One of the most important steps I've ever taken as a writer, was to join a critique group. Having our work examined by other gifted people, is both the most frightening and rewarding experience we can have. Christians, more than anyone, should appreciate the value of honest critique. If the plot has holes, the characters are transparent and there's too many loose ends, I need to know. Why is it then, that published Christian authors are treated with kid gloves?
Maybe it's me but, good Christian reviewers and review sites seem few and far between. Now don't get your panties in a bunch. I'm not saying there's none. What I'm saying is that, for some reason, Christian reviewers are not that objective.
While reading reviews of The Visitation, the film version of Frank Peretti's best-selling book, one Christian blogger linked to this review. After reading this, I was fairly excited. It's a blessing to see Christians and a Christian worldview having a presence in Hollywood. And then I read Christianity Today's review. Here's some excerpts:
Well, it may be religious, but art it ain't. A more appropriate label might be … well, propaganda. Indeed, for its entire 140-minute running time, there's not a single glimmer of good storytelling—or even okay storytelling—to be found. The entire film reeks of shoddy craftsmanship, one long lead-in to the inevitable altar call at its conclusion.
By the time the end credits roll, we feel like we've just been preached at for the past couple of hours. That's what happens when you spend so much time with a bunch of cardboard cutouts, masquerading as characters and serving a piece of work that cares not for telling a meaningful story, but simply for teaching a simplistic lesson—a lesson that's conveyed so sloppily in the film's final act that I'm not even entirely sure I know what it was supposed to mean. Ever wonder why so many people just roll their eyes at the mention of religious art? Presenting Exhibit A.
Is this a bad review? Well, it depends upon how you read it. If it's an honest, objective review, then it's good. Bad reviews are ones that tell us a book or movie is "heart-stopping" and "jaw-dropping," when it ain't. If anybody should be able to tell the truth, it's Christians.
So why aren't they? I have some suggestions about why Christian reviews and reviewers are so milquetoast.
First, I believe there's a fundamental confusion about love and approval. Somehow, we think that a negative review is unloving. That's like saying I should never scold my kids, because they might think I hate them. The Bible commands us to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). Speaking the truth can be painful, and is sometimes interpreted as vindictive and mean. But as long as we maintain the right spirit, we should be permitted to say a book/movie is boring, anti-climactic or uneven without being labeled a naysayer.
Second, I believe Christians are so eager to see the Gospel advanced that we're willing to wink at mediocre presentations of it. In other words, as long as the Visitation film gets in theaters or on TV, we're happy. But what if it's as bad as CT says? Is that the kind of messenger you want representing your faith?
Third -- and this is where it gets sticky -- most Christian reviewers are trying to break into/stay in the industry they're reviewing. If I'm hoping to sign with Publisher X, then giving X's authors a negative review could jeapordize my chances. So as a result, we pump out the praise, toss our objectivity out the window, smile and give the book five stars. CT can pan the movie because they're an established entity. It's the peons like me who need to watch what we say.
I don't know 'bout any of you, but if my book drags in parts, I want to know. If I leave too many loose ends, I want to know. If my characters are shallow, I want to know. If my book is really a two-and-a-half star, don't gimme five! Speak the truth in love. Then maybe my next book will be better.
I'd love to hear what you have to say on the topic. Just make sure it's not negative.