Thursday, May 27, 2010

Christian Movie-making… an oxymoron?

The Apostle Paul went to Mars Hill, the philosophical and religious centre of Athens and he spoke to the people gathered there in the manner of the day; he referenced their gods, their poetry, and their way of thinking. The Apostles also spoke in marketplaces and at religious centres—the places where people gathered. If we are going to continue the missionary work of proclaiming the gospel to the culture we live in, we ought to go where they are gathering and speak to them in a manner they understand. Since we live in a visual culture, Christians need to speak to the world in a voice they can see and hear. This means that gifted and talented Christians need to enter the world of movie-making.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), over one billion movie tickets were sold in Canada/US during 2009. MPAA also reports that 67% of the population of Canada/US are movie-goers. Movie theatres are where the people are gathering; movies are the media they are listening to and watching. Given the fact that our culture is being powerfully shaped by false worldviews presented in films, Christians need to provide a counter worldview, a worldview grounded in the truth of God’s created universe.

Since film is a very realistic medium, it lends itself very well to the Christian gospel message. Christianity is no abstract, pie-in-the-sky, philosophical religion. It is a real, gritty, dirt-under-the-finger-nails faith. It impacts the lives of real people living in a real world. Film can clearly and powerfully show how the gospel transforms people’s lives where they are—in a real, gritty, dirt-under-the-finger-nails world. Because of this realism, visual media can be a scary realm for Christians. It pulls us out of our Christian comfort-zone of “stained glass windows” and “polished-wood pews.” But Christianity speaks to the whole world, to its beauty and its ugliness. So Christians need to use the advantage God has given them as film-makers to visually and accurately depict the world as it really is. This includes human suffering, but also human value and meaning; the influence of evil is part of our world, but so are the power of providence and the role of grace. Hollywood rarely portrays the world as it actually is; this is because Hollywood isn’t interested in beauty, goodness or truth—it is interested in box office receipts and the bottom line.

God has blessed many Christians with the gifts, talents and technical skills to make good movies. Lately, some very interesting Christian-themed and Christian-made movies have appeared—albeit briefly—in theatres around the world. Granted, there have also been some embarrassing and poorly made films as well. Like all things done in the name of Christ, it should be done with excellence. This excellence should be seen in both the message and medium; in other words, Christians should not only present a right message, but also preserve and perfect the “art” of film-making, which includes subtlety, beauty, goodness and truth. Some would argue that we should not compete with the world on their turf; but the truth is it’s not their turf. The entire world is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This world is His turf. If God is calling you to make movies in His name, then go and make a great movie.


Barbara said...

So what do you think of "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof"? That is a church that has taken what you are saying to heart and using their gifts and abilities and resources to glorify God on the big screen. Did you see them? Did you think they were done with excellence? Just wondering, not trying to stir up a massive debate of opinions...

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Hey Barbara,

I did see Facing the Giants and I enjoyed it. I heard Fireproof was a good film too. I also had in mind Amazing Grace (2006) and Luther (2003), which are both Christian-based and well done. There have been some poorly made Christian films though... but I am not mentioning names!

I am listening to the R.C. Sproul "Christianity and the Arts" series Chris gave me a while ago. Anyway, there is a session on "cinematography" but I haven't heard it yet... It is the next session. I wonder what RC has to say on the matter?

Barbara said...

I won't lie to you: I truly don't remember what R.C. said about the world of film. I remember him talking about the pulpit. And how even the plainest of pulpits was chosen to be plain for a reason and is communicating something to the church. Deep :-)

Fireproof was very well done, if you ask me. And Amazing Grace was lovely, if you can describe it as lovely. Hmmmm...time to crack open the thesaurus.

And yes, I have a few in the "not so good" list too, which shall, here, remain nameless. Perhaps we can share lists another day.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

With that endorsement... I will have to watch Fireproof one of these days.

One thing RC said with respect to film is, "art mirrors life" but also "life mirrors art"... Movies can (and do) shape us, our values, and can desensitise us to sin.

So, we should not only be careful what we watch, but we should also engage with the values, ideas and messages conveyed by this powerful medium.

On another note... Walden Media tends to put out Christian films; they are (partly) behind the Narnia films. They were talking about adapting The Screwtape Letters to film... Not sure how that would turn out... But, I am looking forward to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader coming out this year. The Dawn Treader is one of my favourites in the series.

Maryhomemama said...

Hello, Jeremy. Just a note, there is an annual "Christian" Film Fest in Texas that I have heard of through the Botkin family blogs that many young home school film makers have contributed to. Perhaps they are the "tent makers" of tomorrow. Brings up the issue of the christian parallel "universe" but it is another opportunity for young people to get the experience they may need to enter the mainstream film world.

One of our favorite movies,"Bella". Very moving and the background info on how and why it was made is fascinating.

Have a great day.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Thanks for commenting!