The True Mission of Faith-Based Films
Mel Gibson created a benchmark in Christian film with The Passion of the Christ. The overtly gory, creepy at times, and violent R-rated “Christian” movie grossed over $370 million. It is not just one of the highest grossing movies in Christian film – it’s one of the highest grossing movies across all film genres. How did Gibson accomplish this feat with a story that has been told and retold via film numerous times over? Because it was real and true to form. It’s about as close to the true account – no punches pulled – of what happened during Christ’s last days. And the reality is, it was, in fact, an R-rated event.
Gibson didn’t show gore for the sake of gore – he did it so we would fully understand the true gruesome nature of what happened to Christ and all that he sacrificed. Yet, here we are nearly fourteen years later, and Christian entertainment is still struggling to come close to the benchmark quality of The Passion of the Christ. Many Christian filmmakers have yet to grasp the reality of the world most believers and unbelievers face, and have the courage and fortitude to capture that honesty onscreen.
Where are the movies that realistically capture, in Gibson benchmark form, the temptations and struggles people face with various forms of idolatry, perversion, sorcery, and drugs? Yes, there is a place for the “rah-rah”-altar-call-feel-good-wholesome-Christian movies for the already saved and demographic of believers who just won’t watch anything, realistic or not, that shows the darker side of human struggle and one’s faith. However, this style of film has become the standard in Christian entertainment, one that a much larger demographic of people cannot relate to, and it’s not helping with the mission of the Church -- the body of Christ -- to reach the lost, at least not as much as it could. Here’s an illustration:
God calls all believers to reach the lost. Isn’t that the mission and charge by God of every believer on earth first? Many – across denominational walls – would agree on this theological precept. Now, let’s say you are a lost soul looking for God... so, you finally muster the courage to attend a church service.
Week after week, you listen to services that address an already saved congregation. The message each and every week, without fail, is geared toward those who have already committed their lives to Christ and are well on their journey. Nobody notices nor addresses your sin, your doubt, your struggles, nor your questions as you try to relate with this Christ figure. In other words, there is no mission for the lost at this church. The church is only equipped for the already saved. That’s great to sharpen a flock, but how does this help with the core mission of reaching the lost?
This is what Christian entertainment is essentially doing right now with their messages via film. There is very little attempt to go into a very real battlefield, where blood and gore abound, to reach people where they’re at in a truly relatable way, and pull them from a losing battle (Hint: The rest of the world does not speak Christianese.) The question is, why? Is it really because there isn’t a market for these kinds of movies... or is it because those in Christian entertainment don’t have the marketing prowess, ability, faith, or desire to develop this market?
The vast majority of faith-based movies being made -- still -- have a “golly gee whiz” approach to the carnage -- spiritually and physically -- being spilled in this world. If the Bible were made true to form, it would be beyond an “R” rating with some of the sexual content alone -- let alone the violence. No, that is not a call to make a movie with inappropriate sex scenes. But Christian entertainment can do a much better job of relating to real people and real life, than is being done now.
In an article from Focus on the Family’s website, Why Christian Movies Bomb, the takeaway comes courtesy of the comments section, written by the very people who are the audience of moviegoers I’m addressing.
While there has been an increase of interest in faith-based films due to the cesspool of sin Hollywood has been producing, how long will that trend last? It could easily be a dying brand if this market, like every other product, is not rebranded and innovative enough to reach a bigger and new demographic of moviegoers.
In a statistical analysis, 67% of television watchers rarely or never watched Christian television. And those that watched it sometimes or often were the evangelical, weekly church attender. How many people could be reached by creating a film that will compel a person to peak interest in Christianity?
My original career was in the business world -- this was my degree and original interests and endeavor. I understand the economics of film in regards to having to turn a profit like every other business and return on investment (ROI.) However, I am also a Christian. I understand that before business, I am accountable to Christ. If I stay within my comfort zone and don’t stand on faith to create projects that will go into the trenches and reach the lost, then I am not using my talents to help others -- I am using them solely for my personal gain.
Speaking of Mel Gibson, he sacrificed $25MM+ of his own money -- as well as started his own distribution company -- to launch The Passion of the Christ. He also straightforwardly warned Jim Caviezel that he might never work in Hollywood again if he took on portraying Jesus in the film. And, as you can witness in numerous interviews with Jim online and in print, being brave enough to accept the role wasn’t even close to the enormity of risks he would endure throughout the venture.
I am requesting a larger conversation among Christian investors (and also filmmakers) to address these issues and discuss how we can be more realistic in our films that will traverse the battlefield and reach the lost. Let’s connect, and go reach people where they are, together.