My Take on Faith-based Movies

Some faith-based movies do more harm than good. For example, the movie Noah (2104) is not really a depiction of the Biblical event called the great Flood. The movie does more than take a few creative liberties. It totally rewrites the story in a way that is foolish and contradicts the Bible. See this excellent review by a Catholic teen. I don’t think Noah (2014) even counts as a faith-based movie.

Many faith-based movies are made by Protestants. They represent a Protestant point of view on the Christian faith. Many Protestants are devout followers of Jesus Christ. But they are nevertheless in a state of material heresy. A Protestant could possibly make a good faith-based movie. But the greater likelihood is that the movie will incorporate some Protestant theological errors.

The message in some of the better faith-based movies is rather basic. For example, God’s Not Dead argues in favor of belief in Christianity and against atheism. OK, fine. But what would a faithful Christian learn from this type of movie? Little or nothing.

Many of these faith-based movies present themselves as if they were teaching the audience — but they lack any type of profound insight into Christianity. Audiences can learn more about Christianity from the movie Gandhi (1982) than from most overtly Christian movies. Gandhi believed in the Christian teaching “love your enemies”, and he lived that teaching at great personal cost, and the movie expertly depicts his faith-based life. By comparison, most faith-based movies offer a very superficial understanding of Christianity.

There are some good faith-based movies. The Ten Commandments (1956) deserves its place as a perennial favorite. The Passion of the Christ (2004) was well-received by devout Catholics. My only concern with the best of the faith-based movies is that they inevitably, through no fault of their own, offer a particular version of events beyond the strict letter of the Biblical story. You can’t make a Bible-based movie without adding dialogue, scenes, and particular storytelling elements not found in the Bible. The text of Scripture is just not specific enough to be used as a script all on its own. And that means that the movie can influence your understanding of the Biblical story in subtle ways that depart from the historical and theological content of the Bible.

I prefer to get my theology from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, and not from the entertainment industry. They seldom “get it right” when they attempt to make a faith-based movie. And sometimes I doubt the sincerity of the attempt (e.g. Noah).

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to My Take on Faith-based Movies

  1. Rico says:

    “The Gospel of John” (2003) featuring Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus is I think the most theologically accurate film about Jesus by far. It uses the Good News Translation of John’s gospel as the only script, no more no less, so it ends up about 3 hours long. However, it is the only Jesus film I know that accurately depicts the conflict in John 6 that ends with Jesus’ disciples refusing to walk with him because he told them they must “eat his flesh and drink his blood” to have eternal life. If Jesus were not God himself, there’s no way one could see him as merely another wise and enlightened teacher. The many incredible claims he makes for himself in this film border on madness if he was merely a man. They can be quite unsettling, as seen by the Jewish reaction against him. I highly recommend this film.

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