Pure Flix’s “God’s Not Dead”, released in 2014, was considered by many Christians as an excellent example of how Christ’s message can be seen on the film screen. Christian media, cinema especially, are the most public representations of what the Church believes. They each feature scripture quotes, crosses, family friendly language, and that musical style that screams “Alternative Christian Radio”. Critics pan them, the Church loves them, and outsiders are turned away from Christ due to the feeling of alienation. Sadly, Christian media creators are either too thick to realize this problem, or are purposefully throwing Christ’s name or scripture quotes around as if the potential isolating effect to outsiders is one of the requirements of the Christian media genre. The Church needs to remember that how we communicate with others can tell them more about Christ than the actual message.
Currently, media qualifies to be considered Christian cinema if it involves Christianity as a substantial part of its plot. This makes Christian cinema one of the few genres where a film qualifies for the label just because of the subject matter featured. Unlike Horror, there is no quintessential focus on atmosphere. Unlike Comedy, there is no focus on comedic timing or use of foreground and background actions to help deliver particular jokes. A documentary is not a documentary simply because it used shaky-cam footage. If that was the case, then the backlash against the marketing campaign for “The Blair Witch Project” would never have happened! So, if our current definition is too shallow, what the Hell (pun intended) should we consider as actual Christian cinema? What makes media “Christian” in the first place?
At its heart, media should be labeled Christian if it gets viewers to question whether or not they are loving others as Christ called us to love, by giving of ourselves without thought of getting anything in return (John 15:13). There is more than one way to explore the concept of selfless giving, and even exploring characters who focus on just the opposite can prove to be good examples for the Church to use in explaining Christ to others. It doesn’t require restrictions on language, attitude, or casting. It doesn’t even serve as a limitation on the story, as the way in which the audience views it can make a film that wasn’t even intended to carry a Christian message into a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to Christ.
Christ was shown in the Bible teaching his most important lessons not by stating things outright, but by explaining the lessons through stories known as Parables. Looking at the New Testament, we can see Christ using fiction to explain his point often. Take “The Parable of the Lost Coin” for example:
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)
The woman didn’t exist, but the emotion behind her frantic search is understandable because it’s human. Through the metaphor of God as the woman, we understand His longing to have those he values but have been lost to returned to Him. But, if we view ourselves as the woman, we can see that just because we’ve lost our way we have a way back to God and forgiveness. Both of these lessons required Christ to not present facts and figures, but to present an image that people could reflect on and a puzzle to solve that holds Truth for those who seek it. He avoided screaming stuff like this to everyone listening:
“DO YOU GET IT GUYS? SEE, THE PRODIGAL SON IS YOU ALL, WHILE THE OTHER SON IS LIKE THE PHARISEES. AM I NOT A CLEVER LAD? PRAISE BE TO ME FOR BEING SUCH A SMART PERSON,” - Jesus Christ, Never
If He did, the New Testament would be much shorter than it is, since the parables being slightly cryptic was one of the things that helped Him live as long as He did on Earth.
Christian media, if it will be following Christ’s example, has to be parabolic. Christian media needs to raise questions. It needs to inspire discussion. Christian media needs to use imagery that calls upon what the audience already understands.
And most of all, we need to stop calling films like “God’s Not Dead” Christian cinema. I’ll get into how the film fails at fitting into my definition of the genre next week.