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On Christian Movies…

April 14, 2011

So, there’s this new movie out, Soul Surfer, about a Pro Surfer who at the ripe old age of 13 lost an arm to a shark and kept surfing. She was helped through this by her steadfast faith in God. I haven’t seen this movie yet (and I’m not sure that I will, though I’m sure I’ll get the same looks I get when I tell people I haven’t seen Fireproof and don’t care to). I have heard and read the story, and it is very inspirational. So what I my issue this time? Here is a quote from the review of Soul Surfer by Roger Ebert:

But there had to be more to it than that. I applaud her faith and spirit. I give her full credit for her determination. I realize she is a great athlete. But I feel something is missing. There had to be dark nights of the soul. Times of grief and rage. The temptation of nihilism. The lure of despair. Can a 13-year-old girl lose an arm and keep right on smiling?

The flaw in the storytelling strategy of “Soul Surfer” is that it doesn’t make Bethany easy to identify with. She’s almost eerie in her optimism. Her religious faith is so unshaken, it feels taken for granted. The film feels more like an inspirational parable than a harrowing story of personal tragedy.

Now Ebert is no Christian, but he is actually fairly generous with this film. But these two paragraphs made me think about two of the major issues I have with the majority of “Christian” movies. First, the idea that Christians have no problems while everyone else has all the issues. Just believe in Jesus and all your problems will miraculously disappear. Your marriage will be perfect, you will have all you need financially, you will get a new truck, your business will do well, your team will win the championship, you will have that baby you were wanting, etc.

I don’t doubt that this isn’t done from good motives. Like, “we have to show the non-Christians that everything is better for us.” The only problem is, this isn’t true to real life, nor is it Biblical. If you are a Christian, you know everything isn’t perfect like this, so why pretend it is for everyone else?

Second, most of these movies portray God (I don’t think intentionally, but they do, nonetheless) as a means to an end. God is the way to get what you want in the world. Want a good marriage, try God. Want a successful business, a championship, to get back on the surf board? Try God. God ends up being a means to attain our idols. The joy is in the stuff we get from God, not in God Himself, in spite of our circumstances.

I know we can do better.

Incidentally, this isn’t true of all Christian films. While not a perfect film, To Save a Life is a Christian movie that doesn’t fall into either of these traps.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Book permalink
    April 14, 2011 5:12 pm

    I kinda, a little bit agree with you on this posting…. but, I’ve not found too many Christian movies that I like for the main reason; they are cheap! But the one’s I’ve fallen for, like, “Fireproof”, I’ve enjoyed. “What If…” is another good one. Yes, some of them do treat God like the “Big refrigerator in the sky.”
    But, even so, having your faith in the Lord can open up doors you never expected. No, God NEVER promises a rose garden. But, even, if your life is crappy, you do have His spirit with you at all times keeping your head above “water” …if you let Him.

    I’ve seen good things happen to people who love the Lord; marriages work, kids are off drugs or worse, jobs get great, businesses flourish….but, I’ve also seen Christians die, get arms cut off by machines , (or sharks), have drug problems, etc…etc…. Those who come back from the edge of “cursing God and “dying””, have something special then to offer others; not wealth, not a great job….but they show us God-given endurance, which He wants us to have. These people have their edges softened by their rough experiences…so they are more ready to accept other people’s rough edges…. and help them if needed.

    So, I see value in both types of movies… Christians are winners no matter what their lives are like. Good or bad…the motivated, enduring Christian lives well with his faith. God gives us rewards even though we don’t deserve them. He gives us trials to grow our character…getting us ready to help others or to get us ready for heaven. All is positive if you accept His loving expressions…no matter what they are.

    I won’t ‘go to the movie ’cause my uncle had his arm taken off in a hay-baler. He was so proud of his stump! He loved to show it off. Not as dramatic as a shark… but I got tired of seeing it all the time. So it goes….

  2. May 6, 2011 1:10 pm

    [rant] I tend to avoid Christian movies like the plague. Not because they are cheap but because the acting is generally a tragedy. The scenes from Fireproof I have seen rose no higher in their acting acumen than your typical doctor’s office soap opera. I have no tolerance for bad acting. [/rant]

    “…the idea that Christians have no problems while everyone else has all the issues. Just believe in Jesus and all your problems will miraculously disappear.”
    I’m less worried about this on the silver screen and more worried about it in the pulpit. My church just had a joint Sunday service with two other local churches and the visiting pastor said (paraphrased) “When you have Jesus your problems are transformed.” He didn’t discuss what they were transformed into and his conclusion that Jesus came “to change our lives” leads me to believe that he preaches the same message you’re concerned the movie does. I find it much more dangerous for that message to be in the pulpit each week than a poorly made movie once a year.

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