More and more movies made by Christians, about Christians, and marketed to Christians are opening in theaters every month. Most of them are shrugged off by critics—including members of the religious press—as mediocre (or worse) in their craftsmanship, and as preachy in their storytelling.

Only a handful of recent such films—like The Second Chance—combine excellent craftsmanship with inspiring portrayals of Christian faith. They have impressed viewers with content and with form, showing more than telling, exploring rather than proselytizing.

It begs the question: Are Christian moviemakers taking the best path by sending message-driven movies out to theaters in second-rate packages? Doesn't excellence—or the lack of it—send a message of its own?

The latest of these films, The Last Sin Eater, is earning some praise for its lead actress, 11-year-old Liana Liberato. But is it a step in the right direction for Christian filmmaking?

That depends on which critic you ask. Christian film reviewers are divided over this adaptation of Francine Rivers' novel, which was directed by Michael Landon Jr.

Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) says, "The film suffers from pedestrian direction, but it benefits from decent performances, especially where its young star, Liana Liberato, is concerned. As a window into an older culture, or an evening's entertainment with the family, you could certainly do worse. Just don't be surprised when the movie starts preaching to the converted—that is, to the fellow believers who will undoubtedly make up the bulk of its audience."

Under a title calling the film "mediocre," Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says she's "uncomfortable" criticizing a fellow Christian's ...

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