The Giant of Cultural Transformation

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(Listen to the Dick Staub podcast of our interview with Gregory Wolfe author of book, ” Intruding upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery”,” today at “The Kindlings Muse”.

Can I bring a little perspective to my earlier comments about the bad art and theology of the soon to be released “Facing the Giants?”

The mission of the Center for Faith and Culture drives my analysis of Christian involvement in culture. CFC’s mission is to rekindle the holistic spiritual, intellectual and creative legacy of Christians in culture. We’re doing this by:

1) Advocating & modeling the vision, need for and theology of a holistic spiritual, intellectual and creative renewal in culture through people of faith.
2) Building & encouraging a relational community of today’s “Kindlings,” a community of spiritual, thoughtful Christian creatives (drawn from the arts, academy and church) already making a significant contribution in culture.
3) Cultivating the next generation of “Kindlings.”

Next March my next book will be released and in it I articulate how I view the calling of the Christian in culture. Titled the “Culturally Savvy Christian,” the subtitle offers hints as to what I think our challenge is” A Manifesto for Deepening Faith, Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite.” I advocate looking at both our faith and culture in radical ways, and remember radical means to go back to the “roots” or fundamentals. In the book I argue that today’s popular culture is superficial, soulless, influential and often spiritually delusional. I argue that American Christianity has taken on some of the same qualities as popular culture. I try to show how a deeper, holistic faith should produce a richer culture spiritually, intellectually and creatively.

All of my comments about Facing the Giants (FTG) flow out of that context, and I understand that without understanding the broader context I sound like some cranky, critical, self-important jerk.

So let me try to put my previous comments about “Facing the Giants” in perspective.

What I like about “Facing the Giants” (FTG).
¢â‚¬¢ FTG places God at the center of all of life.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG unfolds the theme of trusting & glorifying God no matter what.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG urges each of us to give our best to everything we do.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG encourages good values: honoring parents, love & support in marriage.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG offers hope to people facing giants that make them think there is no hope.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG offers performances that are sweet, sincere and for the most part, believable.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG draws you into those people’s lives and makes you care about them.
¢â‚¬¢ FTG looks like it cost more than ($)100,000 to make.

I commend Sherwood Church and Alex Kendrick for what they accomplished in this film. I want to see more and better filmmaking from talented, skilled artists who are Christian.

So what’s my beef? Why have I raised alarms about this movie? Because I think we need to encourage artists who are Christian to aim higher– to do work that transforms culture spiritually, intellectually and creatively.

1) We should encourage filmmakers who are Christian to make the best, most powerful films. I am disinterested in simply providing Hollywood with product that satisfies an untapped niche of moviegoers. The commercial film industry is in an economic slump and in the aftermath of “Passion of the Christ” they are being told there is a pent up demand for family-friendly, faith-friendly films. Trust me, Sony bought this film to tap that niche, not because it is a great film. My friends in the Hollywood PR biz have actually argued that I ought to loosen up about FTG because if Hollywood can release poorly made films, why should I complain about this one, which is actually better made than some of what Hollywood puts out? This argument from lowest cultural common denominator simply underscores my point even more. WE need to make the best not simply meet the artistic standards of fallen culture.

2) We should tell the truest stories. FTG is a feel good movie and we all like those. But the gospel of Jesus really isn’t always “feel good. The first disciples were martyrs who died for their faith. In FTG virtually every ¢â‚¬Ëœgiant” faced by the key characters is faced and beaten. In real life good God fearing people die tragically, they have cancer, sometimes their marriages fail and their kids get addicted to drugs. I fear that the new opportunity for faith fueled films will take the CCM route, which is gaining market niche in part, because it is promoted as “feel good” music.

3) We should create not imitate. The artist Mako Fujimura told me recently that he thinks we need to encourage artists who advance their medium, who bring originality and creativity. There is virtually no aspect of FTG that is new uncharted territory. The underdog football team who fights back and wins is a story that has been told many times and sometimes better than FTG tells it.

4) We should expect skill not just talent. I think Alex Kendrick has a lot of talent and some skill. The artist Bruce Herman was telling me that from childhood he’d been exceptionally good at drawing. Everybody thought he was brilliant. Then one day he placed his portfolio in front of an artist whose work he admired. The artist silently looked at Bruce’s work for a long time. Finally he broke the silence and said, “Bruce you’ve got a lot of talent, but you aren’t very skilled, and to be a great artist requires both talent and skill.” Bruce said he was actually relieved that someone finally verbalized what he felt deep inside already. Skill can be acquired a lot of different ways, one of which is the mentoring of younger artists by accomplished ones.

When FTG hits 400 screens I am confident many people will love it. It will make money. It will encourage people who need encouragement. None of this is bad news. But if it sets off a wave of “feel good,” low budget, good films that aren’t great, it may position Christians as a sub-culture of people for whom these are acceptable standards. That is the real giant we must face if we care about faith and film.

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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