ever know.

That’s not exactly true, though, is it?  Someone very, very important does know.  Someone knows every little thing I’ve ever done that I knew I shouldn’t have done, but I decided to do it anyway.  He knows.

Do you know who I’m talking about?

I’m talking about myself.

I know.

I am fully aware – at all times – of my capability and propensity to sin.  And that knowledge is a gift.  It’s a gift because if I know that the danger is there, then I can be proactively building up defenses against the danger.  It’s a danger for multiple reasons, but as artists we need realize this:  your continual unrepentant sin will affect your art.

What defenses do I – as a Christian – have against sin and temptation?  I want to list three basic defenses.

a)  Scripture.  Psalm 119 tells us that God’s word is like a light shining on the path in front of us.  This isn’t metaphor (at least, not only metaphor).  When we’re in the Word, we are much more aware of the temptations around us, and we’re much more aware of our inability to fight the temptations on our own.  Why is it that we can quote our favorite films, but we have trouble memorizing Scripture?

b)  Prayer.  Even when you’re alone, you aren’t alone.  1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that the temptation we’re facing is not uncommon, and that God is with us as we’re being tempted.  So don’t waste the opportunity of having one on one time with the one who created everything!  Also, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that prayer should be something we’re doing around the clock.  It keeps our focus on Him, and keeps our focus off of the thing that is tempting us.

c)  The conviction of the Holy Spirit.  In John 14:26, Jesus tells his disciples that the Father is sending an Advocate to teach us and remind us of the things Jesus taught.  But you have to be willing to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice!  And you have to commit to obey, even when it really grates against your desire to express yourself.

3)  If you don’t hate the dark side, you probably shouldn’t be going there.

In the preface of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. 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 would say this also applies to things other than devils.

As you consider portraying darkness or sin in your art, you need to examine yourself to see how that darkness or sin grips you.  If it fascinates you – no matter what it is – you need to avoid it.  And you must be honest with yourself, which is why my first point is so vital!  Without fellowship and accountability, you can slide down the slippery slope without even realizing you are on a slippery slope, and then find  yourself enthralled by the very thing you formerly detested.

How many stories are there about Christians who have had their lives ruined because of sexual sin, and how many of those Christians started out honestly hating the thing that ended up being their downfall?  Every believing artist should seek open, mature, biblical accountability to help keep this from happening.

I still contend that the church needs to give her artists the freedom to explore the human story – the good, the bad, and the ugly – but we artists need to make certain that we don’t set out on that expedition alone, unguarded, and unhealthy.

Blessings,
Nate

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44 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking, Episode II

  1. My son is planning to enter the world of film making (in fact he has made numerous films for both school and as a job) and I appreciate these posts. I am a pastor and I am firm believer in the arts. Both of your posts contain very good and wise words.

    Blessings
    Jim

    • Thanks so much, Jim! I’m encouraged that you are a pastor who appreciates the arts, and wish your son all the best going into filmmaking. If he truly takes the plunge and heads for LA or NYC, I hope that the church you pastor will treat him like an overseas missionary heading for the field!

      Blessings,
      Nate

  2. I think your final point is incredibly wise and well articulated. Yes, Christians need to portray sin for what it really is, but it is do easy in so doing to be enchanted by it. Because it is enchanting! That’s why they call it temptation.

  3. Once again, God has given you wise words to say (or, post). The line about obeying, even when it’s going against our desire to express ourselves, is very convicting for me personally. Please keep the posts coming!

  4. For some time now, I have been sharing with friends of mine, including my Pastor, that my heart for Christian film is in writing with integrity, but the truth of how this world really is. How moving a story of a life changed by Christ would be if the sinful world escaped is portrayed to the audience. How realistic would a film be if Christians in the film weren’t so perfect, but instead showed that they too are sinners; not perfect copy’s of a film-version-Jesus. (I say film because even Christ had righteous rage that would have been eye-opening to see.
    As I move closer to achieving my goals of working and writing in Faith Based Films, I will hold your advice, and the truth of Gods word close. Your quote of C.S. Lewis is perfect, and your advice that follows too. Thank you for this follow up blog post,

    Blessings as your forge ahead in Christ
    Ian

  5. This is so great Nathan and this topic is so relevent now but at the end of the year Exodus comes out with Christian Bale as Moses…so…the Holy Spirit is truly leading this conversation..

  6. Really this text came against many things that God has given in recent days in my life , no doubt artists have this tendency to isolate themselves , like myself distancing myself to write , but I have learned that the exchange of experience and familiarity with many different brothers of me has made me more inspired to write produdita and undoubtedly maintain communion becomes essential to any Christian who proposes to use art as a way to preach the gospel .. at most , their advice on how you keep away from sin are essential . . Finally , a quote from CS Lewis definitely makes me love your text !

    God bless you, Evana ( Brazil )

    • Hi Evana,

      Thank you! If you are a writer, it’s definitely can be a challenge to pull away from the writing to rub shoulders with brothers and sisters. But as you say, it can also help inspire you and help you be more creative! And I’m a big C.S. Lewis fan, so I’ll quote him whenever I can.

      Blessings!
      Nate

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  8. Thank you so much for your transparency and honesty in these last two posts. As a Chritian and aspiring writer I constantly wrestle with the limits put on Christians in expressing their creativity. It is good to know that God is recreating his creative freedom in the hearts of those who know Him by name. Perhaps art by Christians can once again provoke the human imagination so that Jesus may come to curious ears and give them living water. Ironically, the pre-qualifier for this invitation is often the messy realities present in this world–my prayer is for this generation to reclaim their creative heritage and beautify once more.

  9. Nate, this is SO great. As an artist in the realm of theatre and writing, I am so passionate about this topic. This and your Part One article speak directly to many things I feel as an artist who is also a Christian. Way to speak out in boldness and let the Holy Spirit speak through you!! Keep on creating!

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  11. Hi there! I have really enjoyed reading your two posts on christian film making. I find them not only enlightening and interesting but also an articulate representation of how I feel about this topic- I just can’t coherently express these thoughts.
    I am a new follower and I hope to read more of your writing.
    God Bless

  12. I was a film maker who was trained secularly but never could find a home in christian film making because of the inability of christian film making to embrace your exact thoughts. I have since moved on and away from film making and story telling because of this. I agree totally in the dangers of treading this great sea alone and wish you the very best as you sound like a true warrior with great wisdom. I thoroughly have enjoyed reading your two blogs. Keep encouraging!!!!

    • Michael, it makes me a bit sad to hear that you have moved on from filmmaking and storytelling, but at the same time – God is sovereign, and so He has you where He wants you. Maybe He’ll bring you back to it someday.

      Be true to His calling on your life, brother!

      And thank you for your kind comment. Blessings!
      Nate

  13. I read your first post on this topic as a link a fellow author shared, out of context, and I appreciate the fact that you took the time to visit our blog and point me to your other posts. I wish I had gotten the perspective this post and some of your others give first. I see your heart better now, and I appreciate your viewpoint more. I still look forward to more interaction on the concerns I expressed, but thank you for inviting me to get better acquainted, and I look forward to even more acquaintance. Mary C. Findley

    • Thanks, Mary! I’m not sure how much of my blog you’ve been able to read, but I was a bit shocked when so many people read my first post. It was written to a small number of people who knew me, and it suddenly went out into the world. So, I think a lot of people who had issues with what I wrote – had they known me, and my heart – they wouldn’t have had those issues.

      Anyway, this is a subject with which I’ve been wrestling for years – having been raised in the church and doing theater – and knowing lots of folks in the non-believing theater world. And wanting those folks to have every option to hear the Good News as they can have!

      I’ll be visiting your blog more often, too. I like what you are doing there!

      Blessings,
      Nate

  14. Nate, I’ve finished the 2nd portion of your post & I’m very encouraged by what you’ve written! I’m currently in the process of writing my 1st draft of a story. I really want to incorporate our Lord’s message; however, I don’t want slam my readers with it either! He & I will work it all out, to His glory!
    All the very best to you, brother! In His love, Onita

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  16. Hi, have you ever wonder, why Ben-Hur, Passion of Christ, The Ten Commandments, had a big success all over the world, why do they trascend in all times? And why Christian filmmakers doesn´t have the same influetion all over the wordl? Do you know Tarkovski want to film The Evangelion of San Lucas? I think the reason because they were not triying to preach a religión, or a church. They just paste the Word of God, and God always support his Word. Not a religión or a church.
    Best regards, from a Christian in Mexico. Nice to meet you

  17. I am currently writing my third screenplay. All I hope are bridge scripts between the secular and the religious market.

    What I have observed is the Christian audience objects to a writer who rewrites the Bible or adapts it in the name of art. Hence the failure of Daronovsky’s Noah movie.

    What the secular audience wants is to be entertained. They want to laugh, be amazed, or be moved. They do not want you to preach to them.

    Both sides want fascinating characters and a plot that drives the story forward.

  18. “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 think Lewis is right. Balance is extremely important, because all forms of “devils” or “darkness” have an appeal that may pull us into it EVEN THOUGH WE ARE IN THE VERY ACT of “warring” against it. Unbalanced and incorrectly sustained effort to the “war” cause can also make us fall. When this- “war darkness” becomes our entire focus and we gloss over the victory that already came from the cross, then we let the blindness darken our eyes to everything that is truly important and good and of far greater glory, value, and worth.

    Truthfully, ANYTHING that holds my eyes captive and draws my eyes in a direction that is contrary or unbalanced -such a thing is capable of throwing me into darkness. The trick is to be ready to fight darkness but stay whole in the good. The only protection I know is to do personal and constant status checks. I must continually examine my motivation and focus in light of what is good and whole if I’m to be a writer who wants to hit at evil- head on. I must remember my weakness and know the source of power and never confuse the two!!!

  19. Nate thanks for the post. I have been battling with this is concept as well. I have always believed that Christians are to go out and be witnesses for Christ. That applies to the Screen as well.

    The more I watch Christian films the more I have become disgusted with them. The extreme predictability, huge play on emotions, lack of portraying sin as sin and the fairy tale stories has become so irritating that it actually makes me both sad and angry. They are leading Christians astray in teaching that God will answer all your prayers, desires, etc.

    I have been wanting to get into the Christian film scene and create films that both encourage believers as well as reach the lost. I know that it is a difficult thing to do. It means that I have to go outside of the bounds “Christian film-making” and make something that is a bit more realistic. If we can make a film that appeals to the lost and reaches them at the same time that is what we need to do.

    My firm belief has been that Christians are to be equipped and challenged in their local churches. While a film may challenge or encourage it should always be looked at as a film and never gospel. And any film made should always try and reach the lost or at least make them stop and ponder where their lives are at.

    I am not sure I want to venture into this more dangerous approach but I am willing. I have done some screenwriting (for school and helping others) and am looking for opportunities to help more.

    Nate I know this is a side note but if you know of anyone looking for help with screenwriting could you direct me to them? Also do you know of a website that is a Christian forum for Christian screenwriters and film makers?

    Thanks.

    In Christ,

    Joe

  20. “While a film may challenge or encourage it should always be looked at as a film and never gospel. And any film made should always try and reach the lost or at least make them stop and ponder where their lives are at.”

    Spot on, Joe! Christ says, “anyone who lights a lamp doesn’t put it under a basket.” If we lift that basket even a bit, light can penetrate the darkness.

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