The Pursuit of God

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Movie Review: War Room

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In the Christian community, Alex and Stephen Kendrick have become a famous pair of brothers who have managed to go from nobodies to somebodies in the movie making world. These are the same guys who brought us Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. Every time the Kendricks come up with a new movie, they try to offer spiritual solutions to very real problems. Courageous urges self-absorbed fathers to man up and realize how desperately their children need their emotional engagement and spiritual guidance. Facing the Giants urges Christians who are caught in the hell of spiritual refinement to respond by choosing all out submission to God. The other three movies focus on resolving marital strife.

In Flywheel, Fireproof, and now again in War Room, the husband is portrayed as the main antagonist in a marriage that has rapidly deteriorated. In Flywheel, the husband is a used car salesman who increasingly embraces worldly compromise while his God-fearing wife tries in vain to urge him back onto the narrow road. In Fireproof, the husband is a self-absorbed fireman who is leaving his wounded wife out in the cold while he is ruled by addictions to his job and to porn. In Fireproof, the wife doesn’t just sit around looking wounded and distressed as her parallel character does in Flywheel. Instead, she retaliates by obsessing over work herself, and she begins encouraging the attentions of a flirtatious married doctor. In War Room, we once again see enmity between husband and wife—and once again the problem is exacerbated by the husband’s long absences from the home.

THE PROBLEM

Tony Jordan is a top pharmaceutical rep who is secretly ripping off drugs in order to boost his sales record and make a hefty profit by selling the stolen goods on the black market. Tony says that he loves to travel–the implication being that he doesn’t mind never being around for his family.  Elizabeth Jordan is a real estate agent who is utterly self-absorbed and stuck in a victim mentality. The couple is living an absurdly lavish lifestyle, and it’s implied that the only way they make ends meet is with both partners working. Though they have one quasi-respectful daughter, neither Elizabeth nor Tony are aware of what is going on in her life as the two drift around in their separate spheres of “me, me, me.” Whenever these two end up in the same room together, angry sparks fly.

THE SAVIOR

After making it clear that Tony and Elizabeth are in a major mess, the Kendricks introduce the character who is going to save the day: an elderly Miss Clara who has personal experience with marital problems. Clara is a widow whose one and only husband spent a lot of time in the strategy tents on various war fields. Clara appreciates the importance of what her husband did, but at the time he was alive, she was bitterly jealous of his first love: his career. We learn later on in the film that all of Clara’s insights about how to fix a problematic marriage came to her after her own marriage had ended. When she crosses paths with Elizabeth—the real estate agent who is going to help Clara sell her beloved two-story home—Clara sees an opportunity to save a young woman from having to make all of her same mistakes. Clara wants to help Elizabeth turn her marriage around while there’s still a marriage to be had. Elizabeth is reluctant at first, but her desperate need for empathy and guidance causes her to accept the elderly woman as a mentor in her life.

THE PLAN

So what exactly is Clara’s brilliant plan to save a tanking marriage? Well, here’s where we get into some very problematic theology. Clara’s initial assessment of Elizabeth’s problem is good: Elizabeth is responding to strife in her marriage by wallowing in self-pity and treating her husband as her enemy. Clara makes the valid point that for marital partners to thrive, they have to pull together, not constantly knife each other. All Elizabeth wants to talk about is what’s wrong with Tony. Clara says focusing on Tony’s failings is not going to fix anything. Clara’s certainly right about that. The problem is that Clara then instructs Elizabeth to focus on fixing God instead. Hm.

Clara accuses of Elizabeth of falling down hard in the area of prayer. She hands Elizabeth a cup of lukewarm coffee, and when Elizabeth is grossed out by it, Clara reminds her of Jesus’ stated revulsion towards those who have lukewarm devotion to Him. Clara says if Elizabeth wants to get her life turned around, she needs to get serious about her personal relationship with God. So far so good.

But what does it mean to get serious about one’s relationship with God? How does God want us to relate to Him? Clara leads Elizabeth to her own personal “war room”—a closet which she has emptied out and turned into a shrine to all of the commands she’s given to God over the years. You see, Clara is a big fan of telling the Almighty King what to do and when. Help that couple. Inspire that boy. Save that woman. Soften the heart of that man. Clara jots notes of her instructions to God, and then she throws in some Bible verses because, well, you know, that really makes God feel compelled to obey. Nothing slaps the leash on God faster than quoting some line from the apostle Paul. No one actually says “God can never go against His own Word” in this movie, but this rule is heavily implied as we see both women feeling the need to keep throwing verses in God’s face as they pray.

Well, Elizabeth takes to the idea of setting up a war room in her personal home. The Kendricks throw in some humor about how utterly boring life in a prayer closet can be by initially showing Elizabeth struggling to get comfortable on the floor, then falling asleep in the midst of her attempts at prayer. Interestingly, we never see the prayer closet presented as a place where two way communication happens between a soul and God. Instead, as the nickname “war room” implies, the prayer closet is a place where one plots and schemes as God’s superior officer, and then dispatches orders to God. Soul satisfaction is portrayed as coming not through submission to God, but rather through constantly bossing Him about, and then trusting that He will eventually give you everything you want in His time. After all, He’s God. He’s super powerful. And once you buy into the theory that God is going to give you everything you want just because you threw a sufficient amount of verses in His face, well, naturally you’re willing to be patient and wait for the goodies to come rolling in.

WHAT’S GOOD

What saves War Room from being a complete disaster is that it promotes the value of two very important things: focusing on God in life, and at least partially submitting to Him. We see Elizabeth asking for God to help her align with His priorities: to help her love her husband and to be less self-absorbed. Later on she delivers a good speech about realizing that God has to be the One she relies on to get her core needs met in life instead of expecting her human husband to be her all in all. She makes the insightful point that the more we view God as our First Love in life, the less of a need we feel to control others. In other words, correct spiritual priorities enable us to be more gracious with other people. This is indeed how it works. We need to love God, not people, first. Our love for people flows out of our love for God, not the other way around.

If real life parallels to Elizabeth and Tony follow War Room’s strategy for success, they’ll at least be heading in the right direction. It’s always an improvement to get our focus off of our circumstances and onto God. It’s definitely going to help people to stop obsessing over their human enemies and instead spend more time reflecting on God’s values. God promotes things like grace, forgiveness, and deescalating arguments by not returning verbal fire. The more Elizabeth prays, the more we see her reacting more calmly to Tony, and naturally this helps peace return to the home.

Grace is a powerful force, and War Room really emphasizes this point. When Tony discovers Elizabeth’s war room and sees evidence that she’s been praying for him instead of against him, he is deeply touched. When Tony’s secret thievery gets found out, his boss is very gracious to him by choosing not to prosecute. War Room depicts grace as both the thing that motivates us to want to improve, and the reward we get for making right choices. Some might feel the movie overdoes things a bit in making the Jordans’ life ridiculously positive after everyone turns to God (including the usual sports trophies that we also saw passed out in Facing the Giants). And we could definitely argue that the Jordans’ decision to cling to their extravagant lifestyle in the midst of financial struggles instead of downsizing was very shortsighted. But hey, it is a movie.

WHAT’S BAD

While War Room makes some good points and appears to be a genuine effort to turn wayward couples back to God, it includes some very problematic theology. War Room comes off like a fellow who helps you pull your car out of ditch only to send you out across a wooden bridge with a rotted foundation. It pulls you out of one crisis, only to set you up for another, even greater one. And along the way, it nods in approval at some very disturbing extras.

Talking to the Dead

Early on in the movie, we see Clara visiting the grave of her husband. We learn later that she’s been doing this for years, and that she even talks to the man. No, no, no, we don’t talk to the dead. The dead can’t hear us, nor are the souls of our loved ones stuck in the ground taking note of the fact that we put fresh flowers on their graves. God detests it when we pray to anyone other than our Creator. It’s very tiresome to see Christian movies approve of this unhealthy obsession with the dead. When God takes our loved ones away, we need to accept His choice and fully let go, not make regular trips to the cemetery.

Crude Humor

Watch the Kendricks’ movies in order of production and you’ll notice an increasing emphasis on crude humor. Flywheel dropped a crude crack about snot on ice. Facing the Giants was their cleanest flick, with one crack about BO which could have been interpreted as someone’s attitude stinking rather than his underarm. Fireproof was well done, but Fireproof was also the beginning of the marketing craze. It was when movie fans unexpectedly demanded access to the journal which was a key prop in the movie that the Kendricks had to make a critical decision: do they start selling props or do they stay out of the dangerous waters of money making paraphernalia? Unfortunately, they chose to dive in deep, and out came the books, mugs, hats and keychains with the Fireproof logo branded on them.

After that major compromise, we see a marked increase in crude humor from men who claim to “pray over every scene” of their movies. In Courageous, we have to watch a couple take spaced out turns bashing on how bad each other’s breath smells. In War Room, the theme of bad smells continues with poor Elizabeth getting portrayed as a regular stink bomb. The woman’s feet reek uncontrollably—so much so that she feels her mouthy daughter is justified in making several rude cracks about them. Elizabeth’s prayer closet is noted to have a pungent smell in it due to the presence of her shoes. At one point, Elizabeth is startled awake by a delivery man. When she runs to receive his package, her ridiculously tousled hair has been arranged so that a large hank of it is in her face, thus allowing us to see it blown by the wind of Elizabeth’s putrid breath. The delivery man turns away in obvious repulsion while Elizabeth is confused and oblivious. We have to endure several more potshots about Elizabeth’s feet—culminating in her newly reconciled husband slapping on a face mask to protect himself during the task of bathing her feet. What’s with the raunchy humor? To insert such rot in a Christian movie only encourages Christians to laugh at spouses taking potshots at each other.  If the Kendricks did actually pray over these scenes, they certainly weren’t listening to God’s reply.

Limited Submission

Turning your focus onto God is good. Treating Him like your Servant? No, that’s really not going to get you anywhere positive. Jesus demands submission from us. War Room teaches us that there’s still plenty of room for dominating our Makers in the midst of our supposed submission.

If Clara had been advising Elizabeth correctly, she would have urged her to humble herself before God, own that she was not in alignment with Him, and ask Him to have His total way in her life. There wouldn’t have been any of this guff about war rooms and warriors. If we want to talk about life being a battleground, then we need to own that God is the General and we are just the grunts. If there’s a war room somewhere, God is the only One in it—we’re certainly not invited to bust in and start revising His strategies for Him.

While it promotes itself as guiding prodigal Christians back into alignment with God, War Room actually promotes a reversal of what God teaches. He says we’re His slaves, War Room says we’re His generals. God says we are to follow orders, War Room says we are to give them. War Room strongly suggests that dominating God is a biblically supported idea. Well, it depends which parts of the Bible you’re focusing on. If you want to focus on how spiritual rebels interacted with God, then yes, there is plenty of support for bossing God about. The ancient Jews and even some of the early apostles were very good at trying to control God through prayer. But we can also find plenty of accounts of people worshiping false gods and created elements in the Bible as well—does that mean we should run out and do these things? People tossed their live babies into fire in the Bible—does the fact that something is “biblical” make it right?

To simply say “it’s in the Bible” is meaningless. Who was doing it? Why were they doing it? And what did God say about it? According to idiots like Solomon, it’s perfectly fine to worship demonic idols and jump in the sack with every sexy babe you come across (Solomon had 1,000 recorded lovers). According to Yahweh, it’s not okay to do either of these things. Simply ripping some verse out of the Bible isn’t going to change God’s view of something. God detests it when His own creatures set themselves up as wiser than He is by bossing Him around. God demands submission from us—not partial, but total. You can’t boss God and serve Him at the same time. It’s one or the other. God isn’t our Teammate, He’s our King.

In War Room, Elizabeth asks God to help her be who He wants her to be, but then she also sets to work telling God how to manage her husband, daughter, and life. It’s strongly implied that Clara makes a regular career out of telling God how to run His own universe and then she waits for the happy news that her orders have been obeyed. There’s something very off-putting about humans singing and dancing about God doing exactly what they told Him to do.

The Source of Our Trials

We can play “it’s in the Bible” games to support two opposing conclusions about who runs the world. The apostle John says that Satan runs the world (1 Jn. 5:19). Of course the apostle John also says that true Christians are sinless because John has some serious issues (see Salvation According to 1 John). Should we listen to John or to Yahweh, who says that He rules supreme over all things? Jesus also claims total supremacy over all things. Jesus made a career out of driving demons out of people during His public ministry on earth—if that doesn’t say “I’m in charge of Satan”, what does? Yet in War Room, Satan is the one who gets the blame for the Jordans’ problems because War Room runs with the popular notion that God would never stick it to us on purpose. Well, yes He would. God disciplines brats, and Elizabeth and Tony are clearly being spiritual brats when the movie begins. Instead of recognizing that God is intentionally tanking their marriage and bringing all kinds of strife on their heads in order to motivate each of them to get back into alignment with Him, Satan is exalted as the true source of trouble in the Jordan household. In essence, the house is possessed. No one uses the p-word, but they don’t have to. When we see Elizabeth verbally evicting Satan from the premises, we get the idea: their troubles have come from being in Satan’s nasty presence. It’s only after he’s been evicted that there’s hope of restoration. But who is strong enough to send that bad ole devil packing? God? Nah, we don’t have to get Him involved. Sorceress Elizabeth can take care of this little issue all on her own.

Christians Portrayed as Sorcerers

How do sorcerers wield their power? Through the power of the spoken word, of course. It’s all about spell casting. Today Christians are big on spell casting. We’ve even got a spell book that we all refer to for effective incantations: the Bible. Quote a verse, change the universe: that’s the Christian way, because Christians don’t like this notion that God is hogging all the power for Himself. We want power, too. If God won’t share, then we’ll start wielding Him around like our magic wand.

In one of the most painful scenes of the movie, we watch Elizabeth’s eyes light up with revelation, then she starts marching through her house, well, praying to the devil. Really?? Oh yes, Christians are big on praying to demons. Even though God tells us not to seek out connections with supernatural entities other than Him, we’ve all decided that getting in verbal tussles with devils is a productive thing to do. So in War Room, we watch Elizabeth march through her home with unbounded arrogance and the ridiculous notion that she is now some kind of queen of the demons. She starts laying into Satan with a bunch of orders—telling him what he can no longer do. You know, because we humans are such potent little things. Even though demons could chuck us across a room as easily as we could throw a pencil, they tremble at our verbal commands. Right. Given what powerhouses of supernatural authority we are, it’s a real mystery how we keep getting ourselves possessed. But of course if you’ve never been possessed or severely harassed by demons, it’s easy to cling to this egotistical delusion that angelic beings bow to your command.

Even though Elizabeth wouldn’t know Satan if she tripped over him, as she marches through her house with an angry look on her face, it’s heavily implied that she’s physically driving the leader of demons out of her home. Right. Let’s return to sanity for a moment and realize that there is only one Satan and he is not omnipresent. So when scores of Christians simultaneously assume that they are being harassed by the exact same demon at various points all over the globe, they’re wrong. In real life, Satan probably isn’t bothering with any of them personally because he has other things to attend to. But naturally we all like to think we’re so important that only the great Satan himself would mess with us. Ah, the arrogance of humans.

Well, as Elizabeth drives her mighty foe into the backyard (let’s hope Satan is wearing shoes), she then declares that he can’t come back because Jesus is now the One in charge. Isn’t that nice of Elizabeth to simultaneously declare control over both Satan and Jesus? Isn’t it nice of her to inform each of them where their earthly domains start and stop and to tell them when to swap territories? How very cheeky.

From Victim to Commander

“You don’t have to settle for a miserable life. God created you to be His commander. Wake up to your high calling and start taking control of the universe—then you’ll find true happiness.” This is the insidious message that War Room tries to slip past us. Elizabeth starts off as a victim of her circumstances: miserable, afraid, and beat down. She morphs into a tower of spiritual arrogance: commanding both God and demons about without ever seeing the absurdity of her behavior. When things work out exactly as she wants, she naturally concludes that she’s spot on to treat her God like her very capable Servant.

The “prayer warrior” title is very misleading, because in real life, warriors are like soldiers–members of an army who receive commands from their CO’s. But Christian prayer warriors function not as lowly soldiers, but as supreme spiritual commanders. The war room on a battlefield is the place where the highest ranking officers gather—thus war room becomes a very appropriate analogy for the way we often use our prayer closets today. We don’t use such rooms to practice submission to God—we go in to unload our latest volley of commands. We study our Bibles to look for new verses that we can leverage. We try to find powerful incantations that we might have overlooked, like that infamous prayer of Jabez. When a fellow sorcerer puts a new potion together, he writes a book about it and spreads it around to the general community. “Try praying like this to God and watch how He hops to it.” Just consider the book title: The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. If that doesn’t say “pray to get”, what does? You have to break through to the blessed life. You have to wrench those blessings out of God’s miserly grip by quoting the words of a dead man at Him every single day. It works because if it’s in the Bible—or if you slap Jesus’ Name on it—well, then God will feel compelled to obey you. Elizabeth flings Jesus’ Name around as she’s driving Satan out of her home. Of course she never bothers to actually ask Jesus what He wants to do in that particular moment. No, when it comes to Jesus, we’re only interested in His Name. Or His Blood. Or in replicas of the cross He died on. We embrace the magic infused props, but we ignore the God Himself. Is this attitude going to help our souls? Not hardly.

Viewing Prayer as a Weapon

“Prayer is a powerful weapon”–this is the subtitle the Kendricks have chosen for their movie.  But is this how God wants us to view prayer?  Prayer is our soul’s communication with God.  It’s the means by which we’re supposed to be communing with Him, bonding with Him, worshiping Him, and practicing submission to Him.  Do you want your spouse to view conversing with you as a battle situation?  Why should our words to God be viewed as weapons?  Why would we be trying to chuck spears, knives and arrows in His direction?

By likening prayer to a weapon, the Kendricks make it clear that they don’t view prayer primarily as a means of drawing closer to our Maker, but rather as a tool which we can use to attack our enemies.  The big insight we’re supposed to glean from War Room is that our true enemies are not other people, but demons.  Well, whoopee, who wants to go through life focusing on demons?  What happened to focusing on communing with our Creator and viewing our prayers as something more positive–like adoring kisses we plant on His cheek?  Once we turn prayer into a weapon, we are no longer trying to build a relationship with God, we’re trying to conquer our earthly problems.  Talk about having lousy priorities in life.

THE VICTORIOUS LIFE

Hands down, the Kendricks’ best movie to date was Facing the Giants. Why? Because the movie taught that there was only one ideal way to respond to trials in life: total submission to God. There was none of this standing around and claiming that God would give us what we want. The couple in Facing the Giants asked God for things, they didn’t command Him. When they cracked open their Bibles, it was not to use them as spell books, but to listen for what God wanted to teach them through the words on the page. When God crushed precious dreams, stomped on hopes, and broke hearts over and over again, the main stars of the movie felt the pain, but didn’t let it stop them from bowing down before their King. Both the husband and the wife individually chose to pursue God as their highest prize, and they chose to stick with Him even when He was refusing to give them what they sorely wanted. That is what real devotion looks like. That is true submission. “You’re God and You get to. I might hate it, but I accept it because You are the Boss”—this is the attitude that will get us far in life. Not this garbage about war rooms. Not throwing verses in God’s face as if He can’t remember what the Book says. Not keeping journals about how far along God is in completing the assignments we’ve given Him.

War Room teaches that the victorious Christian life is one in which the Christian rotates between partial submission and bossy domination. War Room exalts humans way past their proper place: suggesting that we have the power to command demons about at will and control the flow of God’s power just by choosing the right words. You’ll never fully submit to God as long as you’re trying to dominate Him in your prayer life. Bowing down with your body counts for nothing when you’re still bossing with your tongue. War Room teaches Christians to adopt a mentality which God finds utterly repulsive: one in which we view Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as our highly trained task force who are just sitting around waiting for our next command.

GLORIFYING WARRIORS

A lot of Christians take offense at drawings which depict God moving people around on a chessboard. Many feel that such imagery negates the reality of free will and suggests that we are mere puppets in God’s hands. And yet the prayer warrior mentality is one in which Christians take this exact same approach to God. God and His angels are the white chess pieces, Satan and his demons are the black. Prayer warriors then make a career out of scrutinizing the board and giving both armies commands. We tell God and His angels where to attack and when. We try to help cripple Their opposition by zapping demons with our verbal rebukes. It’s all a bunch of arrogant guff which is driven by the carnal desire to exalt ourselves.

The prayer warrior mentality is one of self-glory. Instead of praising God, we start praising God and ourselves. We shove into His spotlight and start making a point to tell everyone how long and hard we’ve been ordering God to do whatever it was He just did. We stop glorifying God as God, and we start applauding Him as our very obedient Servant who now and then surprises us with His clever revisions to our brilliant ideas.

If you seek your own glory in life, you are going to reap eternal consequences for it. God is an intensely jealous Being who delights in slapping down the arrogant. War Room sends Christians down a path that only leads to compounded arrogance, and then it confirms the very place it is taking us by the credits it rolls at the end of the movie. Wait for it, and you’ll see the header “Prayer Warriors on the Set” followed by a list of names of the folks who, well, told God what to do during the making of this movie. You see, if you like it, you’re supposed to give partial credit to the prayer warriors.

Why on earth would the Kendricks feel the need to tell us who prayed on the set of their movie unless they consider those prayers to be some kind of potent and praiseworthy? And then there is the “Prayer Coordinator”—the woman who apparently told those buffed out warriors what to pray for when. You know, because God loves it when we read off of someone else’s script instead of praying from our hearts. He’s all about fake and phony, and He loves warriors who stand around telling themselves that their prayers are vital to the movie turning out well. After all, He’s only God—it’s not like we can trust Him to do anything right on His own. He obviously needs constant supervision.

CONCLUSION

As we said earlier, there have been growing flaws in the Kendricks’ movies. War Room is their worst theological statement to date, and we should expect their work to continue to deteriorate unless they shape up and get back into alignment with the Holy Spirit. Yahweh doesn’t take orders from us. The Holy Spirit detests the way we treat our Bibles as a higher authority than Him. Jesus finds our abuse of His Name highly insulting. If you’re serious about honoring your Makers, don’t even think about setting up a war room in your home—unless of course you’re trying to entice Them into warring against you.

FURTHER READING:
Prayer Warriors: Disrespecting God & Proud of It
Practicing Submission in the Way that We Pray
Movie Review: Grace Unplugged
How Your Powerful Prayers Are Wrecking Your Relationship with God
Sicking Jesus on the Devil: The Christian Addiction to Bossing God

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