Bible-themed and Christian movies have hit the multiplexes in a big way in the last year. As 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 article in Vox captures how I often feel: “Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?”
I can’t tell you how many Christian movies my 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 to the theaters, 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 action takes place in Chicago and follows the travails and joys of twelve individuals struggling with their lives 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, Cybill Shepherd, Sean Astin, Ted McGinley, and former NFL star Brian Bosworth. It also has good production values, something these movies often lack. Although 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 that the movie is from Pure Flix, the gospel message is front and center, but the primary focus is the challenge for Christians to live up to the implications of Christ’s sacrifice for them by serving others.
As a less than enthusiastic fan of today’s style of overtly Christian movies, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this film. I purposefully refrained from reading any reviews before seeing the film because I wanted to judge it on its own terms. That Christians will likely enjoy it, and that critics will predictably pan it, can be seen in the Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 13 percent for the latter and 88 percent for the former (God’s Not Dead had similar ratings). And yes, the vast majority of that 88 percent probably are Christians.
I can understand why both groups would see the movie as they do: it is not always easy to escape our basic presuppositions. Hence it is often difficult to discern whether a “Christian” movie is a good work of pop-cultural art or not. I think that the critics, however, are much farther away from being able to judge these films accurately than Christians are; much of the professionals’ criticism comes off as petulant and even bigoted. (See just one example here.) I can say that after having tried and failed to watch other Pure Flix flicks, Do You Believe? is a definite step forward in terms of quality of both story and production.
The film is a good example of contemporary conservative Christian efforts to obtain cultural influence. 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.
That is one way to seek cultural influence. Why, after all, shouldn’t Christians make movies that reflect their worldview and how they live their lives, just as other filmmakers do? The obvious answer is that 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. Hearing such explicit Christian messages in movies can make me uncomfortable too. But such squeamishness may in fact be a result of generations of Christians having left moviemaking to non-Christians.
So it’s reasonable to applaud, however grudgingly one may do so, Christians who make such overtly Christian movies. Nonetheless, I still prefer films in which a Christian worldview and values are presented in more subtle ways. In a vibrant, pluralistic society, both are needed.