Renowned author C.S. Lewis once wrote, "We don't need more people writing 'Christian books,' what we need is more Christians writing good books.” His stepson Douglas Gresham would later add, “I think he was absolutely right, and we don't need more people making 'Christian movies.' What we need is more Christians making good movies."
With very few exceptions, it would seem the Christian film industry has been slow to agree. The quality of faith-based films often does not live up to the heart and intent behind them, leaving much to be desired.
Capitalizing on that desire is the secular film and television industry, producing ever more content revolving around religious themes and symbols—with some arguably beating faith-based films at their own game. Perhaps most notably in the past year, such blockbuster hits as Noah, Exodus, and A.D. have graced screens both big and small. While none are necessarily backed by the Christian community, what these films and programs lack in faithfulness to the source material they at least attempt to make up for in production quality (Aronofsky’s outré claymation Nephilim notwithstanding). Conversely, the Christian community has been satisfied producing films rich in biblical fidelity but sorely lacking in many other aspects of excellence. In the end, these films touted as “Christian” need quality like secular films need integrity.
As Christians, we have to realize that the message contained within those faith-based films can be lost in poor presentation. Every time we place the gospel onto a spoon to be force fed to an audience, we utterly neuter its ability to impact. To make matters worse, naysayers on this point conflate tactfulness with hiding our lights under a bushel.
The biblical admonition to not hide our lights under a bushel, though, is not meant to be a license to shine that light directly into the eyes of others. This is uncomfortable and rarely met with a response of gratitude. We ironically seem to forget that the very Christ we seek to communicate to audiences did not Himself at all times speak in such literal, blatant terms. When asked why He spoke in parables, Jesus responded by saying, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them…This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matthew 13:10-17). We must recognize that so many beyond the walls of our churches are not prepared to hear the message shared within because of the language we employ. Our message is muffled by unfamiliar distance, generic platitudes of the faith, and poor production quality.
If indeed we are to be like Christ, the storytellers and filmmakers among us should craft their own parables accordingly. For the rising generation of such creative forces, there is a profound need for guidance and training—that they may learn to do this well. Thankfully, today’s industry leaders have realized this need and seek to address it.
The current generation of Christian filmmakers have seen, tried, and no doubt been disappointed by contemporary Christian films. There is an increasing voice among them to remedy this. Drawing on their wealth of experience, film studies programs are growing in popularity within the realm of Christian higher ed and para-church ministries, in the pursuit of equipping the next generation of storytellers to produce great content and present it effectively.
One such institution gaining notoriety is Asbury University. Kendra White, a fellow Engage writer, graduated from this university’s film program. The program is headed by Dr. Jim Owens who has more than 30 years of broadcasting experience with such networks as ESPN, ABC, and NBC. Owens says Asbury graduates are “impacting the industry in many positive ways, creating quality productions and living life by biblical principles while working in the industry.”
And that is exactly what we must strive for. With the resources available to students and future filmmakers, we can take heart that there is a brighter future for faith-based entertainment. Perhaps one day, such entertainment will not only be uplifting to the church, but effective beyond her walls—and will bring excellence to both spheres. Students are being equipped to be the storytellers of tomorrow. And as they craft their stories with excellence and creativity, they are set to be the hands and feet of Christ and bring glory to the Creator who created them to create.
Christian Universities with Film Studies Programs:
Training and Networking Resources: