Facing the Giants of Bad Art & Bad Theology
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.
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