Posted by Jesse Johnson
Christian movies can’t win. If they are overt about the gospel—such as Courageous or Fireproof—then they are criticized that they are too in-your-face. If they are more subtle—Chronicles of Narnia, for example—then they are criticized for not being Christian enough, whatever that is supposed to mean.
There are two new Christian movies that fill opposite ends of this dichotomy: War Room (in theaters now) and Captive (releasing next week). I saw them both back-to-back and was struck at how they each intentionally aim for different ends of that dichotomy. I’ll review War Room today, and Captive next week.
Side note: I understand there is really no such thing as a “Christian movie.” Movies aren’t born depraved, regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit, converted to Christ, baptized, and made members of a local church (not that War Room doesn’t try!). When I use the term “Christian movie” I mean a movie made by professing believers for the purpose of entertaining other believers while advancing a biblical world view. That’s it.
The Kendrick brothers’ newest release is by far their best-made movie so far. It’s also in the top spot in the box office after Labor Day, having already made over $30 million.
This is the crew that produced Courageous, Fireproof, and Facing the Giants, and the company that made October Baby and Mom’s Night Out. Gone are (most of) the cheesy scenes that littered their previous movies. The acting is better, the writing is better, and the production has obviously taken a step up. And—fortunately—this one did not seem to be made for the sole purpose of selling Christian trinkets.
The plot is straight forward. A sleaze-ball husband is ruining his family, while his nominally Christian wife feels powerless to do anything about it. She meets a strong Christian woman who reaches out to her, confronts her luke-warm relationship with the Lord, and challenges her to pray for her family while submitting her life to Christ. The rest, as they say, is history.
Subtlety is not a tool that the Kendrick brothers know how to use. Everything in all of their movies is over-the-top. It is as if they looked at the dichotomy in Christian films and said, “that’s fine; we’ll make a movie that is so over-the-top Christian that nobody can accuse us of leaving anything out.”
This movie has prayer, devil-binding (more on that later), Bible reading, more prayer, the sinner’s prayer (2xs!), more Bible reading, sermon listening, and ESV product placement. It features gym evangelism, ethical quandaries at work, a weepy daughter who asks her mom if she even knows the name of her sport’s team. There is even immorality interrupted by food poisoning. No Christian cliché is beneath the Kendrick brothers, and it is all for the sake saving this one marriage!
I was reminded of something Max McLean often says about critics of C. S. Lewis: people criticized The Screwtape Letters for being too benign—in a world with Hitler on the loose, did Lewis really mean to say that you see the devil in the details of how often a wife has tea, or what past-times consume Joe Englishman? But the truth is that kind of story is often more convicting to Joe Englishman than a WWII study of the holocaust.
That crossed my mind while watching War Room. In a world with war and terrorism, is a story about an upper-class philandering husband really the best vehicle for expounding on the sovereignty of God? Well, I suppose Lewis would say that both have their place, and War Room fills that place nicely.
About that devil-binding—Priscilla Shirer (Tony Evans daughter, and a Dallas Seminary Graduate) plays the wife-who-turns-to-prayer, and Beth Moore makes an appearance in the very minor role of a co-worker (She has one line: “Sometimes submission to your husband looks like ducking so the Lord’s punch hits him instead”). I’m not that familiar with Shirer, and Moore is someone to whom I would not look to for prayer advice. I don’t trust her theology, and lament that LifeWay sells her stuff.
But in this movie they are not theologians–they are not even real people! They are actresses, and I am able to see War Room without endorsing their theology in the same way I can watch Mission Impossible and not be a Scientologist.
Regardless, the theology of War Room is pretty good. God rules the world, and he can do anything he wants to. Divorce is bad, marriage is good, and Jesus is the only one who can save. Yes, after being a Christian for all of 15 seconds the lead character does banish the devil from her house. But the movie made clear that this was not an endorsement of demon-binding (as if they would listen anyway!), but came from a wife who finally realized sin was her enemy, not her husband.
Which really gets to the main message of War Room. This movie may be about prayer, but its main message is really about marriage. It is very straight forward: the role of a wife is to love her family and pray for her husband. The role of the husband is to lead his family and provide for them. Sin interferes with both, and the only hope of restoration is found through repentance and submission to the Lordship of Jesus, who does use prayer to give people the grace to enjoy marriage.
I left the movie thinking that if a couple contemplating divorce were to watch it, this movie just might challenge them to stay together. Any couple that watches this movie would walk away asking themselves “am I regularly praying for my family?”
That is a good question to ask, and it’s hard to ask anything more from any movie.