I will admit it: I am not a fan of Christian films. It’s not that I’m the anti-christ and hate anything that Christians try to do…it’s just that I don’t really care for bad acting, poor scripts, and stereotypes. Some people say to me, “but the message is so good!” I can’t always agree with that statement because the means of communicating that message are subpar. The same is true of any film.
So when this movie was released, I had an idea of what it was going to be like. Now sure, I loved Hercules and Lois and Clark as a kid, but even Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain weren’t enough to sell me on this movie. I decided to wait to watch the film until I could be as unbiased as possible. After much thought on it, I decided to see if all the praise for the movie was valid or if it was just the usual, “Christians released a movie in theaters and it rocks!”
After waiting about a week since watching it, I decided to give you some thoughts on it. Hopefully these thoughts can be a jumping off point for how we can converse about Christians in entertainment.
1.) Stereotypes do not make characters.
I think this upset me about as much as anything. Before you say to me, “But Caleb, Hollywood constantly stereotypes Christians and people they don’t like. Why can’t we?” Well, simply put: because it’s inexcusable to use a stereotype as a basis for a character — regardless of whether or not that person is a Christian. I don’t like when Christians are stereotyped in film. Unless you are making a satire where stereotypes are used as a blatant exaggeration of flaws in society, then please don’t use stereotypes. All of the philosophy professors were angry atheists who were trying to destroy Christians. You had the Chinese exchange student who’s father was extremely controlling and hated God. You had the Muslim woman who secretly accepted Christ and was abused by her father for doing so. You had the one black guy in the college classroom who referred to himself as J-something or other. The [expletive] girlfriend who doesn’t want her boyfriend to look like a fool. This problem is not with just Christian films…in fact, it tends to be a problem with a lot of films. But it doesn’t make it right. When looking at characters, we can’t use stereotypes to create the characters. We must begin with the character and move forward from there.
I think much of my problem with the characters in this film was that they sounded like they were straight out of a sermon illustration from a pastor. “A young Chinese student travels to America for an education. His father hates Christians and demands control over his son’s life. The Chinese student finds God because of a Christian’s refusal to step down from what he believes. We’re going to play ‘How Great is Our God,’ and if you no longer want to step down from what you believe, I want to encourage you to come forward and for the first time, truly proclaim that our God is great!” We’ve probably all heard something along those lines. The hardest part in creating a character is to not use stereotypes as the bouncing off point for who that person is.
2.) “God’s Not Dead” text messages really do….nothing.
When this film was released, I was receiving texts left and right telling me God’s Not Dead. I was really confused. I mean, not about whether or not God is dead. I know He isn’t. I was confused about why people would send a mass text message…it wasn’t the typical, “hey I don’t know you, but Merry Christmas,” text. It was a text that had a profound statement but with no follow-up. So to one person, I responded, “prove it.” They never did. My fear is that people who watched this movie became super excited and texted all of their friends but when their friends ask, “how do you know He isn’t dead?” they will probably respond with, “well, there’s this one part in the movie where he is talking about evolution and like it’s…you know…like it…well…it’s hard to explain. You’ll just need to see the movie.” Part of me fears that this text message was part of a free marketing ploy. That doesn’t bother me so much because I’ll text people and tell them if I watched a movie I think they should like. The problem I had with this is that, it was emotionally manipulative. There had been a heart-wrenching scene in the movie and now they were saying, “text all your contacts and proclaim that God is not dead!” It was like the 3rd night of church camp all over again. Would we all be able to truly explain ourselves to someone if they responded back to us? Or would we point them to a movie?
3.) The message is just as important as the means.
I look back to Scripture to where they would build these beautiful temples with gold, silver, the best of wood, and everything you could ever dream about. I look at pictures of some beautiful cathedrals. And then I see our films. Some of the best architecture, art, and music in history was made by Christians to glorify God. Will this film make AFI’s top 100 movie list? Most likely not. How we communicate the message has to be just as important as the message.
I could go on and on about circular reasoning used in the film to combat circular reasoning (although, I don’t think it would ever end). Or I could even talk about how the film used the age-old street preacher saying, “if you were struck by a car right now, where would you go when you died?” Or I could talk about how Jesus was used as a band-aid for unresolved story lines. Or I could even talk about how confused I was at the role of Dean Cain in the movie — like seriously. I’m confused about his character. Maybe I will talk about those things in a later post.
I may have been a bit harsh in this post. Here’s why: because I really do want to see Christians succeed. I want to see our message proclaimed as loudly as possible. And when I see it handled like this, it saddens me. All of those resources could’ve went into something greater. All of that time could’ve been spent for something else. Obviously, God can move through anything. He spoke through a donkey once…so I’m sure He can move through anything.
I long for the day when phrases like, “the message is really good,” or “but they love Jesus,” or “their heart was in it,” no longer describe films made by Christians (I also long for the day when Christian film is no longer a genre). Can we work to make something that has a beautiful message and is delivered beautifully? With characters that are so relatable that it almost feels like it is us? With story lines that don’t feel the need to use Jesus as a band-aid because the unresolved issues add the right amount of discomfort? I hope we can.