Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Prosperity put-downs/a not-so-new trend

Last week I heard about this great movie coming out that was produced by a Baptist church in Florida called Facing the Giants. I was told that Sony was giving it a test run over the weekend to see if it would continue to market the film. Being the good Christian patrons, my wife and I rushed to the theater after church on Sunday, purchased our tickets, and watched the film. After an emotional roller coaster of crying then laughing, then crying and laughing again, we left the film with a sense of hope for the future and a greater appreciation for the love of God. I immediately went home to check the online reviews of the film and came across Christianity Today's review of the film. Expecting at least a nod of appreciation for the film's content, I was rather disappointed when the reviewer blasted the film.

What disappointed me wasn't so much the fact that the reviewer didn't like the acting in the film. I can understand that. Acting is very subjective and all us have different emotional triggers that work uniquely for us and not for others. What disappointed me was the content of the criticism. The critic pointed to a scene where an assistant coach tries to help a struggling athlete kick a field goal by applying the Scripture , "Narrow is the way that leads to life and broad is the way that leads to destruction." The critic described this as "twisting Jesus's words" and totally missed the point. The coach wasn't giving a theology lesson, he was trying to help a struggling athlete. This is called comic relief, not Film Theology 101.

The other put down was the fact that things turn out a little too right for the stuggling coach and his infertile wife. After the main character has an encounter with God and decides to live for His glory, God shows up and turns his hopeless situation around. According to the critic, this is too close to the "name it and claim it" and "prosperity gospel" camp.

I beg to differ. Repeatedly in the film, the coach says that we are to praise God when we win and we are to praise God when we lose (aka...when things go bad). It just so happened that things did happen to turn out right for the man in every way before the end of the film. Might I ask, what is wrong with this? Speaking from the perspective of someone who has struggled with many of the same issues as the coach in the film (I too often feel like a failure and my wife and I have been struggling with infertility for almost the same time as the character in the film), I find it rather encouraging that if we live for the glory of God, then God will help us to win in the end-whatever that looks like.

Too often the words "name it and claim it" and "prosperity gospel" become cheap put- downs against Christians (especially preachers) who actually believe that God answers prayer. I wonder if the critic of this film was equally disappointed when he read the Book of Job and discovered that, in the end, God gave Job twice as much as he had before. Yes. Sometimes things really do turn out right for people when they cry out to God in genuine faith. I ,for one, do not have a problem with that. Why should I?


Pete said...

First and foremost, you have to realize that you are dealing with a professional movie critic which means that you won't agree most of the time if you have good tastes in movies. I can't count the number of times I have seen a film lauded and couldn't even stay awake during the movie or the other way around.
That being said, I have found that the one thing critics do have a talent for picking out is poor acting. It is subjective, mind you, but a great performance stands out even in a stupid movie. Of course often times, the blame should fall mostly on the poor directing, and the more skilled movie critics can blow a whistle on that pretty well too ( in my opinion ).
As far as the critic blasting the movie goes, I think he was trying to say that the movie gives off a feel that if you take a walk in the woods and have one or two good prayer sessions than everything in your life will turn out perfect. While I understand that God is perfectly able to turn any and all situations around for the better I can see why the critic sees this as a little too cliche. As much as Job was blessed in the end, he went through an unmatched dark season and one of the most celebrated men in the Bible, David, had an extremely tumultuous life in his struggle to do God's will.
I see this critic give a nod to the content ( towards the end ) while questioning the skill in presenting it. Think of it this way: Every time you hear a sermon you very likely appreciate the content, but ( if you're like me ) you may see problems in the presentation that makes the difference between a decent Sunday sermon and a Billy Graham crusade. As a christian movie, this is a sermon, and it is the critic's job to dissect it. At least he was honest with us about what he felt about it. He could have lied and said that it is the best movie ever simply because it is a christian movie.
But of course, that's all just my take on it, and we're each entitled to our own I guess. Glad you enjoyed it, I plan to see it very soon.

Aaron D. Taylor said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree that the critic has a right to like or dislike a movie based on his or her own reasons. But, since a critic so easily dishes out criticism, I think it is perfectly valid to criticize a critic. While I share some of the concerns of the critic (such as presenting the idea that everything will turn out the way you want it to if you pray a few good prayers), I think he overstated his case by comparing the film to "name it and claim it" theology. I think that American Christians are so disillusioned with "prosperity doctrine" that we've thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Also, if you see the movie, I think you would agree with me that the critics comments about the "narrow is the gate" scene as "twisting Jesus' words" totally missed the point of the scene, which was comic relief, not a theology lesson. Of course, you don't have to agree with me as long as you understand that I am always right.

Pete said...

I had foolishly forgotten that you are always right and for this very reason, I definitely want you ( not that dumb Paul guy ) on my team next time we play Trivial Pursuit. Haha!
Anyway, I can already tell that the scene you describe was improperly criticized and agree about your right to criticize the critic. He doesn't exactly strike me as an Ebert level critic, but at least he tried.
I like your "baby with the bath water" comparison, but living in the U.S.A, there's probably more people concerned with the conservation of the water than the baby.
P.S. It's too bad that the director didn't hire us as the lead actors. That critic would have been using the term Oscar-worthy if he had.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Good one Pete! I love the conserving water critique. You make an excellent point.