Jesus, His Life – Episode 5: Judas: The Betrayal

The episode begins with the same introductory comments. Again, as with previous episodes we will be asking “Where’s the Gospel?” again and hoping to see/hear a clear message that Jesus died for the sins of men. There will again be a few italicized personal comments. And off we go again.

This new episode’s introduction begins with a commentator telling us that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is “one of the great mysteries of the New Testament” Then we are taken back to the scene in the Garden where Peter cut off Malchus ear and Jesus healed him. Judas is watching and we are told that Judas is probably asking himself “Is this the kind of Messiah I want to follow?” Judas had been looking for another “David”. Another commentator says “Every story needs a bad guy and Judas is it”.

The actual episode begins in Bethany and Jesus’ whispering for Lazarus to come out, which he does. Mary hugs Lazarus. Judas is watching and thinking “Each of us grows up hoping we can make our mark, becoming something special. Until Jesus came into my life I was a nobody, but not now. Now the world will remember the name ‘Judas Iscariot’- forever.” (I guess that’s because he was one of the disciples of the man who brought a dead man to life.

We are told that “The raising of Lazarus from the dead was the greatest miracle of Jesus’ ministry, bar none” and would both astonished and scared people. We are also reminded that why Judas betrayed is the greatest mystery in the Bible. It’s not a ‘who done it, but a “why did he do it”

Commentators speculate about Judas, since the Bible doesn’t tell us much about him. He wasn’t mentioned all of the time but we know he spent a lot of time with Jesus. We see Judas and Jesus in a crowd and Judas cautioning Jesus, “Be careful Lord, these crowds are dangerous.” “Jesus was very close to Jesus, in his inner circle, yet he betrayed Jesus for reasons we don’t understand. That makes him a compelling and mysterious character (Joel Osteen).

Judas was different from the other disciples. He didn’t come from Galilee, where Jesus called the others. “Iscariot” is probably a Judean name. He might have been named after a town called ‘Kerioth’. Maybe he’s even from a group of trained assassins called the Sicarii, who were Jewish zealots.

We do know he sort of the ‘treasurer’ for the disciples. With that in mind, we head to Bethany again, to the home of Mary,

Martha and Lazarus and the story we are so familiar with of Mary anointing Jesus feet with expensive ointment and Judas objects, scolding Mary:  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone and that while the poor will always be available to care for, he (Jesus) would not.

The incident is kind of a turning point for Judas. Jesus had rebuked and embarrassed him in front of the entire household. Judas is convinced that Jesus could not see just how much he cared. (Really? For the poor? He was always a thief [John 12:2])

Fast forward to the triumphant entry into Jerusalem at Passover.

One commentator tells us that that Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, that he is orchestrating everything.’ coming to Jerusalem was to say “The status quo is corrupt, the current world is wrong, and we need to change it, NOW! We See Jesus riding through the streets with Judas alongside proclaiming “This is the coming kingdom of or ancestor David.” Judas muses that he was convinced that his destine was to sit at the right hand of the king! Jesus is riding along, arms wide open and smiling. By riding in on a donkey he is in effect claiming to be the king of Israel. We are told that Jesus has become both a religious and political agitator to the Romans and religious leaders.

Jesus goes to the temple and sees the money changers there to sell animals for sacrifices, a practice everyone is making money off of, and Jesus is angry, turning over tables and scattering money all over the place. We are told that Jesus’ anger is really an expression of his disgust at Caiaphas becoming rich from Roman favor and the money of honest Jewish pilgrims.

We are told that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, Judas might well have thought that this picture of a violent Jesus, and not the loving, ministering, miracle working Jesus, was NOT the Jesus he wanted to see. This would mark Jesus as ‘public enemy #1 for the establishment.

Judas is then seen approaching the temple (or home) and asking to see Caiaphas. Judas was deeply disappointed that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah he had expected, which might have been the reason for the betrayal. We are told that many fail to see the human side of Judas, that he was wrestling with a huge decision. Judas tells Caiaphas that Jesus must be stopped. Caiaphas tells him to look for an opportunity to hand him over, somewhere quiet, and hands him a bag of money, the thirty pieces of silver, which amounted to either one month’s wages or four month’s wages, depending on if the silver was in Roman denarii or Israeli shekels.

We are given some useful information about the history and meaning of the Passover meal in Jewish culture, looking back a the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Now to the Passover meal with Jesus and the disciples. Judas is concerned whether or not Jesus knows he just betrayed him.

At the table, Jesus speaks to his disciples about his coming death, confusing the disciples again. Jesus shares the bread “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” “This is the blood of my covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Neither Jesus or the commentator say that Jesus blood was poured out “for the remission of sin. This is a huge omission, consistent with previous episodes omitting the thought that Jesus died for the sins of men. We are given to believe that Jesus’ impending death and resurrection is about saving the world system!)

At supper, Jesus also announced “One of you will betray me, one who is eating here.” Judas, sitting next to Jesus asks him “Which of us in the traitor, Lord.” Jesus says “It is the one who to whom I give this piece of bread, when I have dipped it in this dish,” and breaking off a piece of bread, dipping it and handing it to Judas. And of course, Jesus also whispers to Judas “Do what you have to do, but do it quickly.” The other disciples think perhaps Jesus has sent Judas on some sort of an errand.

The Jesuit Priest who commented on the other Jesus episodes offers that Jesus was either demonstrating his omniscience in knowing Judas would actually betray him, or he was just using human intuition, having known Judas so well. (The either/or is interesting, coming from someone who supposedly knows the attributes of God.)

Judas leaves, still struggling mightily, knowing he is betraying everything he once believed in.

Now to the Garden of Gethsemane (probably a vineyard, per a commentator). Jesus is praying, doesn’t want to die, but has accepted his fate, if it’s God’s will.

The Roman soldiers, Malchus & company from the Temple, and Judas arrive. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.

Peter separates Malchus from one of his ears and Jesus miraculously heals him. Judas is thinking again: “Jesus IS committed to a ministry of non-violence, and certainly doesn’t it marred by a violent act.” . . . “With that kiss I tore down everything he (Jesus) gave his all to do!”

Jesus is dragged off to see Caiaphas (for the first time) Judas realizes that he has played right into the High Priest’s hands, asking himself “What have I done?”

Jesus is being judged in Caiaphas’ mansion by the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night, against the rules for such affairs. Jesus is confronted with “So you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus is silent except to say “You have said so. But I say to all of you, from now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, on the clouds of heaven.

The Sanhedrin, except for Joseph of Arimathea (who offered a tomb for the burial) and Nicodemus (who visited Jesus at night in the gospel of John), agree that Jesus must die The two men cave to pressure, however, and the verdict of the Sanhedrin is unanimous.

Judas is distraught because this was NOT the end he was hoping for. He had wanted Caiaphas to toss Jesus “into the deep end” to see what he would do. Perhaps if Jesus had performed another great miracle, they would have been convinced he was who he said he was and let him go. Jesus was actually horrified by the verdict.

A commentator (the Jesuit Priest) adds that the ‘illegal’ trial would make the Jews look like bad people and wonders of the accounts of Judas in the New Testament fed into ‘antisemitism’. The Jewish people, as a whole, were not then, and are not now responsible for the death of Jesus.

Judas, thinking again, finally understands his legacy. He was the man who handed Jesus over to his executioners. “Lord, what have I done? I never thought it would end like this! There was a time when I thought nothing could stop us – until an evil seed entered my mind and made me doubt his (Jesus’) every word.”

Judas angrily returns the thirty pieces of silver. Overwhelmed by guilt he wonders if he was born to betray Jesus, or if the Devil made him do it.

Another commentator (Obama’s faith advisor) asks “What it Judas’ fault he did what he did? The reality is that we all have free will. Our Jesuit Priest says that the Judas story demonstrates the great battle between good and evil. That Judas was ‘chosen’ to do what he did means that there is some good in it. In fact, there is a huge battle between good and evil within Judas throughout the story.

Professor Nicola Lewis’ gives us her opinion of the Judas story:” I think what’s fascinating is that we will never get a handle on his (Judas) motivation.”

Then we see Judas, alone in the desert, slowly walking toward a lone, scraggly tree, and sitting down at the foot of the tree. “I wish I could go back, but I sense that God will never forgive me.” The camera zooms out and we see the silhouette of the tree and Judas hanging from one of the branches.

A final commentator tells us: “Our conundrum is that without the betrayal, Jesus doesn’t get handed over to the Romans to be executed. If Judas hadn’t done what he did and we wouldn’t have the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, which is the centerpiece of Christian history.”

The End

Dan’s final thoughts: WHAT conundrum? Is all of this REALLY such a great mystery? Haven’t some of these commentators read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost? To the assembled Jews he proclaimed:

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Acts 2:22-23

Is there a great conundrum, or unfathomable mystery in the story of Judas? I would say possibly, but only a small one. While we might not know Judas’ exact personal motives, there was a very definite plan of God afoot; one that could NOT be thwarted. The fact of the complete sovereignty of God in the story should put us at complete rest concerning the minute details and this ‘great mystery’.

There is much in the film I left out, some accurate things and some not so accurate. Feel free to watch it for yourself, Bible at the ready!

Next up: Pilate: The Trial


Jesus, His Life – Episode 3: Mary, The First Miracles

After the second episode, I wasn’t sure I would watch another one. On the other hand, I am still hoping to see the Gospel message clearly articulated in anything coming out of the entertainment industry, and specifically the ‘Christian’ entertainment sector. So I watched it, but didn’t review it in as much detail as Episode 2 (detailing time-stamps and the identity of all of the commentators).

This post will describe some events in the film, along with personal observations. Personal comments will again be italicized. We will address the “Where was the gospel?” question at the end.

The episode began with the same intro as the first two, including Pastor Joel. The remaining episodes will probably begin the same way.

Just as the second episode was told from the perspective of John and what he might have thought, this episode is told from Mary’s perspective. And also like the last episode with John, some of the thoughts of Mary can be considered ‘reasonable’ speculation, but others not so much.

Some of the commentators in this episode are the same ones from previous episodes, but there are more women commentators that in the first two episodes, I assume to add credibility to the commentator side of things – women talking about a woman.

Throughout the film, one thing is consistent. Mary always knew that God had a special plan for her son, which is a reasonable assumption. At times however, she seemed to be more certain than Jesus, who was also trying to determine what it was.

·         At the beginning of Mary’s narration we are told that Mary always knew God had a special plan for Jesus that she (Mary) longed for but also feared.

·         The first miracle – Jesus changes water into wine

o   At the wedding at Cana, when Jesus and a few followers made their appearance Mary said that Jesus “was somehow different, happy, surrounded by friends, a man with a new purpose”.

o   Mary of course realized that it was a good time for Jesus to make a statement about his ministry. When she tells Jesus that the wine has run out, she is encouraging him to embrace ‘who he is’.

o   Jesus tells the servants to fill the empty jars with water and draw some out. At the moment the water is turned into wine, Jesus is facing heavenward with closed eyes and there is some sudden wind.

o   Mary tells Jesus “This is your time; the people need you.”

During the film, Jesus is at Mary’s home along with his brothers and there is tension between Jesus and his brothers – all reasonable. When not at home, Jesus is traveling around preaching and performing miracles.

The Sermons on the Mount is shown (same scene as in the last episode). We are told by a commentator it is the most important speech Jesus made in all of his ministry because it threatened the establishment/ruling class. (Was it? We report, you decide.).

We Jesus healing a man with a withered hand, ticking off the Pharisees, who were part of the establishment Jesus was taking on.

Jesus goes to Capernaum to really begin his ministry (according to a commentator) of preaching and performing miracles. We see Jesus healing a demon possessed man and looking a bit like Benny Hinn, pressing forcefully down on the man’s forehead.

We are told by a commentator that Jesus’ ministry was to those “who had their backs against the wall, the marginalized, disenfranchised, and forgotten by society.” (Social justice, anyone?)

Jesus’ work and ministry threatened his family, we are told, which was probably true. At one point, Mary and his brothers travel to where Jesus is ministering, wanting to stop him – perform an ‘intervention’. (If Mary knew Jesus’ calling, why would she want to stop him?).

One commentator said “The gospel accounts aren’t very fair to the Pharisees.” (If God inspired all of Scripture, how could they NOT be fair?)

We are shown the scene where Jesus is told his Mother and brothers are there and Jesus telling the crowd exactly who his real mother and brothers and sisters. A commentator tells us that Jesus is saying, in effect, that “Traditional families don’t matter. What matters is this new family, this new kingdom discipleship of following me.” (I can’t picture Jesus saying traditional families just ‘don’t matter.)

Near the end, Mary tells Jesus’ brothers that they will one day understand Jesus’ ministry. (which they did, after the resurrection).

The final scene has Jesus telling his disciples that they are “going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priest and scribes, and they will condemn him to death.” The disciples were silent and we are told that Jesus had finally reconciled his fate. (Did it really take that long?)

Final comments about Mary were offered. We are told that Mary knew Jesus was special. She was also a typical mother, but with a ‘spiritual’ understand of who Jesus was. To Jesus, Mary was his source of life, his point of creation, his inspiration.

The End.

Dan’s miscellaneous comments:

While we told throughout that Mary understood Jesus’ mission, we are never told that his mission was to “save his people from their sins”, as the angel told Joseph, something that, in my opinion, should have been in the first episode about the Nativity, but wasn’t.

We are led to believe that Jesus main mission for coming to Earth was to minister to people with “backs against the wall, the marginalized, disenfranchised, and forgotten by society.” This is exactly the mission of the liberals preaching the social gospel at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as today’s social justice warriors that tell us that we don’t even know what the gospel is if we aren’t trying to cure what ails society. I think we are told otherwise in scripture:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Needless to say, there was no clear presentation of the gospel message that Christ came to die for the sins of His people, To have done so would have contradicted the clearly presented message that Christ died to usher in ‘social justice’, which does seem to be the theme of this series. How sad…………

“Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ” 1959 & 2016

Having gone to see the 2016 version this last weekend and then watching the 1959 version two days later (to confirm/deny what we thought was different), I have to say that it’s hard not to write an old man’s review. However, since there is no way that wouldn’t be a spoiler at some level I hesitated.

Then I saw a Facebook post that asked us to name our favorite ‘Jesus’ actor. My answer was ‘whoever portrayed Jesus in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur’. I couldn’t recall the actor’s name. I since looked it up and it was an actor named Claude Heater and it was an ‘uncredited’ role, whatever that meant at the time. I wouldn’t be surprised of other Facebook readers wondered if I was operating with a full deck upstairs, especially if they knew that Jesus’ face is never seen in the 1959 film. One review I read had this to say about the different portrayals of Jesus:

“Where Wyler (1959 Director) drew haunting power from keeping Jesus a faceless and voiceless figure, like a rumor of deliverance shadowing the hero’s moral struggle, here we get walking, talking son-of-God face time, and the effect is oddly diminishing, turning Jesus into a religious-movie animatronic, spouting greatest-hits scripture.”

Although that might sound a bit harsh, I tend to agree. The Jesus of the 1959 film never said a word, but other characters repeated teachings they had heard with reverence and awe, as if no one had ever taught that way before. They marveled at Jesus’ teachings. The 2016 Jesus has a face and actually speaks, ‘spouting greatest-hits scripture’ and in one scene sounds a bit like Rick Warren, telling Judah Ben-Hur “God has a plan for you.”

At first it didn’t seem too awfully important to me, but then I realized something. That same difference is I think symptomatic of the church as a whole! Having been brought up in a Christian environment, schooled in the Lutheran Catechism (where we learned about a great big God), and having attended many a Sunday morning service where majestic hymns were played and sung, in which sermons were delivered that spoke of man’s great sin and God’s great mercy, and where people wore their ‘Sunday best’ out of respect for whose ‘house’ we were in, it’s easy for me to see the difference. Those whose church experience has been theologically vacuous contemporary choruses, all about ‘me’ purpose driven, seeker friendly, man centered sermons delivered by jeans/rumpled khaki clad preachers with their shirts hanging out have been seriously deprived.

The result is a generation or two of ‘children of a lesser God’ and a Jesus who inspires very little reverence or awe and who never comes across as the redeemer who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the ‘great exchange’, taking all of our sin and giving us his righteousness. A Jesus who died just so we could be happy and obtain our best lives now could never inspire reverence and awe.

Such is the state of most of the church today. That might mean that most of today’s young evangelicals will give the 2016 ‘Ben-Hur’ rave reviews while some of us older folks will expel a heavy sigh or two.

By the way, I also bought the original novel. Folks just don’t write like that anymore!

The Young Messiah’s Only Words

by Jordan Standridge

“Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” Luke 2:49

clip_image002Those are Jesus’ only recorded words in Scripture before the age of thirty. Nothing else. In fact we don’t have anything in Scripture about Jesus between the age of two and the age of thirty. Niente. Zilch. Nada.

Other than informing us about an escape to Egypt, The Sovereign God of the universe that gave us Scripture chose before the foundation of the world to only give us one story about Jesus’ life between his birth and the start of his ministry. It is only right for us to ask ourselves why is it so? Why in the world do we have only one story of a young Jesus?

Hollywood can make a two-hour long movie about Jesus in this time period, but I can already tell you without having watched it that the movie will disappoint any Bible believing Christian. I believe that there is a reason why God gives us only one recorded statement of Jesus.

Having had the recent privilege of preaching through Luke 2:41-52, I had to ask myself why Luke gives us only one sentence from Jesus. I’m sure he knew about stories of Jesus’s childhood. He must have, and yet he did not think Theophilus needed to know about them. I concluded that their absence only make the words he does include that much more powerful.

Luke has some serious implications in giving us only one statement from the childhood of Jesus. We must pay attention to what he has to say.

Jesus’ only words tell us that he is God

In Luke it seems as if everyone is announcing the divinity of Jesus. The angel Gabriel announces that he is God. Zechariah announces the Messiah. Elizabeth, as she is pregnant with John the Baptist, tells Mary that the baby in her womb is God. John the Baptist, as an infant in the womb, can’t help but leap for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.

By Luke chapter 3, Mary and Joseph find out that they will be the parents of the Messiah. A host of angels, on the night of Christ’s birth, announce the birth of the Messiah to a group of shepherds. And the shepherds themselves go and worship their Creator in the manger, and leave from there as the first evangelists declaring that the Savior, Christ the Lord, was born. Simeon and Anna, who have been waiting for the Messiah for years, announce that he is the one who was promised. It seems as if the entire world has declared Jesus as God and there is one human left who must declare the divinity of Christ and that is Christ himself. And Luke lead by the Holy Spirit shows us that the young Messiah knew exactly who he was and that he was unashamed to say that he was the Son of God.

Jesus’ only words show us that He was always aware He was God

Although it would be fun to know stories about Jesus’s childhood, God in his sovereignty didn’t think it was necessary for our sanctification. The only thing we needed to know is whether or not Jesus always believed he was the Son of God or if it was something he made up later on in life. Luke provides us with the answer. Jesus’s words shock Mary, because she realizes that this young messiah already knows who his true father is. It’s not something he made up at the age of thirty. It is something he always believed and knew. Jesus Christ not only tells us with his own lips that he is the Son of God but he tells us that he had always believed and understood that.

I get Christian’s fascination with the young Jesus. I mean we have the God of the Universe, learning how to walk, learning how to talk, getting tired, sleeping, bleeding. His siblings mistreat him, and He holds the power of the universe in His hands. And yet we don’t need to know details about any of those things, the only thing we need to know, in this life, is whether or not he claimed to be God. And the New Testament emphatically shouts yes! The second question is did He always claim to be God? And thanks to Luke and this incredible story of Jesus in the temple we can emphatically shout yes! He was self-aware of His divinity and didn’t need anyone to tell Him. Unlike people who started false religions later on in life, Jesus always claimed to be not of this world.

Perhaps one day our curiosity will be satisfied in Heaven. Perhaps Mary and Joseph will tell us stories about Jesus and His incredible obedience. Jude, and James may tell us what it was like to grow up with a perfect older brother. Maybe Christ himself will tell us stories of His childhood, but until that day we can say yet again in unison, “Hey Hollywood! You can keep your movie, we’d rather read the book!”

Marketing Jesus – Again?

The following article discusses the marketing associated with the movie “War Room”. Since this is nothing new and has been done many times (small industries based on ‘Christian’ books, it’s probably just the latest example of  a long string of small ‘industries’ that arisen  rom the sale of ‘Christian’ books. I believe the success of such endeavors have a lot do to clever marketing techniques combined with a talent for knowing what ‘itching’ ears want and the associated financial windfall that invariable results from semi biblically literate Christians forking over their hard earned cash for a line of  multi level study guides, canned sermon series’, trinkets and other ‘stuff’ generated from the latest Hollywood fare designed for the Christian market. Having said my piece, here is the article. Note that at the front end there is a link to a review by the same author of  “War Room”.


Banking on War Room: LifeWay, the Kendricks, and Priscilla Shirer Set the Trend in Evangelical Bible Study

In blog, Featured, The Pen by sethdunn88August 28, 2015

On the eve of the release of War Room, I wrote this piece to accompany my earlier review of that film. This article includes a listing of War Room’s many companion products, which have been made available through LifeWay Christian Resources. War Room has been heavily promoted by LifeWay representatives throughout the United States. Local Baptist missions association directors, in conjunction with LifeWay representatives, have encouraged churches to purchase blocks of tickets or even rent out entire theatres for showings of War Room. During the past few months, free previews of the movie have been offered to key leaders in local churches in order to create a buzz for the film. Tomorrow War Room will hit theatres. Its many companion products should appear at a church near you shortly thereafter.

There are two primary products which have been made available for sale to churches:

· A Church Campaign Kit – $34.99

· This kit includes a leader guide for planning a War Room themed Bible Study. It also includes Sermon outlines so that pastors can preach the theme of War Room from their pulpits.

· According to the product description, the Campaign Kit can “create awareness and re-introduce your church to the power of prayer.” It can also “Encourage participation in War Room (whatever that is) among church members.”

· The War Room Bible Study – $24.99 for the Leader Kit and $7.99 for participant study books.

· This five-lesson study claims to assist users to “Develop strategies to battle the real Enemy through prayer.” (Read Bible, fold hands, close eyes, talk to God. That will be $7.99, please)

Other products include a teen prayer journal, a “Battle Plan” prayer journal (which seems to be little more than a regular prayer journal which has been branded for the movie), the War Room novel, and the “Battle Plan for Prayer” book by Alex and Stephen Kendrick which is advertised as a “strategic guide to engaging with God, expecting His answers, and enlarging your vision of what He can do through someone like you.”

This product line doesn’t sit right with me. Certainly, toy companies aren’t sinning when they make Ninja Turtle and Transformer Action figures to accompany movies about those characters. Neither does Disney sin when it sells princess dolls of all its movie heroines. These companies are just doing what companies exist to do, selling products to make a profit. So, it’s not unusual to see a product line associated with a movie. However, unlike Star Wars action figures, the gospel and biblical principles are not commodities. Yet, there are so many things for sale in association with War Room.

Doesn’t it seem a little McChurch to offer sermon outlines for sale? Shouldn’t a local pastor already be equipped to preach on prayer from the Holy Bible? Does the local pastor need to spiritually lead his flock to the cineplex?

Coast to coast, local churches have been asked to give War Room a major push in theaters. Some churches are planning to buy block of tickets to sell or give to their members. If the movie is good, couldn’t consumers make the choice to buy tickets of their own volition? (Does your church tell you what brand of groceries to buy?) There is a clear message from the Evangelical Industrial Complex Associated with this movie: “You will see it. You will study it. Your church will buy the companion materials. We decide what’s cool and its War Room.”

Consider a church with 1,000 active adult members. If the church buys a campaign kit, fifty Sunday School leader guides, one thousand study books, and one thousand movie tickets, the total cash outlay for doing so will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $19,274.49 and War Room will be the in thing at the church for five weeks.


Could that money be better spent elsewhere, missions perhaps, perhaps hiring a youth minister who knows how to do more than play electric guitar and throw pizza parties?

Of course, most churches aren’t one thousand members strong but many are. Some are even bigger. There are thousands of churches, from as small as 50 to as large 10,000 who are currently in the market for War Room tickets and materials. These materials have been pushed on them hard by their local missions directors and LifeWay representatives. The potential companion product revenue that surrounds this movie is staggering.

Companion product revenue is needed because the evangelical movie market is a small one when compared to the general population. This is not a movie lost people, by and large, are going to go out and see. They will spend their money on rated R fare while the clear gospel presentation in War Room is preached to the choir. So, to convince secular movie distributors such as Tri-Star to invest in their movies, Christian Filmmakers must promise to deliver ticket sales and related revenue. Blocks of church-bought tickets will do just that, especially on their movie’s opening weekend.

Alex Kendrick seems to have become the Tyler Perry of the Christian movie industry. He writes movies, stars in them, and markets them to his niche audience. Again, there’s nothing sinful about doing this but I remember his first few movies and he didn’t seem like media mogul back then. Flywheel and Facing the Giants were made as ministry of his church and even starred church members, not professional actors. Now, he’s resigned from his church to run his own production company. Personally, I can’t imagine a 1st Century pastor leaving his church to produce and market Christian drama. Neither can I imagine a 1st century Christian being a gospel consumer. I certainly can’t imagine a 1st century Christian associating with the likes of TD Jakes and other Word of Faith Ministers but that’s exactly who Kendrick has been keeping company with since hitting the big time.

The gospel is a big time message but it’s not a big time product. Be discerning about War Room. Don’t be afraid to question the leadership of your church if they expect you to study it. As I mentioned in my review, there are serious and well-document problems with the people associated with this film: most notably Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore (who is actually barely in the movie at all). Both have advocated the dangerous practice of contemplative prayer. Now, they are starring in a movie about prayer which is selling books about prayer. Does the guy at your church buying blocks of movie tickets know this?

Be careful Christians. Consumers usually get what they pay for. Maybe this weekend you should find a copy of Flywheel and sit down with your family at home and watch it. It’s about a man who puts God before money. When it’s over, read the Bible and pray together. That will cost a lot less than $19,274.49.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my (Seth Dunn’s) personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

“The War Room”: Movie Review by Justin Peters

War Room: A Review by Justin Peters

by Justin Peters , September 9, 2015


If you do not know the Kendrick brothers by name, you almost certainly know them by their films: Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008), and Courageous (2011).  Stephen, Alex, and Shannon Kendrick have just released their fifth faith-based film, War Room.  War Room, starring popular Bible teachers Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore, looks like it may well be the most successful of their films to date bringing in $11 million just on its opening weekend; more than triple it’s $3 million production budget.

Given the popularity of Christian themed films and the considerable buzz about this one in particular, my wife, Kathy, and I went to see War Room on the evening of September 3rd so that I could write a review.  For those of you who read my review of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s movie, Son of God, you know that I am a bit skeptical of the Christian movie genre as a whole.  Nonetheless, I do want to offer what I hope to be a fair review. This review will not touch on every single facet of the movie or even on every theme it presents, but I do hope to address what I believe to be the most important of them.

Plot Overview

War Room is centered around Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, their ten year old daughter, Danielle, and Elizabeth’s real estate client-turned Christian friend, Mrs. Clara. The Jordan marriage is in serious trouble.  Tony, a pharmaceutical salesman who travels extensively in his work, is the kind of husband and father one loves to hate.  Though a hard worker, he shows little interest in his daughter and pursues a female work interest behind his wife’s back. Elizabeth, played by Priscilla Shirer, goes to Mrs. Clara’s home discuss the particulars of putting it on the market.  The meeting, however, went far beyond deciding on a listing price for the house.

Mrs. Clara, an older widow, is a Christian fiercely devoted to prayer which she does in a closet she has dubbed her “War Room.”  Mrs. Clara goes to war here, battling Satan who is portrayed as the source of every form of evil plaguing mankind. Rather than plotting troop positions on a military map, Mrs. Clara pins  prayer requests and Scripture verses on the wall of her war room, prays to God, and rebukes the Enemy.  

Mrs. Clara begins to ask Elizabeth some probing questions about her family, marriage, and church attendance.  Upon learning that the Jordan family is at the point of collapse, Mrs. Clara exhorts Elizabeth to fight for her marriage in her own war room.  

Slowly but surely, Elizabeth is changed by her newly found prayer life and by reading the Bible. One day in her war room, she discovers via a friend’s text that Tony has been seen in a restaurant with another woman.  Elizabeth immediately prays for her husband and asks God to stop him. God gives Tony a stomach ache in the restaurant preventing him from following through with his adulterous plans.  

Shortly after this, Tony is fired from his job. Rather than the anger and sarcasm he expected to receive from Elizabeth upon hearing this news, she offered him love and support. The change he sees in his wife eventually changes Tony as well. He confesses his sin and turns back to God. He seeks and is granted forgiveness from both Elizabeth and Danielle, and the Jordan family is on the fast track of restoration. 

Despite his new life, Tony is fired from his job.  What his boss did not know, though, was that Tony had been stealing drugs from the company, selling them and pocketing the profits. Though he had gotten away with it, his now sensitive conscience drove him to return to meet with his former boss, confess his theft and make restitution.  His boss could easily have turned Tony in to the authorities to face prison but chose not to do so. The Jordan family was spared the loss of being torn apart again just as it had begun to heal.  Tony eventually found a new, though less lucrative job, his family grew closer to one another and the Lord, Mrs. Clara’s house sold to a pastor and his wife, and all was well because of the battles fought in the War Room.


The movie was, of course, clean.  There was neither foul language nor any innuendos (other than what was about to happen between Tony and his almost-mistress at the restaurant) anywhere to be found.

War Room emphasized the importance of fidelity to one’s spouse and cutting off any potential threats to the sanctity of the marital covenant. The film championed the virtues of character, integrity, and selflessness. The importance of family, and the need for regular church attendance were stressed. Mrs. Clara (a very winsome character in the film) taught Elizabeth the importance of reading Scripture and, of course, prayer. The movie did teach the biblical truth that man is unable to reform himself.  “You can’t fix Tony. Only God can.” said Mrs. Clara to Elizabeth.

The Gospel was, well, mostly there.  Mrs. Clara presented the Gospel to Elizabeth in one of their meetings and she talked about sin, that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of sin, was raised from the dead and that a person must believe in Jesus and repent. These are all essential elements of the Gospel and I am glad that they were included. That having been said, even though the proper biblical terms were used, often these terms were not explained. The term “repent,” for example, was used but never fleshed out.  The lingo was there to be sure, but without a biblical understanding of these terms they are just that, lingo.


As I’m sure you are expecting, I did find much with which to be concerned. Some of the film’s failures could have been avoided with more careful attention to doctrine and theology and some of the failures, as I will explain in the conclusion, are inherent to the genre itself and unavoidable.  I will outline my concerns in a series of “Outs:” Out of Home, Out of Order, Out of Focus, Out of Bounds and Out of Context.

Out of Home

I may as well begin with the most politically incorrect and probably the most controversial point I will make in this review and get it out of the way. Not everyone reading this will agree but truth is truth. 

That men and women are of equal value before God is beyond dispute (Gal. 3: 28-29). That having been said, men and women do have different roles and the role of a young wife and mother is to be a worker in the home.  The Apostle Paul writes that older women are to teach “the young women…to love their husbands, love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5). Note the “workers at home” part.

The context makes it quite clear that the “young women” are those who are married and have children in the home. This text makes it quite clear that such women’s primary place of service is not to be outside of the home but within.

Pastor and teacher Dr. John MacArthur has written that if a young woman is adequately fulfilling all seven of the requirements listed in this passage then she “will probably be a very busy individual” and have little time for work outside of the home. If, however, “she still has time left over, then she would be free to pursue enterprising and creative activities outside the home.” It is not that a young woman should never engage in wage earning work of any kind. Proverbs 31, in fact, depicts the godly woman who may do some enterprising work from within the home.

One of the first things I noticed in the film is that Elizabeth worked outside of the home as a real estate agent. Had she been adequately fulfilling all of her duties inside the home, then the case could have been made that this was permissible. This was not the case, however. In fact, the movie actually makes a point that Elizabeth was so involved at her job that she did not know what her daughter, Danielle, was doing at school or in her jump-rope team. 

The sad reality is that the fallen world in which we live often requires young women to work outside of the home. Some “young women” have been abandoned by their husbands and some may have husbands unable to work due to some type of infirmity. In situations such as these work outside of the home is, unfortunately, unavoidable. 

When a young woman can avoid working outside of the home, though, she should. If a young woman works outside of the home out of preference rather than absolute necessity, then a biblical principle has been violated. The issue is not a minor one. Note that if a young woman works outside of the home at the expense of her biblical household duties, then the result is that the Word of God is βλασφημῆται (blasphemetai), literally, blasphemed.

Writes Dr. MacArthur:

The home is where a wife can provide the best expressions of love for her husband. It is where she teaches and guides and sets a godly example for her children. It is where she is protected from abusive and immoral relationships with other men and where, especially in our day, she still has greater protection from worldly influences—despite the many lurid TV programs, magazines, and other ungodly intrusions. The home is where she has special opportunity to show hospitality and devote herself to other good works. The home is where she can find authentic and satisfying fulfillment, as a Christian and as a woman.

Out of Order

War Room is a theological train wreck chronologically speaking.  In other words, it totally gets out of order the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in a person with the fruits of regeneration.  

In their first meeting, Elizabeth tells Mrs. Clara of the distressed state of her marriage to Tony. Upon hearing this, Mrs. Clara asked her, “Have you prayed for him?” There is nothing, of course, wrong with this in and of itself except the fact that Mrs. Clara made this inquiry without having first made certain that Elizabeth understood the Gospel herself. Though Elizabeth certainly was not guilty of the overtly egregious sins of her husband, like he, she displayed little understanding of the Gospel. She attended church only “occasionally” and was biblically illiterate. There was no discernible spiritual fruit in her life to indicate that she was a believer. 

Another example occurs after Elizabeth hears the Gospel (most of it anyway) from Mrs. Clara and begins to get on the straight and narrow. Shortly after Elizabeth found out about Tony’s attempt to cheat on her, he came home from his failed dalliance to a meal she had prepared for him.  She looked at her husband and asked, “You wanna pray?”  At this point in the movie there is absolutely no reason to believe that Tony had been converted. He had little interest in Danielle and he did not love his wife. He was selfish, arrogant, was a thief, and had no conviction over his sin. He cared only for himself, had no godly sorrow, and showed no affections for things holy and pure. He was ignorant of Scripture and comfortably so. That Elizabeth, by this time walking with the Lord, would ask her husband to pray assumes that this is something he could do which, as a lost man, he could not. 

Save the prayer that one may prayer at conversion, prayer is a spiritual discipline that can only be done by the saved. The movie gives the impression that praying for one’s spouse or asking God to bless the evening meal can be done by one who is lost. This, of course, is an impossibility. Before coming to Christ we are enemies of God (Col. 1:21), dead in our sins (Eph. 2:8-9), and cannot seek Him (Rom. 3:10-11); a condition which precludes any ability to pray (Is. 59:2).

Now, this having been said, I am not saying that this was the intention of the Kendrick brothers. It is probably the case that they were simply portraying how people normally speak. I am not at all saying that theologically they would believe that lost people can pray. The problem, though, is the vagueness in which it was portrayed.  

Additionally, and even more worrisome, is that the film gives the impression that one can live a life of habitual, unrepentant sin and still be a believer. In her own war room, Elizabeth petitioned “Lord, I pray for Tony that you would turn his heart back to you.” 

My issue here is not that Elizabeth is praying for her husband, but that her prayer gives the viewer the impression that Tony was a just backslidden Christian. “Turn his heart back to You,” she prayed. Again, Tony was an absolutely loathsome individual at this point in the movie who displayed zero evidence he had ever experienced regeneration.  

Christians can and do sin (1 Jn. 1:8) but their lives are not to be characterized by sin. It has been said that a Christian can stumble into sin, but he cannot swim in it. A believer is a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God Who produces in him good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). Many people living lives of habitual sin are told they are just “backslidden” when they’ve never slid forward in the first place. Charles Spurgeon stated, “Unless our faith makes us pine after holiness and pant after conformity to God, it is no better than the faith of the devils, and perhaps it is not even so good as that.” Whether intentional or not, there is a danger of this film giving some of its viewers a false assurance of their salvation.  

Out of Focus

War Room certainly did deal with sin but it did so, I thought, primarily on a horizontal basis. In other words, though it showed the damaging consequences of sin in relation to our fellow human beings, it did not focus nearly so much on sin’s deadly consequences in our relationship to God.

Tony and Elizabeth both sinned in that they focused on their employment at the expense of their daughter, Danielle. Tony, of course, sinned in his pursuit of a woman who was not his wife. Eventually both came to see how their sin hurt others and they repented. In and of itself, this is good.

What I did not see – or at least what I believed was not emphasized nearly enough – was the vertical nature of sin. There was no mention anywhere in the film of the wrath of God that our sin incurs. There was no mention of God’s wrath abiding on the unbeliever (Jn. 3:36) or that we are saved from it (Rom. 5:9). There was no mention of eternal judgment for those who die in their sins (Lk. 16:19-31).

Without first understanding the wrath of God, one cannot rightly understand the mercy of God. Without first realizing that our sins are storing up God’s wrath (Rom. 2:5) which will be poured out on the ungodly for all of eternity (Rev. 14:10), we cannot truly appreciate His mercy. It is only in understanding God’s deserved wrath that we can fully understand His undeserved mercy. It is His wrath that makes His mercy so precious.

In watching the film both my wife and I were looking for one thing which is a hallmark of every genuine believer: a godly sorrow over sin.

The Bible speaks of two types of sorrow over sin. There is a worldly sorrow which is merely a guilty conscience. A worldly sorrow is one that is concerned only for the horizontal consequences of sin and it leads to death (2 Cor. 7:10).  

The other type of sorrow, however, is a godly sorrow. A godly sorrow comes about when we understand that our sin is first and foremost against God. A godly sorrow is when we grieve over our sin because we understand that our sin grieves God and we desire to turn from sin because we do not want to grieve Him. It is this godly sorrow which “produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10).

Unless we both missed it, neither Kathy nor I saw any godly sorrow evidenced in either Tony or Elizabeth’s life. There definitely was sorrow over hurting others, but nowhere in the film did we see the kind of godly sorrow exhibited by David when he humbled himself before the Lord and said to Him, “Against You and You alone have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Ps. 51:4).   

Out of Bounds

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6 exhorts the immature believers in Corinth “not to exceed what is written.” In other words, we as believers are not to exceed biblical parameters. Whether in our theology or in our practice we are to stay safely within biblical parameters for when we exceed these God-given parameters we are opening ourselves up to demonic influence and demonic deception.

Sadly, biblical parameters dealing with spiritual warfare are exceeded throughout the movie. The entire film is saturated with Word-Faith/N.A.R. spiritual warfare lingo. There seemed to be as much time and effort expended in binding, rebuking and casting out Satan by Mrs. Clara and Elizabeth in their respective war rooms as there was praying to God. 

In one of the more emotionally rousing scenes of the film, upon discovering her husband’s philandering ways, Elizabeth retreats to her war room. As she repeatedly cites to herself James 4:7b, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” indignation swells within her and she begins to talk to the devil. “No more, you are done! Jesus is Lord of this house and there is no room for you anymore! Go back to Hell where you belong and leave my family alone!” she shouts.

There are at least two significant problems with this. First, Satan is not in Hell. Only when the eschatological events of Revelation 20 take place will he be thrown into the lake of fire and “tormented day and night forever and ever” (vs. 10). The Bible makes it very clear that, for now at least, Satan is quite free “prowling about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Secondly, and more significantly, we as believers are not to be addressing Satan. Ever! 

Consider that in Jude we have the record of Michael the archangel disputing with the devil and arguing over the body of Moses. Jude records for us that when he disputed with the devil, Michael the archangel “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Think about that for just a moment and let it sink in. If Michael the archangel – the archangel – did not “dare” to rebuke Satan then I think it’s probably a safe bet that we should not do so either. Pastor Jim Osman in his excellent book Truth or Territory writes, “What God’s highest holy angel would not dare to do, sinful, fallen men presume the authority to do. It is unthinkable. I have been in the presence of Christians who boldly declare, ‘Satan, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus,’ and I wonder, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Rebuking, commanding, or ridiculing the devil are not tools of effective spiritual warfare; they are marks of prideful, arrogant, self-willed false teachers.” 

It is troubling that noted Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer does not know this and would model such a dangerous and unbiblical practice. By exceeding biblical parameters, people are exposing themselves to the very enemy that they fancy themselves as rebuking.

The movie also has a decidedly mystical bent. Towards the end of the film, an older pastor named Charles and his wife, clients of Elizabeth, are shown the home. Charles notices the closed door to the “war room,” opens it and slowly walks inside. He looks around, pauses, backs out of the closet, and then walks back in as though he feels something different in the atmosphere. His wife asks him what he is doing and he says that there has been a lot of praying in this room. “It’s almost like it’s baked in,” said the old pastor.

This is pure mysticism. God speaks to us through the Bible and we speak to Him through prayer. Prayer is an act of obedience that serves to conform our will to that of the Father but it in no way changes the atmosphere in a closet, house, hospital, gymnasium, state or country. This is hyper-charismatic, Word-Faith mysticism.

In another scene Mrs. Clara, Elizabeth and Danielle were on their way to get ice cream when their trip was interrupted by a knife wielding thug demanding their money. The unflappable Mrs. Clara stared him in the eye and commanded, “You put that knife right down in the name of Jesus.” All of the sudden the thug looked dazed and confused. Powerless to follow through with his criminal plans, he fled the scene. Saying “in the name of Jesus” to this miscreant was like giving Kryptonite to Superman.

Throughout the film the name of Jesus is used in this way. It is used almost like a magical incantation, a Christianized version of Abracadabra, to manipulate the physical realm toward one’s desired outcome. Whether used in prayer to restore a marriage or to thwart a mugging, the name of Jesus always got results in War Room.

Contrary to the way in which it is portrayed in the film, saying “in the name of Jesus” is not like putting in coins in some theological vending machine. The name of Jesus is synonymous with the will of Jesus. When we pray for things in Jesus’ name rightly, we are praying for Jesus’ will to be done (Jn. 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14-15). Using the name of Jesus does not always bring the results we desire. 

It was fidelity to the name of Jesus that led nearly all of the Apostles to gruesome deaths. It is fidelity to the name of Jesus that has brought horrific persecution to untold millions of Christians during the last two thousand years. Many Christians throughout the world face persecution to this day because of the name of Jesus. Sometimes the name of Jesus gets us not what we want, but what we may not want. Often it is in times of trial and persecution for the believer that God is most glorified. 

Out of Context

“The thief comes to steal, kill and to destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10) was quoted several times throughout the movie. In War Room the “thief” is identified as Satan who has come to steal people’s joy and marriages. 

While it is not necessarily incorrect to identify the thief in John 10:10 as Satan, the context of the passage argues for a much broader view. The context indicates that the thief includes not only Satan, but any false teacher who claims any way of salvation other than that which is found exclusively in Christ. What the “thief” is attempting to steal is not one’s joy or marriage but rather one’s reception of the Gospel itself. The context is that of salvation, not one of life enhancement.

The movie concluded with one of the most familiar, beloved, and yet taken out of context passages in the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The text was shown superimposed on a shot of the United States capitol the insinuation, of course, being that if we will repent that God will heal our nation’s many societal ills. 

Though a thorough treatment of this passage is beyond the scope of this article, to apply this verse to the United States of America (or any other country for that matter) is to employ poor hermeneutics. The context of this verse is that it is God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple recorded in the previous chapter. There has only been, is now, and only will be one country in a covenant relationship with God – Israel. 

Another aspect of the movie that was out of context is the entire premise of having a prayer closet in the first place. The film portrayed this room almost as having magical powers. If you want your prayers to be effective, it’s best to pray them in a closet emptied of its contents. Upon first consideration, this idea appears to have biblical support:

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father Who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:5-6.

As we were driving home from the theater that night, Kathy and I talked about how we would be willing to bet that thousands of people will see this film and then go to their homes, clean out a closet and make their own “war rooms” believing that their prayers will become more effective. 

Sure enough, just this morning as I was writing this piece, I was watching the Daystar channel as presidents and hosts Marcus and Joni Lamb played a clip from Eyewitness New Fox 58 as Aaran Perlman interviewed two of the Kendrick brothers. A visibly emotional Perlman said, “I saw this movie last weekend with a  group of people, I’m gonna start crying before I even get into this. It changed my life so much. This movie, it’s about prayer. It’s about finding a room called the war room and immediately after this movie I went home and ripped everything out of my closet and made my own war room.”  “Wow, that’s incredible, awesome! You will see a difference in the days ahead. Write ‘em down so you can keep up with them. It’s great to be able to check off those prayer requests to realize God is alive and well and at work in your life,” Stephen Kendrick responded.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with praying in a closet if that is what one wants to do, the location is not the point. The point Jesus made in this text was not about location but attitude. The point is that we are not to make a show of our prayers as did the scribes and Pharisees and should remove any distractions which may divert our attention away from the One to Whom we are praying. Sincere, humble prayers offered in a living room, a backyard, or in an airplane at 40,000 feet halfway across the Pacific Ocean are heard just as well as those offered in an empty closet. Believing that there is some special power in the location itself is not only mystical, but borders on idolatry. The Object of our prayers and the condition of our hearts are the important things – not the location. 


    Some will read this review and undoubtedly think that I am being too nitpicky and critical. I have talked to some who have seen War Room and thought that it was great and that it had a solid biblical message. There is no doubt that the film was Christian themed – an element that has drawn the ire of numerous secular critics – but we are enjoined to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) through the lens of Scripture and to “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Charles Spurgeon once said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”2

    Finally, as I hinted at the beginning of this piece, I am not a fan of the whole Christian movie (I am not including documentaries in this) thing in general. It is not that I am inherently opposed to the genre per se, but rather that I believe there to be an inherent danger in them. For one, in order to be successful at the box office, Christian movies must be intentionally vague when it comes to many doctrinal matters. Christian films never really go past the basics of the Gospel and, sadly, often even fail at that. Yet the Bible says that we are to pay close attention to doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13) and to persevere in it (vs. 16).

    Additionally, these movies are highly emotional. They tug at our heart strings. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with emotion, but emotion cannot be a substitute for obedience to objective biblical truth. Movies in and of themselves cannot bring lasting change to anyone’s life. It seems that every few years or so something new is introduced to the evangelical masses and is portrayed as the next great evangelistic super-tool. Whether it’s a blockbuster movie like the Passion of the Christ, or best-selling books like The Purpose-Driven Life, or Jesus Calling, people get all excited. Spin-off products follow and incredible amounts of money are spent chasing after the latest fads.  But they are just that – fads. Recall the Prayer of Jabez craze about fifteen years ago? Remember how everyone was praying for God to enlarge their territory? Do you have any friends still praying the prayer of Jabez? Me neither. Without a foundation of sound doctrine, without a constant and proper hermeneutic, all of these things are the spiritual equivalent of a sugar pill.

    It is a sad commentary, in my estimation, that so many professing believers get so excited about the latest thing to come down the evangelical pike, but show little enthusiasm in and put precious little effort into reading, studying and obeying God’s Word. Watching a movie is easy. Laboring in the Word is not. But only the latter will bear fruit that remains.  

[1] Source:

[1] For the purposes of this article when I write “young women” I am referring to the biblical definition of the term per Titus 2.

[1] Source:

[1] No matter how he may argue to the contrary, if a man cheats on his wife (or vice versa) he does not love her. Such a sin breaks the marriage covenant and is in direct contradiction to the biblical definition of love.

[1] The New Testament never uses this word. It is only used in the Old Testament in reference to Israel.

[1] New Apostolic Reformation is a twin movement of Word-Faith but has even more emphasis on signs and wonders and modern day Apostles. Some of its prominent leaders include Bill Johnson, John Arnott, C. Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs and Heidi Baker.

[1] Technically, there will never even be a time when Satan resides in Hell. Revelation 20:14 states that Hell and death are thrown into the lake of fire where Satan and the demons will already be by that time. It is a distinction with probably little meaningful difference, but a distinction nonetheless.

[1] Osman, Jim (2015-01-24). Truth Or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare (Kindle Locations 1905-1908). Jim Osman, Kootenai Community Church. Kindle Edition.

[1] For an excellent book on spiritual warfare from a biblically sound perspective see Truth or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare by Pastor Jim Osman. Also available is a 6 CD set of 12 interviews with Jim Osman and this writer on the topic of Spiritual Warfare. It is available at

[1] All of these mentioned have massive doctrinal errors.

“The War Room”: Movie Review from Christianity Today Magazine

Lazy Writing, Cheap Restoration

Christian films like ‘War Room’ are getting better, but they still lag in quality in one important area.

Kenneth R. Morefield/ August 28, 2015

Alex and Stephen Kendrick, darlings of the Christian film industry, are back in theaters today with War Room, their fifth film overall and their first since 2011’s Courageous. War Room is produced by Provident, but it’s being distributed by TriStar, which shows that they’ve come far—and that commercial studios are certainly willing to court Christian viewers.

A few years ago, a studio executive told me that the primary place in which the typical Christian film suffers, compared to its mainstream peers, is in the writing. Many Christian productions are willing to hire experienced, professional directors; even when they’re shot by self-taught cinematographers, the result is usually at least adequate. Christian productions now attract familiar stars: Robert Duvall in Seven Days in Utopia; Sean Astin in Mom’s Night Out; Cybill Shepard in Do You Believe?

But when it comes to screenplay writing, the genre seems stuck in a rut. It’s more committed to heavy-handed providential plotting than imaginative explorations of character or setting.

War Room follows the increasingly dreary pattern familiar to anyone who has seen more than a handful of Christian films. Karen Abercrombie and Priscilla Shirer are easy to like as a spiritually mature senior on the one hand and a beleaguered housewife on the other whom the older woman teaches to pray. T. C. Stallings plays a flatter character: Tony, the not-yet philandering but not exactly faithful husband to Shirer’s Elizabeth. The women deliver lines like “Devil, you just got your butt kicked!” and “Go back to hell where you belong, and leave my family alone!” with the requisite earnestness to make viewers believe that they believe.

But believe what exactly? That prayer is good?

Because that seems to be the film’s thesis, and it is so anxious to underline and demonstrate that thesis that it jettisons any bit of characterization or plot incident that isn’t immediately and directly tied to Clara’s or Elizabeth’s prayer life.

Tangential question: are addresses to Satan prayers? I found it odd that in a movie about the centrality and necessity of prayer, the characters are shown contending with Satan more often than attending to God. This seems to be a subtle way in which the film—and maybe the strain of Evangelicalism it is made for—flirts with turning prayer into a work.

Elizabeth’s prayers themselves are implied through montages and post-it notes, and Miss Clara’s instructions seem to have more to do with manipulating the external environment than the content or execution of prayer. The film’s one specific piece of advice—you should have a space dedicated exclusively to prayer in your home—is certainly not bad. But it’s also one of several places in which the film is more exclusively directed towards the affluent viewer who has that space to spare than it perhaps realizes.

Avoiding Controversy By Being Innocuous

College English professors teach their freshmen a common axiom: if you pick a thesis for your argument that nobody could, or does, disagree with, it’s a bad thesis for a paper.

That goes for films, too. In this case, the thesis is that “prayer changes things.” It just does. End of story.

Christian Films frequently avoid controversy by being innocuous. They smooth the edges and elide the elements of our faith that we struggle with or argue about. This is a problem.

Being inspirational or uplifting is fine. But to sustain the hazy good feelings wrought by Christian art means more than promoting bromides about how our God is able. It means demonstrating those truths by embedding them in fully realized and developed narratives. And when those narratives aren’t fully developed, when characters aren’t carefully and lovingly drawn as real people, they can wind up backfiring subtly for the film.

This is precisely where War Room, like so many Christian films, stumbles. The characters and situation are so thinly drawn that even those of us who believe in the film’s ultimate message have a hard time with the package wrapped around it. Tony, Clara, and Elizabeth don’t come across as real people, but as stock figures in a sermon set in in some indeterminate Christianville. By standing in for everyone, they come across as having no real, personal identity of their own. Because the setting is meant to be anywhere, it comes across as unlike any place that is real.

That vague setting is especially evident in how the film depicts social class, along with the financial perils that Tony’s dishonesty supposedly create. Do the Jordans and Miss Clara belong to the same social class? Miss Clara apparently inherited her home from her husband who fought in the war; she is selling it to a pastor who doesn’t look as though he is wealthy or representing a megachurch. Is this an instance in which the spiritual wisdom and happiness of the middle class is meant to teach a lesson to the wealthy? Are the Jordans wealthy?
Early on they certainly are. In one of the film’s first scenes, Tony slams Elizabeth for giving five thousand dollars from the couple’s discretionary account to her sister. It’s worth noting here that Tony doesn’t object because this is a significant portion of the family income. Rather, he says that he makes “four times as much” as Elizabeth, and so should have final say in how even discretionary income is distributed. What’s more, he argues that his sister-in-law is responsible for her own precarious financial position because she married a no-good, lazy, bum. That Tony is African-American is meant to inoculate the film, I guess, from playing on class stereotypes, anything that would suggest that all recipients of charity are capable individuals who simply lack the work ethic of the financially successful.

Class Mysteries

But Elizabeth is a part-time real estate agent and housewife, so that “four times” is a puzzling piece of lazy writing, allowing the Kendricks to convey the power dynamics within the family without requiring them to research or imagine specific details about their characters’ lives. Is Elizabeth a power realtor making a killing in commercial leases who only happens to be selling Miss Clara’s house?

Given the amount of time she spends with Miss Clara drinking lukewarm coffee and soaking up pearls of wisdom, it’s hard to see how she has time to stage, show, or sell a lot of other houses. Later in the film, she mentions asking her boss if she can pick up a few more properties, so she is definitely represented as an agent and not an independent realtor.

Let’s say that Elizabeth makes $40,000 a year, just below the average for a full-time real-estate agent. That would mean Tony is taking home a healthy $160,000 from his job selling pharmaceuticals. (If any of my readers are in sales for a living and that sounds high or low, please drop me a line.)

When Tony is fired for “padding” his accounts, he has to give back the company car and worries openly that the Jordans “might” lose their home. Yet after an indeterminate period of unemployment—the film relies heavily on at least four montages to suggest the passage of time—he accepts a job at the community recreation center for “half” what his other job paid. (If any of my readers organize jump rope contests for primary school kids and get paid $80,000 for their efforts, please drop me a line and an application.) A chastened Tony now wants to help out his in-laws, but economizing means the couple can only afford to make a car payment for the never-seen poor relations.

After just a few weeks (possibly months) of unemployment, Tony is able to land a job that requires no specialized education or training, no references, no experience, and still pays enough to leave a couple hundred left over to help out extended family. Unemployment is either calamitous or no big deal, an actual blessing in disguise. Elizabeth is either entirely dependent on Tony or makes enough money working part time to support the family indefinitely. What’s going on here?

A Sermon Illustration, Not a Movie

My hunch is that the Kendricks aren’t really interested in how prayer saves Tony (or in what it saves him from), only asserting that it does. War Room is a sermon illustration, not a movie, and it needs only include details that underline the parable, not those that ground it in the real world.

The finances are not the only place where the script is indifferent to devilish details, only the most visible. How exactly does Tony pad his accounts or keep back a portion of the drugs for his personal stash? I have never worked at a hospital, but even I have seen enough episodes of ER to know that nobody just walks into a medical facility’s pharmacy and logs in how many drugs he is dropping off.

That Tony’s boss is reluctant to file charges struck me as feasible, that he handles the theft of product and Tony’s de facto robbing of clients as a strictly internal matter does not. Given the company’s liability vulnerability, there is no realistic reason Tony’s boss doesn’t turn him in to the police, even before Tony confesses to his secret stash.

But the script wants to reward Tony for stepping out in faith, and director Alex Kendrick himself takes on the role of CEO/expository preacher, explaining more for our benefit than Tony’s why he isn’t turning him in—it’s a parable of earned grace, a reward for doing the right thing, see?

I also have a hunch that the script’s greater comfort in discussing the importance of prayer than in showing the mechanics of making a living is indicative of a broader dis-ease in American evangelicalism, rather than a personal blind spot in the artist’s imaginative vision. With issues of class and race minimalized—Tony experiences no visible, overt racism, even from the executive who wants to turn him into the police—the film ends up spiritualizing all social problems, seeing their root in Satanic opposition and, hence, defeated primarily through prayer.

There may be seeds of truth in this theodicy, but in War Room, the enemy only works through direct, psychological attacks on individuals, never through the racist, patriarchal, oligarchical infrastructures of this world. I’ve long argued that Americans’ suspicion of Marxism and socialism extends to evangelicals’ neglect of the Social Justice Tradition (to borrow a term from Renovare).

Elizabeth does say at one point that it is hard to submit to the pre-repentant Tony, but the film nowhere grapples with this kind of complementarianism, or even suggests that Elizabeth doesn’t share some or most of the blame for Tony’s moral failings, since she neglected her wifely duty to pray for him. All of the couple’s problems are results of bad (and unnecessary) choices on the husband’s part—none of them from ever being in seemingly untenable positions caused by unjust actions of other people.

Easy Fixes

Neither are any of the couple’s problems anything that can’t be solved in a single step, through repentance alone.

As mentioned earlier, Tony’s theft is forgiven and after a short period of chastening, he is rewarded with another, better (albeit lower-paying) job. Tony confesses to a flirtation, but he has fortunately stopped short of adultery, so there are no illegitimate children, sexually transmitted diseases, or emotionally enmeshed and damaged mistresses to negotiate once he has turned over a new leaf and started washing Elizabeth’s feet.

I was always taught in my Christian Education that there are acts of sin and there are habits and bonds of sin. (In an early scene, Tony lustfully ogles a woman while sitting in a church pew.) God can and does forgive both, but He does not always magically shield us from the consequences of the bad choices previously made. If you want to see what a lifetime of pursuing Mammon does to people who suddenly try to economize, check out The Queen of Versailles. If you want to see how hard to slip are the habits of promiscuity for those who have repented, check out Thanks for Sharing. If you want to see how ingrained are the patriarchal assertions of privilege within most evangelical communities, read the comment thread in just about any article on Her.meneutics.

Tony’s transformation is so complete, his break with the habits of sin so absolute, that one sees him not so much as a man emboldened and encouraged through prayer but as the prize given to Elizabeth when she pulls the prayer lever.

Another Way

My experience watching War Room was not helped by the fact that I have seen two veritable masterpieces in the last year about well-rounded characters brought to their wit’s end by the pressures of unemployment.

In Two Days, One Night (now streaming on Netflix in the United States), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne detail a weekend in the life of Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a recently laid-off worker who has forty-eight hours to convince her eighteen co-workers to forego bonuses so that she can keep her job. In that film, not only the protagonists, but each of the co-workers she appeals to, is painted with more depth and nuance than any of the characters in War Room.

In another film, Clay Hassler’s Homeless, a teen tries to cobble together enough money for the security deposit on an apartment before his dad is paroled from prison. Shot on a budget of only $20,000 and using volunteer actors from the Winston-Salem community, Hassler’s film masterfully portrays how both bad choices and infrastructural roadblocks combine to make the crawl away from poverty painfully slow and precariously uncertain.

My prayer as we head into the fall and winter film season is that audiences who may not be fully satisfied with the Kendricks’ film seek out and find Homeless. War Room doesn’t have a bad message, but in nearly every area, and especially in its writing, Homeless is the better film.

Kenneth R. Morefield (@kenmorefield) is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I, II, & III, and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

“The War Room”: Movie Review at The Cripplegate

Review: War Room

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.

War Room:

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.

A.D. The Degradation Continues – Episode 11

Rather than bore you with my usual play-by-play, I decided to just insert the summary from over at, which sums this episode up nicely:

In this, the penultimate episode of Season One of A.D. the statue of Caligula still looms large as a problem for the Temple hierarchy and for the religious life in Jerusalem. The statue in reality never got to Jerusalem, but by the end of this episode it shows up in a crate on Pilate’s doorstep. The year Caligula attempted to put a statue in the Temple is A.D. 40. The other major story lines include: 1) the death of Joanna (a pity because she is probably the same person mentioned in Rom. 16 as Junia (the Latin form of the name, in which case she lived long after 40); 2) the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, and the new wrinkle in that tale is that he turns out to be a weapons supplier for the Zealots in Jerusalem, and is expelled from Jerusalem and sent packing back down the Gaza road, where he runs into Philip, and they have their discussion about Isaiah 52-53. Interestingly, this episode follows the Western Text of Acts rather than the earliest text where there is no request for his making a confession of faith, he is simply baptized; 3) the story of Tabitha continues, and her dramatic raising from the dead concludes this episode quite effectively; 4) along the way we get James negotiating with Caiaphas to allow the Christians to meet in the Temple and share their faith; and 5) more intrigue and discord between Pilate and his wife.

Some have complained about the mixture of religion and politics in this show, and wrongly in my judgment, since those two things were and are always intertwined in the Holy Land. It’s unavoidable. A more reasonable lament would be that some of the fiction created to fill in gaps does not do justice either to the political history, or some aspects of the Biblical story. But over all, judged just as story, the narrative is effectively told and the acting is good. Near the end we get a peek at what is going to happen to Cornelius, for he regrets and weeps over the unjust strangling of Joanna. Stay tuned.

The Account of Tabitha’s healing is recorded in Acts 9:38-39 and the biblical account is a bit different concerning her activities as a believer. You can read the account for a comparison if you wish.

The same for comparing the televising version of the drama around the Ethiopian Eunuch, you can find the entire account in Acts 8:26-40.

I did take not of the series setting up Cornelius to be, in the series, to be the same Cornelius spoken of in Acts, Chapter 10. Watch and see if I’m right. J

One episode to go and I hope any plans for a second season end up being scrapped. Having said that, I intend to watch to the bitter end (this season) I am very familiar with the entirety of the book of Acts and I have had several opportunities to discuss fact v. fiction with both other Christians and nonbelievers.

I’ll again post the Issues, Etc. review audio when it is posted.

Drowning in Distortion — Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

Monday • March 31, 2014, Al Mohler


My first experience teaching the Bible came when I was asked at the last minute to teach a Sunday School class of first-grade boys. I was only 16 years old, and I did not exactly volunteer to teach the class. I found myself telling a familiar Bible story to six-year olds and explaining it as best I could. There have been very few Sundays since when I have not taught or preached, usually to a congregation a bit less fidgety than my first.

You learn one thing fast when teaching the Bible to six-year-old boys — they often think they can “improve” on the story as found in the Bible. First-grade boys are big on special effects, blowing away bad guys, exploding just about anything, and what we might gently call “narrative overkill.”

That helps me to understand director Darren Aronofsky and his new film, Noah. Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel started with the Old Testament narrative about Noah, just about 2,400 words in English translation, and exploded it into a huge Hollywood production.

What could possibly go wrong?

Controversy about the movie erupted before the film hit the theaters. Three Muslim nations have banned the film and a number of evangelical figures registered concerns. Most of these concerns seemed to be about additions Aronofsky made to the narrative. Seeing the film after knowing of these concerns, I expected to be both entertained and irked. The actual viewing of the movie was an altogether different experience.

Evangelical Christians tend to be either too excited or too exercised about Hollywood. There is a periodic swing between giddy excitement that Hollywood has decided to make a movie about the Bible or a Christian theme and, on the other hand, barely restrained outrage that Hollywood has brought forth some new atrocity. Actually, most celebrations and consternations about Hollywood are overblown. The film industry is all about telling a story and selling movie tickets. There are artistic elements, worldview considerations, and moral dimensions to be sure, but Hollywood is, after all, an industry.

Believing that evangelical concerns about Noah were almost surely overblown, I went to see the movie. I was wrong. The concerns are not overblown. My response is not outrage, however, but deep concern – and part of my concern is that so many evangelicals are, in my view, focusing on the wrong issues.

Aronofsky, who has described himself as a “not-too-religious Jew,” is a skilled storyteller. His movies tend to be pretentious, but rarely boring. He has, to say the very least, added a very great deal to the Bible’s account of Noah in Genesis. In itself, that is not the problem.

As A. O. Scott, film reviewer for The New York Times commented, “The information supplied about Noah in the Book of Genesis is scant – barely enough for a Hollywood pitch meeting, much less a feature film.” Aronofsky told Rolling Stone magazine: “The film completely accepts the text, the four chapters in Genesis, as truth – just like if I was to adapt any book, I’d try to be as truthful to the original material as possible. It’s just that there’s only four chapters, as we had to turn it into a two-hour long narrative film. In the Bible, Noah doesn’t even speak. So of course we’ve got to dramatize the story.” Boy, did he dramatize it.

Before making that the issue, however, we had better note that evangelicals are not necessarily outraged to any degree when Hollywood (or anyone else) dramatizes the story, even adding non-biblical elements. There is no cold-hearted innkeeper in the Gospels, nor a donkey carrying the expectant Mary, but they make their way into countless movies made by and for Christians. There is neither a drummer boy nor a drum in the birth narratives of Christ, but no one seems to complain that the drummer boy appears. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

Cecil B. DeMille added to Exodus to tell the story of the Ten Commandments, but that movie is loved by many evangelicals.

Why is Noah different?

Well, the problem is not that Aronofsky and Handel added to the Bible’s account. It is that they distort it to the uttermost, perhaps without even intending to do so. Since they knew that they had to “turn it into a two-hour feature movie,” they knew they had to invent a lot of material not found in the Bible. They may not have intended to distort the story as they did. Furthermore, Paramount Pictures had a big say in the final form of the film, much to Aronofsky’s frustration. The director and the corporation share responsibility for this movie.

The problem is not that the movie has to fill in any number of narrative gaps, or that Aronofsky used his imagination in so doing. His oddest characterization, by the way, may well be the “fallen angels” called the “watchers,” based rather loosely on the Nephilim found in Genesis 6:4. They appear in the film as giant figures made of something like rock and asphalt. They first appear as enemies of humankind, but one, speaking with the voice of Nick Nolte, protects Noah and convinces others to do likewise. They appear as mighty cartoon figures in the movie, but they really belong in a science fiction film.

In portraying the Nephilim this way, Aronofsky has not made these figures more strange than how the Bible describes them. The Bible actually presents them in even more bizarre terms. They are described as beings who were on the earth in those days, “when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and bore children to them.” This appears to be an indication that rebellious angels had sexual intercourse with human women, who bore sons described as “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” This understanding of the Nephilim seems to be affirmed in the New Testament in Jude, verses 6-7. Thankfully, this is not the Bible story I was assigned to teach those six-year-old boys many years ago.

There are big problems with how Aronofsky and Handel expand the narrative, even when we accept the fact that a film maker has to invent dialogue and embellish the narrative. Even as Aronofsky told Rolling Stone that he had tried “to be as truthful to the original material as possible,” he clearly decided to change key elements, rejecting the Bible’s account in some respects. He includes a wife for Shem on the boat, but when the ark begins its journey there are no wives for Ham and Japeth. Genesis states clearly that their wives were among the eight human beings who entered the ark. Aronofsky invents a scene in which a barely adolescent Noah witnesses the murder of his father, Lamech at the hands of the movie’s arch villain, Tubal-cain. Genesis makes that impossible. As a matter of fact, Aronofsky lifts Tubal-cain out of context in Genesis 4:22 as “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron,” and puts him in the Noah narrative as Noah’s arch-rival, representing the line of Cain making war on the line of Shem. He even puts him on the ark, depicting Ham as his co-conspirator against Noah.

Aronofsky’s skill in cinematography and movie-making is clear. The visuals are often arresting and many of his narrative devices work brilliantly. Others are simply odd, like the suggestion that Methuselah would give Noah a hallucinogenic potion so that he can hallucinate God’s will. The list of odd elements would be very long.

But the odd elements are not the problem, the movie’s message is. Furthermore, the way that message distorts the Genesis account is a far larger problem when it becomes clear that the misrepresentation extends to the master narrative of the Bible – including the character of God.

Aronofsky presents the flood as the Creator’s judgment upon industrialization, urbanization, and ecological predation of humanity in the line of Cain. To be fair, there are elements of these themes in Genesis. But the Bible straightforwardly declares that the flood was God’s verdict on the sinfulness of humanity, seen in the wickedness and sinfulness that are described as “violence” and depicted, as in the tower of Babel narrative, as nothing less than idolatry. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously.” [Genesis 6:5]

In Noah, the existence of humanity is a blight upon the earth. Rather than suggesting that humans had misused and abused the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, human dominion is depicted as the fundamental problem. This leads to a horrifying anti-humanism in the movie that cannot be rescued by the (finally) rather hopeful conclusion, with Noah and his family depicted as placidly agrarian and vegetarian, restarting human civilization on a placid hillside. The covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 9 explicitly gives humanity animal flesh to eat, and the dominion and stewardship granted to humanity in Genesis 1:28 and re-set in Genesis 9:1-17 is a function of human beings made in God’s image. Image-bearing assigns dominion. The real question is what we will do with that dominion.

Aronofsky introduces Noah as a kind and caring family man, but his divine assignment turns the movie’s Noah into a sociopathic monster. At this point the movie veers into a radical distortion of the biblical account. Noah is now depicted as a madman ready to murder his own grandchildren in order to end humanity and rid creation of the human threat. This kind of distortion of the story is what led Christopher Orr of The Atlantic to refer to Aronofsky as “more Old Testament than the Old Testament itself.” The Old Testament, we might say, is Old Testament enough, on its own.

This not only misses the point of the Genesis narrative, it corrupts it. Aronofsky is telling a truly fascinating story in these segments of the film, but it is not the story of Noah as found in the Bible. Totally missing from the movie is the understanding that God is simultaneously judging and saving, ready to make a covenant with Noah that will turn the biblical narrative toward Abraham and the founding of Israel. God is spoken of in the movie, but he does not speak. He is identified only as “The Creator,” and he appears to be driven by an essentially ecological fervor. The entire context of covenant is completely absent.

God’s act of creation is both portrayed and celebrated as an act of divine glory and wonder, but Aronofsky cannot resist shaping the story to fit the theory of evolution, right down to the animation. The recasting of the creation narrative is not subtle.

The constant discussion of humanity as good or evil falls far short of the Bible’s treatment of sin. The problem is not that Aronofsky and Handel push an environmental message. There must surely be elements of that message in Genesis 6-9. The problem is their depiction of humanity as a blight upon the earth. The Genesis narrative clearly and consistently presents humans as divine image-bearers, though fallen. God’s purpose in the flood is not to destroy all humanity, but to begin anew with Noah as, in a sense, a new Adam. In this sense Noah and the ark function to point to what God will do for sinful humanity in accomplishing atonement for sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Genesis presents Noah as a faithful and obedient man. His obedience to God’s command is evident in Genesis 6:22 – “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” In Hebrews 11:7 we are told that Noah “in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” In doing so, “he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is described as “a preacher of righteousness.” In no biblical text is he presented as a murderous sociopath whose own moral judgment on the wickedness of humanity is in any way central to the story. The Bible presents God as the central actor in the story – not Noah.

More than anything else, the controversy over Noah should lead Christians to understand something that should be our natural instinct. We must recognize that the Bible tells its own story infinitely better than anyone else can tell it – Hollywood included. The Bible has suffered cinematic violence at the hands of its friends as well as its enemies. This is not to argue that the Bible is off-limits to Hollywood or that Christians, among others, should not make films and movies on biblical themes and narratives. It is to state, however, that no movie, book, story, song, or other narrative device can do what the Bible does on its own terms.

Hollywood knows that Christian families are a vast market. TIME published a major news report on the efforts undertaken by Aronofsky and Parmount Pictures to sell Noah to the Christian community. Similarly, USA Today reported on Hollywood’s new interest in the Christian audience. The writer of that report, Scott Bowles, quoted Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University: “Hollywood has the same corporate and relativist values it has had for many years . . . .  The producers have, however, identified a market that is underserved and won’t come to the movie theater to watch crazy violence and sex-drenched plots.”

We are given all that we need to know about Noah in the Bible – and we need every word of the Bible. We cannot expect Hollywood to tell that story for us, or even to tell the story well. Our response to Noah should not be castigation and cultural outrage, but rather a sober realization that the story is ours to tell, and to tell faithfully.

In a lengthy essay for The New Yorker, Tad Friend recounted Darren Aronofsky’s road to making Noah. The essay is not for the faint-hearted. In it, Aronofsky declares Noah to be “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made.”

We can’t say we weren’t warned. And yet, Aronofsky is almost surely far off the mark when he makes that statement. Noah is not the least biblical movie ever made about the Bible. There have been worse, and will be worse again. The movie is not without its brilliance and moments of penetrating insight. But it gets the story line wrong, indulges in eccentric exaggeration, and distorts the character of both Noah and God. That is what surprised me. I expected to be irritated by the movie – but I found myself grieved.

Oddly enough, the most important statement about the movie came at the conclusion of A. O. Scott’s review in The New York Times. The review, like most in the Times, ended with a statement about the movie’s rating, usually detailing the reason for the rating in terms of sex or violence (or both).

At the end of Scott’s review of Noah we find these words: “’Noah’ is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and only Noah remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”

Scott’s point is clear enough – the Genesis account of Noah is messy and troubling and violent. Of course, it is filled with grace and mercy, too. The Bible tells us the story as we are to know it and tell it, and it is ours to tell. Again, the Bible is infinitely better at telling its own story than anyone or anything else, including and especially Hollywood. Perhaps the main lesson Christians are to learn from this movie is that if we do not tell the story, others will.


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