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Christian Filmmaker: “Message Before Story”

Christian Filmmaker: “Message Before Story”

by Mike Duran · 34 comments

important-messageSupporters of Christian fiction often rebut the charge of having an “agenda” on the grounds that “all fiction has an agenda.” It’s a point I pretty much agree with. Most stories have a moral, a message, a point, or a theme, and those that don’t are little more than abstractions. (However, it can be argued that even abstractions are intended to evoke some sort of emotion.) From this perspective, the real difference between good and bad storytelling is how the writer’s viewpoint or message is presented.

Thus, most defenders of contemporary Christian fiction do so not on the grounds that all stories have messages, but that the story should trump the message. The story should deftly unfold the message without becoming preachy and ham-handed. In this sense, when an author’s “message” subjugates the story, co-opts characters for the purpose of delivering that message, and uses the novel as a platform for that message, at that point something’s out of whack.

But apparently, that approach does not jibe with many Christian audiences.

Film reviewer Peter Chattaway highlights an article in Variety magazine about a keynote presentation given by Michael Scott, one of the producers of God’s Not Dead, in which the producer admits that for the Christian audience, message must come first.

“Message,” not the story, proffered Scott, has to come first if a faith-based film is to curry favor within its fanbase.

The engine that drives the train is the message,” he said. “We start with the message and build the story around it. (The) Trickiest part is how to you bring the story and message together. We’ve seen so many films with great stories but they miss their mark. You will have a success if you can wrap (the message) up in a great story. When the message and entertainment come together seamlessly, that’s when it really works.” (emphasis mine)

I’m assuming Scott believes that God’s Not Dead merged “message” and “entertainment… seamlessly.”

Chattaway concludes, “Honestly, you couldn’t find a more perfect summation of the stereotypical evangelical mindset when it comes to this sort of thing.”

I believe Chattaway is correct about this “stereotypical evangelical mindset.” I’ve long contended that message / agenda is primarily what defines contemporary Christian fiction. Christian fiction MUST contain a “Christian” message. What else would make it “Christian”?

Again, defenders of the genre will counter that all stories have a “message.” Agendas are not exclusive to Christian authors, so what’s the problem? The problem is what the producer of the top-grossing independent religious film ever made rightly observes: that Christian audiences want “message first.” No amount of “seamless” story-telling can change this fact. Neither can excellent craft or compelling characters.

Frankly, this is what’s so frustrating for Christian artists like myself. On the one hand, I want to engage my evangelical brothers and sisters. I also want to write stories that resonate a Christian worldview. However, if I approach story-telling as a “message first” affair, how am I not a propagandist simply using my stories as a means of placating evangelical sentiments or proselytizing? The moment any artist puts “message first” they move away from being a creative to being an advertiser.

Equally frustrating, however, is defenders of Christian fiction who attempt to argue that good Christian fiction subjugates message to story. Which, if true, leads me to ask, “Then what makes the story ‘Christian’?”

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Streu June 30, 2014 at 6:53 AM

I’m not sure if “this is what we’ve been spoonfeeding Christian audiences” is the same as “this is what Christian audiences prefer.” I think Chattaway has confused the two.

He’s also mistaken about agenda. All stories have a THEME, and yes, many DO have an agenda. However, I would argue that agenda-driven films are nearly always inferior to story-driven works which happen to have a point to make. In fact, delete the word “nearly” from the previous sentence.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller June 30, 2014 at 9:20 AM

Well said, Randy. I agree with both points. Christian audiences may have come to expect certain things from the movies that have come out with the Christian tag, but that doesn’t mean that’s necessarily what they prefer. Some may. I know there are a good many who don’t.

Also agenda and theme are definitely not synonyms, so whether Christian or not Christian, agenda-driven movies are not that great.

Becky

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Marcia June 30, 2014 at 7:14 AM

I believe Scott and Chattaway are right about what the evangelical fan base (the vast majority of it, anyway) requires, and that they’d be pinpointing it even closer if they said it’s what the evangelical *publishing industry* requires, because of the industry’s perception that it’s what the fan base requires. I’m firmly convinced that the “message first” approach is the reason “Christian” art is consistently inferior and will remain so. I keep hearing from my evangelical/pentecostal/conservative friends (and I number myself among them) about “how good” this or that new book or movie is, and when I try it…nope. Still not there. Still not art.

I believe it was CS Lewis who said we need fewer Christian writers, and more writers who are Christians. I agree. My goal is to pursue the richest relationship with God that I can, and write out of that whatever wants to be written. I want my fiction to have, not a salvation message or “enough” scripture quotes, but the aroma of Christ. That may sound awfully nebulous to the flesh, but I hope it doesn’t to the spirit. I believe all truth is God’s truth; after all, scripture says the enemy has no truth in him. If I am writing from deep enough fellowship with God that I am trusting him for what’s coming out, and then trusting him to help me shape, revise, and refine it, then I hope the emerging theme is what God wanted to say through that story, through me, and may and should surprise even me. To me, this is very different, and more Christian, than my starting out with a point *I* (read “man”) think should be put forth and trying to force it. Honestly, to the extent Christian artists disagree, I think they are still not pursuing/learning enough craft to really produce art.

Fiction isn’t a sermon, and I think Christians at large get all nervous about the fictional *process* being different from the sermon-writing process. They want to control fiction writing in the same way. But if your faith in God is alive and vital and you’re wanting to trust Christ more and more, yet you don’t let go to some degree and trust him in your writing, what is that saying?

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Mary Potter Kenyon June 30, 2014 at 7:32 AM

This applies to Christian non-fiction as well. I have spent the last three years attending various Christian Writer’s workshops, and feeling left out for the first two years, because while I am a Christian, I am not a “Christian writer.” (ie. with a Christian agent, writing for a Christian market and selling to Christian publishers) I had the opportunity for representation by a Christian agent for my upcoming book, “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace,” (Familius, October 2014) and I really wanted that representation. I also desired the opportunity to become one with the community of “Christian authors.” It became clear to me as I wrote this chronicle of a journey down the path of grief (I lost my mother, my husband and my grandson in a period of three years) that the people I wanted to reach with my own journey of grief and grace were not those who would be looking for help in a Christian book store or in the Christian section of a Barnes & Noble. I wasn’t exactly sure what I needed when I lost my husband in March 2012 and I was looking everywhere for help: in the words of others who had gone down this road before me: Joan Didion, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and in grief books from the library, and yes, finally, the Bible… Perhaps my twisted, turning, desperate path would ultimately lead someone else to the anchor they needed: God’s word, but those who were the most desperate and lost wouldn’t necessarily be looking to the Christian market for their answers. As much as I wanted to BE one of those “Christian writers” I believe I will be reaching a different audience as I remain a “writer who is Christian.” I just conducted a workshop on this very subject and many people came up to me afterwards to inform me I had spoken to them.

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Alan R Joiner June 30, 2014 at 7:33 AM

I’m not a legalist on this. I think you can write great fiction without wrapping it purposefully around a ‘message’, and still produce very Christian, and Christian-relevant fiction. However, I think you’ve gone too far in alluding that it’s necessarily bad to create Christian fiction as message-first. (I apologize if I’ve misinterpreted your position.)

You said: “However, if I approach story-telling as a ‘message first’ affair, how am I not a propagandist simply using my stories as a means of placating evangelical sentiments or proselytizing? ”

I’m not sure it’s merely proselytizing, if I’m understanding your definition to mean “evangelism/conversion”. The message can be used as instruction. Since it’s marketed to Christians, I’d say “Christian” fiction’s message is generally more often one of instruction and encouragement to Christians than seeking conversion. At least, that’s the purpose of the current novel I’m working on– to instruct the church to be the church.

Jesus seemed to think it is OK to wrap stories around the purpose of message. It was one of His most notable and culturally relevant forms of teaching– the parable, of course. As a Bible teacher, some of the deepest, most profound, and spiritually stretching sermons I’ve formed and taught have been mining Jesus’ parables of their spiritual depths and practical instruction.

Obviously, Jesus formed the story around the message, with intent, with purpose, and without apology.

You asked: “…how am I not a propagandist…?”

First, I think that’s inferring that being a ‘propagandist’ for God is a bad thing.

I think that’s a bit of an unfair and short-sighted categorization. I think better questions may be:

“How can I be salt and light?”

“How can I use the gifts and talents God has given me to live out the Great Commission and build up the church?”

“How can I use God’s gifts, as with everything else He gave me, according to the scriptural commands to do everything as unto Him, and for His glory?”

So, I think the more scriptural question about the fiction I, personally, create, is not based on the fear of being a ‘propagandist’, but the fear of creating Christian fiction just as ‘acceptable’ fiction for a Christian to write and read, and more as to whether I’m doing it to glorify Him and build His kingdom.

For me, I judge my intent as to “do I just want to create fiction for creation/expression sake? Or do I want to purposefully and even overtly create something to glorify God?”

Blessings… I always enjoy your insight and perspective, brother.

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Matthew Sample II June 30, 2014 at 8:32 AM

I think you are right, Alan.

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Tim George June 30, 2014 at 8:58 AM

Like Matthew, I think Alan has hit one something here. Christian fiction (at least as it is known today) is genreally NOT evangelistic. And, when tries to be, it is not going to reach or resonate with the larger non-Christian audience. Jesus fankly explained to His disiciples that his stories (parables) were not primarily for non-believers. They were told, and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, for the benefit of the disciples – not the pharisees.

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Mike Duran June 30, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Alan, I think you’re correct that Christian fiction is more about encouraging the troops and reinforcing their ideals than it is evangelism. Frankly, that’s one of the things I wish could change about it. Also, I’d be hesitant to include evangelism or using ones spiritual gifts as being propaganda. The term rightly has negative connotations, as simply using a gift or an art form as a vehicle for a commercial message.

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Alan R Joiner June 30, 2014 at 2:32 PM

Mike, I agree it has negative connotations, and wouldn’t include evangelism in the negative connotations associated with propaganda. The negative connotations are generally associated with bias and misrepresentation. While I am biased toward my worldview, I consider it a disservice to both man and God to misrepresent the gospel.

If I haven’t already abused my time here, could you clarify? And I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’d like to make sure that I understand your position better, and hope to understand mine better.

Are you saying that writing a Christian story as a modern ‘parable’ is bad? What I mean is writing it for the intent of illustrating a spiritual point while telling a good story. Let me clarify. The best definition of SF that I have seen is: ‘The story would fall apart without the technology.’ So what I mean is, a Christian story that would fall apart, or not exist, without the lesson/illustration/point/etc. The story exists because of the theme/lesson/etc.

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Johne Cook June 30, 2014 at 7:34 AM

There is this idea that if you don’t have a Message, an Agenda, people won’t know what you’re saying. I think people are smarter than they are given credit for.

Think of all the ‘family-friendly’ movies we’ve seen where the Message has been front-and-center. Now think of what you thought of them. (I tend to roll my eyes.) Then go see either of the How To Train Your Dragon movies and we’ll talk. (It can be done, telling a story that matters without revealing a brazen in-your-face Agenda. The trick is it’s hard, it takes work, it takes patience, and it takes a degree of artfulness. Those things can be won through hard work, persistence, diligence. I wonder if the Message people are willing to put in that kind of time to hone their craft.)

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Alan R Joiner June 30, 2014 at 8:06 AM

Johne, I think these are great points.

However, I think it probably takes more work/talent to produce art that is “Message-first” while still being quality art than to produce art for art’s sake as a Christian. I’m not sure it’s fair to use the poorly produced art of the “Message people” to judge the overall quality of the type of art that it can produce. And I’m not sure it’s fair to use the motion picture industry to judge literature, since much of the ‘camp’ in direct-to-video Christian movies is caused by production costs. It costs as much to make a Christian novel as it does a secular one.

(Warning, CS Lewis reference to follow.)

Dig through CS Lewis’ fiction. It is staggeringly evident that he crafted his stories to portray Christian truths. Each of his stories and novels seemed to be “message-first”. TLTWATW was a retelling of the gospel, with explicit spiritual points and connectors to be made. In his preface to “The Great Divorce”, he said that it was a response to “The Marriage between Heaven and Hell”. He pointedly stated that it is a theological work, but asked the reader not to force it too literally to theology, for the parallels would inevitably break down at some point in fiction. “The Screwtape Letters” was a fictionalized manual on spiritual warfare and was filled with pretty blatant references to how to live a profitable Christian life– just from the reverse viewpoint.

And each of them was quality literature.

I’ll just speak for myself, but I believe the question has to be posed at a deeper lever, by the individual author. Whether, message first, thematic, or just a Christian producing art, I think the question has to posed at deeper levels than how it’s produced, orchestrated, plotted, edited, etc…

For me… The question I ask myself is this: “Am I producing this merely as a form of expression (merely art)? Or am I producing this with the primary concern being to glorify God?”

That pretty much answers any other question for me, as the questions arise.

Blessings,

AJ

PS: I saw ‘How to Train Your Dragon’. I loved it! I had no clue that it had anything to do with God. (Not being sarcastic, I promise! Did it? If not, it wasn’t Christian fiction. If so, it was fiction by a Christian, which is cool too.)

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Dawn Wessel June 30, 2014 at 10:24 AM

I’m trying to find a niche for my books. I know the Bible is inspired and write blatantly about it, though my books can hardly be called Christian material, and the secular world thinks they’re sci-fi.

I would like to know what you think as I have posted them for free reading at authonomy.com. Just search ‘Missing Pieces of the Bible: Lost Books Fill-in the Blanks’.

Thanks

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Dawn Wessel June 30, 2014 at 10:27 AM

sorry AJ, I meant to post for everyone, so I reposted it.

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Alan R Joiner June 30, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Oh, and Mike, (sorry to comment-bomb…)

Kudos on the last paragraph. Upon a re-read, it perfectly contextualized the blog post for me.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller June 30, 2014 at 9:41 AM

Mike, you said

However, if I approach story-telling as a “message first” affair, how am I not a propagandist simply using my stories as a means of placating evangelical sentiments or proselytizing?

I don’t understand why having something to say means you are a propagandist. In your memoir, you’ve indicated that you think you have something to say. Is that propaganda? In this blog post, you have something to say. Are you writing propaganda here? Why would story suddenly turn into propaganda if it has something to say?

I’ll say again, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned at your site before, if we think we need to do a good job developing characters and structuring our plots and creating strong settings, why would we think we can put in less effort with what we actually want to say through our stories? Or why should we simply leave meaning out? Or why should we let each novel find its own level of meaning as it seeps from us into the fabric of our story?

Re. the examples of C. S. Lewis’s work crafted for meaning, add in the space trilogy and Til We Have Faces. There’s simply a right way to do it and a wrong way, and I applaud those writers who are working to do it the right way.

Becky

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Mike Duran June 30, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Becky, I think there’s a big difference between having something to say and writing propaganda. Propaganda would be a “message first” approach to art. As I said above, I agree that stories have messages. So I’m not talking suggesting message – less fiction or something. While I totally agree with you about crafting stories that organically interweave the message, I think the “message first” approach is backwards.

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Matthew Sample II June 30, 2014 at 9:45 AM

I think there is nothing wrong with creating art that communicates a perspective on reality clearly. Some call this propaganda. I think it’s on a different level than WWII motivational posters. Communication is a good thing and I don’t think we should shut up, just because people disagree with our perspective.

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Jessica E. Thomas June 30, 2014 at 9:55 AM

If we’re not “communicat(ing) a perspective on reality clearly” then what’s the point, really.

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Jessica E. Thomas June 30, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Although, paradoxically, sometimes it requires ambiguity to make a clear point. I’m thinking of some of the parables in the Bible. Maybe we can’t win. :)

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Matthew Sample II June 30, 2014 at 10:34 AM

Sometimes ambiguous works are very powerful, but I don’t know if it’s the ambiguity that lends the power. Perhaps the ambiguity opens the story to a larger audience, lending the power of the story more reach…. Just a thought.

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Lex Keating June 30, 2014 at 10:03 AM

Whether considering a reader, a publisher/producer, or writer/storyteller/artist, the question must always be asked: what do you want? Each would give a different answer, and I think the lack of significant overlap between these responses is a part of your dilemma.

The publisher/producer wants a solid bottom line. He wants sales to increase. That could happen through an old, reliable product, or a hot new trend. Finding that balance is difficult for him.

My fellow writers/storytellers/artists will probably be a little bent out of shape for my simplification of this, but we want credit. We want you to see our point as valid, to agree with it, to keep it with you after the story’s over. We can deny claims to fame or put down substandard agendas, but we want to be seen as above that. Heck, we’re usually telling our stories because no one else is. Getting our egos out of the way is difficult. And it’s not easier for “Christian” writers.

But those readers, of whom we are sometimes a part, want to trust the writer/publisher/filmmaker. A lover of comic books will not cheer if you make the next Batman installment an avant-garde ballet. This violates everything they know and love about their subject matter. Christian readers want to trust that the story/message/content/MPAA rating is going to deliver what they expect. Christian readers/viewers are willing to be surprised to find Christ in places they don’t expect him, but we break their trust if the message fails to ring true.

Sally Hogshead identifies 7 “fascination triggers” that can be used to help capture an audience’s attention and keep it. It’s easy to write off the “trust trigger,” but there’s a lot to be said for consistency. (The other triggers are rebellion, prestige, alarm, power, mystique, and passion. I might guess that Mike’s primary trigger is rebellion, with a secondary of passion, but I’m no expert. This would make him someone passionate about change, who is willing to say hard and controversial things to get people talking.)

I am all for quality Christian fiction. Can you find it within the confines of a publisher’s guidelines? Sure, sometimes. Can you find it within the graphoholic ravings of a writer? In this line, or that paragraph. Can you find it by reading the stories that tell of the things you want to hear? Very rarely. The Venn diagram of these three wants gives a super-small triangle of the desired result.

Anyone telling a story has a message and an agenda. Anyone who says otherwise lies to himself, and to you. Sometimes, that message is to love the earth. (Most secular films) Sometimes, that message is to inspire you to be unsatisfied. (Most porn/erotica) Sometimes, that message is that we all need grace.

Finding quality fiction (print or other media) with a Christ-based message isn’t impossible. But if we want that message to hit home, hiding it better isn’t the answer. Knowing our subject matter is. Seek the Lord. Not just while He may be found, but for all the truth and depth we can. Christ’s messages, whether couched in parables or laid out as new commandments, constantly pointed to God the Father. More and more of Him, all the time. Not to negate what we knew before, but to deepen and broaden our understanding. So many “Christian writers” set out to tell a story, and study the craft when they find that publishers/readers want more than bad grammar and threadbare plots, but what we need is more Christ.

When He’s all we see, the message gets through no matter what.

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Dawn Wessel June 30, 2014 at 10:25 AM

I’m trying to find a niche for my books. I know the Bible is inspired and write blatantly about it, though my books can hardly be called Christian material, and the secular world thinks they’re sci-fi.

I would like to know what you think as I have posted them for free reading at authonomy.com. Just search ‘Missing Pieces of the Bible: Lost Books Fill-in the Blanks’.

Thanks

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D.M. Dutcher June 30, 2014 at 11:27 AM

I don’t think it’s so much message as they want group solidarity first. A lot of the success of God’s Not Dead was because watching it became a way of showing group solidarity, and it’s status as a fictional object was more or less irrelevant. The ultra-devout crowd were given a night out at the secular movie theater that was safe, and they took it. It was less a creative work as opposed to an event.

And I think we have to remember that these are grandmother movies. Christian film isn’t conservative, it’s downright fossilized, designed to market movies for church nights and for grandmothers to rent from the local Christian bookstore. Even CBA fiction is nowhere near as bad as it.

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David Cade June 30, 2014 at 11:47 AM

This discussion has been very interesting to me. As someone new to filmmaking I have been thinking about what makes a film Christian. I have been asking myself “Are films that I want to make going to be Christian message centered, or are they going to be quality storytelling that may contain or illustrate godly principles of life.” I think I have come to the conclusion that “why can’t they be both.” Good storytelling that does not point a person to the paramount decision of life, that is a relationship with God through Christ, no matter how artistically produced is missing an opportunity change a life for eternity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe every film has to be evangelistic to be a positive influence on society; for example, Frozen, with its portrayal of true love as sacrificial love. I believe that films directing people to the source of that sacrificial love should be an important part of projects of those seeking to make “Christian” films.

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Alan R Joiner June 30, 2014 at 12:21 PM

Sacrificial love does not make a film Christian, nor does it inherently point people to Christ. It’s ambiguous whether it glorifies God.

Sacrificial love is a definitive part of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ literary motif, which Jung and Campbell attributed to common myths and humanity’s shared subconscious. It’s a motif that goes back through almost every mythic structure, through almost every culture. That motif in “Frozen” beckons back to Greek, Norse, Asian mythologies as much as Christian truth.

Now, maybe this commonality of mythos exists throughout human history because we were pre-programmed for the redemptive story that would be ratified in Christ. Maybe the thread comes from a commonality of religion, carried by Noah’s sons when they separated, and before they were marred by history. I don’t know.

But I don’t consider Frozen a Christian film just because it portrayed sacrificial love. I would consider it a Christian film if it was more explicit as to what that sacrificial love implied. Not saying it was a bad film. It may have been written by Christians. I haven’t seen it, and probably will. Maybe it had a combination of motifs that more clearly defined it as Christian. I don’t know.

But in my mind, Christian fiction needs to tell a story that is in some way uniquely ‘Christian’, as opposed to calling on motifs that are common to our human condition, and our common mythos. In my mind, a Christian story needs to teach something Christian. (Note: I’m not talking about great stories written by Christians with beneficial themes. I’m talking about the definition of Christian fiction as a meta-genre.)

Blessings, thanks for the opportunity to throw my hat in the ring. :)
Thanks you guys! I think you’ve given me the idea for a blog post of my own. :)

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Rebecca LuElla Miller June 30, 2014 at 2:08 PM

While I agree with you, Alan, that sacrificial love does not make a Christian film, I still see it as one way that a writer can communicate Christianity. You may know that C. S. Lewis, who loved mythology, finally saw the Biblical story as the true myth. He believed that all the other stories were echoes of that one True Story.

I wrote a blog post about Christian fiction myself—maybe two weeks ago. I think there are distinct ways of writing which are Christian (and not propaganda, Mike), but not all those ways accomplish the same thing. Some are directed at Christians, some written for a wider audience intend to present an evangelistic theme, some represent Christian truth allegorically, others metaphorically, and still others symbolically (and I don’t think those are at all the same). You can find examples of each in the post I mentioned, “Christian Fiction And The Christian Worldview.”

As I see it, fiction can do for the Christian writer the same as any other type of communication. As the apostle Paul phrased it, some plant, some water, but God gives the increase. So too with our stories: they may prepare the soil or sow the seed or provide the water. Different stories can accomplish different things for different readers.

Consequently, I think there’s a larger range of what is Christian than what some think. But I think we have to be careful that we aren’t turning our stories into “Christian light” just so people outside the Christian community will read them and “not be offended” by our “propaganda.”

Becky

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Alan R Joiner June 30, 2014 at 2:22 PM

Becky,

I agree.

This whole discussion today, and many insights from several people here, have me a bit introspective, and reconsidering what I consider Christian fiction and why. I thank you all for that. And (I suspect) a job well done, Mike.

For instance, would I have considered “Frozen” a Christian movie if it had been produced/distributed by a Christian company? Would the motifs have been blatant enough then?

When I write Christian fiction, with blatant Christian motifs, for a Christian publisher, is my other less blatantly Christian fiction not Christian? Is it then just fiction by a Christian?

Then we have the difficulties that would create for Christian authors. Are we type-cast by our blatant work so much that our less blatant work won’t be published by Christian houses, and secular houses won’t want to publish a “Christian author”?

It’s a deep subject.

Right now, all I can say is write what’s on your heart, and keep your heart full of Jesus…

Thanks again all… I hope I didn’t appear to be trying to dominate the comments. Blessings!

(And Becky, I look forward to reading what you wrote on the subject.)

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Matthew Sample II July 3, 2014 at 7:55 AM

“I don’t believe every film has to be evangelistic to be a positive influence on society.”

I don’t think David meant that Frozen was a Christian film. I think he just thought it might have a positive influence on society.

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D.M. Dutcher July 2, 2014 at 3:54 PM

I don’t think Frozen really made the connection between true love as sacrificial love as opposed to the idea that true love can be between familial instead of romantic. Even then it flubbed it some; it’s hard to see why Anna would care so much about a sister she hadn’t interacted with much for probably ten years, to the point of choosing her own death over hers. Felt more like they wanted to deconstruct the idea of the princess rather than make a coherent point.

Frozen’s a checklist of what not to do in storytelling though. That hans twist especially. Really baffles me why the film is so popular.

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Iola June 30, 2014 at 2:02 PM

I think you’ve just articulated why I’m not interested in watching “Christian” movies.

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Keith Lango June 30, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Regarding the point made a few times in the comments here about a work of art ‘glorifying God’- any time anything that God created expresses and accomplishes that which God made it for, then it seems reasonable to deduce that it has glorified its Creator. Beautiful sunsets serve no utilitarian value, yet they glorify God each evening. An artist who creates art, even if it serves no utilitarian value (ie: it has no message or end result on mind), glorifies God no less than one whose art does have a utilitarian drive. Some artists feel called to just make beauty, while others feel called to make more explicit statements. Some feel called to invite reflection, others feel called to settle doubts. Some feel called to whisper mysteries, others feel called to shout out truth. Good himself employs all of these methods in scripture itself. Neither one fails to glorify God so long as they are following where the Lord leads them in their artistic creation. We reflect his glory just by creating art. A utilitarian purpose, even if it is good & useful, is not a pre-requisite to glorify our creator. Sometimes God just wants us to make sunsets.

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LeAnne McKinley July 1, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Great article.

If anyone’s still reading, I have a question related to this. I’ve self-pubbed a couple different titles as Christian fiction and have gotten reviews suggesting that readers wanted a clearer presentation of the gospel. One reviewer was disappointed that I didn’t include Bible verses. (That surprised me a little. In a sermon, sure, but in a novel?) So, I see what some of these movie makers are saying – a lot of readers seem to want the message. Anybody with more connection to the Christian market feel that this is accurate of most Christian readers? Is there really a broad group of readers out there who want ‘christian’ fiction that is not message driven? And how do you find these people? I know, not easy to answer. But I think about this all the time.

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Marcia July 2, 2014 at 4:49 PM

I’ve traditionally published middle-grade novels in the CBA. In my experience, the industry as a whole (publishers, editors, readers, booksellers) wants a clear presentation of the gospel. An editor I once worked with (quite some time ago now) tried to break the mold, the booksellers balked at carrying the series in question (I was only one of the writers working on this particular one), and the editor got fired. (I was, in fact, phoned by the very apologetic editor prior to her job loss, who said she was so sorry to be asking me this, but could I please provide her with evidence of my church involvement, ministries, etc., because she was on the hot seat to prove the books were written by Christians.) On other books, I also received reviews commenting that this or that title didn’t have “much scripture,” even if the stories were otherwise enjoyed. Of course, this was adults commenting on children’s books and not the readers themselves. But I think the generality holds: for the most part, they want the clear gospel and they want scripture. I do think there are Christians who want fiction that isn’t message-driven; I’ve known many of them. But they read in the mainstream. They eschew the CBA. There are Christians writing in the ABA, and more than we might assume. But the readers have to do their own work and use their own discernment to find them, rather than be handed a book that’s labeled for them ahead of time. I think the commenter above who said CBA books and films are more an event to rally the troops around than they are art is onto something.

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LeAnne McKinley July 2, 2014 at 11:19 PM

Thanks Marcia.

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