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Recently I saw The Imposter, which is a Christian film featuring Kevin Max, formerly of DC Talk. It tells the story of a singer of a Christian band who is not a Christian and is addicted to drugs. He has a wife who wants nothing to do with him and a brother-in-law who hates him, who is ironically a worship leader.
The movie did have a made-for-TV type feel to it. The acting and production were about the same as a lot of the other Christian movies with a little bit of cheesy musical interlude during dramatic scenes. I think where it went wrong was the script. Kevin Max’s character is so absolutely unlikeable I couldn’t find it in myself to cheer for the guy. I also feel like this movie and Steve Taylor’s “The Second Chance” are really like the Nashville people trying to tell a certain story to have some sort of commentary about their industry. Personally, I also don’t like movies where the actors lip sync to music or the actors are musicians.
With Christian movies there is always that urge to resolve the problems by the film’s end when in reality some problems never wrap up that neatly and progress comes very slowly. While the Imposter resists that temptation for Kevin Max’s wife to take him back in the end, it doesn’t leave the audience with a good sense of closure.
I think the goal of Christian movies is pretty noble, but if the script is not rock solid it’s going to be really hard to get that message across properly. In my opinion, in some cases the Christian music on the soundtrack seems to be more important than the actual story. While I do feel like a properly placed song can really benefit a movie, I think there is a danger if the music is overshadowing the film.
In the end it all gets back to writing because a typical Christian movie is not going to emphasize sex, drugs, gore, violence or in many cases special effects. Christians are often portrayed as a stereotype in movie such as Saved! As much praise as Hollywood gets for making movies it has rarely ever portrayed Christians as real people with real problems. I think Christian movies will be better received when they portray faith in a way that mirrors reality.
Since the Christian music industry began there have been discussions of bands and how Christian they are or aren’t based on their lyrics and things they say from the stage. Growing up I knew of bands that talked about knowing the Lord on stage and gave altar calls for people to get saved regularly at concerts. Being a Christian band was not necessarily a big money-making profession. It was about the message and the music–in that order.
Flash forward to more than 20 years later and we have a number of artists that cross over from the Christian industry to the mainstream: groups such as POD, Switchfoot, Relient K and others. Some of these crossover groups don’t like to be called “Christian” artists because of the stigma that goes with the labeling of the music. Yet these artists started in the Christian scene and worked their way into mainstream success.
It’s always easy to badmouth your old job after you quit working there and so it is when bands leave Christian labels. I think sometimes it is a little dishonest for bands to deny their Christian roots. Maybe being in a mainstream band was their goal from the beginning, but if that was the case they should never have gotten involved with the Christian industry.
Christian rock music is a subculture and there are different circles of it. Christian Contemporary Music or CCM is often associated with Nashville, Christian radio and Christian music festivals with bands like the Newsboys or Jars of Clay. The Tooth and Nail segment of Christian music is associated with Cornerstone Music Festival and is an edgy less overtly Christian scene. Many bands that play Cornerstone don’t want to be associated with the Christian scene because Cornerstone is the only Christian concert they play the whole year.
So we have CCM bands that make big money playing music to only Christians and we have edgy bands that focus on the secular scene yet have ties to Christian rock. Both groups are considered Christian, but they feel differently about the association. The CCM industry was birthed out of the Jesus Movement in the 70s and the underground scene became known to mass audiences with the emergence of Tooth and Nail Records.
Not every band is going to be evangelistic like those bands I grew up with, but that doesn’t mean songs have to be intentionally vague where it could be about God or a girl. I think bands ought to be more honest with themselves about whether they’re in it first and foremost for the money or for God. Bands shouldn’t be ashamed to be Christians and fans shouldn’t disown a band because they’re Christians or not making music only for Christians.
Below is a video with an interview with Ronnie Martin: