Recently I Red Boxed War Room and I was surprised how good the movie was. The premise of the movie is pretty simple: prayer is very powerful because God is all powerful. It’s secondary message was just as good: we do not try to fix our spouse–we submit our interests to our spouse and love him/her sacrificially. We leave it to God to change the spouse’s character.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
Both points are so true, and so compelling from a Reformed perspective, that I cannot imagine who would warn others not to see this movie over peripheral issues.
I’m afraid that people that struggle with pride, like me, feel in some sense superior to other Christians by nitpicking everything they see as wrong. Then, they go on their high horses and snobbishly view everyone who disagrees with them as sinful, unchristian, or committing grave error.
I have been trying hard to commit myself to not doing this. One reviewer, Justin Peters, who I presume is Reformed because he quotes from John MacArthur and Charles Spurgeon totally lambasted the movie over several issues. I do not know anything about him, but I am going to use elements of his review as a leaping off point to speak about the movie’s theology and reflections on proper Biblical interpretation. By quoting his response and offering counterpoints, my hope is to give us all reason to show more restraint when condemning someone else’s theology unless it is clearly wrong.
- “The term ‘repent,’ for example, was used but never fleshed out.”
To the contrary, the movie had a very clear Gospel presentation (quoting Rom 3:10 no less) and the whole plot is about a husband and wife repenting of their sins. In fact, the drama of the closing act (other than the jump rope competition) pertains to the husband returning merchandise that he had stolen, even though he had completely gotten away with it. So, to say the idea is not “fleshed out” confuses me a little.
- “Elizabeth worked outside of the home as a real estate agent.”
While the reviewer would be correct in saying that it is unbiblical for a woman to prioritize her career over her children, husband, and household he would be incorrect in saying that the movie’s protagonist did these things. In fact, I rather saw the opposite. She had a job, sure, but also she was home for breakfast, home for dinner, home for doing the laundry, home for her daughter’s play dates with her friend, waiting for her husband when he came back from work…Even if the job was full time, it did not preclude her from fulfilling her household responsibilities even before her repentance.
Being that the husband boasts one point in the movie that he makes “four times more” than his wife, and then later in the movie he takes a job as the head of a community center that “pays half” as much as his old job, we must conclude the protagonist makes half of what a community center director makes. I am going to guess that down south, even in a very rich community that might be $60K-$80K. This means the protagonist makes half that amount selling real estate, which I would guess would be approaching full time hours but not quite, especially considering everything else we see her do in the movie.
Now someone reading this might wonder why I would delve so deep into the imaginary universe of the movie. I am merely saying that if one is going to pass judgment on a movie’s character for putting an unbiblical emphasis on her career, I am simply showing that based upon the internal logic of the movie such an accusation might not actually make sense. In fact, it can be argued that the protagonist evolves into a Prov 31 for the 21st century kind of woman.
Now, I’m just as much of a dinosaur as the next guy who would like to see wives submit and proudly take on traditional roles, but selling houses is not something unbiblical. In fact, it is one of the few jobs that women have in the Bible (Prov 31), alongside making tents and selling purple cloth.
- [War Room] “totally gets out of order the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in a person with the fruits of regeneration.”
The reviewer strangely enough suggests that Ms. Clara (the old lady who prays for everyone) was wrong in asking someone to pray without knowing whether that the person was already regenerated by the Spirit. This, my friend, is hyper-Calvinism.
When I speak to strangers or hit the streets with Gospel tracts, it is not my job to know whether or not the person is unsaved or predestined. Why not tell unbelievers about the power of prayer? That’s like telling children about long division–neither know anything about it, and even if they cannot apply it properly it is not bad to tell them something factual. Sometimes, in conversations with strangers, we cannot cover every detail of the Christian faith with them–nor is it appropriate. We have to be free from the constraints of being TV pitch-men who have a whole sales routine that we have to go through. Maybe I can only talk about repentance. Maybe only prayer. Maybe only the Gospel, with only brief mention of repentance. Maybe only repentance when someone says that God forgives everybody without conditions. I’ll talk to anyone about whatever I can.
Further, the reviewer takes issues with things like the the protagonist praying for her husband’s heart to “turn back” to God. He rightly points out that such a prayer is theologically incorrect, because the husband never knew God to begin with.
However, should we take such a prayer as a theological affront to sound doctrine? Maybe both of these people in the movie grew up as nominal Christians and they do not have a high-falooting understanding of Christian theology, so when they actually turn to Christ they really think they are returning after being wayward. So what if they are wrong? Is that such a big deal? I am not watching Red Box movies for their nuanced view of soteriology.
- “There was no mention anywhere in the film of the wrath of God that our sin incurs.”
This is a good point, as the wrath of God is offensive to people. The idea was mentioned here and there, but the characters were more heart broken over their personal problems than the realization that they have wronged God. However, the premise behind the protagonist being better to her husband was her realizing that she sinned and did not deserve God’s grace. So, she in turn was gracious with her husband even when he sinned against her. Other than this idea, the movie lacks the extra “umph” in this department.
When the husband asked his wife why she is being so good to him when he does not deserve it, she could have clearly told her husband, “I love you the way Christ loves us–that when we were still sinners He laid down His life for us, though we wronged Him, He blesses us. I know how to love you, because Christ showed me what real love is.” That would have sufficed for me, as a movie about fearing the retribution of God probably would have not fit the plot.
- “First, Satan is not in Hell…Secondly, and more significantly, we as believers are not to be addressing Satan.
The reviewer takes issue at an emotional tirade the protagonist has, yelling at Satan in her house and telling him to go to Hell. Now, we can get all technical and say that Satan technically does not live in Hell, but I am not sure that we were supposed to take the scene in question as a serious, theological statement. After all, “Go to Hell,” is a pretty common saying among regular people to those they do not like. Saying the same thing to Satan is no big deal.
Further, this idea that believers are never to be addressing Satan in emotional outbursts is a teaching that I find just as questionable as going out of one’s way to rebuke Satan. Rebuking Satan has a long history in Christianity. Luther would rebuke Satan when trials and temptations would come his way. However, I think it would be safe to say Luther was not always in the soundest state of mind, especially when we look at a lot of the excessive things he supposedly had said and done.
So, what exactly is the reviewer talking about in his condemnation of rebuking Satan? He writes:
Consider that in Jude we have the record of Michael the archangel disputing with the devil and arguing over the body of Moses. Jude records for us that when he disputed with the devil, Michael the archangel “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Think about that for just a moment and let it sink in. If Michael the archangel – the archangel – did not “dare” to rebuke Satan then I think it’s probably a safe bet that we should not do so either.
I find it strange that one would condemn a movie because of a scene portraying an emotional outburst based upon an inference from Jude 9. The reason we should not make a regular practice out of anything (such as rebuking Satan) is simply because the Bible never tells us to do so. But, to outright condemn the practice due to inference yet not condemn other practices such as women wearing jewelry (as they do in the movie), even though the Scripture is explicit in its condemnation of this, seems to me very inconsistent hermeneutically. How can we selectively make serious doctrinal statements based upon inferences in some parts of the Bible, but ignore explicit teachings that were meant to be taken literally in other parts of the Bible?
Further, is such an inference justified? Let’s read the context of what Jude actually wrote:
[C]ertain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed…These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage (Jude 4-13, 15).
In short, Jude is talking about what appear to be antinomian teachers who show little sexual restraint. By doing so, they reject the Christ who bought them. Jude buttresses his point with two Biblical examples, and two extra-biblical legends. The Biblical examples are the destruction of a generation of the Jewish people who failed to enter the promised land because of their unbelief and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for sexual immorality. He then compares these two Biblical examples to widely known Jewish legends.
The first Jewish legend as recorded in the Book of Enoch (which Jude later quotes in verses 14 and 15) is that angels left heaven and committed sodomatic acts with women. Their leaving of heaven (“not keeping their own domain”) appears to be paralleled with the Jews not wanting to enter the Promised Land with Moses, where they belonged However, many Israelites wanted to turn back around and return to Egypt. Hence, both both failed to keep to their specified domain. Further, the sexual immorality of these angels with a strange flesh (humans) is compared to the men of Sodom who likewise pursued strange flesh (the angels visiting Lot).
So, the first point is clear: the false teachers are not keeping to their own domain, the Church, as evidenced by their sexual immorality. They are like those angels that left heaven’s abode, in which the visible Church stands as an Earthly analogue.
Jude then says that these men defile the flesh and reject all authority, comparing them to unreasoning animals. They have no self-control. It is within the context of this point we have to understand Jude’s invoking of another Jewish legend, the Assumption of Moses.
In this legend, Michael the Archangel did not rebuke the Devil. But, these out of control hedonists that Jude speaks of slander true Christians for not being antinomians like themselves. By doing so, they rebuke those who hold to orthodox doctrine. All the while, they themselves do not even understand what doctrine ought to be.
In light of this, what is Jude really condemning? He is not condemning rebuking the Devil. Rather, he is showing how the antinomians show no restraint in rebuking people wrongly, while Michael showed restraint by not rebuking someone whom he had every right to rebuke.
The passage is not about rebuking the devil, it is about showing restraint. This is why there are so many parts about sexual immorality throughout the whole passage that verse nine finds itself in the middle of. If we were to argue that the passage is saying both this and banning rebuking, then in order to be consistent we would have to dictate that the passage bans both rebuking the devil and for that matter, rebuking After all, the lack of rightful rebuking is being approved while the wrongful rebuking is condemned. It’s a two way street. This would then make what Paul did to Peter in Antioch, Jesus did to the moneychangers, Elihu did to Job, and many other examples of righteous rebuking in fact wrong. Clearly, applying the inference from Jude 9 that rebuking is bad leads us to an incorrect conclusion, so much so, it becomes clear that the inference has to be wrong.
So, what can we learn about all of this? In order to properly extrapolate doctrines from the Scripture we need to do many things. We have to look at themes that come up repeatedly in all different books, explicit truth claims (i.e. Jesus is God, we are saved by grace through faith and not works, etcetera), and many other things. But, in this case, we see that when trying to draw a doctrine from an inference, it was first necessary to understand the internal logic of the passage itself. To read a passage that revolves around sexual immorality and a lack of self control, and then read the passage about Michael and Satan as some sort of misnomer talking making a completely unrelated point is not sound exegesis. We need to be Christians that extrapolate doctrine on the entirety of passages, not sound bytes and out-of-context proof-texts. In fact, people that draw doctrines based upon out of context inferences of singular passages often come to heretical conclusions, such as soul sleep, unitarianism, works-based righteousness, and other wickedness.
So, there can be more said about the movie. For example, I am not entirely sold on the idea that Christians even ought to be praying for 10 or 20 minutes, or even an hour as we see in the movie. Other than Jesus praying all night, we do not see examples of such lengthy prayers from those of us that are not God. After all, the Scripture says we ought not to keep babbling on like the pagans do (Matt 6:7). In his comments on the same passage Luther wrote, “The fewer the words, the better the prayer. The more words, the worse the prayer. Few words and much meaning is Christian. Many words and little meaning is pagan.”
However, I think my review and coverage of some topics that arise from it is sufficient without saying more than this. We need humility when judging the works of others, humility when approaching the Scripture, care when interpreting the Scripture, and fervent prayer with confidence that God will answer in accordance with what is right and good.