f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Appropriating a Conversation

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Appropriating a Conversation

I don’t know David Taylor, but he’s done me a great service by writing, eloquently, on essentially the same topic we’ve been hashing over here so I will now do the noble thing of simply letting him do all the thinking for both of us.

Taylor’s conversation is about Christian films (as he runs something called the Ragamuffin Film Festival) and what defines them and whether the artists want to be called Christian filmmakers and why Left Behind irritates on the screen as well as the page.

I weaseled out of giving a definition of what makes a book Christian by saying it should all be based on reader response. If a reader is drawn closer to God through a particular work, so be it. This is passing the buck of course and I’m only too happy to do it.

Taylor makes more of an effort to actually answer the question by saying that a Christian film is one that "bears witness to a Christian imagination." I don’t want to put words in his mouth be he seems to intend that this means a film which approaches it’s narrative, intentionally or otherwise, with a view that reaffirms a view consistent with God’s nature and/or the legacy of faith. That he chooses Jaws as one of his examples startled me, but I see his point.

Taylor then goes on to ask an uncomfortable question: What makes a good Christian film?

If we transpose that to fiction we end up in the awkward position of sorting—sheep, goat—between good novels and bad novels. That’s nowhere I want to be right now. In my position, I can’t be there. But he does get to the essence of something that seems to separate art made within the CBA community and art made by Christians outside the CBA world. I’ll let his words speak.
Truth is that which accords with fundamental reality. Truth coheres not only with actual human existence but with God's intended purposes, or ideal, for human beings.

For the filmmaker there are two essential kinds of truth: the grand and the common. The grand truths deal with the big religious ideas. For the Christian this includes things like the sovereignty of God, the dislocation of human nature, the atonement of Christ. The common truths traffic in the more ordinary things of life: food, old age, racism, cerebral palsy. What's frustrating to a lot of Christian filmmakers is the presumptive expectation that they should only work with the grand or religious truths to the exclusion of the common, human truths: the little things. This expectation however is not only theologically problematic, it excludes the greater part of our lives and stagnates the imagination.

I don’t see a dearth of “common truths” in our fiction—but rather a common pattern. Often the hard common truth—the most typically seen are abuse, disease, teen pregnancy, abortion, addiction—is used as a device to reveal a grand truth, usually about God’s overcoming power. It becomes a formula that manages to minimize both.

I’d like to see new common truths surveyed and either left to their own merits or linked in some powerful new way to a previously unconsidered “grand truth.” When left to their own merits we’ll be in the place to discuss whether a story that upholds the Christian imagination is enough for a CBA publishing house. Regardless it’ll be a breath of fresh air.