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Explicitly Christian movies don’t seem to get much love from the smartest, most respected critics. Yet critics and other experts venerate Christian-themed works of art from the past — Leonardo’s Last Supper, Michelangelo’s Pieta, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and so on.

You might say that critics are harder on new, unproven work than on established masterpieces or that they can accept Christianity from a dead artist, who can’t stand up and challenge non-Christians (or secular “Christians in name only”) to devote their lives to Christ.

But I think that something else is at work.

It seems to me that Christian movies like, say, God’s Not Dead (and novels like the Left Behind series) tell stories pitting modern Christians against non-Christians, while the greatest works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and so on focused on events from the Bible and Christian lore.

A scene of a self-sacrificing Jesus or a suffering saint can have deep emotional power. A work of art based on such a scene can move people regardless of their religion or lack of it.

But Christian vs. non-Christian stories often seem to employ an us-vs.-them structure that is likely to alienate today’s non-Christians, especially if the stories offer today’s non-Christians as bad guys.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the recent, modern and contemporary Christian art most universally loved — by Christians and non-Christians — is gospel music, which often concentrates more on the glory of Christ than on denouncing non-Christians.

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