It might seem odd to compare them, but if you take a step back and look at Christian entertainment, it is pretty bad for the most part. While it’s not a popular thing to say amongst the Christian crowd, I don’t know many Christians who go out of their way to purchase or view Christian entertainment.
There are plenty of Christians lined up to see Star Wars or Marvel movies…or at least, there were. Nowadays, you can’t get too many people from any group excited about either of those brands and if you’re a loyal reader of mine, you’ll understand why.
Mainstream entertainment has veered pretty far to the left. Showrunners feel like it’s their “responsibility” to push the gospel of leftism and social justice, and if they don’t put the message first and foremost, then it’s just not acceptable and maybe even a little heretical.
Christian media too often operates a lot of the same way. It becomes so obsessed with putting the message first that it sacrifices a gripping story and well-written characters. Christian entertainment companies start with a good idea, but the pressure to create something that would be approved of by the churchgoing crowd often causes them to water the story down until it becomes sterile and substanceless.
I’m sure many of my fellow Christians understand what I’m talking about. With a few exceptions, most Christian entertainment is a slog to get through, and too often, the story beats they follow are recycled from other Christian films.
These films please very few people, especially the people these films are supposed to reach out to. I’ve never met an atheist who watched a Christian film and changed their entire perspective. Their lack of compelling stories or relatable characters makes the films more worthy of being mocked than enjoyed.
If I sound like I’m being too harsh, it’s because I care. It’s because I’m disappointed in what we’re being served because what Christians have at their disposal in terms of storytelling is phenomenal. I’m not just talking about The Bible either, I’m talking about the core principles that, when we strip the Sunday School language out of it all, are frankly pretty badass.
Let me put it this way. Do you want to know what one of my favorite Christian movies of all time is? It isn’t Nefarious, a film that I would say is a vast improvement in Christian media and one you should definitely watch.
(REVIEW: You Need to See ‘Nefarious’)
It’s a sci-fi movie called Serenity. Some of my fellow Brown Coats know it as the movie that acted as the finale to the short-lived fan-favorite show “Firefly,” a sci-fi western that many would say is the best work of director Joss Whedon, the man who would go on to direct big-budget blockbusters such as The Avengers.
The thing is, Whedon is not a Christian or even a conservative. In fact, he’s mocked both, yet he managed to create a movie that has so many Christian undertones that you almost question if Whedon understands his own ideological makeup. This is to say that Serenity is not built as a film Christians can heavily relate to, it just ended up being one.
The film centers around the crew of the space ship “Serenity,” captained by the formerly Christian war hero turned bitter atheist Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). When it’s discovered that one of his crew, the mentally broken yet incredibly dangerous River Tam (Summer Glau), was a top-secret government experiment to create a super soldier, Reynolds must constantly keep his crew out of the grasp of “The Operator,” played brilliantly by Chiwetel Ejiofor, while trying to uncover the mystery locked inside Tam’s mind that could bring down the government if exposed.
The movie’s themes are solid. Familial bonds mean everything, fighting for truth against those who would bury it will result in a lot of sacrifice but it’s the right path to take, and love is the force that holds it all together. Reynolds, though an atheist, is often led by the wisdom of a Christian preacher named Shepherd Derrial Book who is far more than he seems and has a much darker past than he lets on. Despite Reynold’s resistance to accepting God, Christian principles are often found in Reynold’s choices and actions, be it his loyalty and love of his crew or the lengths he’ll go to protect them and his fight against those who would force their will on him.
The villain of the story, “The Operator,” will remind you quite a bit of the devil. He’s an accuser, often asking those he’s about to kill if they know what their sin is. With a smile, he’ll gladly admit that he has no problem slaughtering innocent people to get what he wants, including children. His fight with Reynolds will get a little personal for you somewhere in your own mind.
At one point in the story, The Operator asks Reynolds if he knows what his sin is to which Reynolds responds in a way every Christian would if they were being honest.
“Ah hell, I’m a fan of all seven.”
What makes Reynolds so relatable to a Christian is that he’s not a poster boy for the church. He’s far from it…but perhaps not too far. His resistance to a faith that gives him sanctuary and wisdom despite his wayward attitude is so relatable to anyone who has that faith in real life that it’s hard not to see yourself in him. His understanding and obedience to familial love and his almost single-minded will to fight and defend his crew (despite their infighting and peccadillos) make him dangerous but good. Despite his rogueish demeanor and Han Solo-esque criminality, he is a force for truth, liberty, and goodness.
When Reynolds says “I aim to misbehave” during his memorable speech just before he and his crew decide to bring the truth to a world reigned over by a tyrannical government, you feel that rebellion in yourself as a Christian. In the real world, you are the outsider, the thought criminal, and the rebel against the established order of mainstream society.
I was inspired way more to be a warrior for God by Serenity than I was by a film like God’s Not Dead.
Serenity allows the story to speak its message for it. It allows its archetypal characters to become relatable in their realism and humanity. It doesn’t force what it’s trying to say in your face like a demand, the theme of love and family comes through naturally. The film has real stakes. The threat and presence of death and blood aren’t softened or withheld. The evil is clear and present despite being dressed with a calm demeanor and a smile.
This movie is a story first and because of it, the message resounds all the louder.
Now take Serenity and compare it to a lot of the movies coming out today. Despite Serenity being relatively low-budget, especially compared to today’s films, it has more heart and substance than today’s CGI fests that dazzle the eye but are so filled with messaging and socio-political checklists that they end up being hollow, unrelatable, and frankly, annoying.
I could go on about what Disney’s been limping to the barn with lately, but let’s take another recent sci-fi debacle in the Doctor Who 60th anniversary special, which I covered on Monday.
There was so much socio-political messaging in this special that you couldn’t help but feel insulted, even if you weren’t the target of its obvious anti-male bias, pro-transgender bias. One scene, in particular, was so on the nose that you started to feel like you weren’t watching a sci-fi show, but a badly written infomercial.
— pher (@Christo08679133) November 25, 2023
It’s bad storytelling to be sure, but as much as it deserves to be derided, Christian entertainment isn’t much different than this, it’s just a different subject matter and, obviously, way less hatred. Christian messaging is so on the nose, and mixed with its bad habit of being “safe for the whole family” all the time, it ends up being worthy of being ignored…even by Christians.
Life isn’t safe. It’s not rated PG…and neither are Christians. We’re imperfect humans surrounded by enemies at all times. When it comes time to draw blood against evil, it’s often the Christian who picks up the sword. We serve a God who isn’t safe, and we take comfort in that because Him being the most dangerous being to ever exist keeps us from falling into a hell so unimaginable that we often distract ourselves from even thinking about it.
Moreover, the vast majority of us Christians aren’t choir boys. We can’t relate to the softly smiling, even-handed guy in the sweater in the latest Christian movie. We’re troubled and sinful and often resist the wisdom handed to us. But despite our flaws, we do our best to live up to a standard of goodness that was given to us by Christ. We’re not passive. Pose a threat to the innocent or our family, and the Christian will resort to violence with no guilt, even to the point of being fatal.
Most Christians have more in common with Malcolm Reynolds than not. So tell those stories, and don’t be afraid to upset the front row of your local church in the telling. Make a film that the average person can truly relate to and you’ll have more people taking an interest in God than they ever will.
Christianity shouldn’t be afraid to tell a good story.