(Today’s guest post comes to us from my good friend, Nick Scarantino. Nick is a passionate writer, critical thinker, and the author of two excellent novels, The Clemency Camps and Possession. He has a talent for compelling people to think, and I am so excited to have his voice here today. Enjoy!)
This post will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers.1 But it’s something that has been bothering me for a while and I’ve wanted to write a post about it for a minute. So here it is. And I’m going to say it in big, bold letters so nobody gets confused.
I’m pinpointing two main categories: music and movies. Books are a different story for a different time. Plus, people don’t seem to pit “Christian” books against non-”Christian” books as much as they do with music and movies.
So what makes “Christian” music and movies not Christian?2 There are two majors issues I have with them.
1. They’re not theologically sound
This one is mainly true within “Christian” music3 – it does not prescribe to theological truths. Countless songs speak of this earth not being our home; or we’re just passing through. Or any other variety of things that simply aren’t true. The idea that everything here on earth is temporary is Gnostic4 and has been refuted throughout the entirety of Christian history.
And yet we stand today still battling it. Songs from all genres of “Christian” music perpetuate the idea that this is not our home. But the Bible clearly states that God is in the process of making all things new. He’s restoring the earth, not getting rid of it.
Even worship songs have theology completely wrong. “Enough” states that God is more than we could ever need and more than enough for us. And while this may be a nice sentiment, it’s not true. If it were, God would never have made Eve. Adam had a perfect relationship with God (something we will never have) and it still, “was not good for man to be alone.”
And while the main theme of most “Christian” movies is accurate, they’re full of whitty one-liners that are simply a boiled down version of faith but get so much of it wrong. For instance, in the trailer for God’s Not Dead5 they have a member of Duck Dynasty6 say that they pray to Jesus in every episode because if they deny God he will deny them. When did God require them to pray in every episode? When did not saying his name once become denying him?
Every scene in these movies has to be some form of lesson. They can’t just be good scenes. And the same goes for a lot of “Christian” music. Especially in rap. Nearly every song by nearly every “Christian” rapper is an explanation of how they used to be hood but now they’re saved. Can’t they talk about life as a whole, and the hard times as well? Not just using it as another place to proselytize?
It goes beyond that. I even had my parents go through the CD booklets of my new CDs7 and comment that they didn’t mention God enough. Since when did music have to mention God to be good music? The book of Esther never once mentions God. People would be offended today if we presented that story as a Christian movie (especially with all the scandal in it, but we’ll get to that) and not mention God’s name one time.
Worse yet, there are some popular songs that do get things right. In 2008 Brandon Heath’s “Give Me Your Eyes” peaked at #1 on the Christian charts. With lyrics like:
Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Or 2015’s hit by the new band Carrollton, “Let Love Win,” that reminds us:
When we lay down our weapons we will let love win
Lord we lay down our weapons and we let love win
But do you know what happens? Nothing. We listen to these songs that remind us the truth of our faith and they don’t change a damn thing about how we act or what we believe. In fact, we’ve been getting WORSE lately, and some popular songs are encouraging that. How do we, as an entire community, not see a problem with this?
2. They’re not authentic8
“Christian” movies are laughable in my opinion. Do You Believe was lauded for being a great “Christian” movie. But what about the fact that it had drug dealers who didn’t swear at all? Is that even a possibility? Or how in every “Christian” movie you watch everyone miraculously get saved at the end.
These things just aren’t real. Life is dirty. Life has swear words. Life has violence. Life has pain and anger. When we censor these from movies so they can be labeled “Christian” we give ourselves a distorted view of the world and, as a result, a distorted view of what it means to be Christian.
Christianity is not all about saving people. “Christian” movies make that the end goal.9 But that’s not really it. The end goal is to love God and love others. When we’re focused too much on saving people, we forget to love them. We make them a goal to be achieved, rather than a person to be merely loved. We strip them of their humanity and almost make them a prize to be won.10 And then once we do “convert” them we often leave them hanging as we move on to the next lost soul. That’s not loving them.
They are also superficial and watered down. Good movies make you feel something. I remember watching movies that most Christians would shun me for watching and crying because it made me feel for the characters. I laugh most of the way through “Christian” movies because they don’t resonante. They try too hard to be “Christian” they forget to be real. Real attracts people. Real moves people. Anything less does people a disservice.
Even within music we see a common trend of “everything’s good because I’ve got God.” But that’s not how life works. There are countless examples in the Bible11 where people are saying, “I have God, but life still sucks.” And that’s okay. The songs we get from secular artists about heartbreak and love and depression are more Christian than a lot of “Christian” songs because they show us our brokenness. They show us our need for something more.
Even Jesus was broken at one point, praying for God to take away the burden. “But it’s okay because we have him, so we can’t be broken.” Bullshit.
I don’t believe in labeling movies and music “Christian” or secular. I think everything has some form of value, even songs and movies notoriously shunned by the Christian community. Because God is in the process of making all things new. And life is messy. Life isn’t meant to be lived in a little bubble away from sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Christ modeled a life in the midst of the worst things of his time. And here we are hiding from the minor things of our time (swear words, OH NO!!!)
We’ve forgotten how to be Christian. We’ve forgotten how to be real. And it’s pushing people away. It’s pushing people out of church because they refuse to pretend to be perfect and the leadership isn’t cool with that. It’s pushing great artists and filmmakers away from God (or at least you don’t even know they’re Christian because they want to make real art).12
Worse yet, it’s turning people who don’t even know God away from him. Because not only is it not okay to be flawed within the Christian community, it’s also impossible not to be. And people see this dichotomy and want no part of it. They see us pretend like everything is perfect and life is good, especially in our entertainment facets as more and more “Christian” movies are getting wide theatrical releases, and they see that it’s not real life. And they want nothing to do with the charade of it all. Why do we put up with it?
1: as most of Rocky or my posts do
2: of course I’m speaking of the majority; there are exceptions
3: specifically the kind you find played on CCM radio stations
5: which is basically a really long commercial for the new Newsboys
6: yes, the fraudsters who just want money
7: back when that was a thing and they had the lyrics in them
8: I used this word to be intentionally ironic
9: as do other forms of “Christian” entertainment like Redemption Cards where the entire purpose of the game is to rescue “lost souls”
10: have we learned nothing from Jasmine?
11: especially in Psalms
12: the makers of almost all horror movies are devout Christians for example