Christian Film is Garbage and We Have to Take a Different Approach

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

I sometimes catch myself daydreaming about what it would look like if a story from the Bible was actually put onto the big screen, and one of the chief stories I think about is the life and times of King David. It’s literally a ready-to-roll HBO mini-series that has everything from war, duels, intrigue, kings, betrayal, lust, and just a hint of magic.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why someone hasn’t gotten Denis Vellenueve on the phone and asked him to direct this series. I mean, have you seen the new Dune trailer? Imagine taking this level of cinematography and applying it to the Bible.

While I would love nothing more than for something like this to happen, the way that I least want it to happen would be if a Christian film company actually did it.

Let’s be very honest with ourselves. We Christians have sat down and watched many Christian-created films and few of them were actually good. On many occasions, I’d replace the word “watched” with “endured.”

Why is it so bad?

Christian media usually has the aim of providing safe, family-friendly entertainment meant to enrich, educate, and entertain the Christian community, and for those who enjoy that kind of thing that’s okay. I can remember getting great enjoyment out of “McGee and Me” as a kid, and it actually still holds up today as a kid’s show despite the obvious ’90s dating.

But even Christian media meant for Christians becomes overly sterile to the point of being unwatchable. The acting is usually wooden, the storylines beyond predictable, and the discussion around God and/or faith are forced. There’s hardly any finesse to the storytelling.

It’s so lazy that I wonder if the people making these films know it’s bad, but they know they’re getting a payday out of it anyway thanks to Christianity’s built-in audience.

It gets even worse when Christians make films for non-Christians in an attempt to win them over. The acting is still atrocious and the story-telling becomes disconnected from reality. They attempt to communicate with non-believers while refusing to ditch the same Christian-to-Christian communication you see in Christian-based media.

What’s more, it still suffers from the same predictability problem. Character is a non-believer or has lost their faith. They go through a tough but relatable situation. Things reach their darkest moment and at that moment they turn to God. Their life begins to turn around by adopting Christian principles and accepting Christ in some tearful moment. By the end, the character lives a life more whole and complete, unless you’re (spoiler alert) a character played by Kevin Sorbo who gets Sean Bean’d by a car.

Speaking of Sean Bean, Christian media is best when it’s not Christian-based media. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (miss me with those non-extended editions) did more to influence people with Christian principles than any PureFlix film. The Chronicles of Narnia did more to solidify my faith as a young Brandon than any other kind of Christian programming.

For non-believers, the best way to introduce them to Christianity and Christian concepts is to give them the opportunity to dip their toes into stories and scenarios they understand while holding their attention with characters and plots that don’t force them into the religiosity of it all.

There was a man who was a master at that this who went by the name Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps you’ve heard of Him.

When Christ told stories he oftentimes used scenario-driven tales that didn’t directly involve God. The famous parable of The Good Samaritan found in Luke 12:25-37 is a good example. To sum the moment up, Jesus told a man that to inherit eternal life he must love his neighbor as himself. The man, wanting to test Christ, asked Jesus to define “neighbor,” at which point Christ switched gears and went into story mode, telling the story of the good samaritan who stopped and helped a beaten and robbed stranger when everyone else walked by.

There’s a lot of layers to this story despite its simplicity. For instance, Judeans hated Samaritans and considered them unpure, yet the Samaritan was the good guy in the story, outclassing even a priest. There’s a lot more historical context here, but Christ’s point was clear; your neighbor is everyone. You may hate the person in front of you, but be kind and generous to him anyway.

At no point in the story did Jesus mention His Father or reference Heaven directly. His story made His point for Him.

I’m often blown away at how often Christian film and television don’t take their cues from the man whom their work literally revolves around. I find far more relatable Christian moments in television shows Christians revile, like Game of Thrones. Case in point, this scene below spoke far more to me as a Christian than any scene from a Christian film company.

These characters would go on to fight a bunch of zombies on an ice lake and are almost overrun before a lady on dragon saves them. At no point do any of these characters attempt to convert the others to Christianity as sappy, cookie-cutter Christian music plays in the background. It’s just pure, un-cut action-adventure fantasy that allowed the viewer to enjoy a moment of spiritual contemplation before taking that thinking and using it as the base inspiration for a character’s struggle. A lot of Christian metaphors could fit into that scene and each one would be as inspired as the next.

The map to good Christian storytelling started with Christ, then Tolkien and Lewis modernized it. We know how to do it, but we just don’t, and I think the reason is that Christians are too afraid that they’ll be judged by other Christians for it.

And you know what? They’re right.

Like Kanye West said in his debut Christian album, Christians would be the first ones to judge him and make him feel alone for releasing a Christian album in his own manner, and not follow the color-by-numbers methods of making it safe and sterile.

Any filmmaker looking to create a Christian film is going to be destroyed by Christians. If it can’t be shown to a church congregation on Sunday, then it would be hailed as a perversion of the word and deem it unsafe for public consumption.

Here’s the brutal truth. The Bible isn’t safe for work.

The good book is filled with so much blood, brutality, and sexuality that it makes Games of Thrones look tame. There’s war, disturbing stories, bizarre occurrences, monsters, demons, and human-faced scorpionflies that torture people. Ther’s an entire book dedicated to a man describing his newlywed’s body before taking her to pound town.

And now we circle back to the beginning. If we are going to make stories directly taken from the Bible we need to embrace the fact that the Bible isn’t a safe, sterile book. We need to be able to make cinema that accurately relates the stories within it.

David’s story is an amazing one, and it’s hardly fit for family audiences. He kills a man by caving his head in with a stone. He brings 200 foreskins back to his king because he was asked to. His first big sin is that he sends his best friend to war in hopes that he’d die so that he never finds out he forced his wife to sleep with him and impregnated her after he saw her bathing on a rooftop.

Do we need to show David’s men removing the foreskins off of Philistines? No, but maybe we shouldn’t be so shy about showing the part of the story where they literally counted them out…because the Bible did. Do we need to show Bethsheba completely in the buff while taking a bath or make an explicit sex scene between her and David? No, but we should make it clear that David satiated his lust through the use of his power and conceive a child…because the Bible did.

These stories can be told with good cinematography, solid acting, good writing, and in a way that lends more to realism and dynamism without resorting to stripping the film of context, indication, and even scenes that would, frankly, make the rating of the film drift into the “R” category. It would be a far more honest telling and that honesty would glue the viewer and get them interested for more. Does it add shock value? Sure, but the Bible is pretty shocking. It wouldn’t be shocking for shock’s sake, it would be there to help drive home the stakes and feel of the story home.

These stories will never be heard by the mainstream if we’re only making films that play it safe and never take chances. We have to ditch this idea that we’re going to charm the masses with wholesomeness and family-friendly entertainment. We’re not.

I’m a Christian and I don’t even like watching it. I get the same sensation watching it as I do when I listen to the top 40 on the radio. It’s uninspired garbage I feel like I’ve seen a million times already. There’s nothing actually deep about it. I have no reason to invest in it emotionally. It’s just boring and oftentimes cringy.

Let’s not be afraid to make something worth watching and break away from the “church” method of making films. Let’s Martin Luther Christian media.