The Influences That Shaped the Landscape of 21st Century ChristianCinema. Part I.

Can you imagine a silent Jesus. A Jesus who only performed miracles, put zealots in their place , but never told stories, made illustrations, or painted parabolic pictures. Some of the early 20th century preachers seemed to forget that the Jesus they swore allegiance to and claimed to love was a master storyteller. Take away Jesus’s compassionate storytelling and you’re simply left with the miracle worker and great Judge. Sounds like the preachers who wanted to throw the film baby out with the immoral Hollywood bathwater. A Jesus made in their own image.

But most Christian leaders have come a long way. Today Hollywood is championing the “faith-based” messages of the westernized Church. And Churches are hungry for the feast. So what happened?

Back in the 1930’s, Christian leaders preached the vices of Hollywood to their congregations as a matter of principal. The silver screen was a prophet to the masses, proclaiming the sinful pleasures of adultery, drink, smoke, debauchery, hedonism, frivolity, and lust. Where the staunch shepherds had once reigned sovereign over the façade of pristine social lives of their congregants, a new form of cheap entertainment allowed the middle-aged housewife the visual aide to indulge in fantasy; young men were given cheap smut and thrill-by-the hour for a nickel; and older men could now lose themselves in the escapism of a dark theatre imagining a less practical, more frivolous live of adventure and hedonism. The pulpit harbinger had lost control. The Hollywood driven theatre and its Silver Screen were akin to the Anti-Christ and the Beast.

But the harder you fight something with hatred, the stronger it typically becomes. Compassionless hatred fuels rebellion. Just ask the Prodigal Son’s older brother. How’s that for Biblical irony? Yell at the world to be less sinful, only you do it exactly like He said not to.

What can happen though in the better part of a century? By the end of the 30’s, many well-meaning religious faithful could read the writing on the wall. Movies were not going anywhere, and they certainly were not going to lose their audience. If anything, the audience would grow! Thus, these once pious zealots began to explore how film might be used for the Kingdom of God.

By the 40’s, Hollywood had seen the introduction of Christian filmmakers (primarily for non-theatrical entertainment) and even a production studio devoted solely to their works. By the 1950’s and 60’s, it is argued that the plethora of primarily protestant pictures was one of the driving factors of cultural formation in America. For a great historical read on Christian cinema, visit here.

By the 2000’s, we have mainstream major Studio’s producing faith-based and family friendly films. Not necessarily a faithful representation of the faith (a smorgasbord of material where Mel Gibson and Tyler Perry are mentioned together in one sentence as giants of Christian Film), but faith-“based” nonetheless. So how did this happen? In my next blog, I’ll theorize on that question.

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