I didn’t wake up last Monday morning thinking about War Room, the Kendrick brothers, or Christian movies in general. Perusing one of my favorite websites while drinking my morning coffee, I read a wrap-up of the weekend’s box office that briefly discussed the success of War Room, a movie I hadn’t thought about in months since I had watched the trailer. Delving further, I clicked on several links to reviews of War Room and came across a statement that prompted me to write a brief article on the Kendrick brothers. I didn’t write a review of War Room, nor was that my intention; writing the article, based on my knowledge of the Kendrick brothers’ movies, I was mainly responding to movie critic Scott Renshaw’s comment. However, my post generated so much buzz, both positive and negative, that I made the rash promise that I would watch the movie and if my assessment of it was unfair, I’d donate money to Joel Osteen’s church. Well, Joel Osteen ain’t gettin’ any of my money, thankfully. And here’s why:
In chapter one of his seminal book, Art and the Bible, famed theologian and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer wrote that “The lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy of hierarchy between the body and the soul. God made the body as well as the soul and redemption is for the whole man”. Schaeffer, in his short book, goes on to develop that thought in regards to Christians’ involvement and interaction with art; later in the same chapter he scribed the beautiful statement, “An art work can be a doxology in itself”.
As a doxology, art, in and of itself, apart from any message, gives praise to God and reveals aspects of God’s character. This is why Mozart, for example, a notoriously wicked man, composed beautiful music that points the listener to the ultimate composer, God. But, this is assuming a level of excellence within the artistic discipline’s standards. Lazy art, bad art does a poor job of truthfully communicating the character of God. Art can communicate beauty and truth through its form (the artistic standard) even apart from its function (the purpose/message); unfortunately, the failure of War Room to adhere to even a merely acceptable level of competence within its art discipline’s form causes it to fall far short of artistic doxology.
To be honest, I’m at a loss of what to write next. Don’t misunderstand, I have a distinct outline for this review; I’m at the point where I’m supposed to dissect War Room’s failure of form within the standards of storytelling and filmmaking; but, and please bear with me, War Room, as a movie, is so bad that I’m afraid that this review is going to turn into a book. Should I begin, for example, by pointing out that the sound editing was atrocious? That the ambient sounds in the film (think footsteps, glasses clinking, etc.) mostly sounded as if they were recorded in a vast, empty, and echoing warehouse? The problem with starting there, though, is that many, if not most, of the film’s fans don’t care about sound editing. They will dismiss me as being a petty elitist who is nit-picking a family-friendly movie because I don’t love Jesus; a charge that, if you’ve read any of this blog or know me, you recognize as untrue.
In His design and building instructions, God nitpicked, in a similar sense, the form of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 31, we read how God called Bezalel, among other artists, and “filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft”. Earlier in Exodus, demonstrating high artistic expectations, God, through Moses, gave instructions to the craftsmen and artists about the design and construction of the Tabernacle.
Reading the chapters in Exodus that detail the design of the Tabernacle is an exercise in being overwhelmed by beauty, intricate detail, and what many might mistakenly call excess. Based on the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, it’s obvious that God loves beautiful art, and a lot of it (He loves a variety of art, I might add). And God loves beautiful art because it glorifies Him. The Tabernacle points people to Jesus Christ, the final and perfect Tabernacle.
God’s love and desire for beauty expressed artistically should come as no surprise to anyone who believes, as Genesis chapter one declares, that God is the creator of all things. He took shapeless void and formed it into a beautiful world. Keep in mind, as beautiful as things like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and fields of colorful flowers are, the world has been broken by the sin of man and isn’t as beautiful and good as God originally made it.
So where does this leave bad or merely inadequate art? Are good motives enough to justify the lack of adherence to the standards of form that best reveal aspects of God’s character? Well, humans are finite, and honesty and fairness demand a sliding-scale. For example, when friends invite me to watch their children perform in a school production of Hamlet, I hold those children and the production to much different standards than when I watch my professional actor friends in Hamlet. The Kendrick brothers and their production company, however, are not billing themselves as amateurs; in fact, they’re begging comparison to the “secular” movies playing in the same Cineplex as War Room because, to name a few reasons, the movie’s budget, while not large by Hollywood standards, was not unsubstantial; they went through the hassle of having the MPAA rate the movie, something that indie filmmakers who aren’t expecting to compete with the “big boys” don’t bother to do; and, well, War Room, distributed by Tri Star and Sony, opened in over one thousand movie theaters, which is not indicative of non-big league status. That’s to say, War Room needs to be judged by the same standards that movie-goers expect from a movie made by professionals at the top of their game. With that in mind, and realizing that no movie, no human artistic expression is perfect, War Room falls so dismally far below the objective standards of filmmaking that all the good motives in the world couldn’t keep War Room’s form from dishonoring God.
Movies are a visual medium; the Kendrick brothers don’t seem to either understand that or care. Far too much exposition clogs the actors’ mouths as the film’s writers, Alex and Stephen Kendrick, attempting to move the story forward, violate the filmmaking maxim “show us, don’t tell us.” The bigger problem is that the story resists any forward motion, and no amount of dialogue can mask that fact. Next to nothing happens in War Room, outside of some contrived , at times out-of-the-blue plot devices (the married Elizabeth and Tony Jordan fighting over money used to help Elizabeth’s sister, Tony losing his job, Tony’s sickness preventing him from having an affair, etc.), and the changes of character stasis that do happen are so unearned as to be vertigo inducing. Yes, the world of movies and stories are heightened reality and compressed and generally has changes that happen quicker than what are normal in real life. But, good storytelling constructs at least a scaffold of causes and motives that justify the characters’ changes, allowing the audience to climb, albeit quickly, through the rising action; War Room does not.
Instead, the audience is left with a character in Tony that, after the aforementioned bout of affair preventing sickness, takes less than twenty four hours to completely reverse course from an emotionally and verbally abusive, thieving, and adulterous narcissist to that of a highly sympathetic character who only wants to do what’s right with no noticeable character flaws remaining – zero nuance makes for uninteresting and unbelievable characters. And I wrote “the audience is left with Tony” because only one other character in the movie, his wife Elizabeth, changes, but with many of the same storytelling problems that I mentioned that the character Tony suffers from. In other words, there is very little dramatic tension in War Room – tension that is needed to overcome the Kendrick brother’s poor use of the three act structure.
For the sake of space, I’m only going to write about War Room’s third act. There are only two possible subplots in the movie: the selling of Miss Clara’s house and the jump rope contest. Ignoring that neither subplot is really a true subplot as written, the two are resolved so far past the third act’s climax, hence, War Room’s climax/resolution, I felt like I’d begun watching an unwanted sequel at that point and was worried that the theatre was going to charge me an extra twelve bucks. The Kendrick brothers could’ve easily and seamlessly written the climax into the jump rope contest scene. It would’ve been a much more interesting setting for the news to be delivered that Tony isn’t going to be arrested. Instead, the news is delivered at the couple’s home, on an uneventful evening when nothing was happening, and while the characters were statically stuck to couches. I suspect, based on watching all of the Kendrick brother’s movies, that Alex Kendrick’s inability to block a movie (the character’s movement) keeps him tethered to the safety of sets with lots of couches where the actors can sit while they talk and talk and talk.
Oh, and lest I forget, the third act climax is, in fact, the wrong climax for the story. The actual story is the imploding marriage of Elizabeth and Tony. The resolution for War Room is technically when their marriage is healed, but the Kendrick brothers wrote that into act two. The conflict found in Tony’s stealing drugs from the pharmaceutical company and then selling them should’ve been an important subplot, but since its resolution was the climax of the “first” third act (I think, at best count, the Kendrick brothers wrote three and a half third acts) that conflict, by virtue of its third act treatment, is elevated above the actual story. I’m not sure if the Kendrick brothers understand even the basic rules of storytelling.
The storytelling, filmmaking, and “form” flaws of War Room are so numerous as to create a veritable piñata for critics; and, as a bonus, we critics don’t have to cover our eyes when we swing our rhetorical bats at it. To be honest, as I look over the notes I took while watching War Room, that rhetorical bat is starting to feel heavy and I’m starting to wonder if I’ve taken more than my fair share of swings at the War Room piñata. With that in mind, and with several pages of notes about the ubiquitous film score, bad acting, and a long and sundry list of storytelling faux pas remaining unpacked, it’s obvious that the Kendrick brothers blatantly violate the standards of storytelling and filmmaking. Failing in its form, War Room tells the audience that God doesn’t care about art that strives to honor Him through excellence in form.
Sadly, many Christians are ok with that. They, too, have bought into the lie that function in art washes away the sin of bad form. In War Room, like as in much of so-called “Christian” art/entertainment, function is firmly in the driver’s seat with the gas pedal shoved all the way to the floor; form, left far behind, is still looking for its battered suitcase. Except the function in War Room doesn’t comport with historic and Biblical Christianity.
With its theology, War Room weaves together three serious errors: Manichaeism, name it/claim it, and the belief that evil/sin resides outside of a person and not within. Manichaeism, the dualistic and odd heresy that claims there is a cosmic struggle between the equal forces of good (the spiritual world of light) and evil (the material world of, well, material and darkness), is a kissing cousin of Gnosticism. It’s often worked out in strains of Christianity by the belief that God and Satan are locked in a cosmic dual and that the good side, God, needs the spiritual engagement of His foot soldiers in order to ensure the day to day besting of Satan.
This is obvious in War Room, even beyond the war motif. Miss Clara’s treatment of prayer and Satan reveal that the filmmakers believe that God needs our help to defeat today’s evil; prayer isn’t a humble response and recognition of total dependence before a holy and sovereign God, it’s a battle tactic. The scene in the movie that elicited the largest applause from my fellow audience members was when Elizabeth, enacting a form of Protestant exorcism that reminded me of Poltergeist, chased Satan out of her house by her prayer/non-prayer(?)/incantation. Whatever you want to call it, Elizabeth, by strength of will, went toe-to-toe with Satan and won. Of course, that set the stage for the complete and almost immediate reversal of her troubles.
Within their Manichaeism, it’s revealed that the Kendrick brothers believe that sin and evil are external; the enemy is outside of ourselves and not within; which flies in the face of the clear teaching of the Bible that claims, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick”. Even King Jesus told us that “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. … what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person”. Our problem isn’t external, it’s internal. We don’t need to banish Satan from our house; we need God to give us a clean heart and change our desires to match His desires. War Room says the opposite.
Most of War Room’s theological errors may slide by unnoticed by many, but the Kendrick brothers’ main plot device, the heresy of “name it, claim it,” is hard to miss. Reiterating what I stated about Facing the Giants in my ballyhooed article about the heresy of Christian movies, the characters of War Room, once they start rubbing the genie lamp disguised as prayer, find that life is great and devoid of consequences. And this is the point where the comment section will probably point out that Tony Jordan lost his job. Well, yes, but think about it. Losing his job is a blessing in disguise; he ends up with a much more fulfilling job that he loves. Outside of an acknowledged possible – possible – belt-tightening, the lives of the Jordan family are minimally impacted, materialistically speaking; the Jordans, at the end of the movie, remain in their incredibly large house, for example. And, apart from Tony losing his job because he committed fraud and stole almost twenty thousand dollars worth of drugs and then sold them, the characters in the movie suffer zero consequences … well, that’s not exactly true.
Towards the end of War Room, it’s revealed that Miss Clara’s husband died, decades earlier; because she didn’t create her war room/prayer closet and engage Satan in battle soon enough. Manichaeism, anyone?
But, back to Tony. War Room isn’t a parable nor is it a fable. If it were, the story could work for Tony to suffer zero consequences for his thieving and drug-peddling. But, as it stands, the movie operates in the arena of realistic narrative. Having such a huge leap over normal consequences in a movie that, by demonstration, touts the belief that prayer is a Christian good-luck charm, the total amnesty granted Tony is, at best, distasteful, at worst, giving people a wrong view of God and prayer. The fact that Tony escaped his deserved consequences because he asked for forgiveness leaves me wondering if, for their next movie, the Kendrick brothers are going to focus on a husband who has contracted HIV from having unprotected sex with prostitutes. In this new movie, the husband, after seeking forgiveness, will have his HIV healed. I would love to see a movie in which the Kendrick brothers take my imagined protagonist, introduce him to the love and forgiveness found in King Jesus, and have that love displayed through a local church who enter into the man’s suffering and walk with him like Jesus walked with lepers. The happy ending for that movie would be watching God’s name made great through the loving actions of Christians who understand that everyone is made in the Image of God and everyone should be treated with compassion and love, and the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ to a repentant sinner.
As Scott Renshaw alluded, a movie that teaches that real Christians, if they pray hard enough and in the correct way, will see everything answered exactly how they ask is a movie that heaps piles of guilt on those for whom prayers aren’t answered in the warm and fuzzy manner of the Kendrick brothers’ movie world. I received one comment telling me that “I’m sorry if things have never worked so well for you, but that doesn’t mean it never happens.” Well, according to what I saw in War Room, it always happens if you do it correctly. Thankfully, I understand that the “good” of Romans 8:28 is referencing God being glorified through my sanctification and becoming like Jesus. Whether or not “things have never worked so well” for me is beside the point; God is sanctifying me for His glory; the means He uses to do it, whether those means are defined by humans as either “good” or “bad,” shouldn’t be where my hope and joy are placed. My prayer should be characterized by humility and the plea for sanctification and to have my heart’s desires changed to reflect the desires of God. When the Psalmist writes, “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him”, the implication is that our desires will match our Creator’s desires. God isn’t Santa Clause, and prayer isn’t a wish list of the goodies and toys that we hope to find under the tree.
Before wrapping up, I want to bring up one more serious concern that I have with War Room – its depiction of spousal abuse. Having read several reviews, I was aware, going into the movie, that many saw this as an issue. To be honest, I was skeptical and assumed that some critics were looking for boogie men behind every tree. I mean, there’s no way that the Kendrick brothers would actually do that, right? Well, when Elizabeth was told, by Miss Clara, that she’s at least partially to blame for Tony’s abuse, I almost walked out. If nothing else in this review convinces you to avoid War Room, please allow the sickening display of blaming an abuse victim for her abuse cause you to wash your hands of this movie.
I’m not so naïve as to think that my review is going to do much more than garner loud “amens” from one side while drawing condemnation from the other side. However, my sincere prayer is that Christians will begin interacting with art that truly glorifies God, and stop being conned by buzz words like “wholesome” and “family-friendly.” With both its form and its function, War Room promotes a wrong view of God. And movies that promote a wrong view of God are neither wholesome nor family-friendly.
 Francis Schaeffer. Art and the Bible. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1973), 14.
 Schaeffer. Art and the Bible. 18.
 I’m not a fan of dividing form and function; for me, it’s somewhat of a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question. But, for the sake of simplifying my argument in this review, I’m going to treat form and function as if they were separate.
 Exodus 31:2-5, ESV Study Bible.
 War Room’s budget is estimated at around three million dollars. Keep in mind that the Kendrick brothers don’t hire big name actors, and much of their marketing is done for free by churches and para-church organizations.
 My nine year old daughter wants to be a writer, and I’ve explained to her to be careful about confusing plot points with an actual plot.
 To be fair, most Christians, if not the vast majority, who dabble in this heresy would recoil at any suggestion that the final outcome is up in the air. That only makes it somewhat less dangerous. Adhering to Manichaeism-light perverts the Gospel of God’s total defeat of the Serpent, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It opens the door for other heresies like Pelagianism – which War Room flirts with.
 Jeremiah 17:9, ESV Study Bible.
 Matthew 15:11-18, ESV Study Bible.
 Unless you count the one guy who had a flat tire, but Tony changed the tire for free, so it was all good.
 Psalm 145:19, ESV Study Bible.