It Is Not the Critic Who Counts



You may have heard of the new film God’s Not Dead. The plot revolves around a Christian student at a secular university who must prove the existence of God or risk being failed by his atheist philosophy professor. I haven’t seen the film, but our church youth group saw it last weekend and it seemed to have a positive impact.

The critical reviews haven’t been as kind. The film currently has a 33% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and this review from Crosswalk, a Christian site, is especially brutal. The review begins like this:

As unfortunate as it may be to admit, “Christian movies” have something of a track record.

Often the purpose of the filmmaker is clear, if not bluntly stated: to win souls, bolster the faith of believers, or even simply to get the name of Jesus to a theater near you. All too often, however, these well-meaning Christian films are marked by substandard acting, careless plot-holes, and contrived situations. Christian audiences flock to see such films, forgiving shortcomings and encouraging friends and family to support the Christian film industry by going out to see it and talking it up on Facebook.

I’m intrigued by how God’s Not Dead is raising the old question, “Why do Christians so often make poor art?” Whether it’s fiction, movies, music, or television, Christians have sometimes created entertainment and art that is poor quality.

As I mentioned, I haven’t seen this film, so I have no basis for an evaluation. But my concern here is not the quality of the movie. Instead, I want to ask a simple question: Why is it that Christians constantly complain about the lack of wholesome, faith-based entertainment, but when someone takes the initiative to create something to fill that void, the same Christians are its worst critics?

I believe I have the answer: it’s much easier to critique than create.

Critics have their place, and you should learn from them. Criticism can make you bitter or better depending on how you respond to it. Even criticism offered in the wrong way can be helpful if you approach it correctly.

But critics never take the lead and rarely take risks. They are always reacting and never initiating. They must always rely on someone else to do the hard work of producing art. Then most of them sit on the sidelines, smugly evaluating the work they had no part in bringing to life.

It takes a lot more guts to create art than to critique it. (Click to tweet.)

I absolutely applaud the makers of God’s Not Dead for doing their best to make a movie that sparks conversation about God. Good for them! Whatever issues one may have with various aspects of the film (or any film, for that matter), at least the filmmakers took action and made an effort.

Critics serve a useful purpose when they evaluate art in a balanced and intelligent way. Without critics, artists would have few opportunities to correct flaws and create better art. But if it weren’t for the artists who courageously step forward to create, critics would have nothing to judge in the first place.

Is quality important? Of course! But we would do well to spend more time focusing on our own quality and less time evaluating everyone else’s. A focus on judging others’ creative work can become a convenient excuse to avoid our own.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from one my personal heroes, Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I love this quote so much I featured it on a poster: feel free to download it and use it as a wallpaper or share it with friends! (Click here to download the hi-res version.)


Question: What role does a critic play in the creation of great art?


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I'm Kent Sanders, and my passion is to help others fulfill their creative potential. I teach worship and guitar at Saint Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. I love being Melanie's husband and Ben's Dad.
  • kimanzi constable

    I just wrote a post yesterday along the same lines but about haters. In the end we don’t create our art for them!

    • kentsanders

      This lesson has taken me such a long time to learn. I still struggle with it. I hate conflict and don’t like it when someone is unhappy with me. But it’s part of the game if you’re going to do anything significant. You can’t please everybody!

  • Tony De La Rosa

    For years I wondered the same thing about Christian’s making poor art, it either didn’t stand up to secular standards or (in the case of music) just sounded like a weak copy of something that had already been done.
    I realized later that the heart and message behind the art are what matters and to compare Christian against non Christian is pointless. IMO Christian created art is usually not targeted toward making money, but toward changing lives, where non-Christian usually has a totally different agenda. I’ve learned to appreciate each for what they are.

    • kentsanders

      Good points, Tony, thanks for commenting. I think many times we compare Christian and non-Christian art (for instance, movies) on the same level but forget that Christians generally have access to much fewer resources. For instance, you could say that something like “Facing the Giants” was not as well-produced as big-budget Hollywood movies, but I think they did extremely well considering that it was produced on a small budget. Plus, everybody has to start somewhere. :)