Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Makes a Film "Christian?"

For years we have had a small genre of movies called 'CHRISTIAN FILMS' but very few people seem to agree about what a Christian film really is.  Hollywood has a long history of producing and releasing 'religious-themed' films, (The Ten Commandments, The King of Kings, The Bible, etc...) that portray biblical stories in a glorious Hollywood fashion.  Then, they created stories BASED on biblical truths with their own interpretation for dramatic effects (Ben-Hur, Quo-Vadis, The Robe).

Over the years, more and more 'religious-themed' films have been released and have been the target of angry boycotts by Christians for being blasphemous due their controversial material (The De Vinci Code, Saved, The Last Temptation of Christ).  Then occasionally, there are films that seem to lie in-between, entertaining and inspiring, containing high-moral teachings, but lacking any really gospel message, or masking it behind allegories (Evan Almighty, Chronicles of Narnia, Diary of a Mad Black Woman).

In 1994, a television series came close to being labeled as Christian, CBS's 'Touched By An Angel.'  It had biblical and moral teachings, a message about God's unconditional love for all man, and inspiring tales of people who changed their life after having an encounter with an angel of God, but the show was never allowed to mention the single ingredient for the ultimate Christian experience, Jesus Christ.  Instead, it went the safe route and promoted a generic GOD character that could easily be interpreted as Buddha, Allah or any other God of your choice. 

This seems to follow a new trend in modern films, called 'Faith-Based films', which target the Christian community with it's slight hints at Christianity, but aims to reach a secular crowd by not actually mentioning Jesus or give any clear Gospel presentation (To Save A Life, Soul Surfer, End of the Spear).  They will hint at scripture or salvation through scenes of baptism and church attendance, but never declare any plan of salvation or mention the only name by which we are saved.  Kyle Prohaska of Praise Pictures posted at the OneWayFilms forum, "...a lot of films do not refer to which God they are talking about, and never reference Jesus. That's my biggest beef with a lot of the stuff out there." All of these examples can leave the common film-goer asking themselves, "so what IS a Christian film?" 

Over the last several years, Christian filmmakers have tried to answer that question by making independent films presenting biblical truth while not shying away from a bold presentation of the Gospel (Left Behind, In the Blink of an Eye, Standing Firm)

Christian filmmaker and actor David A.R.White of Pure Flix Entertainment offered his answer to this question, "A Christian film is a film that has a message of redemption and hope found only through Jesus Christ. What is not a Christian Film is every other film."  Sounds like a simple and to-the-point explanation.

Andre' Van Heerden of Cloud Ten Pictures (director, producer, writer) seems to agree, "I'm not a fan of the term 'Christian film'. I think any film should be classified by its genre first, IE: action, comedy, western etc.  Now, if a film happens to have an "environmental" theme, or a "political" theme, or a "Christian" theme, then that can be mentioned in reviews etc. as well, but that should not be confused with its genre.  All that said, I believe that a film with a Christian theme should aim to give people hope and a greater purpose to their lives by leading people to Jesus Christ or at least impart an ideal that is specifically Biblical based." 

There seems to be two classifications of films being released that are aimed at the Christian community.
  1. The 'Christian' film, which will boldly present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in it's story-line.
  2. The 'faith-based' film, which can be entertaining and inspiring, but lacking in any real gospel message.
It is not to say that 'faith-based' films are bad, they can be helpful and useful tools in the hands of a Christian who understands how to use them as 'ice-breakers' with an unsaved friend or audience.  They can launch a series of discussion questions that will direct it's audience to finding answers in the word of God and therefore, leading that person to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

But if that film was viewed alone, without the assistance of a mature believer to direct the unbeliever afterwards, then the message of the film has a greater risk of falling upon deaf ears and serving only to entertain rather than evangelize.

When viewing a film targeted at a Christian audience, it's important to know which category this film is falling into, then, you'll know how to use that film with your friends, family or church. 

Has your life been touched or challenged by a Christian or faith-based film?  Log in to the OneWayFilms forum and share your story with us.


  1. I believe that a "Christian Film" (I also do not like calling them that) is one that clearly presents the gospel. Every viewer of this film should be able to walk away with at least some understanding of why Jesus had to die for them and the best way to find out more. If it fails to convey this simple notion, then it is nothing more than your average movie.

    Do you want to know why Jesus had to die for your sins? Then just go to this link:


    God bless.

  2. As a Christian (and a Fundy at that) I find most Christian films to be like nails on a chalkboard. Christian filmmakers cannot seem to make a movie that doesn't wear its gospel on its sleeve, and yet these are put out with the hopes of being an alternative to the "evil" secular films. I watch movies like FACING THE GIANTS and just cringe at the cookie-cutter "pray and you'll kick a field goal" gospel that is peddled in these films.

    I have found much more use with movies that, intentionally or not, contain pictures of the gospel that can be shown to non-believers and used as talking points. The original POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of the most outstanding examples of this. Entertaining, well-made, and containing an allegory to Christ so blatant, I just can't help but believe it wasn't intentional on some level, with Gene Hackman bearing a Christmas Tree on his back to create a ladder to climb out of the flooded area of the ship and up to the ONLY door leading out of the room that subsequently fills with the waters of judgment, killing every last person that refused to follow him. He then proceeds to lead the few who came with him to safety, at one point LITERALLY avoiding a section of the ship called the "BROADway" - and ultimately sacrificing his own life "to God" so that the others could go free. Watch it (the original, not the dreadful remake) and tell me that isn't a Christian movie!