Christian art often fails both to meet standards of artistic excellence and to present a picture of Christianity attractive to secular audiences. Fireproof, a movie not only sympathetic to Christianity but also produced by and marketed to Christians, showcased some of these problems. The movie was poorly acted and scripted: the main character’s conversion was unrealistic and the production quality was low-grade. It was nearly universally panned by all critics outside the evangelical and Catholic subcultures. As Josh Rosenblatt of The Austin Chronicle put it, “The writing and directing Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen, [Fireproof’s creators] have raised blandness and narrative predictability to the level of high art.”
Yet, Christian critics rushed to praise its (in the words of one critic) “heartfelt” message, and Christians took to the move in droves. It was the highest-grossing independent film of its year, and it received, inter alia, the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival’s 2009 award for beast feature film.
The desire to embrace this film was understandable. In a world with a bad marriage culture that is only getting worse, a film about a marriage transformed by the love of Christ seems right on message. But if we want to evangelize the culture through the art the last thing we need to be doing is creating niche, separatist Christian art. It may move the faithful, but it will only strip us of cultural power. As another reviewer of Fireproof wrote, “Fireproof isn’t merely preaching to the already converted; it’s helping to further alienate the unconverted and the skeptical.”
I have been suspicious of “rights talk” since Mary Ann Glendon wrote her book by that title. But it’s so pervasive that I’ve almost certainly lapsed into it in the realm of religious freedom. It’s the lingua franca that just might score a quick knock-out.
“Rights talk,” however, is not a neutral or unproblematic way of approaching things, as more and more Christian commentators are reminding us, if we’ll listen. It’s really a very secular way to avoid discussion of what’s intrinsically right and good, despite the inevitable drawing of lines (e.g., human sacrifice wouldn’t be allowed, even if it were a sincerely held religious belief). Sooner or later, I think we’re going to have to move beyond rights talk.
Grant unto me, O Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring.
Grant unto me to dedicate myself completely to Thy Holy Will.
For every hour of this day, instruct and support me in all things.
Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy Holy Will.
Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say.
When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee.
Teach me to behave sincerely and rationally toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none.
Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all its passing events.
Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love.
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