A few years ago, my local Blockbuster sadly closed its doors for the last time. The public, having discovered that renting ten year old, scratched up copies of Robocop for five dollars apiece, when they could buy a new copy at Walmart for less, had finally wised up. Of course, having a huge stash of movies to get rid of, the manager of this particular Blockbuster decided to sell off their remaining collection of battered DVDs.
For fifteen dollars each.
Being the prudent fellow that I am, and knowing how these sales tend to work, I perused the store, picked out all the titles I wanted, and stuck them behind a large row of the trusty Christian, “Left Behind” movies. A week later, when that manager realized that there were only about three people in the state willing to buy a five dollar DVD that had been used three thousand times, and to do it for fifteen dollars, they, in their wisdom, lowered the price to eleven dollars. Another week later, the price was lowered to three bucks. Then two days after that, it hit one dollar.
Cue my return.
I stole in cautiously at first, fearing my stash plundered by the grubby hands of like-minded individuals. The store was stripped— the empty shelves mocked me. I made my way to the back, however, and behold; the line of “Left Behind” movies lay untouched, Nicolas Cage’s vacant eyes staring up at me, accusatorily, as if to say: “please take us with you—it’s so lonely here with just the Judge for company”. Indeed, the only movies left in the store were the wall of Christian movies and one copy of Sylvester Stallone’s much maligned action film, “Judge Dredd”.
Closing time was nearly upon me, so I collected my ill-gotten booty, and after a moment’s hesitation, grabbed Judge Dredd and made my way to the checkout counter. As my prizes were bagged, I found myself looking back at those “Left Behind” movies. They were, along with the rest of the Christian films, the only ones left in the store. Left behind, indeed.
Christian culture has a great reputation for bad movies. With high-earning successes such as “Passion of the Christ,” “Passion of the Christ,” and “Passion of the Christ,” to line our coffers with money, one would think Christian filmmakers would be pumping out titles on par with the best of today‘s cinema. But, no—far too often, Christian media is bogged down by unrealistic characters, stilted dialogue, and pedantic, preachy overtones that not many—including Christians—want to hear. With all the grace of a sloth belly-flopping into a jell-o filled pool, these films often stumble over themselves, become mired in Civil War era special effects, and generally fail to leave any lasting impression, other than perhaps a sensation of acute embarrassment for the viewer if guests are present.
To be fair, Christian filmmakers are in a tough position. They must cater to an audience already desensitized to, and expectant of, gratuitous violence, sex, and moral ambiguity, while also adhering to the standards of what a “Christian Movie” should be. It’s become difficult for Christian movies to compete. If we have Kirk Cameron and Nicolas Cage arm wrestling Arnold Schwarzenegger, they’re going get crushed—although Cage’s vacant expression is still unlikely to change.
The problem lies in the isolationist attitude so many Christian directors take. As a former student at a major Christian University, I have seen the full spectrum of this attitude; believe me, it’s there. In regard to movies, this culture of insulation has resulted in poorly trained directors whose sub-standard work fails to communicate to much of the world. To make a real difference, what we need are Christian filmmakers supplementing filmmakers working solely in the Christian Genre. It's relatively easy to film a “Christian movie,” but it takes a special kind of director to infuse that next summer blockbuster with subtly intelligent scriptural truths—a movie doesn’t have to be labeled a Christian film to be one. The directors’ beliefs will naturally come out of the narratives they create.
While I focus mainly on film, this problem is indicative of the ideology of isolationism rampant in Christian arts and culture as a whole. This isolationism often works like a time capsule, leaving all of Christian media stuck decades in the past. We have Christian bands that seem to be still competing with *NSYNC now in 2016. While the local worship team may not be quite able to match the boy band’s hypnotic gyrations, they should endeavor to be just as excited about their art, and its quality, as any secular band. Christianity’s artistic isolationism needs to be broken down.
To remain relevant, we need Christian directors who simply make great movies. If openly Christian directors take on what are generally considered “secular” projects, imagine the redemptive themes that might permeate Hollywood. Imagine, for a moment, these directors take on action flicks, dramas, gritty westerns, and horror films, using each genre in a redemptive fashion and utilizing great casts and effects.