Last night, I watched the movie God’s Not Dead, and it was a little better than I was expecting. Sure, it had many of the problems most Christian movies have: an “emotional” score that undercuts actual emotion, underwhelming “celebrity” appearances, poor to middling acting throughout, bad writing at times, and an acceptable but unremarkable degree of overall technical craft. But it was also occasionally moving (when the music got out of the way), not incessantly preachy, and every once in a while believably written (i.e., some of the dialogue actually sounded like someone could have said it in reality).
Most unbelieving critics have much the same perspective. Here’s an excerpt from an average review by Teddy Durgin from Screen It:
In just a moment, I’m going to reveal my one simple trick for choking good art and starving good artists, but first, I just wanted to say… Congratulations. We’re already doing it!
How? By declaring with our dollars that entertainment is the main purpose of art. In the course of this article, I will unfold why this is not a biblical idea, how it suppresses good art and harms good artists, and what we can do to undo the damage we’ve done with our “entertainment” budgets. Unless you were really here to learn how to destroy good art. In which case, good news—all you need to do is carry on as usual.
Something has been weighing on me quite a bit lately. I was very gently rebuked recently for how negative I usually am. This wasn’t an attack from some wounded outsider. This was from my closest business partner and friend, Justus. Second only to my wife, I rely on him to keep me in check. He said, in so many words, “I don’t want the Nehemiah Foundation to be characterized by naysaying. And you are often very negative. It leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths.” Especially after my article on Left Behind, I wanted to take this opportunity to begin a public dialogue on (some of) my shortcomings, and to ask for help in developing a constructive and gracious program for the destruction of mediocrity and corruption in the church’s arts.
Demolition in God’s Kingdom Plans
First, demolition and critique clearly have a place in God’s redemptive plan. If you look at God’s commission to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:10), two-thirds of it is destructive:
First, I must say that I won’t be seeing the new Left Behind movie. Ever. I don’t think you should see it either. In fact, I beg you not to see it. It may be “Christian art,” but it isn’t Christian. An article in Christianity Today sums up my perspective on it pretty well:
. . . Hollywood producers now know that American Christians feel that way about their faith [that Christians want their faith included in the mainstream discourse]—that Christians so desperately want to participate in the mainstream, that they’re tired of having sanctioned music that’s like other music and movies like other movies and politicians like other politicians but always still being on the outside, that Christians just want to feel identified without having to carve out little alcoves or niche markets that exist alongside the Big Boys. And, now that they know it—that is, now that they know they can make back 5x their initial financial investment—they want to exploit that, by pumping out garbage (not moral garbage, just quality garbage), slapping the “Christian” label on it, and watching the dollars pour in.
My wife and I just got back from a wedding in Charleston, and while we were there, we wanted to sample some of the local flavor. We both noted that franchises and food chains had infiltrated the picturesque historic downtown area, and we wondered why. Our conversation went something like this:
“Why would someone rather go to Starbucks than to a local coffee shop?”
You may have noticed that many talented Christian artists split with the church—either completely, like Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan—or partially on various issues, like Michael Gungor or Dan Haseltine. It seems that many “fringe” Christian artists feel disconnected from the church, or at least uncomfortable inside of it. This is actually a common experience, far more common than most people know.
Derek Webb, former member of Caedmon’s Call, had this to say in an interview with Richard Clark: