Monday, October 24, 2011

Courageously Determined to Avoid "Courageous"

Same song. Different movie.

Christian people are all over the place on this movie. While I don't think any rational person believes it to be a cinematic masterpiece (small budget and marginal to poor acting are typical for Sherwood films), the message of the movie seems to be the divider.

[For the record - this is not a review of Courageous, but a personal commentary on the Sherwood body of work]

The only Sherwood films I've seen are Facing the Giants and the one about the car lot (the title escapes me). They could've been the same movie, just that one story was centered around a high school football coach and the other around a used car salesman (which may actually be the same thing - you sports fans will know what I'm talking about). Neither one blew me away. I LOATHE watching movies, television shows, or reading books that I can stay ten steps ahead of, plot-wise.

Then Sherwood went and got involved with Kirk Cameron for Fireproof. When that movie came out, I knew nothing of Vision Forum, and obviously not of Cameron's affiliation with them (whatever it may be), and really didn't know anything about P/QF and its litany of spiritual and emotional dysfunctions - but I knew Cameron gave me the creeps with his "Way of the Master" crap and the way he "witnessed" on the street, not to mention how itchy Ray Comfort always made me (and still does).

In hindsight, the Cameron/Sherwood connection is potentially pretty religiously dangerous. If the Sherwood folk would get involved with him, despite his raging religious addiction and weirdness, it doesn't speak well of their ability to discern the merit of ideas that might be introduced into their thinking and storylines. Their movies already have a lot of works-based, particular action=reward, prosperity "gospel" thinking and teaching in them. I'd say it's a safe bet that within their next 3-5 movies we'll start seeing some outright sociopolitical concepts (with dominionist roots). They'll have to do something. People aren't going to keep buying tickets to the same movie with a new title. When plot-lines (and what they teach) are already formula-driven, the logical next step is legalism and dominionism.

In a discussion elsewhere, my friend Darcy summed up exactly why I find Courageous unappealing and have no real desire to see it...

I don't need to see the movie. I can predict exactly what happens: dude's life sucks. Family is going to hell, he doesn't do anything about it. Suddenly tragedy strikes. Dude realizes he "needs god", dude recommits his life to god. Dude is excited and gets his buddies to 
recommit their lives and live like "godly men". Life magically starts working out, dude's wife and kids shape up, and everyone lives happily ever after, proclaiming the blessing of living "god's way". The End.

That's the formula that Courageous (and all Sherwood films) present, and, frankly, that just isn't how the Christian life and Christian faith work the vast majority of the time. It isn't realistic in the slightest. A prosperity gospel formula is what it is. The overwhelming theme of the state of life in this world that you'll find throughout the books of the bible is a pretty easy one to pick up on if you're willing to look for and at it: Life on the earth generally sucks. That's true for all people, those of faith and those not of faith.

The true happiness of Christians should rest in their hope of eternity, in their reconciliation with their Creator, in the hope of life beyond the grave. Not in what faith can give them in life right now. Seems silly and shallow to expect more from life on earth than what Christ or the early church got from it. Those early Christians in Rome lived with passion, loving God, trusting in Christ, loving each other, praying, sharing, giving, helping - and a lot of them ended up as lion poop. Hit shappens, Christian or not.

Faith isn't about doing the right series of things and expecting a particular result. That's formula. Faith isn't about doing this, this, and this, living "godly", and everything becoming fluffy flowers and puppies playing and birds singing in sophisticated harmonies while God acts as your celestial bellhop, miraculously paying all your bills, fixing all your family problems, and healing your diverticulitis - while giving you a new car and helping you lose 30 pounds. Yes, those things CAN happen - but those things also happen to unbelievers. Don't ask me how and why those things happen. I don't know.

Yes, I believe in prayer. Yes, I believe that those of faith in Christ should live as Christ lived and taught - selflessly, loving God and neighbor, being honest people of integrity, doing the right thing even when the price is steep, caring for the less fortunate and the outcast. Those things aren't formulaic. They're minute by minute choices, opportunity meeting decision. Take out the "loving God" part, and a lot of non-Christians live in the same manner.

Yes, I believe that strong faith can bring about happiness. I just think we need to be able to tell the difference between faith bringing happiness and money, health, new cars, new homes, et cetera, bringing happiness. They ARE different things. Would the football coach from Facing the Giants have still been happy had vermin completely overrun his home? Had he not been given a new car? Had his team's record actually reflected its talent (0 for forever)? Had he lost his coaching job? Had he and his wife been unable to conceive? If he'd still followed the formula - praying, living for God, et cetera - and all of those things failed to happen? Somehow I don't think the message would've worked...which shines some light on exactly what the message was - a formula, live this way, and miracles will happen in your life.

Maybe you're planning to see the movie, or have already seen it, and right now your life really sucks. You may decide to follow the formula the Sherwood movies present - surrender to God, pray, live "godly", et cetera - but (unlike the Sherwood movies) just be prepared for life to still suck, because it's probably going to. Life will still be life.

Find and relish in happiness and hope wherever you can, even in the midst of the suckiness of life. Just don't expect to find it in a formula. It definitely ain't there. 

I know more Christians than I can count who've lived as beautiful a faith as can be lived - and the external elements of their lives (finances, health, family issues, and so forth) are continually in upheaval. The true beauty of their faith is in how it perseveres through these things, how they find happiness, peace, and continue to love and give relentlessly through those things. Their hope of eternity is their payoff.

If Sherwood wants to make a realistic film about a real faith-based miracle, base one on the lives and faith of those people - and at the conclusion, let the main character end up broke, sick, his car perpetually in the shop, his dog dead, his wife run off with another man...yet still content in his faith, still loving, still giving, and not waiting for the big payoff to come anytime soon. That's more like life. What they're offering now is largely a fairy tale which sets people up for disappointment.

ETA this (ht to Eric). If Courageous passes the mustard for the dominionist cult Vision Forum, do you want to support it too? And this collection of manly words from manly men, compiled by the Kendrick brothers (Sherwood films) - creepy. Sherwood has absolutely gone the route of VF kookiness. Under no circumstances will I see, encourage others to see, or support, Courageous.


  1. Great point about such movies not being realistic because God calls His people to trust in Him even if things are not going well (at least in the world's eyes). Although things are seemingly spinning out of control around us, Christians can take comfort in the God who loves them and keeps His promises. He does not promise that our lives would be easy but He does promise to never let us go.

  2. The problem I have with recent Christian "art" is the complete lack of any shading or nuance. There's no moral ambiguity or complex character development. Every film delivers its message with the subtlety of a cinderblock through a plate-glass window and almost every pot device feels contrived.

    I think "The Apostle" (written, directed by, and staring Robert Duvall) probably comes the closest to a realistic film about faith as we have. Not Courageously, Soul Surfer, or (egads!) Fireproof.

  3. For those looking for a review of the film, here is an excellent resource. There are three different pieces on the film at that link, all by a feminist Christian woman studying film in graduate school.

  4. Yep, Lewis, you shouldn't see it. I consider it a waste of my money. It was half-way decent until the promise ring scene. Ruined the whole thing.

  5. You should watch Ushpizin instead. :)

  6. I haven't been impressed with their movies. I saw the trailer for this one, and it looked like the others: men living their boyhood dreams of being "heroes" by writing themselves into movies.

  7. @Libby...I found the third link particularly telling.

    I didn't know Sherwood had submitted Fireproof to the big VF shindig film festival...but given the relationship with Cameron, I shouldn't be surprised.

    I know one Christian film maker (Elevating Entertainment) who, when I asked what he knew about the VF festival, told me "those guys are a little too narrow-minded for me". I'm holding out hope that as his budgets and films improve, he'll be able to bring more art and less dogma into Christian film.

  8. Is that the group that won't allow women to be directors?

  9. Let me make a suggestion for an alternate movie to see to counter balance the courageous craze.


  10. I saw "Courageous" at an advance screening (for my office-- I went for the free food) and Darcy's plot summary is, unsurprisingly, correct in every particular. She missed only "One of the buddies fails to live like a 'godly man,' thus becoming a cautionary tale for the others," and "Also includes several disconnected vignettes that are clearly 'inspired by' some book of sappy devotional stories for dads."

    As Libby's second link points out, there's some bothersome racial stereotyping as well (all of the big bad gang members are non-white, for instance, and the Latino character has a lower-grade job than his other buddies). And, yes, there's a "promise ring" scene in which the daughter commits to let Daddy "guard her heart."

    VF is also producing / promoting an opportunistic pack of movie tie-in materials to "supplement the movie experience." As though the movie wasn't preachy enough already! ( if you want.)

  11. You guys should pay a LOT of attention to what Eric just said.

  12. Also of note, this review makes the case (and I pretty much agree) that the message being preached in the film is predominantly Moralism, not Faith or Gospel. Which probably won't come as a surprise to most readers here. Quote:

    "Art being reduced as a vehicle for sermonizing is problematic enough, but even more so is the type of sermon being preached. The emphasis on personal morality and simplistic transformation turn this film into a superficial lecture rather than a robust exploration of life as a Christian father. Our personal piety, our self-improvement, and our “courage” forms the fabric of the story. Christ and his gospel, along with church life and God’s established means of grace, are marginalized."

    (Note, I'd recommend avoiding the comments unless you want to get depressed by the number of people who totally missed the above point.)

  13. I don't necessarily have a problem with predictable "happily ever after" endings ... after all, my favorite movie is a Disney movie. I think a lot of people, Christians and non-Christians, like movies where things work out in the end. Almost all of us know life can often suck and then we die. But I myself have also seen many answers to prayer, so the events of various movies do not surprise me. A good friend in college was freed from several addictions immediately after accepting Christ; he didn't need to go to rehab, as the desires for those things were just taken away. (The vast majority are not as lucky, I think.) I would hope that no one would mistake such "happily ever after" endings for what happens most of the time; after all, most people do not really believe a highly attractive and rich prince/princess will take them to a castle where they will be married and live happily ever after. People like fantasies that can point them toward something better, help them see something in a new light, not necessarily because they want good things for themselves (I absolutely loathe the "prosperity gospel" ... giving should be out of love, not because you hope to get something back, otherwise it is not a true gift) but because they want to be more faithful and loving and so much more.

    But yes, it would help to have more realistic movies/entertainment of any kind, showing Christians suffering but still striving forward, still believing in God. For now, most of those examples are in real life stories. Many of the biographies of missionaries, for example, reveal sometimes brutal hardships but the missionaries still kept faith.

    As for that "promise ring" scene? Ugh. I don't mind a girl admiring her father and wanting to marry an egalitarian (not P/QF) man like him, and I don't even really mind purity rings chosen by the teen of their own free choice (though what matters is the commitment in the heart, and such a ring is truly unnecessary for that), but making a promise to her father? If she wants to make a promise, how about to herself, or, even, to God?

    Also curious, Lewis: are you against witnessing in the streets/door-to-door at all? Or just against Kirk Cameron witnessing? (I have certainly never met him, or read anything about him, so I don't know what views he espouses. Does he espouse P/QF views and tell people that brand of Christianity is the right one?)

  14. Get well, Lewis. We missed you on Saturday. :-(

  15. are you against witnessing in the streets/door-to-door at all?

    I'm not a fan of the "genre", I guess you could say. I think it's seldom an effective manner to communicate a message, as people are generally automatically turned off when you "invade their space". Telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen being good examples. I'm particularly not fond of Cameron's method of invasion of space, leading and legalistic mode of questioning, trapping, and fear-based "conversion".

    An example of Cameron's method of "witnessing"...

  16. Does he espouse P/QF views and tell people that brand of Christianity is the right one?

    I'm not sure the depth of his P/QF views (although he does have at least 6 kids), but he's quite obviously a religious addict and radical hyper-fundamentalist whose Christianity is based primarily on fear of the alternative (at least the Christianity he promotes). Something I hope to write about in the near future is how unhealthy it is to "believe" something because we fear the alternative - whether religion, politics, social issues, what have you. Maybe the next piece I write. Been pondering it for a couple of weeks now.

  17. SS...Missed you guys, too. No pain meds since Sunday, so I'm on the mend. Fingers crossed that I don't soon forget I'm a middle-aged man and hurt myself again;)

    Eric...Loved that review's perspective. The comments were unfortunate. When I see someone saying this...

    I heard the gospel clearly proclaimed in Courageous, high view of God, His Word, and biblical manhood and womanhood. becomes even more clear to me that most of Christianity has become so religious that it no longer has any real idea what "the gospel" is. I almost wanted to scream, "Those things aren't the gospel!!!"

    I also noted one of the comments saying that John Piper endorses the film - which is another red flag that should tell rational Christians to avoid the movie and what it promotes.

    Did the men actually make vows and frame covenants? Pretty far cry from Christ's "let your yes be yes." External formula for internal change is a dead-end, and is, at its core, legalism.

  18. Best way to understand a movie's message is to ask "if this were an add, what would it be selling?"
    Unfortunately, Christians can be blinded by all the issues they wrap together (e.g. it's about the turning of lives so it has to be about the saving grace of God).

  19. @Darcy...Sherwood or Elevating Entertainment?

  20. For reasons that were never clear, the Catholic school I taught at decided to take everyone to see "Facing the Giants" one year. The movie outing itself was not unprecedented as taking the whole school to a movie had become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition there. The choice of movie, however, was odd to me. On the way out a brilliant senior gave me his review: "I learned that if I become an Evangelical Christian by dramatically praying by a tree, God will let me win competitions, give me a new vehicle and cure any ailments anyone in my life has, especially infertility!"

  21. I think I watch movies more for escapism, enjoyment, and inspiration - I have seen all the Sherwood movies without really paying attention to who endorsed them, or even paying attention to who the "stars" (aka Cameron) were. I've seen "secular" movies that were much worse quality-wise, so I'm not going to pick bones about their small budgets, etc. We liked 'em well enough, as there were inspirational things in them that encouraged us to make some changes in our lives just to be better people in general. I think the Fireproof movie encouraged my husband and I to be more considerate of each other in general - but not to jump on the "Me Tarzan You Jane Where the Heck's My Dinner" way. (One thing from Fireproof that does not correlate with the philosophies of VF people we know in person is the fact that Cameron's "wife" in the movie works outside the home.) Anyway, we're very aware of the twisted thinking of the VF crowd (losing an entire family's friendship when they jumped on that bizarre bandwagon - and this was a family that we truly believed to be our best friends).

    I guess we just enjoyed these movies like any Disney flick we might watch.

    Now the real point of my comment - have you seen a movie called "Faith Like Potatoes"? We rented this movie and ended up buying a copy. Based on a true story - there's a guy that decides to follow God and everything is NOT peaches and cream - it shows someone who commits to follow God and does not give up when tragedy still strikes his family. If you've seen it, I would love to hear your opinion. :-)

    P.S. - Even though I don't totally agree with your views of the Sherwood films, I still agree with about 96.9% of what you say here. :-)

  22. I'm very troubled about the "I take full responsibility for my wife and children" clause of the Resolution movie-goers are being encouraged to sign. One of the first things I learned as a recovering codependent was to take full responsibility for MY life and no one else's. I recognize that children are not fully responsible, but to teach them to be fully responsible for themselves should be a primary goal of parenting. Instead, what I see is an emphasis on instant, unquestioning obedience, with the responsibility continuing to rest on the father's shoulders alone. Of course, taking responsibility for his wife (or any other adult) is of the essence of dysfunction and codependency.

    This is what's being taught by this movie as the answer to male irresponsibility. But all it can do is to make things worse.

  23. I think my biggest problems with the film were (in no particular order)

    1) the whole formula thing of "make this commitment and all with go well for you"

    2) the random convenient plot twist of having one of the policemen commit a felony when it was totally unprecedented until the last , like, 15 minutes... I understand they were trying to make a point that just because you make a commitment doesn't mean you'll follow through, but still, it was just too random :-P

    3) the promise ring/courtship-y-related stuff... blagh blagh blagh!! and the way Jade's parents talked about the guy she liked (very mocking and unkind, talking about him as "another one of those saggy-pants, disrespectful boys!" in a "what an idiot" tone) was, I think, very disrespectful and insensitive to Jade, instead of handling it in a loving, kind way and actually finding out more about the guy before making all sorts of unkind accusations and snide comments about him. And the promise ring deal was just BLAAAGHH!! GET IT OFFA ME!!! ;-P

    4) the way it portrayed men as the all-important member of the family, the sole decision maker, the big cheese, and the women just felt like sideline characters who were there just to support their husbands in whatever they did :-| THIS BUGS ME SO MUCH!!!

    5) more random distracting subplots like Javier's "test of conscience" when he was offered a promotion at his job... it so didn't fit in with anything else in the plot. It was so random. :-P

    6) typical use of a counselling session/pastor's office scene to preach stuff; instead of showing the character's learning and growing, it has to fall back on "talking" sessions which is SOOOO annoying :-P

    7) the sherriff preaching to the policemen at the beginning of the shift... what's that about?? unrealistic much?? as though everyone in the world was a dedicated churchgoer/Christian! 8-P

    8) oh yeah! and the big commitment service scene at the end. While Alex Kendrick's character is giving his "inspiring message", it's showing quick clips of the main characters' putting their "resolution" to practice and wrapping up loose ends, and then it ends abruptly and it's like "what?" I would have liked to see the loose ends tied up with a song montage or something.... the whole ceremony thing was just weird. Obviously it was made to get people to cry and feel inspired but I just kind of like, Okay.... that was random... :-|

    I've got to say, the quality was excellent, considering they're amateurs, and they really are doing better and better, quality wise, with each movie they make, but they need a new screenwriter and a whole new type of plot, because in all honesty, this was a total rehash of the first three movies, just with more characters and a slightly different setting and message. Also, I think the basic message is one that people should hear (I think most of us who had a dad who wasn't really interested or involved in our lives wish he had been) and I'm glad if it is a help to some people, but the method of presentation was kind of weak and bogged down, with it's fair share of negative stuff.

    Actually, I think if they had totally cut Javier and Nathan's stories from the plot, it would have been a lot better.... less bogged-down, and without the courtship junk... Adam's story, in and of itself, wasn't too bad and it was nice seeing him go from making excuses not to spend time with his son to taking the time to go running with him because he knew it was important to him.... as I really appreciate having seen that same type of change in my dad over the last year.

    But anyway...
    So yeah, overall I really didn't like it, though it wasn't quite as bad as I had been expecting it to be before I watched it. *shrugs*

  24. Just saw Kristen's comment about the line "I take full responsibility for my wife and children" ... YES!!! This totally bugged me too!!!
    ^^Agrees with everything Kristen said^^

  25. I'm very troubled about the "I take full responsibility for my wife and children" clause of the Resolution movie-goers are being encouraged to sign.

    Me too. That's probably the most alarming thing I've discovered in the last couple of days. Not only do I see emotional dysfunction/codependency issues with it, but spiritual immaturity issues.

    It seems to me to be an anti-Christ concept. Being a good father is an inherent duty of all fathers, something that should be the goal because it's the right thing, not because we've signed a piece of paper saying we'll do it. It's a shame that our yes can't mean "yes" without a signed resolution declaring it to be a "yes".

    Christ, concerning matters of faith and character...

    “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

    If we can't do the right thing simply because it's the right thing, if our yes doesn't mean yes - period, then we've got deeper problems than any resolution we can sign can ever begin to address.

    Paper champions.

  26. I just got married a few weeks ago, and my wife's father who just loved this movie had me repeat all the resolutions out loud in front of witnesses and sign the document as part of a preceremony ceremony in order to receive his blessing. I thought it was strange, and mainly did it so we wouldn't be banned from the family. So now I've got a signed copy of "the resolution" to make me a good husband. The strangest thing of all though is that a man immersed in p/qf gave us his blessing despite us not "submitting to the courtship requirements." Actually, it was a miracle.

  27. Congratulations, Kevin, on your marriage.
    May you and your wife find very real happiness.
    Sorry for the 'add-on' you father-in-law required. It was out in left field and a burden he had no business laying on you.

    But be not afraid, you can lead your wife right into a partnership of equals where your individual strengths are honored and you mutually submit ton one another in the love of God. (Ephesians 5:21)

    Some women do need to be led there because they were taught that they had to be led somewhere. So you might as well lead them into freedom and equality and justice and mercy.


  28. Reading these comments has definitely been more insightful to the movie, having never seen it. Some of that stuff just makes me cringe!
    What gets me is that it is just like another "bandwagon" these guys were getting on together and I don't think it works like that. Not for real. The Holy Spirit convicts and works within us all differently. and what does signing a contract do anyway? The heart must be ready for the commitment, and it must be genuine.

    On another note, I think it pays to be careful that we don't go lumping people with more than x children or homeschoolers or whatever all into the same group. I am one of 7 children. We are def. not "quiverfull". And we homeschool because it was/is the best choice for us, not to "restrict us" or shelter us etc. :)

  29. txmom2jami recommended the movie, "Faith like Potatoes," and I've seen it and loved it! So much more real, though there were a few times that I cringed during it.

  30. GREAT! One of your best!

    Just looked at the "manly words" link...OF COURSE there had to be a Vision Forum product (or product SERIES) for this film. It's as required as taking one Christian novel,setting it in big type and chopping it in 14 volumes for $15.00 each. Sadly, I'm sure some Churches will order caseloads for Father's Day or a Men's "Bible" Study.....

  31. I'm anonymous from October 25, 2011 7:47 PM.

    Thanks for the clarification on Kirk Cameron. That does make sense. Great comment on fear-based conversion. (I myself like love-based conversion.)

    And when I say I love happily-ever-after movies, that does not mean that I like movies with:

    1) Poorly-drawn characters
    2) Poorly-drawn plots
    3) Overt preaching being the plot
    and, most of all
    4) Attempts to introduce cult-like, legalistic concepts under the guise of good family values.

    Let's relate this to "Courageous," or at least what I've gleaned about it. The idea of fathers being more involved in their family is a really great thing to get behind, of course. I'm sure when most people watch the movie they think: "The men are taking responsibility for how their conduct can affect their families." Again, nothing wrong with that: we can all learn that what we say and do can affect those we love, and those around us as well. But the real message of the movie seems to be that the men are taking responsibility for how their families act, the "I take full responsibility for my wife and children" thing. While that is certainly far from subtle, I think most people are still going to think of that as a man taking responsibility for his own behavior toward his wife and children, and not as it truly is, which is a man taking responsibility for his wife and children's behavior. Which is something even God doesn't do toward his children ... us! (He gave us the free will to make our own good or bad choices, and graciously gave us more, a chance for redemption, when He certainly did not have to!) Anyway, each person is responsible for their own behavior, in the end.

    (It reminds me of a case I know of two boys raised by a father who abused women. One son became like his father and treated women horribly, the other became the opposite of his father, and treated women wonderfully, for he did not want to ever turn into his father. Is the father responsible for what he did. Definitely. He warped one son's thinking, though of course the first son will ultimately be responsibly for his own behavior. But the other son was strong enough to reject his father's ways, and definitely took responsibility for his own behavior.)

    It just seems more than a little arrogant for a man to do something God wouldn't do. For a P/QF man (indeed, any man) to believe he is responsible for his wife and children and their conduct is just plain creepy and wrong. For he will take away their free will and make it his will, by force or guilt if necessary, make them in bondage to rules and laws. Shudder. Isn't that what Christ came to free us from?

  32. lewis, thank you for your awesome personal commentary of this movie. also, thanks for sharing info that VF/Phillips and Botkin were behind it. i will not be seeing this movie not only because of its superficial pious legalistic cultic drivel type of sermons (in your face) which is all "religious" legalism and spiritual addiction. but also because of its simple minded formulaic works based plots. & the purity ring stuff is just plain creepy...