Why is there so much low quality Christian stuff?
Sometimes I talk with people who are serious Christ-followers and they share with me their disappointment and frustration about how Christians produce work of average (or worse) quality. The work could be in the arts (movie, media, music, song, painting, drawing, t-shirt design, posters, signs); the work could be a non-profit initiative (community service, social cause, service project, building maintenance, after-school tutoring); the work could be a ministry initiative (church worship service, evangelistic event, Christmas program).
And, yet because these works are done out of a sincere Christian faith, or for the Christian cause, somehow that makes it okay and beyond critique? Somehow, Christian zeal for doing something gets that person an immunity card. It’s as if because you’re in the Christian family-of-God that you have have to stay loyal to the home team, even if they’re never going to win the World Cup (a timely reference to the current event in sports). The Bible does say, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Where is the hunger to win, to produce the best quality goods to the glory of God?
Why can’t more Christians do better than mediocre? This frustration over low-quality Christian work is most often noticed and noted in the arts; perhaps it’s little safer to critique art. I searched for an answer using the popular search engine, and came up with a few insights and exhortations:
“The credibility of our message comes into question when we do mediocre work.” — Kyle Cooper @ Christians Making Movies – Up The Ante (Jay Caruso, ChurchMag, October 10, 2011)
“Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.“ — quoting Jon Foreman @ Why Switchfoot won’t sing Christian songs (Dave Browning, December 5, 2013)
“The term Christian film has become synonymous with substandard production values, stilted dialogue and childish plots.” @ Why Are Christian Movies So Bad? A call for Christians to get serious about being artists. (Scott Nehring, Relevant Magazine, October 26, 2010)
And here are some other finds::
- Why So Much Christian Media Sucks (Phil Cooke, August 14, 2012)
- Stinky Christian Films (Bob Waliszewski, Plugged In, Sep 18, 2012)
- Why are Christian movies so bad? (Randal Rauser, January 24, 2012)
- Why Can’t Christian Films Be Better? (Father Bryce Sibley, Crisis Magazine, May 25, 2012)
- Why Are Christian Movies So Bad? (Nicole Cottrell, modernreject.com, October 2011)
- Are Christian Movies Really So Bad? Is Despair Wiser than Hope? A Reflection on “Soul Surfer” (Timothy Dalrymple, Patheos’ , May 26, 2011)
- Why are Christian movies so awful? As “Soul Surfer” demonstrates, “faith-based” movies are a boom industry. Do they have to be so lame? (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, April 12, 2011)
- Bad Christian Art (Tony Woodlief, Image Journal, May 31, 2011)
- Why Are Christian Movies So Bad? One writer at ‘Relevant’ addresses, and tries to answer, the question (Mark Moring, Christianity Today, November, 2010)
A couple of my personal thoughts, as I ruminate and wrestle with this topic (not that I have arrived at an answer; these are a snapshot of my tentative thinking at the moment of this blog post):
First, all of humanity, both Christian and non-Christian, are created in the image of God, the Creator of the Universe, and I believe God the Creator is the source of all the great creative human accomplishments of recent history, seen in Pixar movies, Steve Jobs’ vision for the Apple iPod and iPhone, Tesla smart cars, Peter Drucker‘s wisdom on managing social capital, and of history past with the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo’s art, Handel’s Messiah, and there are many many more. Greatness and excellence is self-evident. I’d like to think that Christians who have a “personal relationship” with the Creator God would have more creativity flowing through them, but it hasn’t been my overwhelming experience thus far.
Second, maybe a bell-curve distribution shows how any group of humanity has its share of talents and skills. A majority of people are just plain ol’ average, in competency and creativity and intelligence. And that’s okay, they’re still worthy of dignity and have intrinsic value. There’s a minority that are below average, and they too have just as much intrinsic value and dignity. There’s a percentage that are above average, and they have more giftedness and developed their skills better, but with no more intrinsic value for their humanity than the less gifted. I’d say these 3 groups (average, below average, and above average) account for 99% of the population.
And then there is that (less than) 1%, that are exemplarily gifted with smarts and skills and talents far beyond the norm, a la Steve Jobs, Michael Phelps, Pele, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and I already mentioned Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Yes, these “elite” have had to work hard and overcome adversities; yet I do believe they have something innate by nature took their lives beyond what nurture could.
Third, who are the Christians enabling these mediocre expressions of creativity in the name of God? For big movie productions and other costly endeavors, it takes some high net-worth donors to fund those projects. While wealthy people may have a certain high quality standard in their business life, it doesn’t seem to apply in the Christian world, the ones that are okay funding mediocrity. This ought not be. Integrity would be better lived with consistency in both the secular and sacred, as it is all one world, all under God.
Fourth, I think I’m realistic enough to realize that perhaps a majority of people do not understand the enduring value of quality. Granted, part of that is most of us can’t afford high quality stuff that’s typically expensive. Nevertheless, as a Christian family, it bothers me that we too often appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Fifth, (and I do have more thoughts on this, but wanted to get this published sooner than later,) for good Christian people that get flustered with mediocrity, I’d say, don’t waste your time and energy frustrated by those who don’t value quality like you do. Invest your time and energy with those who do care about and strive for quality. I think of the principles of stronger vs. weaker brethren is informative, cf. Romans 14-15. While a majority of people don’t have the training or talent to know how to create great quality stuff, even the untrained eye or palate instinctively and intuitively knows when something is beautiful and awesome and high quality.
What do you think? What can be done?