Rekindling the Intellectual, Spiritual, Creative legacy of Christians in Culture

CWGiants I can see where this is headed and it is going to be another artistic embarrassment in the name of Jesus.

I'm referring to "Facing the Giants"a low budget film produced by Sherwood Baptist Church that just received a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. The church says the G-rated movie has been upgraded because the MPAA finds the religious content offensive. Sherwood Associate Pastor Alex Kendrick wrote and starred in the movie and was a little surprised when it received a PG rating. He said, "This movie is pretty clean. There is no violence or nudity or language in it." One scene though has a coach evangelizing a football player and that according to the church is what the MPAA finds offensive.

The PG rating, of course, has turned into a PR bonanza for the church's little film due to be released in the Fall. "Alex Kendrick and Pastor Michael Catt are doing dozens of interviews with national media about their movie rating. "Time Magazine, supposed to do CNN Monday, and Good Morning America has also done a clip," Reverend Catt said." "It is set to be released in September in 85 cities on 400 screens, and this controversy might make it even bigger. "We would hope obviously to shoot for the largest audience possible, because our goal again is to reach the world from Albany Georgia," Kendrick said."

Juxtapose this story on the following quote from Derek Webb, formerly of Caedman's call, and you see why I think this will be another embarrassment. "Christian artists don't seem to be focused anymore on making great art. That's our main problem, not what our message is, not what we are trying to communicate, not how we are breaking down these barriers, but the fact that we are failing to make good engaging art is our main problem. Our industry, the way it is set up, who the gatekeepers are, it doesn't encourage making unique art. We have a radio genre that is on the whole pretty uninteresting, and it's pretty bland artistically."

Sherwood Baptist's efforts, which I'm sure are well meaning, reveal two major seismic fault lines in American Christianity and they are both rooted in our abandonment of a theology of creation.

Those who believe God is our creator and that humans have been created in God's image should understand that this means we should also be creative and should share God's passion for artistic excellence. At the end of each step of creation "God saw what He had made and IT WAS GOOD. I know big budgets don't guarantee good films, but I can guarantee you the Sherwood project made in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" range will be noticeably inferior to other Hollywood productions. A friend who has seen the film says it clearly looks like a low-budget made-for-TV project. Why should we be excited that an aesthetically inferior product will be released on over 400 movie screens? The film includes the line "We need to give God our best in every area." Do they believe this film is our best?

The church would argue that this film should succeed because it openly proclaims "the gospel." By this they mean it explicitly includes scenes encouraging "receiving Jesus as Savior." Being forgiven, received into God's fellowship and receiving the promise of our future perfection in Heaven is no small matter, but it is only the first part of the story. Art historian and L' Abri theologian Hans Rookmaaker reminds us, "Jesus did not come to make us Christian, Jesus came to make us fully human." By this he meant that Jesus' purpose is to make us new creatures, who can once again reflect the image of God in all it's splendor--intellectually, spiritually, creatively, morally and relationally.

Any Christianity that knows God as savior, but not as creator, will produce "Christians" who are less than fully human and such people will never create good art or care to.

And this is our dilemma as people who love Jesus and art. We live in a culture that loves art but not Jesus dominated by a Christian sub-culture that loves Jesus, but not good art.

8 Responses

  1. Dick: Thanks for your brave and incisive thoughts on “Facing the Giants.” My reply is simple.

    While elements of the church fight battles that make all Christians a collective laughingstock–for being exclusionary, small-minded and obsessed with cleaning the gutters when the house is on fire–here’s a thought. Is bad “Christian” art a sin? Worse yet: Is bad Christian art, in fact, a subtle form of evil?

    What I mean simply is this: The true artist, like a reverent monk or humble worshipper, empties himself or herself to God’s will. In one of his brilliant letters, the English poet John Keats said that the poet is “the most unpoetical thing in the universe.” He is always calling on some other entity to fill in for him, and becomes a vessel–even a jar of clay, if you will–for the wondrous images and impressions God puts there.

    Contrast that with the notion that the art must have a message to validate its worth. That in essence is the ultimate form of human hubris, because it amounts to telling God that He had no clue what He was doing when He made the waterfalls, or created the world. Must the beauty of nature have a “message”? A sign hung around it that says, “If you love this, then thank God and ask Him to be your savior”? Or does it touch our souls in a way that makes us thirst, hunger and pant to be close to the force that made all this incredible beauty?

    “Christian” artists who put the message before the art are not only putting the cart before the horse: They are engaging in prideful, blind behavior. Whether they realize it, they think they know how to advance God’s cause better than God does. They are violating the roadmap through, if you will, unintelligent designs.

    Wake up, everybody. Evil doesn’t always come dressed in blood-red devil horns and a Marilyn Manson mask. That’s for the comic books. Evil is simply a lie. And to say that a work of entertainment done for the glory of God is “moving art,” when in fact it makes the majority of us cringe in embarrassment … well, what is that? It may attempt, in its utter mawkishness, to “tell” the truth. But what does it “show” us? It is, I would submit, a ruse, a shell game–propaganda masquerading as beauty, and perhaps, every bit as ugly as the underbelly of a serpent.

  2. You are right! There are countless numbers of projects that Christians have produced that have been “cheesy” and mediocre. It can be painful when that happens! 🙂 Psalm 8:1 says “How excellent is Thy name in all the earth” so we must always strive to be vessels that work with excellence to represent His name well. That being said, we must be careful not to assume things before we have tasted and seen whether or not it is good. Neither one of you have seen the movie.

    There are other ways to view art. Consider the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospels. One boy, five loaves, two fish…not much to work with in order to feed 5,000 people yet Jesus took what small amount the boy offered and 5,000 men ate until they were satisfied and there was still food leftover. The artistic beauty in scripture is not only the quality of the painting but the way the Painter is glorified through weakness and foolishness (1 Cor 1:18-31). The story behind Facing the Giants is a modern day feeding of the five thousand. A church in South Georgia, without professional actors or training and very little budget money has pulled off something that has already impacted thousands of people and is inspiring churches across the nation. Over 280 decisions for Christ resulted after the movie was shown at two Christian film festivals in Boston and Syracuse. 600 people were turned away due to packed out theaters.

    On a personal note, I have seen the movie and it is excellent on multiple levels (read the reviews). Every test screening that Sony/Provident did for Facing the Giants resulted in audiences rating it higher than most secular movies. I know very well the brothers who wrote and produced it and have watched them work tirelessly on things (not just movies) a hundred times or more until it is as perfect as it can get. Their motivation? To see Jesus Christ glorified in all things. God will honor that. I hope that you will get to see the movie in September. I would be curious to know your feelings and read your updated blog after you have viewed it for yourself. Sola deo Gloria!

  3. It seems to me you just proved my point. Your defense is based on the two problems I’m addressing. 1) Let’s excuse substandard art (assuming it even attempts to meet any artistic standard) 2) Because it is evangelistic!

  4. Reminds me of Lewis’ essay, “Good Work & Good Works.” The takeaway-let the choir sing well or let them not sing at all…

  5. My first paragraph agreed with you that Christian art should not be mediocre but excellent. My second paragraph agreed with you that the value of souls is important and noted that God has been using this movie to reach the lost. My third paragraph explained to you that this movie consistently receives high reviews from both secular and non-secular audiences. You may not know that the director of photography, lighting and sound guys were all professionals and songs from Grammy winning artists were used through out the movie. My encouragement to you again is not to base your arguments on assumptions. My original points were based on scriptural truth, stated reviews and first hand experience. Please don’t jump to the conclusions that everything that is evangelistic must automatically be substandard. I’m believing that you want artistic excellence that is also fruitful for the Kingdom. If I am correct, then you and I are on the same page. With that stated, I believe you will enjoy Facing the Giants!

  6. As this points out there is some variation in what we think is good art. There is always room for differing opinion on that. Having said that, I do believe threre are some more objective standards.

    For most I suspect it is a matter of “I like this”, “I don’t like that”, etc. That is to say I may like something that is not that well done and may defend it as art.

    But, if the art is simply of poor quality it is hard to defend as art, it really should meet some level of excellence in terms of the craft. The music should be on beat and on key, etc. I think that Dick is simply concluding that it is simply impossible to produce a quality feature length film these days on the sort of budget that Sherwood Baptist had. There is a certian “state of the art” that needs to be met to even call it art. After that we can discuss excellence.

  7. Lou,
    The Keats quote, the poet is “the most un-poetical thing in the universe” is interesting to me as a classical musician. I think most of the art we find lately is mundane because artists, in their hubris, work as if they are so creative that they can ignore tradition. The greatest art is built on centuries of development and innovation within a tradition. Even Franco Zefferelli’s film about Jesus was embarrassing, and it was made on a budget in the millions back in the 1970s. A film that verged on religion that I will always remember is “The Agony and Ecstasy”. In this case what made the film memorable was the renaissance art and music that it included beautifully.
    Even the technology on which cinema is built took centuries to develop. Egotists who think they can create art ex nihilo that is better than that of countless generations of artists in various traditions only throw out the wealth and leave us all impoverished.

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