Faith Like Potatoes: Movie review and a discernment lesson

I have Netflix now. I love Netflix. I love spending an hour looking for something to watch before giving up and going to bed. Ha ha, it's not quite like that but almost. So when I found a film in the religion and spirituality section that seemed solid, and had good reviews, I eagerly queued it up for a viewing last night.

It is called Faith Like Potatoes.

The story is based on a real family and a true spiritual event that began in the mid 1970s in Zambia. The movie is actually based on a book and the real-life story of Scottish farmer Angus Buchan and his struggles in Africa to make a living. Angus Buchan and his pregnant wife Jill and three children had been growing concerned with the rising violence and plunging currency in their adopted country. Selling their huge and good-yielding farm at a severe loss, they packed up and headed to South Africa to start over.

Practically penniless, life was hard and Angus grew more angry and despairing. The work was tough. Having little to no money to pay farm help, it meant long 18 hour days, 7 days per week for Angus as he strove to provide for his family and made slow but agonizing progress.

He began to get into fights, haunt the local bar, and gobble tranquilizers, all to no avail to salve the anger and depression stealing the light in his soul. One day he was invited to a Methodist church service in which other farmers & lay-men were giving testimonies. Struck by a spiritual thunderbolt, he came forward at the invitation and accepted Jesus as Savior.

The film did an excellent job up until this point. His longing for the Savior was evident to all except him, that is, and what he needed was obvious. His conversion was beautifully done. The struggle he evidenced in the pew until that climactic moment when he stood up, grabbed his wife's hand and led her forward had me in tears. Excellent.

Then the movie started to lose me.

In this article from CrossRhythms Angus explains, "The name Faith like Potatoes originated from that great Scottish preacher Peter Marshall. He was the Chaplain to the US Senate. He said that you must have faith that's tangible and simple; faith that's real, faith that you can touch; faith like potatoes. We took that little cliché and used it as our title."

In the movie it is explained, "Feel this potato. Smell it. Your faith in God must be like that. It must be real. You can feel it. You can smell it. Faith has got to be like potatoes." It was said in the movie and he has said in real life, 'faith needs to have flesh and substance.'

However the bible says the opposite.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1).

The faith of Angus Buchan rests on, and his later preaching emphasizes, tangibility. In the movie, shortly after his conversion (it seemed shortly, in movie terms anyway) the Lord sent a miracle rain to stop a fire from destroying his and a neighbor's farm. Then a lightning bolt stunned (or killed, no one is quite sure) a Zulu farm worker and Buchan raised her from unconsciousness (or death, no one is quite sure). The potatoes were an expensive crop that one was daft to plant in a drought, and many friends and even his pastor tried to talk him out of it. If the potatoes failed, he would be bankrupt, but the harvest yielded potatoes. Big ones, too, it's noted.

People in the movie came to believe based on what God did rather than what they heard. But it is what a person hears and knows that saves him. Not miracles. (Romans 10:17).

As you may know because I've written about it in a three-part series, I am cessationist. I believe God still works miracles and I believe in the supernatural, but I do not believe He endows His believers with miracle producing ability today. The gifts of healing and prophecy and tongues were for a sign and now that the bible is finished we have the bible as a sign. I believe that apostolic miracles ended as the scriptures indicate, sometime during the end of the first generation church when the last of the Apostles died. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). More to the point, Jesus warned us that in the last days, false christs would come and perform miracles and signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24-25.)

By the time the movie got to the potatoes, it seemed to me that Angus was trying to test God. Further, it seemed to me that his faith rested in miracles rather than solely on the God who could perform them. But that was how the movie presented it. I wanted to learn more about the man and what he preached, directly from the man and not from what could be a twisted version of his beliefs.

To that end, I looked up information on Mr Buchan subsequent to the events portrayed in the movie. I watched interviews with him. I watched an hour-long documentary in which Mr Buchan spoke of his spiritual journey. I watched clips on Youtube of his preaching at revivals. I watched interviews, such as a recent one on CBN/700 Club with Pat Robertson.

I came away from all that more sad than anything because of what I learned.

I will discuss the doctrinal difficulties with Mr Buchan's preaching and his beliefs in the next essay. As for the movie, I still give it a thumbs up. The first half is first rate. The cinematography is gorgeous. It isn't a low-budget Christian movie with low production values, by any means. It is lush. And the acting was good. The final half, if one suspends belief regarding the miracles, is inspiring. For example, I was more struck by the growing relationship between Angus and his foreman Simeon Bhengu. As Angus was called away to preach in distant places more often, Simeon was the trusted one who stayed behind to protect the farm and Angus's family. In another segment, the loss of the child and resulting portrayal of grief through faith was well done.

However, though the final scene where the potatoes are uncovered and Angus and his foreman dance on the plots, then pans to the lane where the wife is leading the entire town down to help harvest was nice. But then she said,

"Did you not think I'd have faith in these potatoes?"

Ultimately, one is left wondering at the end of the movie, what do I put my faith in? Did I hear a message of sin and redemption and a resurrected Jesus? A little but not so much. I heard a lot about miracles and what He can do for me by His miraculous power over disease and over weather.

For me, the miraculous power is salvation. It's regeneration. It is a deposit of the indwelling Holy Spirit to sanctify me all my life-long. It is prayer heard and prayer answered. I wish, O, I wish, these miracles were enough for people!

I compare a movie like Faith Like Potatoes and The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry and to me, the miracles occurred in Sperry and not Potatoes. Why? Because the miracle is in the transforming power of a lifelong faith in a man. The miracle is the beauty of a multiplying faith within a community by the quiet and unseen power of the Word. Flashy manifestations aside, faith in Jesus alone is the real miracle. Sperry has it. Potatoes doesn't.

Go watch the more inspiring Secrets of Jonathan Sperry and leave the miracles to the unseen.


Part 2 next: what exactly is off about Angus Buchan's doctrine, and why is he the biggest evangelist you never heard of?