Tell The Truth: Why “Christian” Art…Isn’t

Had the privilege of hearing author and all around badass Cliff Graham speak this last weekend on how faith and art (specifically writing) converge, or rather should converge. For those of you who don’t know, Cliff Graham is a former US Army soldier and the author of the best selling “Lion Of War” series about David and his Mighty Men (and all the violence that entrails, I mean entails) that is currently being developed as an epic film franchise by Grant Curtis (Spider-Man), David L. Cunningham (To End All Wars), and John Fusco (Young Guns). He’s kind of a big deal.

“…Cliff smash…”

The main gist of Cliff’s talk was on how Christians should be making BETTER art than the secular world, not worse. For instance, Christians right now are settling for schlock like the “Left Behind” movies and “End of the Spear” rather than DEMANDING EXCELLENCE as we should. It’s that old cliche: “Good, True, and Beautiful”. Well, the current state of Christian art, film in particular, is FAR from “Good”, only barely “True”, and so far removed from “Beautiful” how DARE we even call it Christian! (I’m treading a fine line here. My soapbox is beckoning…)

So why is Christian art, and particularly film, so far removed from what it SHOULD be, namely BETTER? It’s because somewhere along the way, Christians have forgotten the concept of HONESTY. To quote Cliff:

“Tell the truth in art, even if it’s ugly. Jesus always did.”

It is that TRUTH that is missing from Christian art, and it is that missing truth that is making what should be the BEST art, in most cases, total dreck. Unacceptable. And then when someone DOES tell the truth, the Church freaks out!

I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the whole LifeWay / “The Blind Side” fiasco, so I’ll recount it. Basically, some idiot pastor from Florida rallied his church to protest against the Oscar-winning film being sold in LifeWay Christian stores. Why? Because of it’s ACCURATE depiction of the inner city life the young Football player is rescued from by a devout Christian family. That’s right. Because the film showed the TRUTH of the situation, this moron believes it’s not appropriate for Christians. And here’s the kicker: LifeWay CAVED! This is cowardice, through and through. God forbid Christians be portrayed as HEROES. Newsflash: The world this poor guy got out of was even WORSE than they showed on screen, I guarantee you. The PG-profanity was the least of the problems this guy faced. (Check out Eric Metaxas’s article here.)

This is a sad NORMALITY in Christianity today. Even though Paul instructs us to be in the world but not of it, the Church tries to HIDE the world from themselves, deluding themselves. That somehow everything we set before our eyes and ears should be white-washed, sanitized crap. That is NOT what the Bible is talking about when it says to use discretion in what we allow into our minds. That white-washed, sanitized crap is NOT TRUE. Why?

Because we live in a WORLD AT WAR!

And also, to those Christians who think everything should be rated G, I have to ask, do you read your Bible? The Bible is NOT RATED G, as Cliff would say.

People look at the story of David and Goliath, tell it to kids, and see, “Look! Even children can triumph when they have God and just a slingshot.” Yyyeah. Read the story, people. David does NOT kill Goliath with a slingshot. No. David hits Goliath with a rock from his sling, knocking Goliath down. Then…wait for it…David walks over, takes Goliath’s own sword, and CUTS OFF HIS HEAD. Rated G.

The Nativity. The Wisemen come to Herod asking about Jesus. He says when they find him, send him word so that he can go worship too. The Wisemen hear from God to not tell Herod, and they leave by a different way. Then Joseph takes his family to Egypt because Herod wants to kill Jesus. Right? That’s how the story goes? Well, what about the whole Herod ordering the SLAUGHTER OF EVERY BOY UNDER THE AGE OF TWO? Rated G.

Do I even need to bring up the Song of Solomon? TOTALLY rated G.

If you don’t buy in to this, allow me rock your world. I’m sure by now, every Christian who loves movies has seen Cecil B. deMille’sThe Ten Commandments” or Wyler’sBen Hur” or any number of Bible movies from the 50’s. Well, do you know WHY Hollywood wanted to make Bible movies back then? No, it wasn’t because Hollywood was full of Christians. No, it wasn’t because they wanted to cater to the mostly Christian population of the US at the time. No, the reason they wanted to make Bible movies was…ready?

If they made Bible movies, then they could put all the sex and violence in that they normally wouldn’t be able to put in movies, and if anyone complained, they could just say, “Hey, it’s in the Bible!”

These secular film makers were better champions for telling the stories of the Bible than Christians are now precisely BECAUSE the Bible is not rated G. How dare we as Christians presume to have a higher moral code than GOD, who inspired the Bible.

And now we come to the most terrifying part of Christians refusing to tell the truth in art. Christians are meant to go out and share the GOOD NEWS of Jesus’ salvation. But…salvation from WHAT!? How can we speak about Salvation without addressing what we are being saved FROM? Would Liam Neeson’s rescuing of his daughter in “Taken” have been as impactful or victorious if he rescued her from, say, an ice cream social gotten out of hand with *gasp* swing music? To quote Alcorn, “A rescue is only as dramatic and consequential as the fate from which someone is rescued.”

“Daddy! Daddy, there’s DANCING here!”

If we as Christians and artists do NOT tell the truth, we are serving the Enemy’s purpose in denying his existence. If there is not a Darkness to be rescued from, what purpose is the Light?

And for goodness sake, don’t get into the whole discretion or age-appropriateness issue. It’s a silly argument. OF COURSE we are meant to exercise discretion. OF COURSE we should take age-appropriateness into account. If you need to be told this…well…I’ll hold my tongue and just direct you to my “Viewer Discretion Advised” blog.

And for anyone interested, here is Cliff’s talk on Vimeo.

What’s your opinion on the current state of “Christian” art? Do you agree that artists need to TELL THE TRUTH? Obviously, this piece was targeted at Christians, but if you’re not a Christian, what are you thoughts? Clearly you have a different perspective on “tell the truth”, and I’d love to hear from you.

7 responses to “Tell The Truth: Why “Christian” Art…Isn’t

  1. Well said, Ben. I agree 100%. As filmmakers, we tell stories. The story/subject should dictate the content, and the content should dictate the look and every other creative decision. Ultimately, it’s about authenticity, truth and emotional resonance.

  2. I absolutely love this post. I did a similar one about how the Bible is Rated R, and you seem to have hit the same points. I watched a cartoon of David and Goliath as a kid that was totally accurate. Big dramatic showdown, David throws the rock, it hits Goliath’s head, and BLOOD WENT EVERYWHERE! Even then, I was like “Whoa!” but hey, that’s what actually happens. They didn’t get TOO gross because it’s a kid’s show, but I liked the honesty. I miss that kind of honesty. Our art is trite and lame and shallow because we want it all to be kid friendly, but Christianity is not for pandering to little ones, but equipping all.

      • It was this old series called “Greatest Adventure, stories from the Bible.” An old hannah-barbara video series where 3 teens would travel through time to different bible times. You can find the David and Goliath one on You Tube, look at part 2 or 3 (the last one) to see the violence…funny thing to say…

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