Bible themed and Christian movies have hit the multiplexes in a big way in the last year. Being a Christian of the evangelical variety, I’m all for Christians asserting themselves in popular culture, but like many of my fellow Christians I have a certain ambivalence about these movies. The title of a recent piece in Vox somewhat captures how I feel: “Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?” I can’t tell you how many “Christian” movies the family and I have started to watch over the years that we just can’t finish. So when I heard about another “Christian” movie coming out I was dubious.
Do You Believe? currently in theaters, was written and released by the same Christian movie studio, Pure Flix, that released last year’s surprise hit, God’s Not Dead. The story will remind people of the decidedly not Christian Crash, an ensemble academy award winning movie from 2004. The story takes place in Chicago and follows the travails and joys of 12 individuals struggling with their life and their faith, and whose lives at the end intersect in surprising if somewhat predictable ways.
Unlike many overtly “Christian” movies, Do You Believe? has a strong cast of recognizable actors including Mira Sorvino, Lee Majors, Cybil Shepherd, Sean Astin, Ted McGinley, and former NFL star Brian Bosworth, and good production values as well. While the overt Christian message will not be everybody’s cup of tea, the stories about the redemptive power of the cross of Christ will resonate with those looking for hopeful messages in popular culture. Given the movie is from Pure Flix, the gospel message is front and center, but the primary focus is a challenge for Christians to live up to the implications of Christ’s sacrifice for them by serving others.
As a less than enthusiastic “Christian” movie fan, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. I purposefully didn’t read any reviews prior because I wanted to see it on its own terms. That Christians will likely enjoy, and that critics will predictably pan it, can be seen in the Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 13% for the latter and 88% for the former (God’s Not Dead had similar ratings). And yes, the vast majority of that 88% are likely Christians. I can understand why both groups would see the movie as they do; it is not always easy to escape our basic presuppositions. Because of this it is often difficult to discern if “Christian” movies are good works of pop cultural art or not. I think the critics, however, are much farther from being able to judge accurately than Christians; much of their criticism comes off as petulant and almost bigoted (see just one example here). I can say that having tried to watch other Pure Flix flicks, that Do You Believe? is a definite step forward in terms of quality and story.
Which brings me to conservative Christian attempts at cultural influence. Being one, I have some fairly strong opinions on the matter, and while I would never make a movie, if I were a movie maker, like Do You Believe?, I applaud those who do. As the owners of Pure Flix state on their website:
Pure Flix is a Christian movie studio that produces, distributes, and acquires Christ centered movies for the sole purpose of changing our culture for Christ, one heart at a time.
This is one way to seek cultural influence. As we were leaving the theater, I asked my wife, why shouldn’t Christians make movies that reflect their worldview and lived lives? If many Americans are uncomfortable hearing that Jesus died for their sins, or that they need to repent and follow Jesus if they’re to be saved and go to heaven (and I’ll confess that hearing such in your face Christian messages in movies can make me uncomfortable too), maybe it’s because for generations Christians left movie making to non-Christians. So while I grudgingly applaud Christians who make “Christian” movies, there are many Christians whose world views and values while inspired by their relationship with Jesus influence positively in more subtle ways. In a vibrant pluralistic society both are needed.