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Over on faithwriters.com, someone linked to the article, “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking”.  A poster there named Lillian raised some issues with my blog, and I thought I would address them here, in case anyone is interested.

My original points are in italics, Lillian’s responses are in bold, and my replies are using a normal font.

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?

Some artists need no permission to “play it safe.” They prefer it that way. Every Christian artist should feel free to create as per their convictions. To imply that one is less of an artist or flawed in some way because they don’t take “risks” according to this author’s belief is troublesome to me. 

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my article.  My intention wasn’t that we should require all artists of faith to take risks.  Rather, I was attempting to challenge the church to allow her artists to take risks – as per their convictions.

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.

And yet, among the most sold books world wide last year and on the Times bestseller books for months was “Killing Jesus.” Irrelevance? Not as long as God has something to say about it.

First, God is sovereign, and just like He used Balaam’s donkey, He can and will use our attempts to create art in surprising ways.   But you have to admit that if we will stagnate if we only expose ourselves to things with which we agree.  Nobody outside our little subculture will care what we do as artists, because we’ll be so out of touch.

Before anyone suggests that I’m suggesting that we watch hard R-rated films for the sake of exposure.  That’s not at all what I mean.  Let me use the Noah film to help clarify my point.

I read testimonies by many Christians who said that they would not see the movie for a variety of reasons, based on what they’d heard:

•  The director is an atheist.

•  It’s a pro-environment movie.

•  The film has rock people.

•  The animals didn’t enter the ark two by two.

•  Noah has a mental breakdown on the ark.

•  Noah gets drunk.

Basically, these people were choosing to avoid having their interpretations of the Noah story challenged.  To be honest, I have a great deal more respect for the Christians who saw the film and hated it, and complained about it afterward, because they were at least open to seeing another point of view.

This brings me back to my point.  If we don’t like the way people outside the church challenge us, then we should take the reins and challenge each other with the art we produce, à la Proverbs 27:17.  Most Christian films don’t do this because the people who make those films are too busy trying to please their core audience (understandably), who largely wish to be stroked and not challenged.  It is my contention that filmmakers/storytellers should be freed up to say things that make us uncomfortable, and if the church doesn’t give them permission, they need to be say those things anyway.

Like a prophet.

This makes me think of a favorite story about Rich Mullins speaking to the chapel service at Wheaton College, as told by Shane Claiborne in his book, The Irresistible Revolution.  Shane reports that Rich said:

“You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you just have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too…[And he paused in the awkward silence.] But I guess that’s why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.”

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.

They are as per the secular world, but for the Christian artist, should they be? What happened to being “light,” “salt,” “being in not of,” and “examples” not “carbon copies,” leading not following.

Yes, yes, yes!  A thousand times yes!  Of course they should be different!   After all…

The pulpit is the place where Scripture should be explained and the Message delivered clearly, without ambiguity.

Art is inevitably ambiguous, depending on the eyes or ears of the beholder to discover the meaning for him or herself.

The pulpit is the embodiment of “tell, don’t show.”

Art is the embodiment of “show, don’t tell.”

In the pulpit, the personality of the preacher shouldn’t matter, because the message is paramount.  In fact, if people are more excited about the messenger than the message, then that group may have a problem.

In art, the personality of the artist might be sole the reason for the excitement for the art, and this doesn’t need to detract from the art.

In my original article, I conceded that the two may cross paths from time to time, but that should be the exception, not the rule.  I might want to see that guy who paints upside down pictures of Christ on a special Sunday morning, but I don’t want him up front every week (this is a problem I have with some modern worship – but that’s the subject of another article).  At the same time, maybe a piece of art will sometimes be on the nose for effect, but if it is a regular occurrence, it will get shut down by those who aren’t into the message being proclaimed.

So, yes.  They should be different.

As to Christians setting the example, I would say that is the job of every Christian in every situation.  Sometimes we set the example by explicitly sharing our faith; sometimes we set the example by quietly helping someone in need.

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.

Why would an admitted atheist want to take a biblical story and turn it into a non-biblical film? Could it be that Hollywood has discovered a new way to make money by exploiting the Bible without embracing it? 

I have to admit before responding to this that I have still been unable to see Noah, because I live in China, and it’s not showing here because it is a film based on a Bible story.   That being said, I’d love to know why you consider the film to be “non-biblical”?

Meanwhile, I’ll ask – are these randomly Googled other examples of Noah biblical?

http://www.daniellesplace.com/html/bible_themes_noah.html

http://www.artistichandsoffaith.com/?p=917

http://www.dltk-bible.com/arks.htm

http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/free-printables-for-kids-noahs-ark-coloring-pages/

4) We need to be okay with movies that don’t give all the answers. 

Says who? Why should we have to be “okay” with it? The overriding stamp of approval is whether we feel God is “okay” with it. I’m still a proponent of God’s opinion rather than man’s. 

Re-read my quote and tell me where I said that God’s opinion is not important.  Then re-read your quote and see where you wrote that it’s based on what we feel.  I would – rather – posit that our okayness with ambiguity should be based on what Scripture teaches.  Specifically, look at the teaching style of Jesus.  To the masses, he often told stories that the people didn’t get, and they would walk away scratching their heads.  Even the disciples, his closest mates, would come up to him afterwards and ask him to explain himself.  As Eugene Peterson wrote, Christ was often subversive in the things that he taught.  A lost coin?  Virgins waiting at the gate?  A man beat up on the road?  What do these things have to do with God?

And still today, life is often filled with unanswered questions.  Why did five-year-old Ben Sauer just die from a rare form of cancer?  Why did nearly three hundred miners just get killed in an accident in Turkey?  Why did the job I was counting on for next year get suddenly taken away from me?

God has given us lives filled with ambiguity.  Maybe, just maybe he has done this so that we will turn to Him for an explanation, like the disciples did.  And if no explanation is offered, maybe he is helping us learn to trust His goodness in the face of the ambiguity.

If they succeed in asking some good, deep questions, they might actually open the doors to conversations where answers can be explored.

The Bible is not only to be explored, as if it’s in some artistic laboratory, but accepted. Anything that doesn’t lead to that end is mere entertainment. Entertainment is fine, but let’s not confuse it with trying to communicate truth. 

First, how can you accept what the Bible teaches if you don’t explore it?

Second, are you suggesting that the only satisfactory end to truthful art made by Christians is that the Bible be accepted?  This is confusing to me, because I’m not really even sure what it means to “accept the Bible.”

If – by that phrase – you mean accept that the Bible is God’s word, then I would say that art can help bring a person to this place, but it will typically not do it by itself.

If – by that phrase – you mean accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then I would say that the phrase is not a biblical phrase anyway, so it would be irrelevant.

If – by that phrase – you mean accept the core message of the Bible – the Gospel – that God made us and loves us; that our sin has condemned us; that we are separated from Him; that Jesus came and died on the cross to pay our debt and restore the relationship between humanity and God; that we must believe that Jesus was who he said he was, repent of our sins, and receive Jesus’s forgiveness and salvation… so you’re suggesting that all art made by Christians has to end with a call to salvation?  Or is it possible that an artist can communicate this message in a subtle way so that a non-believer is willing to be exposed to it, and when they watch/read/hear the story, the Holy Spirit has some room to start pricking the heart?

See, to me, this is the power of art made by people of faith – when well crafted, it has the power to slip past defenses and lay out the truth behind enemy lines.  And the art might just need to be entertaining to accomplish this.  It might not have a clear gospel call as a part of the entertaining, but it doesn’t change the fact that can still impact, just like the stories of Jesus did.

Artists, isn’t part of our job to provoke questions? Don’t feel you have to end every sentence with a period.

No, but we need be tolerant of everyone’s point of view and preferences. And in spite of my comments, I respect this author’s right to express his opinion. 

I appreciate that, and right back at you.

5) 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?

Yes, we’re suppose to “communicate God’s truth, not that of a secularist/atheist. I haven’t seen it, but I was wondering, should I decide to see it, will I find any of “God’s truth” there?

Considering that all truth is God’s truth, I believe that you will.   And again, if God used Balaam’s donkey, why can’t he use Aronofsky’s filmmaking skills?  Of course, I believe it would be helpful to leave your own traditions and personal interpretations of the Noah story at the door before you walk into the theater to watch.  Christians don’t own the story of Noah, after all.

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.

Can you find the “Greatest Story Ever Told” in the film in question? And why do we need to “figure out a way to tell the story? The blueprint has worked ever since Jesus told His disciples what to do and how to do it. I need to be convinced that relevancy is the answer to rebellion and apathy.

Again, I haven’t seen Noah yet, so I can’t say.  As to why we need to “figure out a way to tell the story”?  We need to figure it out because the world needs so desperately to hear it.  There is a time for using the clear language of the pulpit, but God isn’t limited to communicating His truth through that venue.  He can use a novel, a screenplay, a piece of sculpture, a painting, a piano concerto, photography, poetry, 3-D art, and yes… even mime.

And why is relevancy such a dirty word?  Especially in this situation, I would equate relevant with excellence.  An excellently told story will – by virtue of its excellence – be relevant.  And we, as Christian artists, should strive for excellence – and therefore relevance – in every single piece of art that we produce.  Because the goal of what we are creating should be to whisper, sing, cry, laugh, or shout out God’s glory for everyone to see.

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