Why I Hate Most Christian Movies, but Love the Bible
For most of my adult life I’ve struggled with Christian movies. When the latest movie with Kirk Cameron comes out and people begin to ask me if I’ve seen it I start to squirm. Perhaps because I’m a pastor people think that I should like that sort of thing. When people ask me if I’ve seen the latest movie the Christian film industry is promoting I typically say “No,” and leave it at that. But in my head I’m thinking, “No, I haven’t seen that movie and Lord willing I never will.” I don’t like most Christian movies. (And while I’m getting things off my chest I might as well say that I don’t like most Christian music either).
It’s not just that the acting in those films is bad (it often is), it’s that the films themselves don’t ring true. They present a warped image of reality; like looking at the world through a rain soaked windshield. Everything seems fuzzy and indistinct, all the hard lines and sharp edges are dulled. Most characters in Christian films are presented as one-sided; either good or evil. And predictably, by the end of the film, the evil will have been defeated or converted or both. Sin is often presented as a minor problem. Something that can be conquered if you are just willing to follow a few easy steps. The complexity and nuance of life doesn’t make an appearance. It’s no wonder that most Christian films perform so terribly; they are cheap imitations of real life.
A Christian film is to real life what a children’s story book Bible is to the real Bible. A couple nights ago my family and I were reading the story of Hannah and the birth of Samuel from a children’s story book Bible. The authors managed to distill this complex account down to, “Hannah was sad because she had no children. But she prayed to God and He gave her Samuel, who she sent to live with Eli the priest.” My ten-year-old knew the full story and began to fill in the blanks for her little sister. She recalled how Hannah was one of two wives, and how Eli thought she was drunk when she was praying in the temple. Those details were conveniently censored out of the story. As an adult I can cut the publisher some slack in this case. They’re trying to catch the essence of the story in words that my four year old can grasp. They aren’t writing it for my ten-year-old, and they definitely are not writing for an adult audience. Unfortunately, many adults never move beyond that sort of highly edited version of the faith. For many Christians reading the Bible can be an uncomfortable experience because it is so graphic.
But I love that the Bible presents an unflinching view of real life. One of the greatest strengths of the Bible is that it doesn’t gloss over sin. There are no perfect heroes. King David is arguably the greatest hero of the Bible. He was a man after God’s own heart. He won that glorious victory over the giant Goliath. But after he became king he had sex with a friend’s wife while that friend was away fighting his war for him. Then David killed his friend to cover up his crime. In the end, David repents and he is restored, but his child dies as a result of his sin. There is no saccharine ending to that story (For the full account see 2 Samuel 11-12).
Or consider Jacob, the twin that God chose over his brother Esau to make into the nation we know as Israel. When Jacob’s father Isaac was old and blind and near death he sent Esau out to hunt for him. He wanted his firstborn son to make him a stew before giving him the blessing of the firstborn. But Jacob, with the help of his mother, tricked his father and cheated Esau out of that blessing. While Esau was out hunting, Jacob put on his brother’s clothes to smell like him, then he put animal skins over his smooth arms so he would feel like Esau. After all that he went to his blind father pretending to be Esau. When Isaac grew suspicious Jacob assured him that he was Esau and his blind father, tricked by the smell and feel of him, gave Jacob Esau’s blessing. Years later, proving that what goes around comes around, Jacob was tricked by his uncle Laban into marrying Leah, the sister of the woman he really loved and thought he was marrying (For the full story see Genesis 25-29).
Or consider Jesus himself. If anyone was made for a Christian film, surely it was Jesus the sinless Son of God. And yet I don’t think even he wouldn’t make the cut. When a rich young man came asking about what he needed to do to gain eternal life Jesus told him to go sell all that he had and then come follow him. The rich young man walked away sad because of his great wealth. But if Christian filmmakers were writing that script I think they would have Jesus running after the man saying, “Wait! Actually there isn’t anything you can do to gain eternal life! I just wanted you to see that and now that you do, you can keep your stuff and I’ll give you eternal life as well.” But Jesus doesn’t do that. He leaves the loose end. He lets the man walk away and then told his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus went on to say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples react with shock saying, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus simply says “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (for the full story see Mark 10:17-31).
When you actually take the time to read the Bible the shocking truth is that it reads much more like an episode of Game of Thrones than it does nearly any sappy Christian film you could pick. And I thank God for that. I love that in the Bible God does not give us a fantasy characterization of what we think life should be. In the Bible God gives us an account of real life itself; a life full of people who are all inherently sinful (even the best of us). If you think someone is free from sin then you just don’t know them that well. Again and again the scriptures testify to the truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Bible gives us a picture of a world that has gone wrong. But it’s also a picture of a world that God cares enough about that He was willing to redeem it no matter the cost. And now God invites us to take our place in His story. But that story will look nothing like a Christian film as it unfolds. Yes, there will be forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes, good will ultimately triumph over evil. But there will also be moments when the bad guys win and the good guys lose. There will be bad guys who start looking like good guys, and good guys who act just like the bad guys. There will be real sin. There will be loose ends. There will be mystery. There will be all of that because that’s what real life is like.