A recent discussion about Facing the Giants on another blog got a bit heated. The blogger (a Christian writer) had criticized the film for inadequate storytelling craft and an overly simplistic presentation of the faith. I haven’t seen the film, so I’m not going to make a judgement as to whether or not the critisisms are valid. What caught me in the discussion was that a couple of respondents attacked the blogger for criticizing the film at all.
The gist of this protest seemed to consist of the idea that Christians should support all the endeavors of other Christians (at least in the arts), regardless of the quality of the work. Apparently, we should be satisfied that some eager believers got out there and "made the attempt". That should be enough for us. We shouldn’t be leveling criticisms that the writing wasn’t adequate or that the theology behind the story was flawed and/or simplistic.
I have to admit that my mind boggled at this attitude.
This sort of thing contributes to the poor opinion the public in general has of "Christian" art of any sort - pictures, books, music or films. The supporters of the "anything that’s Christian is good" school seem to think that if "the Word is sent out" that is all that matters. An extreme example of this sort of thinking would be the odd-ball who dresses bizarrely when attending a televised football game in order to get the camera time, all so he can hold up a "John 3:16" sign.
Now, be it understood: I do believe that the Word of God does not return void. That is, I think God will make use of any silly thing we do, if it is true to Him. I think it falls into "suffering the little children to come onto Him". Suffering indeed, for how He must cringe at some of our endeavors. As long as the Word is presented truly, somewhere, somehow, He will do something with it.
But we should not get into thinking that that action of God’s excuses us from doing better.
We should expect to be tested by fire.
A lot of things get "tested by fire". Gold gets melted down, to separate the pure gold from other minerals that might be contaminating it. Gold doesn’t get to sit around "just as it is", in the condition it is found. It gets broken up, melted, purified.
Which could be an interesting metaphor for creative people. We’d like to think that we’re golden. And although the "testing" might not be any fun (I mean, do you like being put through fires?), in the end, we’d come out glorious.
But I prefer to look to a different "testing by fire" as being closer to what all artists should take into account.
When I was in an art class in junior high school, we had a project of sculpting something in clay. There were many steps in getting to the final product. First, we had to prepare the fine-grained clay. It was called "wedging". It involved slamming the wet clay down on a hard surface, folding it over, and slamming it some more. Over and over and over. Then cutting through the clay, to check for bubbles of air. The reason for this is that when the work is put into the kiln to be fired, any air bubbles in the clay would be heated. If the bubble was large enough, the expansion of the air would cause the clay to burst open, and the work would be broken.
Wham, wham, wham. We pounded out the bubbles in the clay. And once we were certain we’d gotten them out, we then began making our sculptures.
Once the figure was done, we then had to cut it in half, and hollow it out. Again, it was about that air bubble thing. A solid clay figure would not dry completely in the kiln, which would be a problem later when the figure was fired a second time for the glazing. So we hollowed out our figures, and cut an airhole in the bottom. And then we had to put the two halves back together, making sure they were rejoined smoothly with (say it in unison, class) no bubbles in the joining.
Then the work went into the kiln for the first firing.
Some of my classmates had to face the disappointment of having their work crack open in the firing. Some of the works did not survive this "testing by fire". They broke – from heated air bubbles, or bad joinings.
Not everything a potter makes survives the firing in the kiln. Sometimes, after the firing, the kiln is opened to find broken pieces. In ancient times, there wasn’t any sort of glue that could hold the pieces together in a fashion that would let the work be used. The potter was obliged to throw them out and start over.
To me, that is what it means to be "tested by fire". And anyone who steps up to create a work of art - in any of the arts - should expect to have their work so tested. Failures in preparing the material, failures in craftsmanship, these are the first tests to be faced. And protests that one’s intentions are all that should matter are silly. If the work explodes in the kiln, it doesn’t matter whether the artist’s design was lovely. Something still went wrong in the crafting of the work.
But that is not the end of the tests of the work. Because after that, comes the "audience test". Does anyone want to see this work? Will they like it? A work that is properly prepared, comes through the kiln, but is, in fact, ugly is not going to have anyone who wants it. Be it ugly, silly, or dull, it will be left behind - because it failed to touch the heart and soul of the passer-by.
So, back to the original matter: should a Christian writer have expressed a negative opinion about the craftsmanship of Facing the Giants? Why not? She certainly knew the crafts skills necessary to produce a good piece of work, and she found that the film failed in that. She also found the end product to be overly simplistic in what it said about the Faith.
And I’d have to agree with her about that sort of thing: I’m not found of "Christian" work that presents a "pie-in-the-sky" type of faith. Being a follower of Christ is not an easy thing, and I, personally, think it is a lie to non-believers to present stories that even imply that it might be easy.
God will honor what truth we put into any artwork. But I think He wants the very best from us, the deepest, truest, most difficult things. Things that can rock the world of non-believing passers-by.