There's been a steady rise in the quality of Christian filmmaking over the last few years, spurred in part by the box office success of such films as The Passion of The Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Fireproof (let's not mention the Left Behind movies).
The better writing, directing, acting, and cinematography are also evident in some of the smaller family-friendly films.
The independent movie To Save a Life, for example, reportedly produced on a $500,000 budget, drew 215,000 teenagers to theaters when it opened on 441 screens nationwide this month.
The movie, now showing in Toledo at the Franklin Park 16 Cinema Delux, has a no-name cast and no TV advertising, but it's connecting with teens because it deals with their real-life struggles and search for life's meaning.
Another small-budget Christian movie, No Greater Love, has just been released on DVD and again marks a step up from earlier films in the religious genre.
The plot deals with Jeff and Heather Baker (played by Anthony Tyler Quinn and Danielle Bisutti), a young couple whose marriage falls apart after a son is born. They fight too much, she drinks too much, she literally vanishes.
Jeff raises Ethan (Aaron Sanders) as a single parent for 10 years until Heather suddenly reappears.
The movie offers a preachy evangelical message but it's woven neatly into the plot, which, without giving away the twists and turns, is plausible if a stretch, logically.
No Greater Love is very well crafted, however, and holds your interest as you wonder whether or how this couple and their young son can ever be reconciled after the long and bizarre separation.
Following in the footsteps of other recent Christian movies, there's a free downloadable Bible study that explores some of the issues raised in No Greater Love.
More information and the Bible study are available online at NoGreaterLoveTheMovie.com.
The official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano surprised and amused its global readership with a story honoring The Simpsons on the occasion of the TV show's 20th anniversary.
John Allen writes in the National Catholic Reporter's Jan. 22 edition that he was not surprised to see the Vatican's in-house paper weigh in on Homer, Marge and the gang; the shock was that it did so favorably.
L'Osservatore Romano essayist Luca M. Possati wrote that "the relationship between man and God" is "one of the most important and most serious" themes of The Simpsons, and that the show mirrors the "religious and spiritual confusion of our times."
Pope Benedict XVI has instructed the newspaper's editors to be "more present in cultural debates," according to Mr. Allen, and as a result the paper has become "more fun to read, but less useful as a guide to Vatican policy."