Overtly Christian Filmmaking

Last week, I met with a potential cinematographer and we had an interesting conversation about overt Christianity in films. His leaning is to create secular films with Christian themes.  His reasoning is that the message will reach a wider audience if kept subtle.  If we’re too open with our Christianity in films, people might reject them.

This appears to be a very common viewpoint among Christians in Hollywood.  There is some wisdom in it: yes, there is a risk that your film won’t reach as many people if it is too “religious”.  But staying subtle essentially means watering down the message. Star Wars is often celebrated for its spiritual themes.  But this assumes that spirituality is enough.

Sadly, a lot of people seem to think that it is–even Christians.  “Religion is about living morally and being a good person,” so people say.  Given this understanding, it’s no wonder that Christians are perfectly content to leave out any mention of God in the “inspirational” secular films they create.  But I say that spirituality or moral values are not enough.  We need God.  We need His personal presence in our lives.  Anything else falls short.  The world needs to know this.

But isn’t it better to reach a wider audience, even if the message is more subtle?  I used to think so, but now I am not so sure.  Is it really worth reaching all those people if you’re not proclaiming the Gospel?  Perhaps it would be better to reach even just a few people with the full message of God’s redeeming grace. That said, who’s to say we wouldn’t reach a large audience by speaking overtly?  In the book of Acts, Peter addresses a crowd after being filled by the Holy Spirit and “about 3,000 were added to their number that day”. (Acts 2:41)

I do believe God can use subtle spiritual themes in films to open the doors of people’s hearts.  I just think that too many Christians in the film industry are content to leave it at that, perhaps out of fear of being “outed” as Christians.

The key phrase in the argument against overt Christianity in film is “reaching a larger audience”.  For many Christians in Hollywood, this is likely a bigger concern than proclaiming the Gospel.  I must admit I still fall into this trap–it’s the creative side of me that wants my work to be seen.  But I don’t know that we can serve both goals.  If our primary goal is a large audience, then we may have to let go of ministering.  But if our primary goal is ministering, then we may have to let go of appealing to a large audience.  The Holy Spirit might still allow our films to reach lots of people, but we need to stop worrying about this.

Cinetheologian is unabashedly overt, and yet reaching a wider audience has frequently been a concern for me.  Part of the logic is that cinema takes such a large amount of time, money, and resources to produce that it is most worth it when it reaches lots of people.  But I am starting to wonder whether it might be better to focus on really ministering well to just one or two congregations.  Chances are, we would actually fare better than trying so hard to be a grand far-reaching ministry movement.  The Holy Spirit can magnify our efforts if we just focus on saying what we feel moved to say, through the medium of cinema.

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