Thursday, April 3, 2008

Christian Street Cred

While I think many of us would agree that different Christian filmmakers (or filmmakers who are Christians) are, and will be, led to create different films, I think it is important to note that the focus of Christian filmmakers (or FWACs) will and should vary from one generation to the next. I have a firm belief as to what this focus should be in our time.

Currently, we are in a post-Christian (or even more specifically, post-Evangelical) culture. This means that a great many people in our culture are either nominal Christians or simply non-Christians who feel they have rejected Christianity after an objective and well-informed hearing. Consequently, the vast majority of people in our culture have at least a passing familiarity with basic Christian beliefs and ethics. In other words, in America, your initial attempts at evangelism are never (at least not for a while) going to be met with the response, “'Jesus?' Who’s that?”

Our culture not only thinks they know what Christianity is all about, they think they know what Christians are all about. By and large, most non-Christians view us as anti-intellectual, regressive, hypocritical, humorless, self-righteous busy-bodies, who like to go around meddling in other people’s affairs and telling them how to live their lives -not exactly "glorious infamy."

Debates about where they get this perception aside, the fact is that as long as people hold this view of us, then it does not matter what “good news” we bring them. They won’t listen. As long as people believe that becoming a Christian means that they have to conform to the aforementioned description, they will not want to become Christians. As Gandhi so famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Our culture has gotten into its head that Christianity is a certain thing, and that Christians are a certain way. Therefore, our culture feels justified in its rejection of the former and it’s marginalization of the latter. To sum up: our culture, as an institution, has established a prejudice about Christians and Christianity.

I firmly believe that Christian filmmakers hoping to reach this generation need to focus on the destruction of that prejudice.

I personally assess a Christian film’s effectiveness on how well it does this rather than how “boldly” or unequivocally it proclaims a Gospel or Christian message that will largely be ignored by a prejudiced audience, who thinks they’ve already know the message and the messenger.

We must also remember that it is not just the stories and characters of Christian films that can challenge prejudice, but also the quality of those films and the lives of their filmmakers.

When our work has literary and artistic merit, we cannot be so easily dismissed and marginalized as anti-intellectual. When our films are genuinely funny, we cannot be marginalized as humorless and out of touch. When our films creatively approach social justice issues, then we cannot be dismissed as archaic and regressive.

And, when our lives reflect the themes of our stories, we cannot be marginalized as hypocritical.

Perhaps one day future Christian filmmakers (or FWACs), will not have to work so hard to combat this prejudice in order to engage and woo the cultural at large with overt Christian messages in their films. I just have a difficult time seeing how that would be effective in a day and age when Christians no longer have "street cred."


cesar said...

dont forget, worlds biggest christian rock band, U2. probably doing what youre saying here, in the best way.

Ryan said...

I think part of the problem is that many Christian filmmakers want to preach to their audiences like it's coming from a Sunday pulpit without a thread of storytelling. But even pastors tell stories, and the greatest storyteller of all was probably Jesus.

Even if there is a 2x4 waiting at the end of the tale it's more effective if the audience is lulled into the mystery, suspense, truth and beauty of the story until finally there is a revealing and they are left wondering if there isn't a difference between their emotional connection and the reality of the director's vision.

Hollywood does this all the time, they manipulate people and even then the messages aren't all that subliminal.

The thing to do is take the game of cinematic emotional appeal and manipulation to the non-believer delivering a Christian message. This doesn't have to be considered nefarious, because it's not. It's art.

Art isn't opposed to Christianity, so why does it seems so hard for Christians to paint subtle, nuanced shades of subtext into their films?

Subtext is storytelling, even if eventually the filmmaker unravels the whole thing and says, see what happens, the world is saved from sin. Jesus is real, get it?

jonnyflash said...

Great post. I put a link to it on our blog!