What makes a movie, or any art form, Christian?
Does the author or creator need to be Christian? Should there be a quota of Christian words or themes? Is the good guy going to win or does the bad guy have to convert for it to be truly Christian?
Another question to ponder is, Can art even be Christian?
I’ve seen too many Christian movies. By that, I mean movies that certain Christian groups lauded and commended. I even read the supplementary curriculum that was available for purchase. Most of those movies, though, are less Christian and more inspirational. Faith-based, perhaps. Faith in Jesus might be at the center of dialogue, but usually a cursory faith. Nothing too wide, long, high or deep.
I like to joke about these Christian attempts to portray faith to the world. I joke because it’s the best I can make of them. We don’t seem willing to accept art if it doesn’t match the Christian label. Has the church become just another marketable group? While I don’t know the statistics, I’m sure more than ninety percent of the audience for these movies is already Christian.
That tells me someone figured out a formula we love to watch.
We could let art probe deeper aspects of faith and humanity. But we’re too used to watching comfortable Christian tropes. In truth, they may hurt our efforts to portray the depth of the Christian faith. That’s why this is an important conversation for us. I also want you to learn to reflect more on what represents our shared faith.
A rabbi once instructed me about the Bible’s willingness to let people be people. The biblical text doesn’t buttress the power of God by fabricating perfect believers. Perhaps the text has more faith in God’s power than we do sometimes. And it’s not just that people in the biblical narratives aren’t perfect. That’d be too easy an argument to make. Many biblical characters have their faults on full display and are still lifted as examples of faith. You and I are left to figure out what that says about them and the God they serve. Christian movies don’t often offer that kind of opportunity.
Many of us know the story of the spies sent to Jericho. The hero of that story is a prostitute, Rahab. The text doesn’t tell us that God or Joshua directed the spies where to go; they went with Rahab. I’ve always wondered why they ended up there. Does that mean to suggest anything about them? Of course, Rahab serves the people of God in their battle against Jericho and, as a result, saves her family. Through her acts, she also ensures the lineage of Jesus continues (Matthew 1).
Notice that the text doesn’t say she stopped being a prostitute. She could have. Maybe the need to sell herself went away after Jericho fell.
I’ve heard Christians quickly assume she did. She had to if God saved her, the thought goes. There had to be a “come to Jesus” moment for her. To me, that idea stems from our need for the story to conclude in a positive manner, maybe even a “Christian” way. A perfect way to say, “The End.” But the Bible doesn’t offer that to us.
What if she didn’t change?
Well, here we are left to wrestle with a prostitute that is a hero.