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    On the War Path

    Predictable War Room offers a shallow view of prayer. October 13, 2015 by Michael W. Boyce
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    When I was approached to write something on Alex Kendrick's War Room (2015), I hesitated. I am not a fan of “Christian movies.” For the most part, I don't think they are particularly well made—they don't hold up as good movies—and as a scholar of film studies, that really matters to how I experience and judge films.

    As a Christian, I am regularly disappointed with the way Christianity is portrayed in these films and how non-Christians are represented as embittered, judgmental and foolish. The message of these films is if the characters just had Jesus, everything would be OK. What's implicit, of course, is that they must understand the message of Jesus in exactly the way the filmmakers understand it.

    War Room is no different: the characters are stock, the narrative predictable. And despite the fact that it found an initial audience (it was the top-grossing film for one week), I'm not convinced the movie is going to have any real cultural impact or longevity.

    The real question I have with films like this is: Who is the intended audience? Are these stories meant to reassure and comfort people of faith? Are they supposed to be an evangelistic tool to present the message of the gospel to a wider audience? Beyond “people of faith” (more accurately, people of a particular kind of conservative, evangelical faith), I don't imagine many film viewers would find much substance here. That's not to discount the positive experiences Christian filmgoers have had with the film—I have heard from many people who found it uplifting—but being Christian doesn't make something good. And so, while I respect people's positive experience of this film, I also want to raise two troubling aspects: its view of prayer and militarism.

    1. Prayer
    Don't misunderstand me—prayer is important. But what I found troubling was the way the film privileges a particular type of verbal, intercessory prayer. Real praying, according to War Room, is asking God to intercede on behalf of ourselves and others. The pray-er receives answers and blessings because she asked God. To me, this smacks of a “soft prosperity gospel,” in which praying leads to a better life. So when Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) starts praying, she saves her marriage—without the need of therapy or counselling.

    Prayer is not limited to one form. The film has little to say about silent prayer, prayer of praise and thanksgiving or praying the Psalms. What about the various contemplative forms of prayer being reintroduced to the Protestant church?

    2. Militarism
    I realize that I'm writing this for an almost wholly Salvation Army audience and some of you might not like this, but many people are turned off by Christians describing their faith in war terminology. It suggests a violent, aggressive characterization of God and God's followers. It's even more concerning when that view is coupled with the conservative values espoused by the Christian right in the United States.

    As the box-office numbers tell us, there is a market for films like War Room and its predecessors Fireproof and Courageous. But I long for films that encourage Christians to examine their beliefs in a way that doesn't limit Christianity to a small set of key values. I long for a time when movies made by Christian filmmakers are praised in the way that the novels of C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L'Engle are praised, despite their overtly Christian themes, by Christians and non-Christians alike.

    Michael W. Boyce is the head of the English and film studies program at Booth University College in Winnipeg.

    Comment

    On Monday, October 26, 2015, Patricia Kennedy said:

    For those who have been thinking the words at the beginning of my reply are my sediments, please know they are not; rather, they are a quote from the article! There is a quotation mark missing at the beginning.
    My response to the article by Michael W. Boyce begins with, "War Room is a movie and obviously it is not the Bible." sorry for the confusion!

    On Monday, October 19, 2015, Patricia Kennedy said:

    Don’t misunderstand me—prayer is important. But what I found troubling was the way the film privileges a particular type of verbal, intercessory prayer. Real praying, according to War Room, is asking God to intercede on behalf of ourselves and others. The pray-er receives answers and blessings because she asked God. To me, this smacks of a “soft prosperity gospel,” in which praying leads to a better life. So when Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) starts praying, she saves her marriage—without the need of therapy or counselling.”Michael W. Boyce
    War Room is a movie and obviously it is not the Bible. But, what I do find troubling is the inferred questioning of intercessory prayer in this review. War Room is actually based on a portion of Scripture: Matthew 6: “6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” This statement by Jesus seems to be saying that praying leads to a better life.
    Jesus taught the prayer to the disciples which contains the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This too seems like praying for blessings.
    Matthew 26: Jesus prayed again what seems like a prayer asking God to intercede: “39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
    Again in Mark 11, he teaches us to have faith and pray: “22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
    In John 17, we read how Jesus prayed for His disciples and for future believers…praying for others; intercessory prayer. And His prayers were verbal!
    The Bible is filled with prayers of people asking for God’s blessing and receiving such. Oh, God doesn’t always answer prayer as we desire but He is a loving Heavenly Father who, through His Word, has taught us to pray; nowhere in Scripture do I find teaching that teaches we should not pray asking God to intercede.
    Yes, and I can testify that I have received answers and blessings because I have prayed. Hallelujah! Praying leads to a better life: forgiveness, burdens lifted, healing, joy, hope, peace, comfort!
    The movie simply reminds us to go to that secret place and pray!
    “In the movie, when Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) starts praying, she saves her marriage—without the need of therapy or counselling.” Michael W. Boyce I saw a lot of counselling that was involved! But, I also believe God can save and change a marriage and people because of prayer. God can do more than I can imagine. Let’s pray!

    On Friday, October 16, 2015, David Cole said:

    I found the review to be fair and only points out the obvious that while this is a feel-good movie for Christians, it isn't necessarily a cinematic gem or a movie to invite your non-Christian friends to. It is certainly not an attack on traditional Christian values or an attempt to discredit Christian filmmakers.
    Having watched all of the Kendricks brothers films, I too find them uplifting and encouraging but that does not mean they are excellent movies in terms of their plot and character development.

    On Thursday, October 15, 2015, Shirley King said:

    I am disappointed to read this review today. I was challenged by the message(s) of this movie, WAR ROOM. It was not only about prayer but also grace and forgiveness, and the value of family, mentoring and discipling and evangelism. This movie was about making a difference. It was about the struggle to pray and the privilege to pray and the impact of prayer! It was about God answering prayer and the reminder that as His people, we are indeed engaged in (spiritual) warfare. The movie challenged me to examine my own life of prayer whether that be silent, meditative/contemplative; or prayers of praise and thanksgiving or praying scripture. This movie has not limited me to a small set of key values, it is a tool that has reminded me to continue to experience more of God in my life. So while engaged in this spiritual warfare I sing: God answers prayer in the morning, God answers prayer at noon, God answers prayer in the evening; So keep your heart in tune

    On Thursday, October 15, 2015, Beulah said:

    I went to this movie after hearing a lot of talk about it, deciding to check it out for myself, and I am so thankful that I did. I found War Room to be an amazing movie !! While it may highlight one particular type of prayer, what it really highlights is the power of prayer and how it can change a life, a relationship and a family!

    On the night that I went to this movie I experienced things that I've never seen before in a pubic theatre - men standing at the conclusion of the movie, praying publically, dozens of people all around the theatre standing in worship with hands raised - It was a taste of heaven! No one was rushing to leave the theatre that night, in fact, it was impossible to leave if you wanted to because there were so many people standing in the isles. I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS MOVIE!!!!! I have no idea what all of the negativity is about! This is a MUST SEE MOVIE from my perspective, but check it out for yourself!

    On Thursday, October 15, 2015, Eddie Vincent said:

    I'm disappointed that this review is so negative. I saw the movie and found it to be a truly inspirational experience. I did not find the war terminology nor the call to prayer problematic at all. In fact, I would consider it perfectly aligned with the scriptures. Rather than discrediting such an attempt to draw people to God we should be celebrating the fact that someone is trying to redeem this arena for something good.

    On Thursday, October 15, 2015, John said:

    This review is a thinly veiled attack against the conservative evangelical principles and beliefs by a progressive liberal. His intolerance of traditional Christian beliefs and morals has blinded him to the effects of this God- blessed movie.

    On Wednesday, October 14, 2015, Tom Perks said:

    i thank God that He is doing something to address this media driven world. It may not have been everything that you hoped and dreamed, but it brings out talking points for congregations, youth groups and couples on the importance of prayer and good family values. You noted it will not hold up as a good movie, but if one family is brought together, one boy learns how to be a good dad, 50 people are saved out of the thousands of people who watched it,how will these"Christian movies" be reviewed in heaven?

    On Tuesday, October 13, 2015, Catherine Evenden said:

    Your experience with Christian movies in general and this one in particular mirrors my own. I went in hoping for the best, but came out disappointed. Thanks for a very honest review.

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