Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quality Christian Programming

When I was growing up, we had a cassette tape of Blaine Bowman and his family that I think I just wore out. With a combination of singing and preaching and a fair amount of comedy, the Bowmans put on a great show, and if you have an opportunity to see them live, I would highly recommend it!
Perhaps my favorite thing on this cassette we had, though, was a little sketch called "The Radio Broadcast", which was basically pokin' fun at some of the things you sometimes hear if you listen to Christian radio. It's not meant to make anybody mad - it's just a little fun - and it starts off with this one little line:
"Have you ever been driving down the road, looking for some quality Christian programming on the radio, but all you could find... was Christian programming? It ain't quality, it's just Christian!"
The sketch proceeds from there to give you an example of just how bad some Christian radio programs can be, from people singing out of tune to some sort of... questionable... interpretations of the Bible to overly-dramatic pleas for listeners to send in donations. It's truly hilarious to listen to and kind of sad when you stop and think about it!

That's not to say that quality Christian radio doesn't exist. In fact, as someone who works in Christian radio, I like to think there's quite a bit of good music and sound preaching out there, and very much of it is worth listening to! But that doesn't mean every listener is going to tune in to the right station at the right time, and people tend to remember the negative experiences a lot more often than they remember the good. If a believer is listening when one of these lower-quality programs comes on, they might easily excuse it and not really think all that much about it. But what if an unbeliever stumbles across it? They might be so turned-off by what they hear that they never listen again and they just assume that "that's what Christians are all like." Or what if a Christian is listening who can't tell the difference between solid Bible teaching and poor teaching? That could have terrible results, too!

Surely you can see, then, why it's so important for a Christian radio station to take care that it doesn't just play any random "Christian program" because somebody's willing to pay money to put it on the air. Instead, we need to be sure that, whatever we play, it's of a good enough quality that we wouldn't be ashamed for anyone to be listening at any moment!

You could apply the same things, I think, to the subject of Christian TV and movies.

There is good Christian programming and there is bad Christian programming, and I'm not just talking about the difference between a big-budget production and a low-budget production. In fact, sometimes, the big-budget programs are exactly the ones I shy away from because, while they look all smooth and polished, they often lack the solid Biblical foundation that can be found in many lower-budget productions. Just because a preacher is wearing a fancy suit and the lighting is perfect and he comes to you in crystal-clear HD from a mega-church somewhere, that doesn't mean that his feel-good, all-you-need-is-positive-thinking, God-wants-to-make-you-a-millionaire sermon is necessarily Biblically sound. And just because the country preacher in the worn-out suit comes to you from the back of a little studio somewhere in less-than-perfect picture and sound, that doesn't mean his message should be discounted. Yet you can't say that every nicer-looking program is evil and every poorer-looking program is good, either.

There are good and bad in both categories, but the problem is that people most often tend to be drawn to the big-budget stuff because it looks good, and they tend to push away the low-budget stuff without taking at honest look at the content of either one!

What this says to me is that, on some level, good production values really do go a long way. Whether a script is well-written and well executed or not, it matters. We know when something looks right or not, and we know when dialogue sounds natural or not. If an actor looks or sounds like they're reading cue cards or they have some kind of unnatural quirk, people pick up on those things pretty well, so if your goal is to get unbelievers to be interested and stay tuned, then you have to get those things right. Otherwise, they're either gonna turn it off or just make fun of it, and either way, they're not listening anymore!

What it also says is that we have to do a good job of catching and pointing out the difference between good and bad teaching. For instance, there's the movie Noah in theaters right now, and it's supposed to be based on the story found in Genesis 6-9. It's a big-budget movie that is doing extremely well at the box office... but the director is an atheist who brags that he has made "the least-Biblical Biblical film ever made". Surely this isn't something Christians can support, is it?

I can understand that a film might take a little license with a story in order to fill in the gaps left by the text or even to emphasize certain themes from the text, but after reading about the movie's inclusion of rock monsters who try to kill all the people who want to get on the ark and the idea that Noah contemplates infanticide (among other complaints)... Where do you draw the line?

Some will point out that at least the controversy might inspire people to pick up a Bible and find out what it really says, and that truly would be a wonderful thing. But what about those who watch the movie and just assume that that's the way it is? What about those who see the violence and the picture of an angry, vengeful God, and they decide to reject the faith because they don't want to know a God who could be like that? For how many people could this be the only time they've really ever thought about Noah? First impressions can make a lasting imprint!

All this is one reason why I am so enthusiastic about another movie in theaters right now, God's Not Dead. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect when Amber and I went to see it the other night. Many Christian movies, I hate to admit it, but while their messages may be sound, they're just not great movies. But God's Not Dead is a great example of what a Christian movie can be when it's done right. The production values are there, the acting is good, and the script is excellent! It's a movie that engages you on multiple levels, and it stays true to the Bible without resorting to the kind of cheesy humor or cardboard characters that often seem to find their way into Christian movies. And I love the fact that this movie really doesn't shy away from some very hard questions. It's well worth watching!

I will even go so far as to say that, if you see only one Christian movie this year, this should be it! I know this is "the year of the Bible" in Hollywood. I know Heaven is For Real is coming out soon, and I'm planning to see that, too. Son of God is already out. Exodus is coming in December. But I'm serious, God's Not Dead is the one to see! Take your children to see it! Take your youth group! Invite your friends! This one is definitely worth it!

So what am I saying? That Christians should only be in media if they have a lot of money to back it up? No, I'll still take a quality message over a big budget any day. When the message is right, I think there are still people who will listen and learn from it, and that makes it worth doing. But I think we need to celebrate when there are examples of good Christian media done well, because those well-done projects are likely to be even more effective at reaching even more people for the Kingdom!

I will continue to hold up those good examples and encourage others to check them out, and I urge you to do the same. What Bible-themed movies stand out to you as very well done? What are your favorites? Which ones have the most needful messages? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

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