Faith-Based Movies Miss the Point

There, in a home worn by time and circumstances lay my little sister, ravaged by cancer. She rested with a cross above her bed and inked with glory to God.

On my drives out to see her I would pray the only way I know how; as if a best friend were riding shotgun. In the evening I’d have a good cry in my hotel room, go to bed and wake to a world where nothing had changed.

However, if my sister’s life were one of today’s “faith-based” films, she’d be getting out of bed, miraculously cured and ready to meet Mr. Right. It’s good for faith-based films to start with the premise that Christ can change your life, but when they drift into selling “Jesus as magic” the true message gets lost.

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL - Official Trailer
In the film “Heaven Is for Real,” based on the best seller of the same name, young Colton Burpo tells his family he visited Heaven while undergoing emergency surgery. He describes how he looked down at the doctor operating on him, his mother calling people to pray and his father cursing God in a separate room. The lad also met his great-grandfather for the first time in Heaven, a place full of people, angels and animals.

The film received mixed critical reviews, but nevertheless was a box office smash grossing $91 million domestically from a $12 million budget.

In “Facing the Giants” Christian high school football coach Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) uses his undying faith to battle the giants of fear and failure. His wife is infertile, he’s got a losing team and he’s about to get fired. Devastated by his circumstances, Grant cries out to God in desperation. In the end Grant’s wife becomes pregnant and his team wins the state championship. Made on a microscopic budget of $100,000 and grossing more than $10 million domestically, “Giants” offers a simplistic message of how faith works in the real world.

War Room - Official Trailer
More recently, “War Room” told the story of a seemingly perfect family looking to fix their problems with the help of Miss Clara. This older, wiser Christian goes to “war” for those around her from the confines of a closet where she shouts at God. Miss Clara encourages the couple to find happiness through prayer. They do as told and find their prayers answered. Made on a $3 million budget, the film has grossed more than $67 million to date.

All three movies proved financially successful, but how do they compare to the real life of Christians?

In Greek and Roman theatre a device was created called Deus ex Machina, or God from the Machine. When the life of the story’s players got out of hand they would literally lower God from above and have everything fixed by His hand.

That Christian films are thriving is a testament to the faith and the faithful who make them. But when we bring this sort of simplistic storytelling to the hurt and broken of the world, the message gets lost as something unreal or worse, just another Hollywood fairy tale.

Before I could finish this article my sister died, in way that as a screenwriter I would have written for her. She passed in her sleep, the sun setting on her brick Pennsylvania home and just below her cross.

When Christian filmmakers set out to take their message to the world it would be wise to make the narrative that in Christ you are promised a better life, not better circumstances.

One Comment

  1. Great point. I’ve been critical of the sad, sorry stereotypes that have attached themselves to Christian-studio movies…but even I never realized this one.

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