And my reservations were eminently correct.
The message was typically Protestant – essentially, read your Bible, live by it, and all will fall into place. (Theologically problematic at best, but a fairly standard Protestant message.)
But the film lacked artistic merit, and was not even remotely close to being a representation of real life. The plot was singularly predictable: A worldly pastor comes to realize the problems in the town. A mysterious man (with the name of Jesse. Seriously!) comes and helps inspire the pastor to preach using the Bible. The town comes around (in a period of less than 2 weeks) after some resistance.
It took me all of 5 minutes to figure out the basic plot – and I am singularly clueless when it comes to predicting how films will turn out.
The dialogue was (quite literally, in my case) cringe-worthy. And the actions of the characters were not true to life. There were many instances I could point to, but one will suffice: The main couple, a husband and wife, supposedly a loving couple for over 25 years, never touched one another during the film - not even a hug when the wife lost her job. The couple stood or sat like statues during about 15 minutes of scenes.
Now, this was the first film the group which showed this movie made, with first time actors and actresses. The film had a very low budget. Their effort and their earnestness was clearly visible.
But their work is a representation of Christian art as a whole – a noble attempt, but very poor quality results.
I understand that Christian movies are designed to send a message. But is it really too much to ask that they be technically skilled as well?
Indeed, Christian art must display technical skill if it is to be truly effective. We Christians may be unworldly, but our artistic works should at least be true to life.
Much of the reason that so few people respect Christianity is that our culture is boring and clueless about reality. Christian culture should be more attractive by virtue of its embrace of the source of wisdom and beauty, Jesus Christ. But most modern Christian art, quite frankly, is not attractive: not true to life, not inspiring, boring. cringe-inducing. Far too often, Christian films, writings, and music are glorified didactic sermons in a thin disguise. And who wants to listen to a 90 minute pseudo-artistic sermon except those Christians who do not need the message?
By contrast, the secular world knows how to tell a story and tell it very well. Hollywood tells brilliant, complex, compelling stories, even if they have disgusting messages. The music industry concocts slick songs with catchy lyrics, even if the morality for the songs is horribly skewed.
It is not as if Christians are rendered devoid of artistic talent by their faith. (Renaissance, anyone?) And there is certainly a market for well-made Christian works of art. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ - one of the most powerful movies ever made - made millions of dollars because it appealed to Christian ideals so effectively.
In a world where 50 Shades of Gray can become a best-seller, it is clear that artistically-inclined Christians are failing in their task to create beauty. Beauty may yet save the world - but not if Christian artists refuse to stop making crappy art and dedicate themselves to honing their technical skills.