Yesterday Matt Fradd posted a brief exchange we had over the film God’s not Dead. While I expressed opposition to the film in the “Fradd exchange”, my opposition was even stronger in my original review. After I published that review I heard from a Christian who was unhappy that I had been so unremittingly negative toward a putatively Christian movie. In response, I wrote a reply titled “Defending the sharper edge: A modest defense of my “God’s not Dead” review.”
In this article I want to consider a prior question: just what is it that makes a film “Christian” anyway?
We could say a Christian film is that which is produced by a Christian film production company. For example, the self-described Christian company Pure Flix Entertainment produced God’s Not Dead.
That’s an unhelpful criterion since it merely pushes the question back: what makes a company Christian? I take it that simply calling yourself a Christian company doesn’t make you Christian. Here in Edmonton and several other Canadian cities there is a company called “The Shepherd’s Guide” that distributes a putatively Christian yellow pages. Only “Christian” businesses can list their services. Sorry, I don’t want a “Christian” mechanic. I want a skilled, honest mechanic. And not every mechanic who describes him/herself as Christian is either skilled or honest.
That which applies to mechanics applies also to film production companies. If a company markets itself as Christian that tells you one thing: self-described Christians are a central target market in their business plan. Thus, Pure Flix Entertainment is “Christian” only in the sense that they are seeking to produce movies for (and make money from) a Christian market segment.
With that in mind, calling God’s not Dead a Christian movie means nothing more than the fact that God’s not Dead was produced with the intention of marketing it to Christians. I don’t see that this intention means it is deserving of any special treatment. Indeed, if anything I’ll be even more inclined to point out its failings since I’m supposed to be part of the target audience.
Back to the question: what is a Christian movie?
Let’s set that aside for a moment to ask another question: what is a true disciple of Jesus? Put another way, what must one do to inherit eternal life? When Jesus was asked that question he replied by asking the man who posed it to summarize the Law. The man dutifully replied:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” In other words, the true disciple is the one who loves God and neighbor.
Next, the man asked that fateful question, “Who is my neighbor?” This question in turn provided Jesus the occasion to share one of his most famous parables, that of the Good Samaritan. And it brings us to the answer: everybody is your neighbor.
If that’s what a true disciple looks like — namely, one who loves God and neighbor — then it would seem reasonable to define a Christian movie as a movie that increases your love of God and/or neighbor.
If I’m correct in my critique of God’s not Dead, then that film does not increase love of neighbor. After all, it contains several crude, objectifying stereotypes of out-groups like atheists, Muslims and animal rights activists. And such crude stereotyping never increases love of one’s neighbor. Thus, while this movie was produced for a Christian market, I submit that it is itself a profoundly unchristian movie.
By the same token, there may be many films that had no “Christian” production company, no “Christian” actors and no explicitly “Christian” content, but which nonetheless increased the love of God and/or neighbor:
“Then the righteous filmmaker will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”