What Makes It A “Christian” Film?

August 27, 2014 — 5 Comments

Recently, I watched the movie Calvary (2014), which was one of the most powerful representations of the Gospel I’ve ever seen on film.

I don’t want to ruin the movie but go see it but see it with caution. Often truth in a movie like Calvary can hit us like a two by four. It is also R-rated and deals with some of the most serious issues in life.

 

LIke I would do with any good film, I shared my enthusiasm with a few people and the first question was typically,

“Well, is it a Christian film?”

My reaction?

giphy-2

 

 

 

 

 

I knew this question was coming and I bury my head in my hands every time someone asks it. It brings up the greater question, “What is ‘Christian’ in all media?”

When you ask if it is a Christian film, what are we talking about?

 

Is it about Jesus, Christians, or the Bible in general?

Is it a movie that people pray on-screen or talk about Jesus? 

Does a person who believes and follows Christ have to write and/or direct it? 

Is it produced by a company or person who believes in Jesus? 

Does a church show it to their congregation? Is it endorsed by a popular pastor? 

Is there an altar call at the end of the movie?

Is it produced by an evangelical? What about a Catholic?

 

Sorry, but I don’t have a specific answer to what constitutes a ‘Christian film’. Only God knows but what I do know is that he created each human being to ultimately honor him and movies are a great way to do it. I believe that the arts, especially in music, books, and movies are a way to showcase God’s great story. The Godfather of movie storytelling, Robert McKee shares,

“A fine work of art – music, dance, painting, story – has the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place.”

Christians have a funny way of trying to package things in a pretty box. What if that box isn’t genuine, though?

I am thankful that God gave me a passion for books and movies and how they can have a transformative power to change lives. I feel like I in the majority of movies, I can point out the Christ figure in the film that represents ‘redemption’. Most of my favorite movies are written or directed by people whom I don’t know where they stand in their faith. I am comfortable with that and I’ll explain why.

For example, I know a lot of serious evangelical Christians who love Eric Liddell’s story. They love the movie Chariot’s of Firewhich tells some of Liddell’s story as the famous Scottish runner who in the 1924 Olympics refused to run a heat for his best race because it was on the Sabbath. The movie is widely quoted in sermons, articles, and blogs. What most Christians don’t know is that Liddell was played by Ian Charleson, who was gay and later died tragically from AIDS in 1990. Regardless of where Charleson stood in his faith, does the fact of his sexual orientation make the movie invalid as a ‘Christian’ film? Some Christians would throw the movie into the fire because of this fact.

Along with Chariot’s of Fire, here are a few movies that have had a profound impact on my life yet do not fit a typical mold of Christianity.

I think when you have good writing and good visual storytelling, a film can change a life. Redemption is at the core of good story, after all. 

I am comfortable seeing God in the beauty he presents through a variety of people. Some people may not but I challenge you to give these a chance with an open mind and to pray for God to show you his heart. Then go to scripture and dig deeper. And, as much as I want to celebrate every openly evangelical film, I want people to recognize that each of those films may not be a true representation of the Gospel in all its grit.

We live in a brutal society.

We live in a world where people are being decapitated on broadcast television. Children are being molested. Men and women are raped. Politicians and bankers are cheating the poor. Pornography is more accepted by culture. We can dance around the truth or we can engage with it head on.

Years ago, Michael Card wrote a book and song titled “A Violent Grace”. I believe the chorus captures life best.

So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace

I think this is why movies like The Passion of the Christ provoked so many people because it felt closer to reality of what Christ went through than previous movies portraying his sacrifice.

Scripture even backs it up in Isaiah 53:6 NIV

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus’ death and sacrifice was brutal.

In order to follow Christ, we must engage with the fact that Christ died violently for us. There is no sugar coating it.

My encouragement is to pray for discernment when it comes to any information you take in any movie, book, or piece of music. Just because I am moved by the movies above, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in them; the heart of the story is what I am after. N.T. Wright shares good caution from his book Simply Christian,

“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

 

Here are some questions I ask myself and points I consider when I watch a film.

  1. Does it showcase ‘redemption’ well?

  2. Does it glorify sin? 

  3. What is the motivation of the film maker? 

  4. Does Scripture back up the heart of the story?

  5. Pray and ask God for discernment to show His way through these stories.

 

In the meantime, I challenge you to take risks and go see movies like Calvary. Let me know what you think.

What other movies have you watched that are not in explicitly Christian but have had a profound effect on your life? Why? 

Calvary_movieposter

5 responses to What Makes It A “Christian” Film?

  1. 

    Jerram Barrs would be proud! Thank you for your boldness and insight. We are simply a part of making beauty from chaos…film is another avenue! Thank you, wise one.
    The Kid is a good one, A River Runs Through it, Lord of the Rings,…and Tommy Boy? (Was that a niner?)

    • 

      Oh Terri, I could listen to Jerram Barrs read the phone book. I love how you put it, “We are simply a part of making beauty from chaos.” Love it. Let’s not forget that Amazing Grace is played beautifully in Tommy Boy. “Free Willy!”

  2. 

    Dave I love this post! I was planning on seeing calvary this week! I’m with you on how I try to look for the “christ” figure in movies. Sometimes I see it & sometimes it takes others pointing it out. I could go on & on about movies like that but one in particular is “p.s. I love you”. The way that Gerard Butlers character ” Jerry” spurs his wife on, even in his death, to pursue her dreams & face her fears is so like the heart of Christ to me. There’s also Shawshank Redemption…I mean c’mon…so much good stuff about staying safe in our own little prisons & how freedom is so scary…the freedom that Christ indeed wants for us all…but its so scary that we’d rather die or go back to our safe little prisons. OK I’ll stop with those two. And all the ones you listed….equally impacting for me as well. Good stuff!!

    • 

      Christy, you are right on! Preach, girl, preach! Hey, I really appreciated PS I Love You as a movie too. I lost my man card by that statement but it was one of Butler’s finer roles.

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