Engaging Culture

Should Creative Work By Christians Be “Safe”?

Christian media today is filled with the word “safe.” Look at the advertisements: “Family safe programming.” “The safe alternative.” “Safe TV.” Sure we need to protect our kids from violence, sex, or profanity, but one thing you can bet on about the Bible: It isn’t “safe.” It tells the story of humanity in very real, authentic terms. A recent Park Forum devotional (highly recommended by the way) put it this way:

Austin Tice, 31, a law student, former Marine, and freelance reporter, has been missing since mid-August in Syria, where ten journalists have been killed since the uprising began last year. Even though he knew this, Tice went to the country and, on July 25, wrote to his friends:

“It’s nice and all, but please quit telling me to be safe … Sometime between when our granddads licked the Nazis and when we started putting warnings on our coffee cups about the temperature of our beverage, America lost that pioneering spirit. We became a fat, weak, complacent, coddled, unambitious and cowardly nation. I went off to two wars with misguided notions of patriotism and found in both that the first priority was to never get killed, something we could have achieved from our living rooms in America with a lot less hassle … We kill ourselves every day with McDonald’s and alcohol and a thousand other drugs, but we’ve lost the sense that there actually are things out there worth fighting for … No, I don’t have a death wish – I have a life wish …”

Austin Tice is a soldier, but in a similar attitude, if you’re a Christian pursuing a life of creativity, my advice is to stop worrying about being safe. Start pushing the boundaries. Start telling the truth. Start showing us life as you really see it. Our job isn’t to force the world into a Christian bubble. Our job is to pop the bubble and engage the culture that is – not the culture we’d like it to be.

Jesus called the religious leaders of His day out. As a result he was threatened, vilified, ridiculed, and eventually hung on a cross. Had He taken the safe way out, our future would be bleak indeed.

What can you do this week to punch through “safe” and create work that speaks the truth?

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  1. I am doing research right now for a novel about Joshua in the Bible, and it is truly disturbing how brutal the Bronze Age and Iron Age were. The book of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and of course Judges address so much sexual perversity and violence it is disturbing. What am I talking about, only those books? Throw in Genesis, and the Samuels, and on and on. The problem is that Christians have inherited an interpretive grid of the Bible that only sees these stories as devotional illustrations or spiritualized lessons for the “battles” in our spiritual lives. They simply cannot answer the skeptics attacks that are increasingly hot on this issue because they have never faced it head on. The Bible is full of flesh, blood, hair, guts, gore, and sand. IT IS NOT FAMILY FRIENDLY. IT IS NOT SAFE, not if you read it honestly and within its original context. There is certainly a place for so called Family Friendly programming, but it is a lie to think that it is in some way more Biblical. It is not. It is simply one more legitimate genre for a marketing demographic to make money. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  2. In a way, I feel all my writing (novels, film reviews, other articles, etc) is a crusade against 1) the ridiculous mollycoddling of our times and 2) the idiotic obsession certain Christians have about entertainment being “safe”.

    Yes, you have to ensure the entertainment is appropriate to the demographic you are aiming for, but no subject matter should be off limits to any age group. My novel Uncle Flynn – an adventure story aimed squarely at children – is all about overcoming fear in our safety paranoid western culture, but also it is about the dangers of mollycoddling and its potentially destructive consequences. And yes – at times it is violent and scary.

    As for my second point, as other posters have pointed out, the Bible is Exhibit A in terms of being anything but “family friendly”. At times, I read bits of it and think “Whoa! Too much information!”. Here’s a recent review I wrote for The Conjuring, in which I reiterate yet again why I often defend horror films – a genre many Christians dismiss entirely.


  3. Mate, this has struck a chord. Any chance I could repost this on my blog morethanbrothers.blogspot.co.uk (with full & clear attribution of course)?

  4. Phil, I could not agree more. For too long there have been ministry leaders that preach to their audience instead of telling it like it is and promoting real thought. The secular world continues to evolve while the silent voices of ministry say nothing, and remain comfortable in their own limited world. We must either step up or allow the secular mindset to dominate the development of thought moving forward. That would be a very bad thing and would also be not fulfilling our calling to be in service for Him. Leadership is putting into action your beliefs, anything less is allowing the wrong message to dominate the talking points.

  5. I remember hearing a lecture at a local university by Executive Producer Ralph Winter on this very subject. He pointed out that if we simply retold many of the stories in the Bible on film, those stories would most definitely receive an “R” rating. They aren’t safe, they aren’t pretty, but they are God’s. Aren’t we supposed to share God’s truth? If so, then maybe it is time for Christian filmmakers to “tell it like it is”.

  6. Preaching from Judges chapter 19, I succeeded to aggravate some listeners who wanted a sweet and easy going message. A safe Gospel preached from a clean Bible with no mention of human deprivation and consequently no need for radical solutions as Jesus’ blood…

  7. Great article by @philcooke:disqus most Christians are afraid of anything Controversial so they become obsolete in the conversations of the world!

  8. Yes! Bang on! Why should we, made in the image of the creator, spend our creative gifts making naff Christianised versions of the diet coke ads or whatever else is trending. We don’t need to be a version of, we need to be something that the world wants to copy!

  9. All of this discussion is great, and I am personally in agreement with the sentiment here, but if you are a Christian artist who desires to actually MAKE MONEY, then things aren’t quit so straight forward I’m afraid. The fact is, you cannot make a “Christian” project that is not “safe” or else you will lose your shirt in the marketplace. For whatever reason, nobody buys it. You are in no mans land. I am hoping this is changing, but for right now, you have to be making content that is either completely safe and christian, or you have to make it for the secular market. There is no market for stuff in-between.

    1. Great point Clayton. I have written 4 movie scripts. My first was at a studio in Hollywood long ago. They were in the process of casting for it when they called me to the studio. They wanted me to “spice it up.” I refused and took it back much to their dismay. I decided & prayed on my way home that if God wanted me to do this, to surround me with Christian men & women to do so. He has done that. However, I totally agree with you. My scripts are clean, with a subtle Christian message (1 not so subtle) that c
      ould do much more than just “preach to the choir.” Sadly however, they don’t fit the blend of the “Christian formula film” that has trouble reaching many of the lost. Perhaps I should return to ‘Hollywood?”

    2. I suppose this is true, Clayton, if the point is simply to make money. But shouldn’t the goal be to obey God and trust that he will supply our needs? What if we took that risk, and went out on a limb to obey God and face the unknown. What could happen? If we only cater to the existing marketplace, what hope is there of changing it. We simply become a spoke in the wheel. People ARE capable of radical change. But they need to be led, sometimes pushed, to the truth–especially Christians.

      1. Jared – I totally agree with you. As Christians, we never discount the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives in leading us in our endeavors – sometimes into big risks. I was simply adding a glaringly relevant and missing ingredient to this discussion. It’s not so simple as “Christians keep preaching to the choir! Isn’t it awful!” Until “Christians” begin to put their money where their mouth is in BUYING this edgy material, it isn’t going to change.

  10. As a natural state of self preservation mode humans normally choose to stay safe. However, this mindset sometimes have the tendency to encapsulate people and specially Christian organizations in a state that prevents effectiveness and relevance in the world.
    If you are a creative person then the notion of being safe is opposite of what you are supposed to be doing. Creativity challenges the status quo and find ways to improve things in a way that sometimes challenges the invisible rules established by others. Do not confuse holiness with being safe, since they are two different concepts. Write your script, tell your story, edit your project and design your campaign in a way that creatively speaks the language of the culture without diluting the Christian message. It is possible, just don’t let the fear of misrepresenting Christ stop you
    and allow the gift of creativity guide you in the exciting process of reaching others for Him.

  11. The CBA worked very hard to educate readers into giving the proper Pavlovian response to anything not approved by their trade association. Several years ago that response was hands over the eyes, fingers in the ears, and loudly hum one of the latest Christian Top 10.

    I quit trying to keep track of Christian entertainment so don’t know what the proper response is today.

  12. This topic could fill a book for certain… I’ve lived most of my professional career walking the tight rope between the “safe” church world and the “messy” secular world. I’m a filmmaker and an artist and I’m continually beating my head against the wall, because my projects are too “worldly” to be widely accepted in the conservative Christian world and too “christian” to be widely accepted in the mainstream culture.

    My documentaries tend to be a little more heady and thought-provoking with topics like Post-Modernism (Rebellion of Thought) or Homosexuality (Stained Glass Rainbows). The working title for my next project about the business of church is Spiritual Wank: Why the Church in North America Needs to Stop Playing With Itself. As you can tell by the title, this film won’t win me many friends in the traditional church culture. At the same time, it’s a topic that the vast majority of the world doesn’t care about… and that’s precisely my point…

    We as artists need to be true to the message we are called to proclaim. We see things differently than the masses because we often are visionaries. Our voices need to be heard and sometimes they are prophetic. It’s not about being “safe”. It’s not about winning friends. For me it’s about being a voice in the wilderness… pointing, calling, whispering, shouting, directing, challenging, encouraging the Bride of Christ to be salt in our communities and a very real presence in the world around us. And remember… for salt to be effective it must be outside the salt shaker!

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