I had begun to get so hopeful towards the efforts of Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the two brothers “who do the Christian films.” From Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, they are the filmmakers who made the surprise box office success Facing the Giants, in 2006, and followed it with Fireproof and Courageous, each time improving in their screenwriting sensitivity and accessibility for Christian and non-Christian alike. None of their films were as truly dreadful as the distressing God’s Not Dead!, and each one made more money than the last.

What had excited me was that the problems the firefighters faced in Fireproof and the policemen faced in Courageous were problems that they handled as Christians, but without seeming strangely unrealistic or “weird”. Of course these characters were different from the secular man who never prays, reads his Bible or goes to church, but these are things that have always distinguished Christians from those without faith (though not from religious Jews or Muslims), and they seemed to have been accepted by the movie-going public, at least enough to have built something of a following for the Kendrick brothers’ films.

More important, the solutions to the problems in these films were handled in a more realistic way than “Christian” films often handle them. After Facing the Giants, where the football team becomes more Christian and then wins, not one, not two, but three state championships, sometimes prayer and Bible study seem to help and sometimes they don’t, as is true in life. Fireproof and Courageous had characters who came to Christ and characters who didn’t, characters whose lives changed for the better and characters who continued to suffer. The stories felt more real.

Then along comes War Room. In it not only does the couple, who are the main characters, repair a breaking marriage in a couple of weeks, rediscover a great new job for the husband, reform a lying, thieving, philandering dad into an honest, sacrificial one, but also the daughter’s team wins second place in a jump rope contest with the help (and participation!) of her dad! Everything comes up roses in the end, and all the subtlety that had seem to at least have begun to be built in the earlier films is gone. Pray and everything will turn out splendidly is the message of this movie.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that a lot of the practices preached in this movie (yes, there is no weak “We’re just telling a story” here; these guys are preaching) are for the most part in line with what we should do in our spiritual practices. Even the idea of a prayer closet is one that saints from Augustine to Bill Hybels have recommended in their books. The sacrificial ideas propounded by the spiritual source of wisdom in the film, an older woman named Miss Clara and played by the entrancing Karen Abercrombie, are almost all spot-on. There is much in the film that should be heeded, if one desires to be a faithful Christian.

The problem is that the sovereign Lord of the universe simply doesn’t work on a quid pro quo basis with us in terms of our prayer. Yes, He does encourage us to pray, and, yes, He sometimes responds to those prayers in ways that deeply move us with joy and gratitude because He works His work to deliver us from danger or depression. But just as often, I believe, He does not and for reasons we often are not told.

War Room is far too pat with its solutions. And that’s too bad because much of it is well worth seeing. Just the jump rope competitions near the end are almost worth the price of a ticket.

Drew Trotter

September 22, 2015

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