Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cheesy Christian cinema: Nostalgia for a bygone era

Andrew Barber takes a dim view of the phenomenon of "Christian film." The recent glut of evangelical cinematic efforts is not helpful to Christianity's public image.
I know it can seem petty to pick on Christian films, but they have become a noteworthy representation of Christianity. Every conversation I have with a non-Christian requires dealing with their perceptions of me as a Christian, which more often than not means dealing with the Republican Party, televangelists, and Christian media. The issue of representation aside, the problems in Christian films must be addressed, because they are not just issues of technique or stylistic preferences. They are issues of integrity.

There are currently two primary problems with Christian films: (1) they are either inherently dishonest and/or (2) they are primarily concerned with what C. S. Lewis called “egoistic castle-building.” Note: discussing both issues will require me to generalize about Christian films at large, so there will be (I hope) some exceptions. But I believe the trends discussed here are self-evidently true for a great majority of the Christian film genre.
Barber is pretty much on target with his critique. With rare exceptions, Christian movies have always been cheap, cheesy, and contrived. But what I find most interesting about Barber's article is that it could easily have been written 20 years ago, or even 40 years ago.

The perception of evangelical Christianity as being dominated by "the Republican party, televangelists, and Christian media" has not changed in over a generation, despite the fact that the landscape of evangelicalism has changed drastically, for better or worse, since the heyday of the Religious Right in the 1980's. The fact that Christian films continue to perpetuate the image of an evangelicalism joined at the hip to Republican politics and the idealistic crusades of televangelists is a particularly stinging indictment against a Christian media paralyzed by a nostalgia for a bygone era.