The 10 best Christian documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015 range from full-length theatrical releases to single episodes of television. Most focus on trying to shed light on or debunk popular Christian myths like the gnostic gospels or the feasibility of Noah’s ark, and these topics appeal to both believers and nonbelievers, especially when these stories are told well. We love to watch smart people share their lively opinions about ancient history, especially when we feel invested in the outcome.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are arguably the first Christian documentaries, describing firsthand the life and times of Jesus Christ as he and his disciples traveled the holy land and preached and performed miracles. Many of the other books of the New Testament are the same way, documenting letters that early followers of Jesus wrote to others. Christianity has always been a faith based in extensive documentation and testimony.
But Christians still make a leap of faith, and that leap creates a space for theories and disagreements to thrive. Should we take Noah’s ark as a literal happening? Was the universe created in six days, and on the recent timeline laid out in the Book of Genesis? Did Methuselah really live to be nearly a thousand years old? Many believers find these questions interesting as ideas, but their faith doesn’t live and die by the answers.
For nonbelievers, conspiracy theories like the hoax of the Priory of Sion, Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel the Da Vinci Code, or the millennia-long debate over the Shroud of Turin can drum up interest in these ancient philosophical questions. Is there room for dissent in faith? It seems that there is, based on the hundreds of different denominations of Christians alone and the sometimes micro-seeming distinctions between them. (If Christian documentaries really aren’t your thing, maybe the 11 best basketball documentaries on Netflix will have more secular appeal.)
When we wonder if Jesus Christ had a wife or if Mary Magdalene was the author of a true gospel, we bring into question whether or not some-odd dozen denominations are right to bar women from serving as church officials. Each one of these questions has ramifications for today’s Christians and often for the nonbelievers around them. Imagine if the Catholic Church decided today to begin letting women be priests. How many Catholics would leave the Church? How many non-Catholics would join?
Ancient questions aside, other documentaries in the list take a more meta view. Jesus Camp is as famous now for the notoriety of one of its few adult characters as it is for the controversial nature of the charismatic Christian children’s camp it features. Mea Maxima Culpa will only become more relevant as the 2015 feature film Spotlight draws more attention to Catholic priest abuses and cover-ups. Holy Rollers raises questions about its director, who turned his career as a Christian card counter into a thriving business many say is advertised by the film.
Many of these films include famous voices and issues, and they all ask us to think about our own beliefs — whether with a light heart or a heavy one. “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” — Psalm 12:6-7