Thinking Out Loud

October 14, 2018

The “I Can Only Imagine Story” Still Evokes Emotion

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:41 pm

Having seen the movie in a theater, I’m not a prime candidate to own the DVD or Blu-Ray for the movie I Can Only Imagine, which ended up becoming the 4th highest-grossing inspirational film of all time.

However, I got to see the nearly 2 hours of bonus features last night and found it very difficult to fight back the [whatever it is guys do, because the word isn’t tears.]

This is a powerful story. There’s no denying this.

And it’s a powerful song. Over the years, the band MercyMe has been flooded with letters from fans describing their own “moment” connecting with the song.

Even if you, like us, saw the film on the big screen, I’d encourage you to get your hands on this; or maybe find some fellow theater-goers who saw it as we did, and split the cost of the disc. I doubt the ‘extras’ are available for streaming.

…If you missed it, here’s my article from March, and then my reflections after actually seeing the film after it had taken off at the box office.

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August 21, 2018

Review: God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

Three movies later, God’s still not dead, and The Newsboys are still singing the same song.

It would be so easy to be cynical and say that this movie franchise went back to the well one time too often, but in fact, I didn’t really mind the movie at all. Heck, if they can keep it at this level, they can make a 4th one, too.

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness releases today on DVD and Digital. The film was part of an avalanche of major Christian movies this winter which included Paul, Apostle of Christ and I Can Only Imagine.

The plot is as fresh as the daily news, with the church-and-state issue concerning a parish which helped found the university on whose property it still sits, only to face that the college has evolved into something completely secular and can no longer, in good conscience be perceived as giving preference to one particular religious worldview. That the church has been destroyed by fire makes the situation more complicated.

There were also some surprising storyline developments, but to enlarge on those here wanders into spoiler territory which I’ve chosen to avoid. Generally speaking, the film kept my interest, a few overused Christian clichés notwithstanding.

Apologetic cinema like this seems to fall into two categories. There are the fast-action scripts involving multiple plot-lines intended to educate and entertain (Do You Believe), and there are the more cerebral films which are intended only to provoke thought (The Case for Christ). In God’s Not Dead 3, the only chase scene is a foot chase lasting about ten seconds. It’s about the characters and more important, about the ideas.

Speaking of characters Shane Harper is back as Josh Wheaton from the first (2014) movie. There’s a passing reference, but having seen the other film isn’t a prerequisite. Also, David A.R. White, a major force behind the camera (mostly) in so many Christian movies — he’s a co-founder of PureFlix — steps front and center in this picture…

…This is a movie about holding various positions in tension, and right to the end, it delivers that. Again, without providing spoilers, I know that some viewers will be unsettled by the direction the battle between the church and the university moves, but then that’s just more fuel for post-movie discussion.

 

 

June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

November 2, 2017

Same Kind of Different as Me: An Illustration of the Hands and Feet of Christ

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

Based on the book of the same name which is based on a true story, Same Kind of Different as Me is the unlikely story of the intersection of two worlds between an international dealer in expensive fine art and a homeless man who spent much of his life working overtime as a slave. Ron Hall is living the good life that involves interacting with high society when his wife Deborah drags him to reluctantly serve at the Union Gospel Mission. The 2007 book from Thomas Nelson later gave way to a small group curriculum as it raises many issues.

I had only minimal familiarity with the book — I knew it had sold well in some areas, which can be hard for a biographical work even if it reads better than some fiction — when invited to see the movie which, as you read this, is at the end of its second week in North America.

My wife and I were quite impressed. She even paid it the ultimate compliment (for her) by saying something as we left the theater, “It wasn’t a Christian movie;” by which she meant there wasn’t an overt gospel message leading toward key characters getting saved at the end. Indeed, this is actually the ideal Christian movie, where things are shown instead of told, and where Christian values are being lived out, rather than simply taught. Truly this is the Christian film you view with that unchurched neighbor, coworker or relative.

But it takes more than just a great screenplay to make a great picture. The additional points would go for some very plausible casting — I felt like I already know Ron and Deborah — and some rather breathtaking scenery, not to mention the visual image of the place in the woods where the homeless of that community spend the night.

The movie raises the possibility of much discussion about the type of activity which truly helps the homeless and gives them dignity and how, at the end of the day, we’re not all that different.


Thanks to Tim at Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for the tix.

 

May 13, 2017

Weekend Link List

Every once in awhile I have to work a weekend shift, but at least it’s not as busy.

Welcome to the Weekend: A bonus feature for the faithful committed readers who don’t just turn up on Wednesdays. Drew Dyck didn’t say where he found this baby baptism pic, but the comments (click to read) were as much fun as the photo.


And now, to complete our weekly public service requirement, we bring you The Cycle of Fear:

March 30, 2017

Case for Christ Movie is a Must-See on Two Different Levels

You really do need to see this film.

In a world where a proliferation of Christian movies has meant some of us spend as much time at the local theater as we do at church, this one is a cut above.

After getting to see a preview, I took a first-time step of watching it all over again the very next night, finding the second view equally satisfying and engaging as the first. I think the reason was that for me the various elements of the movie worked; that is to say all the pieces of what makes up cinematography that we might not even notice played together here to create a movie that was simply believable. There were few of those caricature or stereotype moments that sometimes mar faith-focused films.

It’s no spoiler to say that this is the real-life story of Lee Strobel, a top investigative reporter with the Chicago Tribune, who also happens to hold a law degree, and has a history of taking on some big challenges, including the Ford Pinto scandal. (You can read a 1980 sample in the Trib’s archives.) He’s just been promoted out of street-beat reporting but is about to be called upon to cover a cop shooting, a story that he feels is really beneath him. That story has some interesting parallels to another, second investigation he’s about to launch on his own time.

That side project begins when his wife converts to Christianity through the ministry of an early incarnation — still meeting in a theater at that point — of Willow Creek Community Church. He feels he’s losing her but is confident he can win her back by simply bringing all his investigative skills to bear on proving Christianity in general, and the resurrection of Jesus in particular, to be a complete and utter hoax. While philosophy and theology isn’t his normal beat, he is relentless in his pursuit of credible experts who can handle his checklist of factors in the Christ story that need to be negated. The rest is the apologetics substance of the film.

It was the unexpected relational substance of the film that caught me off-guard. What happens in a marriage when one spouse is a believer and one is not? (It’s around this point that I remembered reading that Zondervan was re-releasing one of Strobel’s few non-apologetic titles, Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage coauthored with wife Leslie.) The portrayal of Leslie Strobel — by an actress whose appearance and mannerisms reminded me so much of Bill Hybels’ daughter Shauna Niequist — is what caused one reviewer to comment as to the authenticity of the portrayal of this neophyte Christ follower; the believability I mentioned earlier.

The rest you need to see. Strobel does not lay down his guns halfway through and commence the ministry with which many of us are familiar. We know him today as the author of other titles in the Case for… series such as The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus and the recent The Case for Grace; but throughout most of the film his life is not headed on that trajectory at all. Disproving Christianity is a fight he truly believes he can win.

This isn’t really a film for the whole family, though teens who face challenges to their faith from fellow students could benefit significantly. Taking a friend, relative, neighbor or coworker who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith is highly recommended, because when it comes to what Christians believe, at the end of the day, the buck stops with the resurrection.


An opportunity to the preview the movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Stills above were posted on Twitter by people associated with the production.

March 19, 2017

Case for Christ Movie Opens April 7

Last night we were able to watch a preview screening of the movie The Case for Christ which opens April 7th. While I will offer a full review of the movie closer to the release date, many of you have read the book by Lee Strobel, or one of the many others in the series: The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus, etc.

Like some others who have leaked bits and pieces of this online, I also was struck by the authenticity of the two primary characters in the movie, Lee and Leslie Strobel. While the theme of the movie is very obviously evidentiary apologetics there is also a sub-theme dealing with the time when Leslie was a Christian and Lee wasn’t. It’s probably no accident that their 2002 book Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage is now in re-release by Zondervan.

With those two themes in mind…

  • Think of friends you could invite to see the movie; and
  • Plan to see it, if at all possible, during the first weekend of release.

I’ll have more to say about it in a few days.  Use the following image on your Facebook page to make more people aware of this significant film.

December 12, 2016

Hillsong United Live at The Forum: A Review of Let Hope Rise

let-hope-rise-dvdIf there’s a single takeaway from the 1-hour, 43-minute documentary Let Hope Rise, it’s that the members of Hillsong United are totally amazed and humbled at the band’s worldwide influence and popularity.

The film played in theaters in North America just a few months ago, and is releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray December 20th, just in time for Christmas. A concert at The Forum in Los Angeles provides the storyline, with scenes in the dressing room just before they go onstage book-ending the movie.

This is very much a documentary, not a concert film. There are a couple of songs which play in their entirety. Others are edited somewhat, or transition between the songwriting collaborative process and the finished product onstage. The focus here is to provide a behind-the scenes look.

Again, this is a film about Hillsong United, not the Hillsong worship program in general. There is a far too short, ten minute nod to the history and scope of the parent church in Sydney, but its worship teams aren’t in view here; neither is the younger band Hillsong Y&F (Young and Free) mentioned.

The members of the band obviously know each other well and trust each other. When they are about to go on at The Forum, the songs are basically so very fresh that one of the guys says of another something to the effect, ‘He’s about to walk on the stage and sing words he’s never sung into a microphone before.’

It was interesting that on the one hand, the band talks about the fact they work for the church and are not particularly well paid, but on the other hand are able to enjoy an oceanfront house in California to write songs. Back home in Australia, the members of the band appear to live quite modestly. Some have very young families, with their wives staying home to take care of the kids.

We had planned to watch this with a full stereo sound system but a last minute glitch caused us to relocate. At first I was disappointed, but the music both is and isn’t the focus; it is more about providing the inside look at the band using material filmed for the movie and archival footage the band owned.

Hillsong’s influence on worship music around the world is immeasurable and Hillsong United’s influence on youth culture and youth ministry is equally significant. Anyone who is a fan of United will probably want to watch this several times. Onscreen lyrics are provided on a few songs for those who even want to sing along.


Movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

October 13, 2016

I’m Not Ashamed – The Movie

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

im-not-ashamed

This film, the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first of several students murdered in the 1999 Columbine shooting, opens next Friday in the U.S. Visit the website, or watch the trailer below.

August 16, 2016

Once Again, God’s Not Dead

God's Not Dead 2 BillboardReleasing today on DVD, this is, by my count, the third movie in a highly successful franchise for Pure Flix Entertainment, if you count the first God’s Not Dead from 2014 and then 2015’s Do You Believe? Like Snakes on a Plane, the film’s intention is clear from the outset; you know what you’re expecting.

With Do You Believe? I remarked at the time that there were more characters, more plot lines to follow and a lot more on-screen action compared with GND1 . With God’s Not Dead 2, there is less activity. This is a more cerebral film providing food for thought for the skeptic as well as the already converted. In some respects, I felt this 2016 movie was more ‘preaching to the choir,’ though I’ll grant that its potential to impact the unbeliever is still present.

With the two previous films, I observed that one of the major wins was the ability to transcend Christian clichés and awkward screen moments. This time around, I decided that a certain number of each may be inevitable if one is going to portray authentic Christians doing Christian things.

There were also what some might consider gratuitous appearances by two Christian apologists, J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel, but their presence was essential to a major plot point, though it’s unclear how the lawyer in the courtroom scene in which they appear was able to snag them. (Gary Habermas and Rice Broocks also appear.)

Melissa Joan Hart realistically plays the central character in the movie, a teacher under threat of losing not only her job, but everything else in a punitive action hoping to curb the presence of Christianity in the classroom once and for all. Her crime isn’t so much quoting what Matthew attributes to Jesus as it is doing so from memory, with conviction and being able to cite chapter and verse.

Jesse Metcalfe is cast as her somewhat inexperienced atheist lawyer who might not get the whole Jesus thing, but understands clearly the issues the case raises.

Hayley Orrantia of The Goldbergs TV series is student who is the supposed victim in the legal case in which her parents are the plaintiffs. Other cast members include Pat Boone, and Duck Dynasty‘s Sadie Robertson. And yes, The Newsboys are back. 

Boone also gets this line early in the film, “That’s the thing about atheism, it doesn’t take away the pain, it just takes away the hope.” Another key line is in the graphic above, a billboard which — in a real life imitates the film moment — was refused space at the Republican National Convention last month as being “too political and way too incendiary.”

Having fewer plot lines and characters to track than Do You Believe? made this more enjoyable, but with this third film in three years, I do wonder if the genre is being overworked. On the other hand, fiction is a great vehicle for apologetics — including some of my favorite books — and so I was fully engaged as the movie developed. 

Note: If you’re watching the DVD, be sure to continue through the closing credits for what is either an interesting sequel-begging scene, or a nod to the composers who end their pieces with an unresolved chord.


Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

I received a screening link, features on the full DVD include:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Man, Myth, Messiah with Rice Broocks
  • Between Heaven and Hollywood with David A.R. White
  • Visual Effects of God’s Not Dead 2
  • Filming in Arkansas
  • First Liberty
  • Trailers
  • English and Spanish Audio
  • English and Spanish Subtitles

 

 

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