Why the Label “Christian Art” Needs to be Left Behind

Left Behind

First, I must say that I won’t be seeing the new Left Behind movie. Ever. I don’t think you should see it either. In fact, I beg you not to see it. It may be “Christian art,” but it isn’t Christian. An article in Christianity Today sums up my perspective on it pretty well:

. . . Hollywood producers now know that American Christians feel that way about their faith [that Christians want their faith included in the mainstream discourse]—that Christians so desperately want to participate in the mainstream, that they’re tired of having sanctioned music that’s like other music and movies like other movies and politicians like other politicians but always still being on the outside, that Christians just want to feel identified without having to carve out little alcoves or niche markets that exist alongside the Big Boys. And, now that they know it—that is, now that they know they can make back 5x their initial financial investment—they want to exploit that, by pumping out garbage (not moral garbage, just quality garbage), slapping the “Christian” label on it, and watching the dollars pour in.

They want churches to book whole theaters and take their congregations, want it to be a Youth Group event, want magazines like this one to publish Discussion Questions at the end of their reviews—want the system to churn churn away, all the while netting them cash, without ever having to have cared a shred about actual Christian belief.

They want to trick you into caring about the movie. Don’t.

Left Behind is a Commodity, Good Art Isn’t

Along that vein, my main issue with the Left Behind movie is that its creators treat art like a commodity. (I’ve written about that elsewhere.) The producers of the movie and other movies like it actually don’t care one way or the other about Christianity. They just want to make money off of Christianity. Like the charlatan with an ichthus on his business card, Hollywood wants to cash in on the market demand for Christian art.

Like the charlatan with an ichthus on his business card, Hollywood wants to cash in on the market demand for Christian art.

And let me tell you that the mainstream church is playing right into their hands. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Check out what John had to say about the whore of Babylon (the false church) in Revelation 18:11.1 When she was destroyed, her most vociferous mourners were, you guessed it, the merchants:

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more . . .

The false church is a consumer, not a producer. And when I look at the merchants of this world growing fat by selling hollowed-out Christianese tripe to the church, while talented artist Christians have to make tents to feed their families, I mourn for the state of things.

Support Christian Artists, Not Christian Art

And perhaps part of the problem is that such a thing as “Christian art” exists. There is no such thing as Christian art. It’s a convenient label with disastrous consequences. There are Christian artists, in the sense that there are Christians called to the arts, but the art that they make should not be constrained by some external, superficial idea of what “Christian art” should sound or look like.

There is no such thing as Christian art. It’s a convenient label with disastrous consequences.

As an example, it blows my mind that the instrumental music they play at Chick-fil-A sounds like mainstream Christian music. Even without any lyrics, the vaguely pulsating, repetitive soft rock with anthemic choruses, Coldplay melodies, and U2 delayed guitar layers can’t help but sound exactly like everything you always hear on your local family-friendly Christian radio station.

This should end. The church needs to stop financially supporting every piece of art with an ichthus stamped on it in the assembly line, and we need to be supporting artists who are Christians instead. That means going local. If there is a godly person in your church called to the arts, give your entertainment budget to him to make his art. Support God-honoring artists and they will make God-honoring art.

Even if you don’t always “get” it, artist Christians should feel free to create whatever God gives them to create. If it doesn’t sound or look like what the church has grown accustomed to, maybe that’s a good thing. God loves variety, and we should too.

That’s one of our main goals here at the Nehemiah Foundation—to rally support for Christian artists in the church to create whatever God gives them, whether it is marketable or not. Because most of the time, the truth isn’t marketable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it.

  1. I guess it’s fitting Revelation should make it into a discussion of the Left Behind movies

5 responses

  1. Very good stuff, Michael! Don’t disagree in any way. Just trying to figure out how my film, made from a Christian worldview, can even get noticed if we just dump the labels, as the labels do help some in that regard. If I could take it away I would…but then this effects audience and profitability. Thoughts on practical steps to take to leave the labels behind?

    • Thanks, Paul!

      Your comment on audience and profitability speaks to one of the reasons why the Nehemiah Foundation has not made any movies yet. More than any other medium, movies require a large initial capital investment and they consume most of that investment in production. In other words, if a movie isn’t profitable, it might be the last movie you ever make. Strategically speaking, music is much easier to free from market constraints. If I invest money in recording equipment, there is nothing to keep me from using it indefinitely to make more music, even if my first album was a commercial failure. It is my firm belief that it is the market constraints on art from/in the church that need to be overcome.

      That’s harder to do with movies. But not impossible. People like Richard Linklater have proven you can make a good film without much of a budget. The biggest problem with most movies made by Christians is actually the cheapest thing to fix: the script. I don’t care how much money you pour into a bad script, it won’t make it any better. More than anything else, I think Christian directors need to find good scripts. Don’t waste a cent on a bad screenplay. And that part of the process is basically free. Once you’ve got a good script, shop it around to some independent producers. If the movie is made the way you want it to be made, I would let producers market it however they want.

      I think a really good screenplay would get noticed. It’s rare nowadays both inside and outside the “Christian film” industry.

      On that note, I would be happy to read/give feedback on any screenplay you’re working on. I’m actually working on one right now with a friend and I would love to run it by some people once we get it in good shape.

      Thanks for commenting, and I hope some of this was helpful!

  2. I had just been noticing how the music at church sounds very much alike these days. I miss the hymns, with their layers of melody, harmony, and other intricacies. It is a pity for the world to have such beautiful music while the church goes monotone. Ah, if every worship song could be as glorious as Handel’s Messiah! 😉

  3. You have failed to address WHY not to see the movie. What of the content warrants that reaction? You talk about the phenomenon of the mainstream trying to cash in on the “christian” market. I agree. But if you are going to wave people off of this specific film, you need to provide SUBSTANTIVE REASONS as to why the content does not measure up.

    • As I said, I have not seen the film. But based on the official clip alone (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtKue9f459A), I would say a major substantive reason to skip it is: it’s obviously a poorly crafted film. Same bad acting, same bad music, same bad writing, same uninspired cinematography and direction.
      I might support a less-than-stellar film made by Christians just to support them in their development. But this isn’t the same scenario. This is a calculated attempt by people who don’t care a whit about Christianity to cash in on the Christian market. That’s already reprehensible. But as far as I can tell from this clip and the trailers, they didn’t even make a decent movie. That’s just insulting.
      Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Reply