Christian entertainment has issues. It’s been rightly accused of being shallow, poorly produced, and many other things.
But this isn’t always true. In spite of production issues and a target audience with some unhealthy hang-ups about artists, there are people who’ve learned to make overtly Christian art that works.
Here are some artists who’ve created quality Christian entertainment and deserve a second look.
1. Michael Card
While Card’s musical style– which TIME magazine described as folk — may seem old-fashioned, his lyrics have unusual depth. His music describes Bible verses in a way that show he’s not only read them, he’s studied them deeply.
Card apparently understands that the principle behind most great Christian music is simply to state Scripture in a new way through music. As someone who describes himself as primarily a Bible teacher, Card’s used that to create some excellent work.
Card’s also written many books, including “Scribbling in the Sand,” which examines creativity from a Christian perspective.
2. Phil Vischer
It’s hard to meet anyone in Christian circles not familiar with a song or character from Vischer’s “VeggieTales” series.
“VeggieTales” managed to be silly without being shallow, and fun not just for small children but for older kids and young adults. Vischer actually commented in his 2007 memoir that he thinks it was young adult fans who made VeggieTales a phenomenon in the first place.
Since Big Idea Entertainment’s bankruptcy in 2004, Vischer’s done some freelance work with his veggie creations and devoted the rest of his time to Jellyfish Labs, a new project to create faith-based entertainment for families.
You may not have heard of Paul McCusker – unless, like me, you remember his name from the credits of “Adventures in Odyssey.”
McCusker’s the Creative Director for Focus on the Family — a Christian company which has managed to consistently make high-quality products.
Since the 1980’s, McCusker’s written or collaborated on many Focus projects, including “Adventures in Odyssey” scripts and Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, which brings classic books to life with well-known actors.
Unlike many Christian writers, McCusker seems to realize it’s easy to make shallow stories with spiritual ideas and fights to avoid that.
When interviewed about his work on the movie “Beyond the Mask,” McCusker talked about the importance of weaving faith elements into stories instead of “shoehorning in a spiritual message.”
When Sarah Arthur — judge for Christianity Today’s Annual Book Awards — wrote about common pitfalls of Christian Fiction, she noted many books lack theological depth, then added “a notable exception is Paul McCusker’s ‘The Body Under the Bridge.’”
McCusker’s most recent work includes an audio drama about St. Francis of Assisi.
Peretti’s had a colorful career. You may remember him for his chilling thrillers, his Cooper Kids adventure series, or for his hilarious children’s video series, “Mr. Henry’s Wild and Wacky Totally True Bible Stories.”
Yes, that is the series’ full title.
More than anything else, Peretti breathed some much-needed fresh air into Christian Fiction. As WORLD Magazine noted, his novel “This Present Darkness” — a mix of horror, theology, and action — proved the genre could be more than just prairie romances and retold Bible stories.
Some people would argue that in the process, Peretti not only made room for novelists like Ted Dekker and Rober Liparulo but also for Christian Fiction’s expansion into everything from African American urban fiction to sci-fi.
5. Rich Mullins
While Mullins passed away in 1997, his influence was huge. Many Christians remember him for songs such as “Awesome God” or “Step by Step.” Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant both mourned his passing and felt Mullins wrote some of Christian music’s greatest songs.
Mullins’ record producer Arvin Reed recently told Christianity Today he felt Rich Mullins was “the best writer in Christian music, and remains so to this day.”
Not only was Mullins possibly the best Christian musician in his generation, he was certainly the most original.
His songs featured obscure instruments like the hammered dulcimer and the Irish tin whistle.
His lyrics sometimes had elements from both Catholic and Protestant traditions.
He often performed in concerts barefoot, wearing a plain white t-shirt and tattered jeans.
In spite of being so nonconformist, Mullins strongly emphasized Christian unity. He talked to interviewers and friends about the importance of being part of a local church. He would critique prosperity gospel teaching but refused to attack individuals.
Mullins’ family continued his legacy through The Legacy of a Kid Brother of St Frank, an organization to help Native Americans and other groups Mullins cared about.
(This article first published by The Odyssey on January 16, 2017)