Faith-based cinema has encouraging signs, but there’s a tension between evangelistic messaging and quality art, embodied by what we mean when we say “Christian movie.”
Just like “Christian music,” the terminology regarding faith-based cinema is often problematic. Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a “Christian” movie because movies, though often remarkable pieces of art full of symbolism, commentary and meaning, are not sentient beings. Even the animated ones are, strictly speaking, still things, inanimate objects lacking eternal souls, incapable of feeling emotions or making decisions. In this sense, calling a movie Christian because of one high-profile Christian involved (Kirk Cameron) would be as silly as calling an LA Lakers basketball game Christian because of the involvement of Jeremy Lin.
And yet, most people make implicit moral judgments about the quality of films based on the involvement of certain high-profile Christian people or the approval of certain organizational gatekeepers (pastors, Christian writers, parent advocacy organizations, et cetera). The term “Christian movie” is a pragmatic piece of shorthand for, “feature film either presented by or aimed toward Christian people.” This could serve as a definition, except for the fact that filmmaking is an inherently collaborative endeavor, which – as can be seen in any final credits sequence – often requires the work of hundreds or even thousands of people, spread across a duration of weeks, months, or in some cases, many many years.
And yet, this does not stop people from talking about movies as Christian, often because the presence of some nebulous form of “Christian message,” which in some cases (Fireproof, The Passion of The Christ) is quite explicit and easily understood, and in other cases (Bruce Almighty, The Preacher’s Wife) is a little less clear or explicitly Biblical. This is an improvement, but still problematic, because even if you ignore the difficulty and ambiguity inherent in trying to verify the Christian identity of all the principal creative roles in the filmmaking process (the film’s producers, directors, screenwriters, stars, etc.) and just focus on the relative “Christian”-ness of the message, sometimes the layers of meaning and messages in films can be messy to unpack.
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