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Does Christian media help us or hurt us? Today, a creator tries to bring gritty realistic movies to the church and another tries to bring Christian faith to Hollywood.



#62: Christian Media: Lights! Camera! Reaction!

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood is now on Patreon, which offers exclusive bonus content to members. For just 10 bucks a month, you can unlock bonus interviews, livestreams, eBooks, and more. By becoming a Patreon member, you’re helping us make more of the podcast content that you love and supporting our urban missions program. It’s really easy to join. Just go to We’d love to have you with us as we explore discipleship and missions in our modern times. Again, go to, and sign up today.


AUDIO CLIPS: Love Thy Neighborhood… Discipleship and missions for modern times.

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, Jesse, you’re a big Marvel MCU fan. 

JESSE EUBANKS: I am a big fan. That is true.

RACHEL SZABO: Yes. So, okay. Question for you. 


RACHEL SZABO: Do you know the actress who played the character Agatha in the WandaVisionseries? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, uh, Kathryn Hahn. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah. Kathryn Hahn. Okay. Next question. Do you know what launched her into her acting career?

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh, gosh. No. No. What? 

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so I have the answer. Kathryn Hahn’s acting career kicked off on a stage, a theater production, at her church playing a character called Psalty the Songbook. 


RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so here’s Kathryn on Conan O’Brien’s podcast. 

KATHRYN HAHN CLIP: First I played Psalty the Songbook, P-S-A-L-T-Y, in church in a play called Psalty the Songbook. That was, I think, my first production I’ve ever done. 

CONAN O’BRIEN CLIP: That’s the role to get in that production. 

KATHRYN HAHN CLIP: It’s the only role. I remember, uh, staying up very late to make that costume out of a maybe a dryer or a laundry box.


KATHRYN HAHN CLIP: Yep, the Book of Psalms. Trying not to trip, ’cause that would be very embarrassing. And then it was like, I, I was in. I mean, I was just in, in, in, in, in, in.

JESSE EUBANKS: That’s crazy. 


JESSE EUBANKS: No, I had no idea. 

RACHEL SZABO: Uh-huh. Yeah. So for those who might not know this character, Psalty the Songbook is a kid’s character from the early eighties, and it’s basically this anthropomorphic hymn book that teaches kids praise songs. 

JESSE EUBANKS: That’s like a phrase that should never be said, like anthropomorphic hymn book.


JESSE EUBANKS: That’s crazy. So, like, the famous Kathryn Hahn started off in, like, a Christian play. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, it is crazy. And so the reason I bring that up is to show that, you know, different types of Christian media – like Psalty the Songbook – they can have a really profound impact on people. And, you know, for Kathryn, it was a positive impact. It launched her acting career. But for others, the impact isn’t so positive. And so today we’re gonna hear stories about the impact of Christian media and ask the question – what is the purpose of media that is explicitly Christian?


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Today’s episode – “Christian Media: Lights! Camera! Reaction!” Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.


JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so Rach, you grew up in a Christian household.


JESSE EUBANKS: Uh, I’m gonna assume that you probably therefore consumed quite a bit of Christian media. 

RACHEL SZABO: Oh yes, yes, absolutely. Yes. Tons of Christian media. So, you know, I was really big into VeggieTales for a while. (VeggieTales music) Um, when I was a little younger than that, you know, I was all about the show, McGee and Me!  (McGee and Me! audio) Um, and of course, you know, in my household we grew up listening to only Christian music, so Steven Curtis Chapman, Carman, Twila Paris. That was all happening in our household. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, that – my childhood looked different than that. Uh, and so like, you know, my parents were like, like mostly Christian sort of, and like – 

RACHEL SZABO: (laughs) What does that mean?

JESSE EUBANKS: Well, yeah, they were working on things, and, uh, but, like, I did not grow up in a household where we’re like, we only did Christian things. Like I grew up, you know – I don’t know – listening to, like, Michael Jackson and then, like, Nirvana and then Beastie Boys. 


JESSE EUBANKS: And, you know.

RACHEL SZABO: But, you know, regardless of where you are on the Christian media consumption spectrum, I think it might be helpful for us to take a minute and make sure we’re all on the same page about what we’re talking about before we move on. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I think that’s helpful. Um, yeah, ’cause my first question for you is like – when you say Christian media, like what do you mean by that? 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, so what we’re referring to in this episode would be explicitly Christian content. So in other words, it’s made by Christians for a mostly Christian audience or it has, like, a very clear Christian message. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So it’s things like, um, The Chosen or, like, the Left Behind series, that kind of stuff. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And Christian media, you know, it’s a really broad spectrum. I mean, you’ve got books, you’ve got music, you’ve got movies. So we’re gonna get even a little more specific than that with some of our stories in order to explore the world of Christian media. And for that, I’d like to actually introduce our summer intern, Genna Tlustos. Hey, Genna. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Hey, Rachel. Hey, Jesse. It’s great to be on the show with you guys. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Good to have you.

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah, it’s – likewise. So, okay. You’ve been with us all summer and this was a topic that interested you and so you’ve been researching, you’ve been reporting on Christian media. So I guess my first question for you is this – you know, why this topic? Like what about Christian media interests you? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, so one of my friends and I – we grew up listening to a lot of Christian music and watching Christian movies and we just had a lot of conversations about that and how that impacted us, so I wanted to look into the topic more and really think about what the purpose and the impact is of Christian media. 

RACHEL SZABO: Yeah. Great, great. So you’ve got three stories for us today about how people have been impacted by Christian media. Is that right? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, that’s right. And just to kind of clarify, like you said, Christian media can refer to a lot of different things like books, music, or movies. But for today, our stories are mainly gonna focus on video and film. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Alright, well let’s dig in. Um, so what’s our first story?

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, so our first story comes from a filmmaker who’s trying to make it big in the Christian industry.

NATHAN CLARKSON: So I grew up around, uh, spirituality and expressing that through words and stories.

GENNA TLUSTOS: So this is Nathan Clarkson, and he is the son of two bestselling authors who have worked a lot in Christian ministry. So having two authors for parents, Nathan was naturally drawn to stories. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: I thought stories were about the most impactful thing, um, one could be a part of. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: So growing up, Nathan loved Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia,superheroes, especially Superman. And since his parents were both Christians, he grew up watching, listening to, and reading a lot of Christian media. So fast forward, once Nathan graduates high school, he of course decides he wants to tell stories for a living and he decides to do that through movies.

NATHAN CLARKSON: So I looked to continuing that and looked for a life in which I could tell and be a part of and create stories, and so it was a natural, uh, transition for me to transition to the world of movies and books and scripts. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: So Nathan goes to the New York Film Academy and he studies acting and then eventually he moves to Hollywood. And while he’s in Hollywood, he works as an extra in several TV shows, including NBC’s Community

JESSE EUBANKS: Whoa. Wow. I love that show. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, but naturally because his parents were Christian authors and he grew up consuming Christian media, he wants to follow in their footsteps and make Christian-related content. So he decides to make his very first Christian film, and he actually decides to do a modern retelling of the prodigal son parable.

NATHAN CLARKSON: But I wanted to retell it in a way that it could connect to people today, where people today could identify with the characters and, and ask themselves, “In what ways have I been a prodigal? Do I have hope? Is redemption possible?”

GENNA TLUSTOS: So as he’s working on the film, he isn’t really thinking about what Christians would want to watch. He’s just wanting to tell a good story that connects to real life. But as he starts promoting his film and shopping it around, he starts running into problems. For instance, he finds himself editing out curse words because Christians won’t watch it if it has cursing in it. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: You know, and this is about a prodigal. This is about in Scripture. It’s about, um, a story of a young man, and you have prostitutes and drunkenness and, and debauchery. And, and, and out of that you see the desperation and sadness that his choices have resulted in, but I suddenly started finding that I had to edit things out of my movie that were, um, too uncomfortable for Christian audiences. But in doing that, I also edited out the truth and the reality of the story. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and why did that bother him so much? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, I mean, the reason that he was so passionate about keeping his movie accurate to reality actually goes back to when he was a kid. So growing up with two strong Christian parents, they listened to a lot of Christian radio, and Nathan remembers feeling like he just could not relate to the music because it didn’t deal with or acknowledge his reality.

NATHAN CLARKSON: I experienced a lot of darkness as a kid, and I would listen to Christian radio and say, “It’s not reckoning with the darkness that I already feel as a 10 or 12 year old, and this, this supposedly Christian music is doing nothing because it won’t explore the difficult parts of life, so it doesn’t actually connect to me or my experience.”

GENNA TLUSTOS: So he actually found that secular music was a lot more relatable to him because it actually talked about the darkness that he was feeling. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so at this point in his life, he’s trying to make this film, and, like, really what’s happening is, like, he’s coming up against the market. He as an artist wants to make this certain type of art, but he also is like, “Well, what’s gonna sell? Like what’s actually gonna appeal to a particular audience?” So it’s like personal desire versus marketplace. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Right, exactly. So he’s wanting to make something that is more gritty but the market just isn’t interested, and he found that just incredibly frustrating. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: Well if you edit out the most powerful, realistic parts of the story, how is this going to impact people? That was the most frustrating thing is I’m, you know, looking at Christians saying, “Christians, we have to show the reality of the world. We have to show the reality of sin and darkness and depression and doubt.”

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so what does he end up doing? Like does he end up just catering to the audience? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, so Nathan kept the edited, safer version of the film, and in 2015 when it comes out, it actually does pretty well. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: And ultimately that movie got on Netflix and had a – it was very well received within the Christian world, and that opened the door for us to keep on making more and more, uh, movies.

GENNA TLUSTOS: Okay, so Nathan thought, “To have movies with Christian themes, I have to edit out some of the darker or gritty elements, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe this is just what I have to do in order to make Christian content.” But then Nathan encountered another challenge. So you know those websites where Christian reviewers can, like, warn parents of potential bad stuff in movies?

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, it’s like a, it’s like Common Sense Media, but like Christian version of it. 

RACHEL SZABO: Like, yeah. Christianized. Uh-huh. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Right. So Nathan found something that was pretty surprising to him on one of those websites about his movie. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: Under the nudity section, it had “girl in shorts.” And I think that was a really interesting moment for me that they would consider that, um, offensive and they would consider that something a, a reason perhaps to not watch something, engage with the story. And all of a sudden I realized, “Oh, to be a part of this audience, I’m gonna have to, um, censor a lot of what I do, what I say, and a lot of reality that I wanna come through my stories. But I also, if I want to sell my movies, if I would want to continue making more movies, I’m going to have to do this.”

GENNA TLUSTOS: So basically Nathan’s realizing that if he wants to cater to a Christian audience he’s gonna have to edit his content to make it more tame than he would like.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, like I just, like, feel, you know, his pain, like as a creative. Uh, I used to work in the music industry, and so many of the artists that I work with, like, ran into this issue constantly. It’s like, “Am I going to sell a bunch of albums by making this kind of art that appeals to all different kinds of walks of Christians from the rural to the urban, like, uh, and I’m gonna make sure that it’s all like very, like, docile, or am I gonna make stuff that’s like a genuine reflection of the things that I’m working through in life and wrestling with?” And like, it just, I don’t know – it’s so hard because Christians come in so many, like, shapes and sizes and, like, have so many different, wildly different, convictions, and so like what do you do? 

RACHEL SZABO: I can see part of his frustration too is like, man, sometimes we as Christians, we’re just so concerned about keeping things clean, safe, docile, and like we get almost, like, hyper-vigilant about anything that could potentially – or like, “Oh, it’s, that’s too dark. That’s too gritty. It’s not tame enough.” And we, like, get to the point of almost, like, being ridiculous about censoring our content. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Well think about even like, you know – I know that we’re talking about film today, but, like, think about what is one of the biggest slogans in Christian radio. “Safe for the whole family.”


JESSE EUBANKS: Like the very notion that, like, that’s what we understand Christian art to be, something that my five-year-old can listen to. My five-year-old – I don’t want them reading a lot of content in the Bible. Like, you know what I’m saying? Like –

RACHEL SZABO: Right, it’s not safe for them quote unquote. 

JESSE EUBANKS: It’s not safe for the whole family. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a reflection of real life. Our Christian faith is, like, not about being naive to the world. 


JESSE EUBANKS: And so often we want our creatives to create things that allow us to continue to be naive. 


GENNA TLUSTOS: Right, that’s a lot of what Nathan was coming up against, and that’s really not what he wanted to do. It’s not what he set out to do. But he feels like he’s being faced with an ultimatum, and he can either continue to make Christian content but have to water it down or he can make the movies he wants to make but not really have any impact in the Christian culture.

NATHAN CLARKSON: So it was a frustrating moment, and it was definitely one I had to wrestle with, especially in light of, “Do I wanna get to make another movie? Do I want to pay rent doing this?” So it was definitely a difficult, um, thing. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And so which option does he go with? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Well, so Nathan does some reflecting and some thinking, and he actually ends up writing an article for a publication called Religion Unplugged. And he titles his article, “Why I Won’t Make Another Christian Movie.” 

RACHEL SZABO: Oh, so he’s deciding he’s not gonna go with the Christian media anymore. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah. His experience was that Christian media was at the end of the day just a business, and he wasn’t very comfortable with that.

NATHAN CLARKSON: I think we do live in a consumeristic culture in society in which we see things, even beautiful things like faith in God, as something we need to sell for it to be valid. And so we’re trying to win people to our side, um, but we’ve employed the tactics of trying to employ people in the way we try to sell things.

JESSE EUBANKS: Gosh, and things get just, like, so tricky when we start involving, like, genuine faith issues and money. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Because we’ve seen through human history, like, you can make some serious cash, you know, off of religious products. 

RACHEL SZABO: Well, I’m even thinking about the episode we did a while back on the evangelical industrial complex.


RACHEL SZABO: Yeah. I mean, things can go pretty sideways pretty quickly when there’s money involved.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, it requires, like, so much discernment to navigate those two things simultaneously. 

RACHEL SZABO: Okay, so Nathan writes this article, but then what happens?

GENNA TLUSTOS: Actually gained a lot of traction, which surprised him. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: And I thought, you know, it was gonna, maybe a couple people will share, and I was very surprised to find hundreds, thousands of people, you know, 10,000 shares or something. And it, it, it blew up in a couple days. And so it was an interesting thing to see this article blow up and that there were other people out there, a lot of them, who actually wanted to see reality reflected in their art and they, they had actually gotten tired of kind of the, the Hallmark-esque fantasaical view, um, even childish kind of view of the world that had been so prevalent in so much of Christian media.

GENNA TLUSTOS: So he decides that he doesn’t want to make these Hallmark-y sanitized movies that just don’t reflect reality. He wants to make things that are more accurate and that connect more with his actual life. And so he starts working on another movie and this one is called Don’t Know Jack and it deals with a lot darker themes. 

RACHEL SZABO: Well, like what? Like what’s this movie about? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, so the basic plot is that there’s a guy who walks into a therapist’s office and tells him that he’s gonna commit suicide that day and he tells the therapist that he has one hour to change his mind. 

RACHEL SZABO: Oh man, that sounds like a tense movie.

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, a lot different from your typical Hallmark movie. And he says it’s the first time he actually felt artistically satisfied at the end of a script and at the end of filming. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: And it’s about faith. It’s about, uh, all these things I believe in – redemption and hope and love – but it also deals with the world in an honest way and shows and, and pushes back against, um, some of the, the whitewashing that’s happened in, in Christian media and asks real questions, hard questions, and tough questions and the, the viewer and the characters actually have to wrestle. It’s not easy. You know, there’s not just a prayer said and everything is fixed. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: So Nathan’s struggle is that he feels like in a lot of Christian media God is almost like a product. God is just something that you use so your life can get fixed. But in this movie he’s talking about the realities of living as a Christian in a broken human world, and he decides not to worry about the market this time, but just to write what he wants.

JESSE EUBANKS: And so, how did it pan out? Like was it successful? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Well, the movie actually hasn’t come out yet and he’s had a lot of trouble finding a distributor and he’s anticipating that not many people will see it, but Nathan’s okay with that. 

NATHAN CLARKSON: I guess I had to come to grips with that, you know, my first movie – okay, so millions. Let’s say millions saw it. That’s great, but did it affect them as deeply? And for this movie, maybe a hundred people will watch it, but I hope that those hundred people will be affected far more deeply than the million who watched my other film.

JESSE EUBANKS: Here’s what I’m thinking about. Like I’m listening to Nathan’s story, and I feel like so much of Nathan’s story, like, illustrates this tension that often exists, which is, like, around the purpose of Christian art or Christians who make art – however you wanna phrase that. And he found that when he makes quote unquote “Christian art,” it was not the kind of art he wanted to make. It was not helpful in the ways that he wanted it to be helpful. It was not connected to reality. Like it was kind of a negative experience for him. So I think this is just coming down to this question of like – what’s the purpose? Like what is the purpose of quote unquote “Christian media”? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, I think a lot of times the expectations that we bring with us as we’re consuming Christian media can really influence the impact that it has on us. So Nathan had more of a negative experience, but that’s not the case with everyone. We’ll be right back.


JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse Eubanks. 

RACHEL SZABO: Rachel Szabo. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Genna Tlustos. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Today, we’re exploring stories from the world of Christian media. 

RACHEL SZABO: So we’ve got our summer intern Genna here in the studio with us, and we’ve just heard the story of Nathan Clarkson, a filmmaker who had a negative experience with Christian media. But now, Genna, you have a story that’s actually kind of the opposite of that?

GENNA TLUSTOS: That’s right. So this next story is from a woman named Lisa Wall, and she has a view of Christian media that’s very different from Nathan’s. So Lisa Wall is a nursing professor at College of the Ozarks, but our story starts when she was just seven years old. And it was a Sunday morning, and she was watching TV while her mom was getting ready for church. 

LISA WALL: And so I was sitting in the living room, and there was a lady on there, um, seems like she had kind of shorter, reddish, curly hair and some sort of a little puppet. I don’t know if it was a little lamb, or if it was a lamb, lamb chops. I don’t recall. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: So the show was part of a local broadcast station and since it was Sunday morning it was an explicitly Christian show and seven-year-old Lisa loved it. 

LISA WALL: She had a little puppet on there. And of course as a child, I thought that was just the neatest thing ever, especially little talking animals. And they did a whole program. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: And at the end of the program, the lamb puppet asked the viewers, “Do you want to receive Jesus into your heart?” 

LISA WALL: It was a very clear presentation about Jesus and, um, “Would you like to go to heaven one day?” and “This is how you receive Jesus as your Savior.” So I, it wasn’t watered down – it was put together in a simple fashion, but it was clear biblical truth. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: And so Lisa followed along with the lamb puppet, and at the end of the show she believed the message of Jesus. After the show ended, she ran and told her mom that she was now a Christian. And so through Christian media, Lisa began her relationship with God.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, okay, so, like, I can see where, from her point of view, like, Christian media literally changed the rest of her life. She’s looking at Christian media, and she’s like, “It showed up for me at the exact time I needed it, with the exact message that I needed to hear, and the rest of my life has been built around that moment.” So like she’s gonna have a pretty positive view then of Christian media. Is that fair to say? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, I think that’s definitely true.

RACHEL SZABO: But one thing to note though, I think, is that it was a kids’ program, and, like, kids’ content is not gonna, you know, need to wrestle with stuff that, like, Nathan was talking about. Like it’s not gonna have cursing in it. It’s not gonna have, like, themes of a guy who’s, like, committing suicide. Like kids’ programming just by nature has to be a little more lighthearted and, and docile.

JESSE EUBANKS: So we’re not even just talking about this issue now of, like, Christian content versus, like, secular content or, like, tame Christian content versus gritty, but now there’s also this issue even of, like, adult Christian content versus content for children. Like, and they’re not the same thing. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. That’s a good distinction.

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, I think that’s definitely true, but Lisa still finds a lot of value in a bunch of different kinds of Christian media. In fact, Christian media has had a huge impact on how she now parents her daughter. 

LISA WALL: So I know with my own daughter there were just a handful of little videos that I let her watch regularly, uh, because I thought that it was really good for her spiritual formation.

GENNA TLUSTOS: And just like Lisa was impacted by Christian media, she’s seeing the same thing happen with her daughter.

LISA WALL: And so in going through some what I would consider to be, uh, difficult moments when my daughter was just a little child, I listened a lot to some online Christian programming. And as I listened, there was a jingle, and the jingle was “Walk, walk in the Word, walk in the Word. This is the way.”

GENNA TLUSTOS: So there was one afternoon where Lisa was just having a really hard and discouraging day and she just started crying in her room and her daughter, who was about two and a half, came in and asked her what was wrong.

LISA WALL: And she came into the living room and crawled up on, on my chest and said, “Mommy, walk in the Word.” I don’t know how she knew to say that other than Christian programming and the jingle that she’d heard on that particular radio broadcast. I knew that the Lord, through even the lips of a little child, was telling me to read his Word, to be encouraged in my heart, to face things that are difficult and just continue to put one foot in front of the other.

GENNA TLUSTOS: So Lisa sees the positive impact of Christian media not just for kids, but also for the students that she teaches at college. And she’s actually such a big proponent that she assigned her students to listen to Christian podcasts and programming while they do other things, like driving home for the weekend, walking across campus, just things like that.

LISA WALL: And many of the students resist initially and they think it’s gonna be a big waste of time, but nearly all of the students by the end of the semester say, “Wow, that really changed my outlook. That gave me a profound amount of encouragement. I deal with some anxiety or I deal with some depression, and I found that as I got into God’s Word and I just started cleaning my room or walking across campus or going to go, uh, you know, lift weights” – or whatever the activity was that they were going to do – they’ll tell me, “It really changed my outlook, and I’m so grateful that this was an assignment.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so, like, I think I’m seeing, like, two ideas kind of come out of these stories. So you get, like, Nathan saw, like, the purpose of Christians creating art as like we want to engage reality and hardship and the grit of life and that the truth of God intervenes into these really difficult scenarios, but we wanna portray those things true to life. But then on like the other side, like I hear Lisa talking, and it’s not like she’s not necessarily into those things, but, like, she’s gonna put more emphasis on, like, biblical instruction, being affirmed in your faith, having Christian media, like, shape the way that you see the world. She’s not necessarily, like, going to Christian media being like, “Hey, portray all the darkest parts of society.” She’s going more from like, “Teach me, shape me.” You know. 

RACHEL SZABO: “Encourage me.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: “Encourage me.”


JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. It’s, it’s like, you know – and so both of them are, like, coming with different expectations – 


JESSE EUBANKS: – you know, for what they want Christian art to do. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Right, and we need both. I don’t think that all media needs to be an evangelistic tool or a teaching tool, but it can just be good art for the sake of being good art and good storytelling. I think there’s also room in Christian media for both teaching and good storytelling. I don’t think we need to emphasize one over the other.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so we’ve heard from Nathan who had a complicated relationship with Christian media. We’ve heard from Lisa, who’s really benefited from it and believes in it. Uh, you said you have one more story for us? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, so this last story is about a guy who actually didn’t work in Christian media, but he wanted to merge two different worlds together – the world of Christianity and the world of Hollywood. It’s a story of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and a vampire slayer. So this story is from a guy named Dean Batali and Dean’s background was actually in theater, mostly comedy, and his story starts when he finds himself out of the theater and out of a job. 

DEAN BATALI: And I had this very limited skillset of being able to write dialogue that made people laugh, write comedy, and I thought, “Maybe I can use that skill in Hollywood.” 

GENNA TLUSTOS: So Dean is a writer, but he’s also a Christian and he has some really strong opinions about how he sees Christians being portrayed in mainstream media. He feels like they’re either just flat characters or they’re hypocrites and just generally not being portrayed in a good light. 

DEAN BATALI: It, it wasn’t so much that I was angry about the representations I was seeing. It was just that I felt they were wrong, and I was hoping I might be able to have some contribution to correcting that. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: So Dean gets this idea, which is – instead of joining the Christian media bandwagon, what if he tried to influence media from within Hollywood? It’s kind of a completely different approach. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, that feels like a really difficult thing to do. Like, what is his plan? Like, how’s he gonna do that? 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Well, the first step was to actually get into Hollywood. 

RACHEL SZABO: Oh yeah. Easy-peasy. Am I right? Yeah, whatever. (laughs)

JESSE EUBANKS: Right. Like no big deal, easy to get a deal in Hollywood. Right. 


GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, amazingly he’s actually able to do that, and he became a writer for several TV shows, including That ’70s Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

RACHEL SZABO: Oh my gosh. Yeah, those aren’t exactly, like, model shows for portraying Christianity. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, and during pitch meetings and brainstorm sessions, Dean keeps suggesting different Christian characters to appear in the show. So, for instance, one idea he had was to have Buffy team up with a church youth group. 

JESSE EUBANKS: (laughter) I wanna see that so bad. 

RACHEL SZABO: I would totally watch that. Here’s Buffy and the youth group taking down the vampire! 

JESSE EUBANKS: (laughs) That’d be amazing. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Well, and he doesn’t necessarily want big Christian roles in his media, just, like, little glimpses where he can represent the Christianity that he knows. But every time he makes a suggestion, he gets shot down.

DEAN BATALI: It’s been a real struggle because I thought, “Well, God, I’ve come down here, you’ve placed me in places of real power, I haven’t been able to get my characters on the air.” I pitch my own shows, many of whom have Christian characters, um, but the shows that I’ve worked on and run just haven’t had the room for me to bring in faith. They didn’t want any of that. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: It seemed like this hopeless endeavor, but then one day he actually gets this small breakthrough. So they’re having a meeting for That ’70s Show, and one of the other writers has pitched a storyline where these two characters who have been in a relationship for years decide that they’re going to stop having sex and they go to talk to a pastor about their decision. And the writers are just not sure where the dialogue’s gonna go. They don’t really know how to write it out. They don’t know how to make it sound natural. 

DEAN BATALI: And the showrunner said, uh, “I just need to know what a real man of God would say to two teenagers who he really wanted to stop having premarital sex,” and I started, like, jotting something down on my script and nobody really, like, looked at me as the resident man of God in the room or anything like that. But she just asked this question and I wrote these words down and I said, “Well, what if, what if the pastor says, ‘I just think the two of you are denying yourself that wonderful moment when the bonds of your marriage is cemented by giving the gifts of yourselves to each other.” And the showrunner went, “That’s it. Say that again.” 

GENNA TLUSTOS: And so that is pretty much what goes into the script, word-for-word. 

THAT ’70S SHOW CLIP: I just think you’re depriving yourselves of that wonderful moment when marriage is cemented by giving the gift of yourselves… Wow, I never thought about it that way.

DEAN BATALI: But that line is kind of pure theology, right? It’s something that really is true and we Christians know how true it is and those who don’t agree with the Christian truth of it see a sort of beauty into it and a value. So there’s a moment of real truth getting into a show. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: In that scene was a small accomplishment of what he came to Hollywood to try to do – see better representation of Christianity in mainstream media – because for him, he sees blending the talent and skill of Hollywood with the beauty and truth of Christianity as a better alternative to strictly Christian media.

DEAN BATALI: That is my motivation and my frustration when art that is presented as being made by Christians is bad. It’s, it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to me as a Christian and it’s embarrassing to me as an artist and I actually think it’s bad witness and a bad evangelism because a lot of Hollywood executives will say, “Well, Christians seem to be satisfied with that bad art that they’re consuming, so we’ll just make more of that and don’t have to spend a lot of money on it.” I am passionate, um, somewhat angry about, um, making art from Christians that is good. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. You know, like, Dean’s approach makes me think of that verse that says that we are Christians, like we are in the world, but we’re not of it. And, like, so often when we think of that verse, we apply it and we’re like, “Oh, I need to go, like, remove myself from culture. I need to remove myself from society. I need to go isolate.” Like, and what we do in the process of doing that is that we actually also take away all light from dark places when we just run away.


GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah. In fact, Dean is so passionate about Christians not running away that he now works for an organization called Act One, and what they do is they train Christians to be just really great filmmakers and writers so that they can make connections and work in Hollywood. 

DEAN BATALI: So it was really kind of separatism from the world and I think a lot of churches went, “Church, good. World, bad. Hollywood, worse” and so Christians didn’t learn the skills and didn’t attempt to go into the arts as much and now that’s changing. So, you know, if, if you wanna be a doctor, you gotta be a really good doctor. You gotta know how to do brain surgery if you wanna do brain surgery. If you wanna make films and television that affects the world with things, stories, characters, and ideas that advance the kingdom of God, then you have to be really good at it. And I wanna challenge them to be better, to represent God in the world better and advance his kingdom.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, there’s a couple things. I don’t understand the Christian compulsion to make everything as absolutely crystal clear as possible. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Even when Scripture itself doesn’t make certain things clear. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Like, I look at the storytelling of Jesus, right? The greatest storyteller who has ever lived. How often does Jesus make everything abundantly clear?

RACHEL SZABO: Oh, he’s – it’s like he’s never making any sense. 

JESSE EUBANKS: No, we’re still deciphering it 2000 years later. 


JESSE EUBANKS: So if Jesus himself did not feel the compulsion to lay everything out crystal clear, why do we?


JESSE EUBANKS: Like that’s not a necessary thing. I think there’s a lot of room for mystery. I think we live in a very mysterious world. I do think there’s a way to err on both sides. You can be so explicit that you destroy all the mystery. You can be so vague that you actually don’t open up any of the deeper questions of life. And I think that the, the real balance is for Christians to walk in both mystery and truth when it comes to applying it to art.


GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, I think a lot of it goes back to Christian media being consumeristic. Like if you’re trying to sell God as an idea to people, then you have to have like a clear “This is what he will do for you. This is what being a Christian means for your life.” And so if you just kind of leave that up in the air, then it’s, it’s not as easy to, like, convince people or, like, win them over. So I think that is one of the dangers of using Christian media as an evangelistic tool is that then you, you do go too far onto that side. 

RACHEL SZABO: One thing that I think I would like to see a little more is just dialogue. For example, my boyfriend and I – one thing that we did a while back is we started watching all kinds of different movies about the life of Jesus or about Christianity, and these were not quote unquote “Christian films.” I mean, we watched, like, The Last Temptation of Christ

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, which is like not, not Orthodox at all. 

RACHEL SZABO: Which is like heretical. 


RACHEL SZABO: Yeah. If you’re looking at it as like a Bible story. But we watched it, and then we talked about it. 


RACHEL SZABO: And we were like, “What did you think about this?” or, or, “Man, isn’t it interesting the way non-Christians portray Christianity? What do we think that says about our faith?” These non-Christians exploring Christian ideas I think is such a good way for us to dialogue about – what things does this say about our faith? Are there things we can take away from this? Why is this person wrestling with this? Why did they put that in this movie?

JESSE EUBANKS: Mike Cosper has this book The Stories We Tell, and Mike’s, like, basic working premise in that book is that every story in some way contains the gospel story within it and in particular that any story that upholds this notion of self-sacrifice for the greater good of others is a direct reflection of the character of Jesus and that we have a special resonance with that. Like, that’s why when characters die in movies having given themselves for everyone else we’re especially touched, and it’s because, uh, we’re tapping into the gospel story. And so it’s like, “Do we wanna create art that’s, like, explicitly, like, telling Bible stories?” Cool, that’s great. Like, “Hey, Chosen. You do you.”


JESSE EUBANKS: That’s awesome. 

RACHEL SZABO: I mean that’s – yeah. I mean, that’s awesome stuff. I mean, I think about, like, the Jesus film. 


RACHEL SZABO: And how that’s, like, brought millions of people to know Jesus. 


RACHEL SZABO: Like there is a place for media, like Bible storytelling media. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yes. But then at the same time, you know, you get stories like Dean’s where it’s like, “I’m just trying to show, like, this is how Christians engage the world around them in a realistic way,” and, like, that also reflects Jesus. We don’t have to be scared of mainstream media. Instead, we’re able to look at it with new eyes. And so instead of it being us versus mainstream media, we’re like, “Where’s the gospel in this?” even in the, even in some of the more broken stories out there. And in fact, some of those broken stories sometimes reflect the gospel more clearly than the sanitized, Hallmark, detached from reality stories. So I think that God invites us to look at the totality of the world, including media, with new eyes and see the gospel present everywhere we go.


JESSE EUBANKS: If you’ve benefited at all from this podcast, please help us out by leaving a review wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. Your review will help other people discover our show.


JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our interviewees for this episode – Nathan Clarkson, Lisa Wall, and Dean Batali. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Our senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Our co-hosts today were Rachel Szabo and Genna Tlustos. Genna, thanks so much for serving with us all summer and for doing this episode. It was wonderful. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: Yeah, of course. It’s been great. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Anna Tran is our media director and audio engineer, and when I offered her the new producer role looked at me and said –

NATHAN CLARKSON: Do I want to pay rent doing this?

JESSE EUBANKS: Music for today’s episode comes from Lee Rosevere, Poddington Bear, and Blue Dot Sessions. Theme music and commercial music by Murphy DX. 

GENNA TLUSTOS: If you want a hands-on experience of missions in our modern times, come serve with Love Thy Neighborhood. We offer internships for young adults ages 18 through 30 through the areas of service, community, and discipleship. You’ll grow in your faith and your life skills. Learn more at 

JESSE EUBANKS: Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, “Go, and do likewise.”


This podcast is only made possible by generous donors like you!


Hosted by Jesse Eubanks, Rachel Szabo and Genna Tlustos.

Written and produced by Genna Tlustos and Rachel Szabo.

Audio editing and mixing by Anna Tran.

Jesse Eubanks is our senior producer.

Music by Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions and Murphy DX.