Why Defending Bad Christian Art Shows Bad Theology

90% of everything is crap. That’s just nature; there is more attempt than skill, and even skill must be cultivated. So why do I complain that 90% of Christian art is crap? Because unlike the rest of the world, mainstream Christianity defends its crap.

While this trend is thankfully changing, there are still a staggering amount of people who say we shouldn’t talk bad about God’s Not Dead, Left Behind (2014), or Saving Christmas. After all, they’re Godly movies, so it would be mean and unholy to criticize them, right? The same goes for books about the End Times and music with cheap lyrics like “You are good, good, oh” repeat ad nauseum (actual lyric).

I wish I had a sound clip of Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns screaming, “WROOOOONNNG!”

There is a right and wrong way to do criticism, sure, but some Christians act as though any criticism is persecution, or that slapping God on the title should immunize them to critique.

What does the Bible say about that, though?

1: Is It Really Godly?

Just because someone SAYS their art is Godly, doesn’t mean it is. I mean look at the Pharisees for pity sake. They checked all the righteous boxes and Jesus dusted them off the bottom of his sandals.

God’s Not Dead is a pretty good example of this. The film claims its hero is standing up for Jesus in an oppressive environment. However, the film itself paints with too-broad brushstrokes. Christians are always good and right. Atheists are always mean and petty. In the film, there’s a close-up of a mean atheist’s bumper stickers, which include promos for environmentalism and veganism. So environmentalists and vegans are all petty and wicked sinners, too?

And what about all these mainstream feel-good songs about how Jesus is gonna make you happy and everything’s gonna work out just fine? What about when things go wrong? What about the Christian virtue of lament found in so many Psalms? Are we feeding people a sugar-coated half-truth?

Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 7:21 ESV). Not all that claims Jesus truly has him. So we really ought to be careful about supporting something just because it’s got a Jesus Fish on it.

2: Is Defensiveness Really a Virtue?

Ever notice how automatic the defenses are? No matter how bad the movie, book, whatever, the Christian mainstream will shoot up its shields like Captain America. “Pwing, pwing! Your evil hate bounces off my shield of faith! Ka-pwing!”

Whenever I see someone defending bad art, they don’t look at the art as they defend it. They just spout generalities like, “Well, it’s Christian.” But is that even the topic in question? An article defending God’s Not Dead argued that people shouldn’t say the film was a flop because it actually made good money. But not one reviewer I’ve ever read said the film was a financial failure, just an artistic one. The article defended something that wasn’t even under attack.

Why so defensive? Why not look at the piece in question and examine it before protecting it? The Bible says, “Therefore let anyone who that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV) Self-examination is something God calls us to do in all areas, art included.

For that matter, why is criticism so bad in the first place? Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (NIV) And 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but hates correction is stupid.”

So automatically defending something, even if it genuinely is Christian, isn’t a Christian virtue. It’s certainly not loving the Lord with all your mind. Look at what you love, examine it, and develop a proper defense of it if you must, one based on knowledge, not Christian culture norms.

3: Is Growth Really So Bad?

For all my complaints, I do know the real struggles faced by Christian creators. There’s not much money to go around, not much support from mainline culture, and only a small pool of talent within these niche markets.

But I don’t think these are excuses. In fact, I think they’re clarion calls for the Christian art scene to grow. Many defenders treat bad Christian art as if that’s some sort of normal that shouldn’t be disturbed. But Jesus was in the business of rejuvenation.

We can’t easily change how much money or support goes into a faith-based film, album, etc., but with limitations comes creativity. Many Christian films don’t need big budgets. Books are not terribly expensive to make. Amateurs can make a musical following on Youtube. There are possibilities here; budget is not the get-out-of-criticism-free card people think it is. Do you think Veggie Tales had a big budget? Clearly not! But it was awesome.

Now skill is a bigger issue. Without artistic ability, every piece will fail. However, it’s also the one thing we can control.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to see Christian writers getting together for workshops to improve the craft of writing. Realm Makers Consortium is a writing conference for Christian creators of fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction, expanding genres and abilities.

I’m also thrilled to see Christian film critics who understand things like film language, shot composition, special effects usage, editing, and other subjects essential to good filmmaking.

Christians who suck at art should grow at it, not hide behind the cross as if Jesus would never ever tell them to do better. Remember the parable of the talents, when the master rewarded those who worked, yet punished the one who chose the easy route?

I’m seeing the trend of defensiveness change, but not nearly enough. Terrible songs still play constantly on the radio. Gag-tastic Christian flicks bore audiences every year. And Christian Fiction still has only three categories: Historical, Romance, and Cop/Military/Firefighter/any-kind-of-uniform Action Thriller. Christians are leaving the Christian market and turning to others because the Christian market refuses to leave its safe boundaries.

To Put It Simply…

I don’t think God is impressed by bad art. He may be proud of the heart behind it in many cases, but I don’t think he’s going to call bad art “good.”

Mainstream Christianity really needs to give itself a serious examination, to stop letting bad songs on the radio just because they have nice messages, to promote new genres of film and literature, to lambast bad art instead of protecting its self-esteem, like a teacher who refuses to give anything lower than an A-minus (and never in red).

We don’t accurately represent God when we defend bad art. We do when we pick up the artist, dust him or her off, and say, “Good spirit, try again.” We do when we sacrifice our valuable time to help them grow. We do when we question old methods and see if they still stand, or if something new is needed.

We represent God when we take our eyes off the Sunday pulpits and self-help fads and turn our eyes to the glorious creative capacities of God himself, and say, “That’s what we should be shooting for.”

3 thoughts on “Why Defending Bad Christian Art Shows Bad Theology

  1. I’m not into art per se. But I’ve been involved in Christian publishing about half of my adult life, and what you say certainly applies in that field. In the last several years, I have explored some of the “Christian” writing available on Kindle. I even had some communication with some of the authors and appreciated their burden and heart throb. Maybe I expected too much, but I was very unhappy with the quality of much of what I ran into. One of the problems is the ease with which people can publish their own art and literature without being critiqued by professionals. It is enough, today, to be “led by God” to say something. Our words become almost the equivalent of scripture and thus don’t need the help of an editor or reviewer. Unfortunately, this has led, to be blunt, to the publication of a bunch of spiritualized crap. People don’t put the research time and effort into their writing that they should. They don’t craft realistic characters. They don’t create realistic settings and plots. And they aren’t really that worried about being biblical. Often they aren’t even honest–they spend time in putting together a character that is almost perfect, and you are expecting great things, only to have him fall into the ditch somewhere and turn into a drug addict. Sure, such things can happen, but there are normally danger signs, and you owe it to your reader to give him some. The reader should at least be able to go back after the fact and say, “I should have seen that coming.” Even fantasy writers like Ted Dekker do that. I’ve seldom run into a genuinely unexpected major event in his writing. Anyway, that’s enough ranting. Sorry for using your blog to blow my top!

    Like

  2. I’ve read my share of Christian romance. I have to say I agree with you, Mike. Most of the main characters are too good to be true. I ask myself, “Have I ever met anyone this perfect?”

    Christians, of all people, should not be afraid to face flaws and sins head on. I think our art should reflect that.

    Thanks for saying what many of us are thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

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