Why Are Christian Novels & Movies So Bad?

Why Are Christian Novels & Movies So Bad?

Before you get your undergarments all wadded up I'm speaking in generalities with my title and not (necessarily) assaulting the last Christian movie you watched or Christian novel you last read and really liked. What I'm talking about is the generic Christian fiction novel that you could go pick up at Barnes & Noble or Christian movies that are produced and directed by Christians. I want to talk about why these are so often so bad.

The reason that Christian novels and movies are often so bad is due to the fact that the Christians who create them have a fundamentally intellectualist view of the Christian faith. This means, in short, that Christianity can be boiled down to mere ideas. The consequence of this view of Christianity is that all embodied forms of communication (art in other words) are merely attempts to communicate some didactic idea.

Much of the deepest and most profound human communication isn't intellectual or didactic. Think of an affectionate gaze shared between two lovers. Neither could communicate, in an intellectual way, what is being communicated with their bodies (eyes, facial expressions, etc.) and even between their bodies. This is also true of fiction, film and all forms of art. As soon as an artist is attempting to explain something with their art they are moving from the realm of creation to translation. Creation is powerful and speaks on its own terms; it is not attempting to communicate some doctrine or theme (although such doctrines and themes could be embedded in it).

Interestingly enough, much of the secular world totally gets this while the Church is too afraid of post-modernism to assent to anything that sounds like "non-intellectual" knowledge. When you turn on a Hollywood movie rarely, if ever, are you presented with an idea painted with the cheap veneer of plot and story. No, the story is given preeminence above everything else. What Hollywood has discovered is that the non-didactic "story" actually has much more power to shape it's viewers than a penetrating argument for a certain "idea."

What Christian authors and filmmakers need to understand is that the Christian faith is not an idea. Christianity is incarnate, creational, embodied. If Christians continue to use physical means (art) to simply say that art is not important (only ideas are) then our contributions will continue to lag behind.

Food for thought.


Postscript – Many of the ideas in this post are gleaned from James K.A. Smith's work Imagining the Kingdom.

Michael lives with his wife (Caroline) and dog (Beau) in Athens, GA where he teaches history and economics to high schoolers. Michael enjoys reading, watching soccer, drinking bourbon, and taking walks with his wife and dog.