5 Types of Bad Christian Writers

If that title offended you, have a seat and let’s talk. Christians have been making lousy books, movies, and more for decades. Yes, yes, yes, some good, even great pieces have come out and I could easily recommend some.

But the bad ones are still being made. We’re still making bottom-of-the-barrel films that deserve their terrible reviews. No, it’s not because Christian art hated by the mainstream. That’s why it’s unprofitable, not why it’s bad. Our stuff is bad all on it’s own.

Yes, I said “our.” I am a Christian. But I’m also an artist. I don’t claim to be an amazing, life-changing writer, but I do have a commitment to art, something I don’t see in many Christian writers. Instead, I see the five following people.

1. The Preacher (Mr. I-Have-A-Message)

Fireproof.jpg
I didn’t HATE this movie, but it does get heavy-handed at times.

Let’s start with the obvious. Christian media, by and large, is preachy. In part, that’s understandable; we have a message we want everybody to hear. And we spend so many Sunday mornings listening to someone preach without interruption that we think this is the context for all Christian messages.

But this isn’t church. It’s a book. It’s a movie. It’s music. It’s art. People don’t like being talked at. For most people, lectures are only acceptable in school, and even then, most wish the teacher would just shut up.

Not only is this annoying, it’s ineffective. Listening to speeches and reading them are two of the weakest ways to reach somebody or even make them remember it. Yes, there are powerful writers and speakers in the world, but guess what. Most people aren’t compelling speakers or writers. Just because it’s meaningful to you doesn’t mean it will be to others.

Even when the target audience is Christian, preachiness is almost always unacceptable. Again, it’s art, not a lecture hall. Yet I’ve seen plenty of books and films where characters go to church or talk to the Christian Know-It-All and you may as well skip this scene because you know what’s coming next: a sermon. And you have to sit through all of it.

Enough. It doesn’t work.

2. The Evangelist (The guy who doesn’t know what “target audience” means)

Duel Realms

A subdivision of The Messenger, The Evangelist is the most insufferable kind of Christian writer. Okay, to be fair, a great writer can pull this off, but 99% of Christian media writers bomb when they try this because they forget who they’re writing to.

Who is supposed to hear the evangelical, come-to-Jesus message? Christians? Of course not. If they’re a Christian, they already know this stuff, right? The people who need the message are the ones who haven’t committed their life to God.

So…why do evangelical messages seem tailor-made for those who don’t need it?

This is just bad marketing. If you want a non-Christian to read this message, you have to make your media something they would watch/read/hear. No non-Christian is going to read a book that’s nothing more than a tract. They won’t watch a movie with horrible acting and be enticed by the alter call. And trust me, they can tell when a Christian song is coming on by the first few bars, and they’ll switch the radio station.

What use is a life-saving message if nobody hears it? Non-Christians aren’t stupid; they can see through thinly-veiled agendas. Christians may say amen and hallelujah, but did you really write your story to get a pat on the back from people who already agree with you?

3. The Transparent Allegorist (Bargain-Bin C.S. Lewis)

Superman Jesus
From Warner Bros.’ “Superman Returns”

Speaking of things thinly veiled, how many of you have ever read a book or watched a movie and immedately knew who the Jesus charact–oh, everybody! Yeah, I thought so. Even non-Christian writers use this trope, but you know what? It’s usually entertaining when they do.

Christians? Not so much. They write the allegory and forget to write anything else. They seem to say, “If I write an allegory, that will make a good book/movie.” Congrats. You just joined the ranks of M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Bay, and every paperback romance writer. If I just do this one magic trick, I’ll be awesome.

Allegories are not automatically awesome. Usually, they’re cheap and obvious ways to send a message (see numbers one and two). Writing is more than any one tool.

Some Christians may say, “Jesus used allegories.” First of all, Jesus wasn’t writing novels or movies. He was preaching. Preaching is okay when you’re preaching. Second of all, Jesus followed the Allegory Effectiveness Test.

Here’s the test: if you take away all the spiritual meanings, does the story still work? Would a non-Jesus shepherd leave ninety-nine sheep to find one? Yes. Would a non-Jesus Samaritan help a Jew who was robbed and beaten? Unlikely, but it’s at least physically and logically possible, and it would be just as shocking as Jesus’s point was supposed to be.

Aslan wasn’t just Jesus. He was also Aslan.

4. The Uncreative (The Bible Thief)

Tribulation_Force_Paperback

I would not have believed this one if I hadn’t seen it, but some Christian writers are so strapped for creativity that they copy and paste sections of the Bible to fill their gaps. I don’t mean scripture references, callbacks, or even readings. I mean they use the Bible’s material as their own.

One writer I saw made a Jesus-like character who was not Jesus, but spoke and acted exactly as Jesus did. They took a section of the gospel and had the not-Jesus Jesus character play that section out. What the what? If he’s not Jesus, but he’s an allegory of Jesus doing exactly what Jesus did…then why not just write Jesus into the story at that point?

In the second Left Behind book, a Jewish rabbi speaks to the Two Witnesses and the three of them essentially play out John 3, where Nicodemus speaks to Christ. Sometimes, their conversation is word for word.

Pathetic. That’s the only word I have for it. Pathetic. Either the allegory is so shallow it wouldn’t soak paper, or the writer simply can’t think of their own material so they use the Bible because they think Christians are stupid enough to swallow anything with Bible verses in it.

That’s not just bad writing. That’s practically plagiarism.

5. The Bottom-Liner (The just-plain-bad writer)

GodsNotDead2Poster

The number one excuse for bad writing in Christian media: “It honors God.”

Is that why it’s bad? Or because it’s bad? There are some seriously nasty implications here. It seems to say that Christian art is meant to be bad. After all, you just have to write something that says God is good and you’ve done your due diligence. No further effort required.

Worse yet, it’s an excuse to shrug off criticism. “Oh, they’re just angry because I honored God. Everybody hates Christian movies simply because they’re Christian. But I honored God, so I don’t have to listen to what anybody says about it.”

People…this is the exact same mentality as the studios who pump out every new Transformers, Call of Duty, or teen paranormal romance. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to sell. Art is sacrificed for money. This is wickedness. But when Christians sacrifice art, it’s righteousness?

This “honoring God” argument implies that God is separate from art. That he cannot be found in the colorful painting, in the transcendent melody, in the carefully-chosen word. But if we say that God created the world, then everything around us proves that crapping out on art is no righteousness.

To be fair, many Christian writers do their absolute best and fall short. That’s honoring God. But it’s a lie to look at bad writing and call it good because it’s “holy.” A woman who sings off-key for Jesus may honor Jesus, but she’s still off-key and no amount of reverence is going to change that.

So let’s stop kidding ourselves. Let’s stop praising the lowest forms of entertainment by slapping a “God” label on them. Books, movies, even video games can be great platforms for messages. But it takes a skilled artisan to do it right.

And if you can’t do it right…well, look around.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “5 Types of Bad Christian Writers

  1. This x1000. My workplace actually hosted the London premiere of God’s Not Dead 2. Was it making a point? Yes. Was it similar to the work my organisation does? Yes, though that seems hard to believe. Was it very good? No. Of course, I’m not allowed to vocalise such a view in a work context, but I appreciate things done well.
    Great post!

    Like

      1. Yeah, I don’t think the film was as bad as the reviews make it out to be but it wasn’t on par with the quality of mainstream releases, on the whole.

        Like

  2. By and large I agree with this entire post…tho there are a few….little …details for me…
    Keep in mind- I could be wrong on this next bit- my memory is nothing like it used to be. I could swear that I have heard an interview with the writers of the “Left Behind” series about mid-way thru the release of its entirety. What I seem to remember is that they had tried to write the story of Revelation/ end of days but set it in today. I always found it near laughable to read that section of the bible. I’d find myself thinking ….oh sure!…thats believable!…how could anybody fall for that!?” Yes the entire series is a modernized version of scripture- I thought it was a page turner. For me, having it written that way made me look at what I had found ridiculous/ laughable previously- in a new light. Are there sections of it that make me say “Wha??!!” …sure.
    Is Aslan and the entire series of stories pretty obvious to an adult…sure. I don’t think they were aimed at adults. I for one, thought they were great books to read and talk about with my kids It made it ok/ not preachy to talk about doing what is right even when the outcome looks way bad, etc. etc.
    Am I tired of the obvious preachy trash that is out there- sure. But just like the Transformers series, some of it is done for the prupose of mere entertainment and making $$ (and by “it” I mean any movie production going) Some are good, without being quite so obvious- like the Ted Dekker series. It would be real nice to have as many cultures, ideas represented as possible, but the industry is there to make $$. I suspect that like many things in life the description ‘sold” is not quite what it looks like in the end. Should we continue to try making them- but better and better…to the best of our ability. Yes. I personally think that if you had as much $ thrown at the base story line as Lucas uses the material would be better. I’d rather see folks continue to try than just call them trash and discourage the attempt though. I think that most of the time, it has to be a book before it can be a good movie….

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comment, first off. I did read the entire main Left Behind series and I did think it was creative, though not great. As for Aslan, I didn’t mean Narnia was a bad series–far from it! It’s one of the greatest series ever, and that was my point: Aslan was a well-done Jesus allegory, but too many try to get the allegory without weaving into its own story. Aslan works because he fits into Narnia, not just Bible commentary. As for the money thing, that one, to me, falls on the shoulders of the consumers. Christians are quick to scorn Christian works that don’t fit the church culture (white-washed, inspirational, clean stories) while spending millions on cheap reassurances. I just want to see more art in Christian media. Thank again.

      Like

      1. According to C. S. Lewis he didn’t start out to write an allegory. He began with a mental image of a faun running by a lamppost on a snowy day. As the story got underway a golden Lion worked Himself into the story and took over.

        By being a faithful Christian and a good writer you will produce good, Christian writing. No didactic message necessary.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve often wondered why Christian movie making is so lame. You would think it would be better than what the non-Christian world has to offer considering we Christians have God’s creative genius residing in us. And the resources and budget at His disposal? No excuse.

    But a “Christian” movie has to be full of Christianese and leave-no-doubt preaching or good Christians don’t trust it. If the message is subtle the artist isn’t a real Christian. Hence there are no youth group field trips to go see it. No small group outings.

    There are actually lots of good Christian movies – Tender Mercies comes to mind. So does Babette’s Feast. Christians just don’t know that they are Christian movies.

    Like

  4. For all you grown ups who love the Chronicles of Narnia, but want something more age appropriate I recommend Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.

    It’s a retelling of the Greek myth, “Cupid and Psyche” told from the POV of Psyche’s ugly, unloved half sister, Orual. One of the villains of the original myth, Orual takes good care of Psyche and is heart-broken when the head priest orders Psyche to be offered as a sacrifice to the god of the mountain.

    Later Orual travels to the place where the sacrifice was made to bury Psyche’s remains. What she finds amazes her.

    There really is no “Aslan” figure. You feel like you’re trapped in a godless, pagan culture. Then close to the end…but I won’t spoil the plot.

    Like

Who Cares What I Think? What Do YOU Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s