The Heresy of Christian Movies: War Room

war-room

by John Ellis

Note: the response to this post has been somewhat surprising for me. Because of the overwhelming response, both positive and negative, I decided to bite the bullet, watch War Room, and write an actual review. That review can be found here.

“All the Satan-rebuking speeches in the world can’t make a story uplifting when it subtly suggests that you can tell a real Christian by the way everything always works out exactly the way they pray for it.” Scott Renshaw

I haven’t watched War Room, and I highly doubt that I will[1]. However, having watched several of the Kendrick brothers’ movies, I’m quite familiar with their aesthetic M.O. (or lack thereof). Setting aside the many, many reviews, including Christianity Today, skewering the bad writing, bad acting, bad cinematography, and bad storytelling in general, I want to comment on the quote posted above.

That quote is from the Salt Lake City Weekly movie critic, Scott Renshaw. I know next to nothing about Renshaw’s personal life; I don’t know if he’s a professing Christian, a professing atheist, or something else. I do know, based on the quote and the review it’s from, that he has hit on my biggest concern in regards to the movies of the Kendrick brothers – the dabbling, at the least, in heresy.

Incredibly bad aesthetics aside, the movies of the Kendrick brothers (and many other “Christian” filmmakers, for that matter) are dragging people into the pits of hell with their heretical “name it, claim it” depiction of Christianity. For example, their second movie, Facing the Giants, taught that the “good” of Romans 8:28 is defined by the standards of a wealthy, individualistic, and hedonistic West. Years ago, my wife and I watched it together, and during the locker room scene, the “What are you living for?” speech, I turned to her, shook my head sadly, and sighed, “the only way that this movie can come even close to redeeming itself is if the team goes out and loses.” Of course, the team won – with a kicker named David kicking the winning field goal to beat a team named the Giants. Come on. But, I’m not writing this in order to talk about the bad storytelling. – During that locker room speech, the coach admonishes his team to praise God even if they lose. But, that admonishment came directly on the heels of the coach connecting God’s blessings to winning football games. That’s not surprising considering that in the movie, everything worked out for the Christians. And I do mean EVERYTHING. If someone were to believe Facing the Giants, and many unfortunately do, that individual would be left with the belief that if they do and say the right things, their life will work out as defined by Western success, their dreams will come true, and they’ll live happily ever after – God has a big basket of toys eagerly waiting to dole out to those who jump through His hoops (assuming those doing the hoop jumping don’t live in the Sudan, Syria, or North Korea, for example[2]).

In Facing the Giants, God’s blessings are explicitly connected to Western ideals of “good.” In the Bible, “good,” as it relates to humans, is explicitly connected to God’s glory by our sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit[3]. And, as the history of the world teaches us, including and most importantly the Bible (think about, among many possible examples, the Apostle Paul’s beatings, shipwrecks, and eventual martyrdom), the Holy Spirit often uses hard providences to break us of our pride, our self-sufficiency, and our sin. Christianity isn’t a Tony Robbins’ style self-help/affirming program; prayer isn’t a magic spell; God isn’t a wizard. When a movie critic, writing about a supposedly “Christian” movie, points out that “it subtly suggests that you can tell a real Christian by the way everything always works out exactly the way they pray for it,” that movie is possibly dabbling, at the least, in damnable heresy.

Be careful not to fall into the trap set by buzzwords like “wholesome,” “family-friendly,” and “faith affirming,” among others. Be careful that in your desire to shield yourself and your family from objectionable elements, however that’s defined by you, that you’re not exposing your family to the false teaching of heretics and antichrists.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2Timothy 4:3-4


[1] This will probably prove to be a point of contention for the movie’s defenders. Two things: 1. Many of those same people have probably uttered, in regards to an “R” rated movie or two, something like, “I don’t have to engage in filth to know that I’ll get dirty if I do.” 2. As noted, I have watched several Kendrick brothers’ movies; I know their storytelling model, and the bad theology has been consistent throughout their career. I’ve read several reviews of War Room and pretty much every single review bears out the continued theme of the “name it, claim it” heresy found in the brothers’ previous movies.

[2] I mean, if they really loved God, they’d move to America, right?

[3] Have you ever asked yourself what the “good” Romans 8:28 is referring to?

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39 thoughts on “The Heresy of Christian Movies: War Room

  1. I wrote a Christmas play in which the main character, and out-of-work down on his luck, husband was introduced to Christ by a pastor who was poorer than he was. In the end he didn’t get any money for Christmas presents, didn’t get a free Christmas dinner, and didn’t get a job; but rejoiced in what he had found in Christ. It ran once and has been removed from the catalog. I enjoyed its one night stand.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thumbs up, John.

    I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say films with warped theology are dragging people to the gates of hell 🙂 but I do agree that this particular strain of Christian storytelling is smothering, dangerous, and stupefying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A whole lot of people thought Jesus would solve their earthly problems 2000 years ago. God’s kingdom is not of this world. We are not going to have peace until He brings it. We do still have a job to preach the Gospel. Whether we have a beater or a Bentley is more closely connected to the fact that it rains on the just and the unjust.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. But David DID kill Goliath, the Israelites DID cross on dry ground, Lazarus WAS raised from the dead and Christ IS alive! Miracles happen and maybe these movies are a reminder of the greatness of our Father. Personal interpretation of underlying tones has also damaged many Christians’ lives.

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    • Of course all of those things happened. But none of those things happened to improve peoples’ lives so that they could live their best life now. Those things happened because a sovereign God works in history to crush the serpent and redeem a people unto Himself. The Bible isn’t a collection of morality tales that serve as an owner’s manual – “name it, claim it” tells us that’s exactly what the Bible and the Christian faith are all about. These movies aren’t a reminder of the greatness of our Father; they’re a showcase for the dangerous and apostate belief that true faith looks like the American dream.

      I don’t understand your last statement, “Personal interpretation of underlying tones has also damaged many Christians’ lives.”

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  4. Wow. I haven’t seen anything you’re accusing them of. I haven’t seen war room, but the claims about facing the giants are ridiculous. Not once do we see anyone praying specifically for anything great that happens to them. What we do see is the principle found in psalm 1 about delighting yourself in the law of the Lord, and what you do will prosper. We find the principle of delighting yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Just because Joel Osteen employs a wealth gospel doesn’t mean every movie with a happy ending does. If the worst theology you can find is that it seems to you that things worked out too well for these characters, I think their theology is fine. I’m sorry if things have never worked so well for you, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. Personally, I’ll keep supporting them because they present a vibrant gospel message and encourage a strong prayer life even in the face of great adversity. What do you want, a little movie footnote saying results may vary?

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    • In your exegesis of Psalm 1, how are you defining “prosper?” Based on their movies, the Kendrick brothers define “prosper,” in ways that fly in the face of God’s definition in the Bible. I mean, if we’re going to use the Kendrick bros’ definition, the Apostle Paul apparently did not delight in the law of God. Do you, Nate, believe that the Apostle Paul did NOT delight in the law of God? … not to mention the Apostles Peter, John, and James, plus the millions of Christians who have lived in times and countries that persecuted and killed, and continue to do so, Christians. If you meet a Syrian Christian woman who has been raped by ISIS, how are you going to define “prosper” for her?

      Liked by 1 person

      • The apostle Paul certainly prospered. Even while in prison. My problem with calling the kendricks heretics is that prospering certainly can include things going well in business, things going well in life and relationships. The fundamental principle is that God will glorify himself in and through the lives of his people. Sometimes that
        means prospering with wealth and good health. Sometimes it means a spiritual prospering without much financial or social gain. Everyone’s prospering is different.

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      • In the Bible, prospering means sanctification; it means becoming more like Christ for the glory of God. It doesn’t have anything to do with health and wealth.

        The Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to sanctify Believers, but the means are NOT the prospering. The means are not the end game. The Kendrick brothers, with their movies, teach that the means are the prospering.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ok. Thats what you take away from the kendrick movies. Not necessarily what they are teaching. I have consistently seen characters faced with the realization of not living in line with God’s word and rectify that. Then God in his mercy has resolved a few issues in their lives. That is what i have taken away.

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      • Forgive me brother. I am not attacking you. I have been blessed by much that their movies have shown. Convicted about my need to be the father God demands that I be, the power of prayer, and other lessons. You are right though. The message needs to be declared that the life that surrenders to God is not suddenly filled with rainbows and sunshine. Perhaps they do teach a faulty message. I haven’t personally seen that. But I can see how that could be assumed.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just a little note to say that the whole climax of Facing the Giants involves someone praying and something great happens – the wind changes direction so that the kicker can make the implausible game-winning kick, after a prayer. And the irony is, it happens just after coach Taylor delivers his big speech about God being glorified whether we win or lose.

      In my opinion, that movie would have been a winner if they’d lost the game, but not their faith.

      The other Nate

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ok. Dabbling in heresy then. So what’s the significant difference? I don’t want to listen to someone who’s even dabbling in heresy. I will say this. Whatever may have seemed a bit off about Giants, Courageous had very little rainbows and physical blessing. It was very much about simply becoming more Christlike through great tragedy. I feel like they balance out their stories.

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      • There is a very significant difference. Saying someone IS a heretic is to say that they are damned to Hell. To say someone is dabbling in heresy is to say that one aspect of what they are believing is heretical, but they themselves might not be a heretic. We can believe some false things and still be Christians, but we cannot be heretics and still be saved.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!
    John, looking for some friendly disagreement–I agree with you on some points, but want to spark discussion on some others.
    1. I appreciate your willingness to see the movie. As discussion progresses, it will definitely help. I really hope you are pleasantly surprised.

    2. Can you define what “heresy” is? I would see “heresy” as anything that attacks the Gospel directly. If the Kendricks are proposing a “name it, claim it” philosophy, I might call that incorrect or even harmful, but I would be careful about the word “heresy.”

    3. Here’s where the spoiler is. Throughout the course of the movie, the wife prays for her husband, her marriage, and her family. While I agree partially with your assessment of Facing the Giants (I really wanted the football team to lose), it’s a little different in this movie. He loses his job based on his wrongdoing, and doesn’t get it back (I was so happy when he didn’t). In fact, he has to pay back $19,000 that he stole, which I’m sure won’t be easy. The break he gets is that he’s not prosecuted because of his honesty. A small note, but in the Double Dutch competition at the end, they don’t get first place (again, I was very excited when they didn’t). So unlike Facing the Giants, not everything works out exactly how they pray for it.

    4. I’ve been wanting to study a lot more about prayer, because it is very misunderstood and underused in our culture. While we definitely shouldn’t have a “name it, claim it” mentality, we often go to the other extreme by saying that if we say God specifically answers prayer, that’s not realistic. I’m sure that’s not your beliefs, but if I didn’t know better, I might think that you believe that way. There is power in prayer, and that’s the main point that this movie brought to life. I really hope it caused people to get on their knees and start praying (as we should), not cause people to have unrealistic expectations of prayer.

    Let me know your thoughts, and I’d love to continue the discussion.
    SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

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    • Stephen, thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. I want to apologize for punting on most of this discussion; I don’t want to steal any potential thunder for my upcoming review (Lord willing, I’ll post it on Monday). Hopefully our discussion can carry over into the review. I originally wrote a response interacting with all four of your point/questions, but then realized that I may want to include some of what I had written in the actual review. So, would you mind putting “in-depth” discussion off for a few days?

      However, even with that, a minor/short-ish explanation:

      I’m not saying you have done this (and, based on what you’ve written, I don’t think that you have), but it’s taken me a little by surprise how many people have responded to the above article as if it’s a review of War Room. It’s not. The above post is my response to the reviews I read, and specifically the comment from Scott Renshaw, building on my knowledge of the Kendrick brothers and their previous movies. Connecting Facing the Giants with the reviews of War Room that I read, my objective was/is to help prompt my few friends and family members who read my blog (and now the surprising thousands and thousands of people who’ve read this) to engage “Christian” art, and specifically the movies of the Kendrick brothers, more critically. I was expecting this post to pretty much whither and blow away not long after delivery; I was not expecting it to take over my life this week – it’s been fun, though, even reading online the many angry and, at times, personal comments directed at me has been fun. Because of the unanticipated response, I decided to go ahead and actually review the movie. I used to be a professional actor (I’m now a music critic). I love art. I love storytelling, even more so now that I am a Christian. Art is a reflection of who God is. Bad art, regardless of what adjective, like “Christian,” is slapped on it, is a bad reflection of who God is (I’ll be breaking this down more in the review). This is a topic that I’m very passionate about, and all of the brouhaha over this post has given me the desire to write about it in a little more depth.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Seeing the movie really would have helped you – I’ve read the (secular) reviews, and thought they were a joke. The husband loses his job because of dishonest behavior, spends some time unemployed and facing an uncertain future, and then takes a job that pays 50% less, but will allow him to be home with his family is NOT the type of stuff prosperity theology is made of.

    On the other hand, provision of needs is the type of stuff authentic Christianity is made of. Plus, God does heal broken marriages, not all the time, but frequently enough. I saw nothing in the movie that said “Hey, try this at home and everything will work out like this – guaranteed!”

    You can become so unnerved about prosperity theology that you stop believing God answers prayer at all.

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  7. I would like to see just how you see this heresy in Fireproof. With so much of the trash out there, to be able to see a movie where language and sex is not the plot is a welcome diversion. Facing has the family who have sought to have a child for years and when it happens, it is more about it being God’s time than hey we earned this being good.

    Fireproof meets the biggest problems in marriage in the country and is more about redoing my priorities to be right with God than to do good and everything is fixed.

    I understand the name claim it concept and the slew of its proponents on TV, but you are painting a wide swath across some of the few truly clean movies to come along in some time.You choose to attack the acting and choreography. A lot of the work in the early movies were more volunteers than polished Hollywood pros. Could it have been done better – with funds and professional talent – sure.

    Could you get a movie like it made in Hollywood? I would say Fireproof and Courageous would not get funded based on the fact they confront what is wrong in the world and in a way that Hollywood does not agree with.

    When I see highschool kids choosing to watch something like Facing the Giants on a schol charter bus than some PG13 should have been an R movie, I am happy for small victories.

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  8. I think you are missing the point of these movies. They show that it is in a relationship with Jesus Christ that good comes. You are reading too much into it. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer that healing begins. I’ve done background on the Kendrick brothers. They seek God’s face with every project they do. We can’t be so critical of what we see that we miss the still small voice of God. It is in movies like these that lives are being won to the kingdom.

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  9. I am completely against the prosperity gospel but loved War Room. This movie emphasized the importance of a good prayer life. It didn’t seem like a “name it, claim it” movie at all in my opinion.
    From a feminine viewpoint, there are so many times that we have a tendency to criticize our spouses instead of praying for them like this movie emphasizes. She also shows a difference in attitude that helps make a change in her marriage. I have seen improvement in my marriage by praying for my spouse and being less defensive and critical, which are points that this movie makes as well.
    I saw nothing “Osteen-like” in this movie, and I certainly didn’t come away thinking that God was going to answer my every prayer if I did the things she did in the movie.
    There were several themes that I did see in the movie that were very encouraging to me.
    1.) The importance of seeking God in prayer for help and guidance.
    2.) Recognizing that we can’t change our spouse, only God can, and that the only attitude we have any control over is our own.
    3.) The power of second chances.

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  10. To me what is important in these films is not necessarily the end result but the process that once God is invited into a situation, it does not remained the same. The lives of people are transform not necessarily in material things but in character and attitude. Yes sometimes pleasant results such as a saved marriage or a miracle of a sort takes place, some other times we get into more trouble by making the right decisions but we never regret it because God has been invited into the situation, I think these fellows are making their modest contribution to the lives of God’s children so let us not be overly critical of them. Those who preach to us or perform other spiritual things for God are not perfect and yet they bless our lives. Some heroes of faith closed the mouths of lions, others were were burnt at stake, scriptures recorded them as heroes of faith. Rather than criticize these people, let us think of what we are doing for the kingdom.Remember, they shall give an account of their lives just as me and you. Let us focus on the Christ.

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    • Samuel, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Something for you to think about, though – In your comment, you compared millionaire filmmakers who preach/promote heresy with Christian brothers and sisters who have died because and for their faith.

      You admonished me that instead of criticizing “these people, let us think of what we are doing for the kingdom.” Well, through the medium of film/storytelling, the Kendrick brothers are preaching a false gospel and are contributing to a kingdom other than God’s kingdom. Pointing out heresy and warning fellow Believers of wolves in sheep’s clothing IS doing something for the Kingdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. When that old black lady said, “You have to forgive others before you can ask God to forgive you,” I wanted to throw a brick at the TV. In that short – eleven word – sentence are several distinct lies. 1. Jesus did not tell those assembled Jews on the Mount what Clara claims He told them. 2. The whole “forgive-to-be-forgiven” thing is Old Testament for Jews who were convinced they became righteous by keeping the Law of Moses and being as good as the Pharisees. There was not a single Christian at the Sermon on the Mount. 3. Nowhere in the New Testament did anybody ask God to forgive their sins. All of the Apostles taught that sin was forgiven by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. Sin is no longer an issue because Jesus actually finished His mission. 4. The whole message of WAR ROOM is that there is a Christian’s Bar of Soap – the true license to sin – that makes possible the following saying: “I wanted a new bike but I knew God wouldn’t give me one. So I stole a bike and confessed my sin so that God had to forgive my sin.” If you are believing in a Jesus who did not truly finish taking away the sin of the world, then you are believing in another Jesus – not the Jesus of the Scriptures. If you want to discuss this further, write me at hiouchi@centurytel.net

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  12. stop blasting the Kendrick brothers I personally enjoy their movies write and produce your movie and by the time controversial scenes would be detected you would know that criticism is everywhere

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  13. […] Not long after the story broke about Lifeway giving Sho Baraka the boot, a filmmaker friend of mine sent me a text message attempting to convince me to write an article listing the ten albums that Lifeway should remove from their stock before The Narrative. While an intriguing idea, that seems like way too much work that would require wading through a lot of unenjoyable music. A quick perusal of Lifeway’s website reveals that the company shills products like the movie War Room, a plethora of Amish romance novels, and a wide assortment of toothless, theologically anemic Christian pop music. While willing to take a stand against the contextually appropriate use of the word “penis,” Lifeway seems to have next to no quality control when it comes to aesthetic standards. I have written quite a bit about Christians and aesthetics, and I’m not going to rehash my arguments (if, however, you are interested in reading those articles, please click here, here, here, and here). […]

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  14. […] Not long after the story broke about Lifeway giving Sho Baraka the boot, a filmmaker friend of mine sent me a text message attempting to convince me to write an article listing the ten albums that Lifeway should remove from their stock before The Narrative. While an intriguing idea, that seems like way too much work that would require wading through a lot of unenjoyable music. A quick perusal of Lifeway’s website reveals that the company shills products like the movie War Room, a plethora of Amish romance novels, and a wide assortment of toothless, theologically anemic Christian pop music. While willing to take a stand against the contextually appropriate use of the word “penis,” Lifeway seems to have next to no quality control when it comes to aesthetic standards. I have written quite a bit about Christians and aesthetics, and I’m not going to rehash my arguments (if, however, you are interested in reading those articles, please click here, here, here, and here). […]

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