|Kendricks: L-R: Stephen, Alex, Shannon|
It has been a lifelong dream of Alex and Stephen to make full-length Christian movies, and at Sherwood Baptist that dream came to fruition in 2003 with the independent production of their first film collaboration, Flywheel. After that came Facing The Giants, a huge hit in 2006, Fireproof in 2008, a bigger hit which starred their first bona fide professional actor Kirk Cameron, and then Courageous in 2011, yet another hit with secular validations of climbing the NY Times Bestseller lists and gate take to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Movie #5, War Room, is due out Aug. 28, 2015.
After this the brothers split from Sherwood Pictures/Sherwood Baptist as their base for production and formed their own company, Kendrick Brothers Productions. Shannon, the eldest brother who had been working at IBM all this time, resigned to help his siblings with the management of their new company. Along the way much merchandise has been sold under the auspices of each film, notably the Love Dare and the LoveDareTest among LOTS of other merchandise from Fireproof, and the Courageous Resolution from Courageous, among LOTS of other merchandise from the aforementioned film. (2 Peter 2:3)
Many folks are pleased that faith-based honorable movies are being made which they say honor Christ, and are even more pleased that much merchandise is available to re-stock the movie company coffers so that these movies can keep being made. Churches who have been relentlessly pressured hype the films and in their church sanctuaries host previews, events, marital retreats, Courageous ceremonies, and 'bible' lessons accompanied by all the paraphernalia and curricula associated with the movies. Marriages are being saved. Fathers are returning to biblical duty. It's all good.
I'd like to offer a different view.
My first introduction to the Kendrick Brothers was as a newbie Christian, hapless bystander of the waves of hype when Facing the Giants was released. The Baptist church I'd been attending at the time heavily promoted the film and everyone was encouraged to attend. No doubt, the movie was a tearjerker, a feel good movie that seemed right with Jesus- on the surface. I was discomfited by the thread throughout that when one submits totally to God is when things begin to work in your earthly life and all your temporal wishes will come true, like winning football games and getting a new truck. It seemed to me a kind of slick Christianity. But I was new to the faith and more to the point, new to church life, and didn't know for sure.
|Kendrick Brothers' "Movie #5"|
Yes, it's true that when one submits to God, we will be blessed, but the biblical Stephen was 'blessed' with a vision of heaven before the last killing stone crushed his head. Paul was 'blessed' with a thorn in his side which tormented him God called sufficient grace. Peter was 'blessed' with a long career preaching in a persecuting world that ended with martyrdom on a cross. Facing the Giants bought into and promoted every Western Christian cliche imaginable. I would like to have seen the coach get fired even if he had won the championships. Or what would have happened to their faith if they hadn't won the championships. Or if they never had gotten pregnant. What then? Would THAT kind of faith hold true? But Facing the Giants isn't that kind of movie.
Then Fireproof came out and I was more discomfited. The hype was louder and tsunami-like this time. I can't tell you the pressure at churches when a new Kendrick Brothers movie is issued. It's like the second coming and this movie is gonna solve everything. I am not exaggerating. It was almost as if I would be blaspheming if I said that I didn't want to watch the movie or if I said that I didn't like it. There were parts in Fireproof I enjoyed but my discomfort with the doctrine in Fireproof was more coalesced this time.
First, I hated Catherine.
Worse, it was not clear from the hype, plot synopsis, or posters that Catherine was not a Christian. The husband, Caleb, might not have been but it's more sure that Catherine wasn't. The movie took the stance that it was a movie about Christian marriage but if it was, the writers would have to address being unbiblically yoked. If neither was saved when the movie began then it wouldn't have been a Christian movie. Did you realize that? That one or both marital partners are not Christian in the film for most of the running time?
From the script: at the very end-
This may be the second time they've made a commitment to this marriage... ...it is the first time they've done so on a foundation of faith in Jesus Christ.So if one or both parties is not of Christ, then we can see that the theme of the movie is how you act (demonstrate unconditional love, and overlook sin) is what brings a marriage together, not Christ. This secular reviewer hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
What about that message? There was really very little, if any, explanation of why Christianity had anything at all to do with the saving of Caleb and Catherine’s marriage. That’s what made the message so weak. All the actions shown from the “love dare” book were secular in nature, except the day where Caleb was supposed to pray for Catherine, which he admitted he didn’t do… which seems to be showing that, even without the religious parts, the marriage was saved.
I enjoyed Dalrock's review of Fireproof but here is an Internet Movie DataBase reviewer who has the same take as Dalrock (and me) but is more detailed, and funnier.
Caleb is a respected leader of a firefighter squad. His wife works in the hospital and flirts with a married doctor. When Caleb comes home, all he gets from his wife is complaining and disrespect. No wonder he resorts to internet porn and is saving money for a boat, probably so that he can sail away and finally enjoy life outside of his work. His wife wants to intercept all the money he has been saving and make him doing household chores, so she constantly nags and shows disrespect. In the meantime, she is working on her backup option, a rich doctor who would likely give her more money than her blue collar husband. Finally she resorts to a divorce threat to break Caleb's spirit. The firefighter would be happily free from the greedy witch, but his father begins a series of preaching sessions and is finally successful in persuading Caleb that he is the one to blame for all the marital disorder. The newly brainwashed firefighter smashes his porn loving computer and starts a program in which he sucks up to his wife every day. He even starts doing household chores. She ignores him and continues to work her charms on the doctor, until she makes sure that Caleb is totally obedient to her, and would accept any crap she gives to him. Finally he gives her (actually her mother) all the money he has been saving for his boat.Now it's tricky to negatively review Fireproof because it's true that Jesus needs to be the center of marriage. It is true that unconditional love needs to be the way we act in marriage. Mutual submission is the goal but if one is unequally yoked (Caleb converted first) then one needs to make the first move and continue it, as Jesus did no matter the rejection encountered. But I'm offering these alternate views for food for thought. Most aggravating to me is the lack of repentance on the wife's part. She accepted the gifts, the attention, and entered into vows at the end, but never humbled herself as Caleb did.
The only thing that the wife really goes after is money. She did not care that her hubby was doing his best to please her for 40 days. When she was thinking that the Doc was the one who gave her the money, she was falling for him and was ready for a divorce. When she realized that the money was actually given by her husband, she started loving Caleb again. Basically she acts like a super expensive escort, If the married doctor had given her more money than her husband, she would have followed the money, because this movie blatantly shows that this is the main thing which makes her tick.
The movie basically teaches how to emasculate and brainwash your husband, to get all the money and all the control in the relationship. Well, life is brutal. But wait, why is this called Christian?
I chose not to watch the Courageous movie, insulted as I was at the merchandising which turned me off from the outset. In addition, given the trajectory of the previous three movies (counting starting from Flywheel) the likelihood that the movie wouldn't be doctrinally sound was higher. I also did not like the emphasis on the main characters' faith being demonstrated by a public signing of a resolution. It is my contention that making extra vows and resolutions above and beyond what the bible commands is unnecessary and adds man's words to God's. Taking a vow before the LORD is a weighty, weighty matter, not one to be emotionally manipulated into based on peer pressure- which you know happened in churches all across America the months after the movie came out.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)
I am personally highly insulted to be the target of merchandising but I know that is how the world works. But I'm more insulted when churches target me. If I go to a church-led small group session to learn the Bible, if I am given a curriculum from a movie I heatedly resent that.
Now I understand that the intentions of the Kendrick Brothers was to make Jesus-honoring movies that address certain important aspects of Christian life (honesty, faith, marriage, fatherhood, now prayer). And of course fatherhood, faith, prayer and marital commitment are terrific themes for any book, movie, or curriculum. I don't doubt their motives...but they make it harder for me to trust their motives when the lead writer for the movies resigns his pastorate to follow a new calling, abandoning his flock and failing to fulfill his ministry in order to produce more Hollywood-style movies that have more and more merchandising attached. (2 Timothy 4:5).
Worse, as ordained ministers formerly operating under the oversight of their home church, (but no longer) listen to how the brothers decide to move forward with the themes for each of their movies. It isn't from the Bible. God tells them.
We go through the better part of a year, saying, ‘Lord what do you want us to focus on, what do you want the plot be?’ It’s usually near the end of that year. It could be eight months, ten months, or a full year… it’s almost like he downloads something to us. ... It wasn’t something where we sat in a room and said ‘What do you want to do?’ We’ve never done that.
I have previously discussed this approach to decision making. At minimum it is mystical. At maximum it leads to monstrosities like Sarah Young's Jesus Calling and most things false teacher Beth Moore. Do pastors sit in a prayer closet for 10 months and ask the Lord what to preach on, and wait until He downloads a theme? Hardly. (Hopefully). But this "Ask the Lord and He will tell you" method is all too common today. Is it wrong to seek the Lord in all you do? No. Is it wrong to consult with one another and say, "Let's do a movie on the importance of prayer"? Of course not. Christians have been making decisions this way for millennia. It's called "making a decision." However, attributing the theme of your movie to God because He downloaded it to you or personally revealed it does not inspire my confidence, it diminishes it, because now I'm concerned with their discernment. This concern revolves around three fronts. One, the aforementioned Mystical-Method of Hearing From god. Second, their choice of casting. Third, the Kendrick Brothers associations and partnerships.
For the movie Fireproof, Kendrick says his team heard God give them a theme of marriage. For the movie Courageous, fatherhood. And so on. He speculates that upcoming themes may be military faith, motherhood, or teen issues, but says he won’t really know until God downloads. [emphasis mine]
In this Youtube interview from several months ago regarding the upcoming release of War Room, the Brothers stated,
- We pray over every single role
- We want Christians playing Christians in these movies, we want to know they believe what they are speaking in these roles
- We want no hypocrisy, [we hire Christians who show that] we believe what this movie is about then live it out, outside the credits
Part 2 will discuss Mrs Shirer's beliefs, approach to Bible study, and then we will return to a discussion of the Kendrick Brothers' discernment.