It won’t shock anyone to say that a great number of Christian movies, TV, books, websites, and more are pretty poor. And while there’s much improvement out there, we still have a long way to go. And it’s not just opinion. The truth is that starting a few hundred years ago, Christians walked away from the arts. As we discuss on the As1.org website, there was a time when we were actually patrons of the arts and hired the best and brightest artists in the world to tell our stories. But over the last few centuries, that changed – to the point that the last generation of Christian media professionals – especially those in broadcast media, weren’t creative artists at all – they were mostly preachers.
But I have to hand it to those guys. At least they stepped up to the plate, but it’s why so much Christian media today is still based on sermons. Now however, it’s a new generation’s responsibility to take that baton, and make a definite shift toward the narrative.
But back to why Christian media sucks. I was reading David Eagleman’s New York Times review of Jonathan Gottschall’s new book “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human” and came across a brilliant statement:
“The dominant themes of story aren’t what we might assume them to be. Consider the plotlines found in children’s playtime, daydreams and novels. The narratives can’t be explained away as escapism to a more blissful reality. If that were their purpose, they would contain more pleasure. Instead, they’re horrorscapes. They bubble with conflict and struggle. The plots are missing all the real-life boring bits, and what remains is an unrealistically dense collection of trouble. Trouble, Gottschall argues, is the universal grammar of stories.”
Eagleman nails what many of us have tried to express, and certainly what millions of Christians want to avoid when it comes to movies, TV, books, and other media: It shouldn’t be about being “clean.” Some Christian radio and TV stations even advertise that they’re “safe.”
But the great stories aren’t safe – even the best children’s stories. They’re filled with conflict, struggle, and yes, even horror. They don’t shy away from real life. (Oddly enough, that’s something they have in common with much of the Old Testament.)
Christians will never create media or entertainment as long as we’re trying to be “safe.” It was true thousands of years ago, and it’s still true today: If we want to authentically engage our culture, maybe it’s time to toss the lifejackets overboard and take a risk.