Over at Andrew Brietbart's Big Hollywood, blog editor John Nolte will soon begin a countdown of the "Top 25 Greatest Christian Films." Readers submitted their nominations, which Nolte winnowed to 100 for his viewing list. Starting in March, he'll be reviewing the films in ascending order, ending with his pick for No. 1 on Easter weekend. Some of the nominations are quirky, to say the least. Dogma and Elmer Gantry strike me as anti-Christian, while A Man for All Seasons and Friendly Persuasion are celebrations of good character that don't necessarily depend on a Christian context. As for The Life of Brian . . . huh?
It made me start thinking, not for the first time, about what makes a "Christian film," or what makes a film Christian. Is it good morals with a nod toward God (e.g., It's a Wonderful Life)? A story from the Bible (The Ten Commandments)? Or a story that reflects biblical truth without explicit reference to Christ or doctrine (Lord of the Rings)?
Truth is truth, and any story that illuminates the gospel, even if in a purely secular context, is worth telling. But the gospel also has to be preached, and preaching is the death of art. That is, the life of Jesus told on film may move the viewer to sympathy, sorrow, revulsion, or any number of emotions, but without a clear exposition of why He came and what His death and resurrection meant, it's just a story. Any conversion tale operates on the same principle: Even unbelievers can sympathize with Caleb Holt (Fireproof) or Cadi Forbes (The Last Sin Eater), but as soon as the Christian father or preacher start speaking the gospel, the story seems to fall flat. At least for those who don't believe it-at that point, "Fireproof stops becoming relatable to us all and only to the already, or easily, indoctrinated," wrote Ed Gonzales of L.A. Weekly.
That's not to say the Holy Spirit can't work through a story-in fact, He works through "The Greatest Story Ever Told"-but art can't preach, and preaching seems to be God's method of choice for communicating the gospel. That leads me back to the original question: can a film be "Christian"? If so, how?