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Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible

Last month, while out at the movies, my wife and I happened to see trailers for two new movies produced by and for the Christian market — “faith-based films” they call them these days. Both trailers distilled their respective stories down to about 3 minutes of earnest dialogue snippets, tear-streamed dramatic moments, and inspirational footage of sports (basketball in one, track in the other). Throughout both trailers — which we saw on two different days before two different movies — the audience was audibly laughing. I was cringing. The paint-by-numbers aesthetic of the new wave of Christian movies persists in making the faith appear trite, inauthentic, corny, and — worst of all, as far as the culture goes — uncool.

Why despite all the gains made in technology and budgeting can’t Christians make good movies?

I know, I know — people always try to come up with exceptions. But there aren’t any, really. Every now and again some well-meaning brother or sister will say to me, “This one’s different. You gotta see it. It’s not like the others.” And then it is. It painfully, painfully is. Why does it seem like the only good “Christian movies” are the ones made by the world’s artists with Christian themes (“The Passion of the Christ”, “Silence”, etc.)?  Some thoughts:

1. Christian movies are not made by artists but propagandists.

I don’t mean that these projects aren’t carried about by people who know what they’re doing with cameras, lighting, etc. The visual quality of Christian movies has definitely increased over the last decade. The caliber of talent on both sides of the camera has increased, as well. So when I say Christian movies aren’t made by artists, I don’t mean they aren’t made by people who are good at their jobs. What I mean is that they are made by people who don’t really know what the job ought to be.

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I tracked this shift most notably in Christian writing (fiction) about 20 years ago. We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communicates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

Christian movies are more akin to propaganda than art because they begin with wanting to communicate some Christian theme — the power of prayer, the power of believing, the power of something — and then the story is crafted around that message. This is true even when the story is something based on a real-life incident. Delving into the depths of human character and motivation is subservient to getting the message across. This is why so much of the dialogue in Christian movies violates the classic writing proverb, “Show, don’t tell.”

2. Christian movies take place in the imagined reality of Christian sentimentalism.

Characters in Christian movies don’t often sound like people in real life. They sound like Christians imagine (or desire) real life to be. This is why the Christian protagonists are always earnest, even when they “don’t have all the answers,” and why the non-Christian antagonists always sound like the one-dimensional memes Christians tilt against in their Facebook streams.

Dialogue between believers and unbelievers always trends upward toward the believers’ win column, not because that’s how real-life conversation usually goes, but because that’s how Christians want it to go in their minds. You know the debates that you play out in your daydreams where you inspire the team with your spirituality, “own” the atheist with your apologetics, or warm the heart of your cranky neighbor with your kindhearted wisdom? All of that gets to come to life as if it really happens in a Christian movie. It doesn’t have to sound real. It just has to sound like the real we imagine there to be.

3. Christian movies emphasize narrative tidiness over nuance.

When I was trying to get my first novel published, I had an interested publisher say to me, “We can’t publish this if the sheriff has his arm blown off in the firefight at the end.” The scene in question was not gory or indulgent. But it was a narrative choice I made to make the stakes real and high. A good guy can get hurt in real life. Well, my big mistake was mistaking the world of Christian fiction for real life. In the world of Christian fiction — at least, for that publisher — good guys don’t get hurt.

Jared C. Wilson
Jared C. Wilson
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, Director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of numerous books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, The Prodigal Church, The Imperfect Disciple, and Supernatural Power for Everyday People. A frequent preacher and speaker at churches and conferences, you can visit him online at jaredcwilson.com or Twitter.

Carrie Underwood Unveiled: The Power of Christian Faith in Her Chart-Topping Hits

Explore the journey of Carrie Underwood as a Christian artist, blending her deep faith with her musical talent to inspire a generation. Discover how her songs of faith, hope, and love transcend boundaries, making her a beacon of Christian artistry in contemporary music.

From the Heartland to Hollywood: The Roots of America’s Favorite Christian Comedians

Discover the diverse origins of beloved Christian comedians like Chonda Pierce, Tim Hawkins, Michael Jr., and others. Explore how their hometowns from the Midwest to the South have shaped their unique comedic voices, offering humor that resonates with family values and faith.

Embracing Your Identity: Thriving as a Daughter of the King Amidst the Chaos of Modern Life

Discover how to thrive in modern life by embracing your identity as a Daughter of the King. Find strength, purpose, and peace amidst the chaos with timeless wisdom and practical insights.