Why I Struggle To Enjoy Christian Music and Films

Why I Struggle To Enjoy Christian Music and Films

I recently began curating a Spotify playlist that I somewhat jokingly titled “Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck.” It doesn’t have very many songs on it. 

I’ve always struggled with listening to Christian music. To make matters worse, I grew up in the golden age of the Christian book store, where mothers were instructed about which Christian bands were the best substitutes for a popular “secular” counterpart. But the Christian ones were never really as good. Or, in many cases, good at all. 

The same goes for Christian movies. I remember being a teenager and my friend’s mom sitting us down to watch Kirk Cameron’s “Fireproof.” The film may have had a good message, but that didn’t keep it from being an objectively lackluster watching experience. 

This experience has been multiplied across numerous pieces of Christian art across any number of mediums. As a result, when I think about Christian art, my immediate assumption is that it isn’t very good. 

The ironic thing is that when we look across the scope of church history, Christians have been responsible for some phenomenal art. From architecture to painting, sculpting, and music, the church was the standard bearer for artistic excellence for centuries. What happened? 

Well, it’s complicated. For one, the Protestant Reformation really shone a spotlight on the corrupt financial dealings of the 16th century Catholic Church, which was quite literally trying to sell salvation to people. When we consider how many of the great artistic works of the medieval church were funded, we may feel a little more ambivalent about them—and rightly so. 

Nevertheless, much of the Protestant church seemed to overcorrect for the opulence of Christian artistic expression, rejecting it almost entirely. This was partly because of the spiritual emphasis that had been placed on artwork, much of which depicted venerated saints. As a result, early Protestants destroyed paintings by the thousands. 

Centuries later, this suspicion of the idolatry of artwork mixed with the pragmatic mindset of the evangelical movement to create a culture in which art was deemed entirely unnecessary to the mission of the church. Thus, relatively few evangelicals have dedicated their lives to artistic expression that reaches a broad audience. 

Artwork simply isn’t something that we have seen as worth investing in, other than to provide some entertainment alternatives to what the secular culture is offering our children. To many evangelicals, artwork must serve a specific function if we are to deem it as worthy of creating. We do not often see it as an end unto itself. 

Things are slowly changing. As more Christian movie producers and record labels continue to gain traction and raise resources, the quality of our artwork has steadily been increasing. 

Nevertheless, we still produce a great deal of art that I frankly find difficult to watch or listen to. But what do I find “bad” about it? I think I can boil it down to at least two problems. 


Part of what makes a work of art great is its ability to provoke our imagination, to cause us to reflect on the human experience in ways that we can not only relate to but that also cause us to contemplate realities that we might not have previously considered.

In the words of American poet Robert Hayden, “Art is not escape, but a way of finding order in chaos, a way of confronting life.” 

One film from recent years that springs to my mind is “Marriage Story,” starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. At the beginning of the movie, the characters portrayed by Driver and Johansson agree to an amicable divorce. But as the film progresses, the two become increasingly adversarial toward one another as they war over how and where to raise their son. By the end of the film, they arrive at a more peaceful place, even if the tension of their lives is not fully resolved. 

As someone whose parents endured a bitter divorce, I found the film to be a deeply resonant and gut-wrenchingly authentic portrayal of the end of a marriage. And while there was nothing Christian about the film, it caused me to reflect on God’s design for marriage and why he hates divorce—which is a decidedly Christian thing upon which to reflect. 

Another film, titled “Silence,” tells the story of Jesuit missionaries to Japan who endure persecution and grapple with whether to renounce their faith in Christ. The movie is beautifully written, shot, and acted, and it likewise caused me to contemplate how I would react under similar circumstances. The film does not end with a triumphant defiance of persecution, which makes it all the more thought provoking.

This stands in contrast to the popular evangelical “God’s Not Dead” film series, which depicts American persecution in a way that I don’t believe resonates with the American evangelical experience. In fact, the series feels much more motivated by political disdain for liberals than by genuine curiosity about how to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of opposition. In any event, it does not feel “real.”

What’s more is that films like these are part and parcel of what Skye Jethani has referred to as the “Evangelical Industrial Complex,” in which religious products are packaged and sold to evangelicals based on their marketability. And the ability to move such products often hinges on exacerbating our worst fears and prejudices, as unfounded and unhelpful as they may be.

All that to be said, if an expression of art provides a clear exposition of a theological or ideological belief—even if it is a belief which I myself hold—but does not resonate with the fundamental human experience and instead only exists to be sold, then it falls flat. 


Faithful evangelicals rightly place an emphasis on evangelism and the clear proclamation of the gospel. To be sure, that is a good thing. Nevertheless, some have arrived at the position that unless a work of art brings us to a place of an explicit or implicit altar call, then it cannot be considered distinctly Christian. 

But when it comes to art, which finds beauty in ambiguity and is made powerful just as much by the things it doesn’t say as the things it does, making every work of art fit into a specific mold robs it of its impact. 

Not every film, picture, or song must convey the entirety of Christian doctrine in order to provoke people toward Christian contemplation. Just look at the Bible itself. You cannot get a full picture of the hope we have in God by reading Psalm 88. The answer to the problem of evil and human suffering is never given in the book of Job. For that matter, God isn’t mentioned even once in the book of Esther. And yet these are our holy texts, distinct units within the canon of Scripture. 

If every work of Christian art must make an explicit reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus, then we aren’t creating artwork. We’re finding creative ways to deliver the same sermon. 

Certainly, the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the guiding story through which I see every other story. It defines my life, as it should for every Christian. But there is also much more to explore within the world that God has created, and we can do so from a distinctly Christian perspective. 

Uniformity is also a result of the Evangelical Industrial Complex. There are specific reasons why the vast majority of our popular worship songs sound like they were written and (over)produced in Nashville, and those reasons are almost entirely financial. 

This problem of uniformity is present in secular artwork as well, with corporately owned studios making algorithmic decisions about what will move units and churn profits, which helps explain the scores of uninspired superhero films that have hit theaters over the past decade. Nevertheless, this problem seems particularly pronounced in Christian spaces, many of which are already primed to accept creative mediocrity. 

Let’s Expand Our Imaginations

I understand that much of this can come across as overly negative or cynical. But the heart of the matter is this: God created us to be creative beings. It’s part of being created in his image. 

When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, he told them to “be fruitful and multiply.” And that certainly referred to procreation. But it also referred to the things they would create. 

Humanity has not only reproduced itself but also created entirely new things: cities with infrastructure, fashion that serves not only to clothe but also to express creativity, works of art to hang on walls or stand in city squares, music and poetry to tells stories and evokes emotion. As technology advances, so does artwork. 

Art is fundamental to the human experience. And like all things that are fundamental to the human experience, it is marred by human sin. But it is also something that can be redeemed by Christ through the Holy Spirit. 

So let’s explore what God has given us and celebrate the artists who help us to do the same. What they do is necessary. It’s beautiful. And it’s something worth investing in.