Staub, Kendrick, the CT Interview: Facing the Truth.

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Regrettably I find myself in the midst of a controversy over the film “Facing the Giants.” (Read my five columns linked below and decide what you think).

As one who has spent forty years trying to understand faith and culture and then to interpret each to the other, I know this is an occupational hazard, but the force of this recent situation is particularly strong. This is unfortunate because I’ve always advocated reasoned dialogue instead of hostile talk and I like the humble and sincere spirit Alex conveys in his film and subsequent interviews.

If I am guilty of anything in my series of pieces about the film, it would be in my passionate statement of opinion, which can come across as arrogance and pride, and I regret that. However, I stand by the essential positions I’ve taken in trying to place this film at the intersection of: 1) a profit driven Hollywood that wants a slice of the “Passion of the Christ” economic pie; 2) many American churches that see film first and foremost as an influential tool for evangelism; 3) a culture and today’s Christian subculture that have both forgotten the essential relationship between deep faith and intellectual and artistic excellence.

Unfortunately Alex Kendrick’s Christianity Today interview has added fuel to the fire, primarily through misunderstandings and inaccuracies in the interview itself.

1) Imagine my surprise when I started getting deluged with e-mail from people criticizing me for commenting on Facing the Giants, “without even seeing it.” Filmmaker Alex Kendrick said: “people can say whatever they want; you’re absolutely entitled to be your own critic. But this guy has an audience and he’s saying this and he’s not seen the movie. That is just flat-out irresponsible.”

FACT: I’ve written five columns about the movie. The first was written before I saw it, based on fears generated by a film critic who did see it and reported his concerns to me in a private conversation. The next four columns were written after I saw it. Seeing it did not change what I wrote in the first column.

2) Imagine my surprise when CT asked what the filmmaker thought about my comment that it would be “another embarrassment in the name of Jesus”?

FACT: what I actually said was: “I can see where this is headed and it is going to be another “ARTISTIC” embarrassment in the name of Jesus.” I’ve always been very careful to distinguish between the art of film and the message and content. My concern was that Hollywood wants to make money and the filmmaker sees film as an evangelistic tool and that our responsibility to make good art would be lost in the shuffle. I kind of think Kendrick proved my point when he mounted his defense in the interview, “Anyway, he (Dick Staub) goes into this thing about how art should be the primary thing and that’s how you glorify God through art, not through the message, not through the motive. It’s all about the art (I didn’t actually say exactly that but read on!)¢â‚¬¦To have people saved, and to have Sony recognize it as something worth distributing all that, and then have a guy that’s a Christian say this is an embarrassment to the name of Jesus, without seeing it? That’s what stung me more than anything else.” (Consider yourself un-stung Alex¢â‚¬¦I DID see it!)

This does, though, bring me back to the issue of arrogance. One Staublog reader chastened me as follows: “I know that you said the film would be an “artistic” embarrasment in the name of Jesus (as opposed to the same statement without the word “artistic”), but that is still a very strong statement. If I tried my best at something, and that’s what was said about it, I would be hurt and embarrased.” I am truly sorry for the hurtful nature of that comment. The performances of the church-member actors, though not professional, were compelling by virtue of their honesty. My wife, whose degree is in Theatre, said she thinks these performances were better than MANY professionals working in today’s Hollywood productions. Furthermore, I think Alex shows real promise as a writer and filmmaker. Very few people could accomplish what the people of Sherwood did and I believe them when they attribute the film’s success to God.

3) Imagine my surprise that my comments about the film amount to “shooting a brother in Christ.” Again Alex: “If he wants to say it’s still a big ball of cheese after seeing it, that’s fine. But without seeing it, and God’s given you a platform and you’re shooting another brother in Christ, that is just flat-out irresponsible.”

FACT: It is really difficult to separate art from artist, but critiquing the merits of a film do not amount to an attack on the filmmaker. If I WERE TO SAY that the film is a “big ball of cheese” (which I have not and will not) that would not be the same as saying “Alex is a big ball of cheese.”

In yesterday’s Staublog I made the following comments: “Can God use art even if it isn’t the best? Absolutely! God does it everyday! Each of us brings our loaves and fishes such as they are, and asks God to multiply them¢â‚¬¦Just because “Facing the Giants” isn’t the best art doesn’t mean God can’t use it… and there is a lot of evidence that He is using it. But that does not mean we should not aspire to make the best films¢â‚¬¦And it doesn’t mean we should call a good film great art when it isn’t.”

I have heard a lot of people talk about the emotional and evangelistic impact of this movie and the excitement of rolling it out on 400+ screens. I’ve heard a lot of David and Goliath stories and the heartwarming truth of the little church that could. I just haven’t heard ANYBODY talk about this film being a great film artistically. Hollywood cares about money and many Christians care only about evangelism. I think God also cares a lot about the excellence of our art and craftsmanship. I must be in the minority on this, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. For centuries Christians were known for their spiritual, intellectual and artistic contributions to society. Bach, Mendelssohn, Dante, Dostoevsky, Newton, Pascal, Rembrandt, CS Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are but a few who personified the rich tradition of faith. Motivated by a desire to glorify God, they produced the best work of their day and offered it in service of others for the creation of a richer culture. The reaction I’m getting tells me we have forgotten our holistic spiritual, intellectual and creative legacy.

I once had a friend whose wife said to him, “Everything you say is either obvious or wrong.” To me the points I’ve been making are obvious (not wrong), but obviously, I could be wrong.

Below are all the pieces I’ve written about “Facing the Giants.” Read them for yourself and then decide.

Facing the Giants of Bad Art & Bad Theology June 15, 2006

Whether I Eat or Drink or Make Movies August 10, 2006

The Giant of Cultural Transformation August 28th, 2006

Facing The Giants: Good, Better & Best.September 21. 2006

When Christians Disagree About Art. September 27th, 2006

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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