Author and editor Kat Heckenbach left a comment on this post a while back. We were talking about how gushing reviews can often backfire on fans and how believers seem far too willing to overlook mediocrity in order to support Christian art. Kat wrote:
A mainstream Christian writer friend of mine was telling me about the movie Courageous a few months ago. She made comments about its lacks in certain areas, but said it was a must-see. She said something as we talked that got me thinking…
She said we have an obligation to help promote Christian fiction even when it’s not fully developed, or it will never get fully developed.
Parents praise their children when they take their first steps. But we don’t praise those same children for walking when they’re five–we praise them for running. And when they’re in high school, we praise them for winning races. The first praise for those first steps, though, is just as enthusiastic as praise for the first marathon.
I’m not saying (and I don’t think she was saying) that we need to artificially inflate reviews and such. But if we don’t look at them *in context* of Christian fiction as a young genre, we could end up with it dead in the water. There needs to be some leeway given. (emphasis mine)
Kat’s comments are always thoughtful and thought-provoking. And this one highlights what seems to be a fairly common attitude among many Christians, the idea that “we have an obligation to help promote Christian [art].” In other words, even if films like “Courageous” are not the best quality, we have to show that there’s a market for this stuff. Christian films, books, businesses, people, and products doing well is, sort of, validation for believers.
I confess, I’m fairly conflicted about this. On the one hand, I want to see Christian art and Christian artists penetrate pop culture. I mean, how else can we be the salt of the earth and the light of the world without getting into the marketplace of art and ideas? The Gospel needn’t be preached perfectly in order to be preached, so why must Christian art be done perfectly in order to be done? As one of my good friends used to say, If it’s worth being done, it’s worth being done badly.
The problem is, however, if what we endorse and offer culture is second-rate, why should our culture be obligated to listen? The moment we slap the word “Christian” on ourselves or our stuff, we are held to another standard. And rightly so! If we really serve the King of kings, what are we doing offering crippled lambs? If our message is of eternal import, shouldn’t that translate into “quality control”? Point being, a mediocre product peddled by an avowed Christian undermines their ultimate message. It’s like saying, “God wants your best.. but cheesy and half-ass will suffice.”
This, however, undercuts the second idea that Kat mentions, that Christian fiction is a “young genre,” still in development, and deserves to be given some “leeway.” Mind you, Kat isn’t suggesting that we should give inflated praise and tolerate mediocre art just because our industry is still young. She’s saying that understanding where we are at in the developmental timeline should temper our critique.
While I agree with this, it doesn’t answer a more fundamental question: Are the “flaws” in Christian art, film, and fiction due to its immaturity as an industry or a systemic concession to mediocrity? Are we more committed to growing in our craft and receiving objective critique, or just providing an alternative to “worldly junk”?
All that to say, I think Christians should have a vested interest in seeing Christian art and Christian artists succeed. But if we aren’t equally committed to quality control, any success we manage will be in a vacuum.