War Room, the latest movie release from the Kendrick brothers, opened in theaters across the country early this fall and will be available on DVD in time for family get-togethers this December. By association, the movie inherits a legacy of expectations and stereotypes established by its well-known predecessors Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.
Capitalizing on the Christian “faith movie” market, Stephen and Alex Kendrick have become household names in evangelical – and Anabaptist – circles, and their movies are recognized as family-friendly films emphasizing dramatic faith stories, miracles, and prosperous American Christianity. But don’t let either the title of the movie or the names of its directors dissuade you from taking the time to thoughtfully view this movie: War Room offers solid instruction on fighting our everyday battles God’s way, with prayer.
The story follows the Jordans, an African-American family living the American dream. Tony Jordan works as a star sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, pulling in a large salary, and his wife Elizabeth is a real estate agent. Elizabeth owns a closet full of designer clothes, Tony maintains a gym membership and drives a luxury company SUV, and they live with their only daughter Danielle in a mansion.
Like many Americans, the Jordans assent to just enough Christianity for convenience and popularity’s sake, and their lives seem perfect – on the outside. In reality, Tony is self-centered, proud, and adulterous; Elizabeth expresses her anger toward her husband by engaging in yelling matches with him; and Danielle spends her time lost in a massive home, listening to her parents fight.
The Jordans’ façade begins to crumble when Elizabeth encounters an elderly widowed client known as Miss Clara. Despite Elizabeth’s best efforts, Miss Clara refuses to keep their relationship at a professional distance, and begins to counsel Elizabeth. “Very few of us know how to fight the right way,” Miss Clara declares, but she intends to teach Elizabeth.
Her strategy centers on identifying the real enemy – Satan – in the Jordans’ lives, sharing insight from God’s Word and personal experience, and showing Elizabeth her “war room”, a tiny closet in her home where Miss Clara has prayed for years against Satan’s designs and interceded for God’s help. Inspired, Elizabeth recommits to her family and to God and empties her closet to set up her own “war room,” where she begins to fight in prayer for her husband, rather than against him.
As Elizabeth perseveres in prayer and absorbs the promises and instruction of the Bible, her attitude and behaviors begin to change. Danielle notices her mother’s change of heart and begins to offer her own simple prayers on behalf of her parents.
Tony, however, remains resistant. He continues to disregard his wife and daughter while carrying on a flirtatious relationship with a work acquaintance, only stopped in his attempt to commit adultery by Elizabeth’s prayers.
Things come to a head when unethical and illegal actions are disclosed in Tony’s life, and he loses his job, his salary, and the company car. Tony is finally broken by God working through his wife’s prayers, and he begins to step into his role as the spiritual leader and nurturer of his family.
By the end of the film, the state of the Jordans’ home and financial security is in limbo, but their priorities have been restructured, their marriage has been transformed, and most importantly, their hearts are right before God.
Show, Don’t Tell
Apart from its theme, War Room’s greatest asset is its professional cast: the Kendrick brothers’ movies have struggled to achieve consistent high-quality acting, but War Room’s actors give the best performance yet. Miss Clara, played by Karen Abercrombie, is especially authentic and true to character. In communicating its message, War Room also presents a more realistic storyline and commits to a key writers’ and directors’ maxim: show, rather than tell.
Though the film is appropriate for the whole family, parents with young children ought to keep in mind that two scenes contain sudden action (once in a dream, once in an attempted hold-up), that Tony’s temptation to commit adultery is portrayed realistically, and that the mood of some scenes is established by intense contemporary music.
Finally, at one dramatic point, Elizabeth marches through the Jordan home ordering Satan to “get out” of their lives; though the scene fits well within the context of the movie, it is best understood as merely descriptive, rather than a prescription for believers to cleanse their homes in the same manner.
Where is the Church?
Astute viewers may recognize that one key biblical element seems to be lacking in the process of the Jordan family’s conversion: the church. The Jordans largely buy into an individualistic, solitary Christianity; their personal story has little bearing on their connection with a larger group of Christ-followers. Apart from Miss Clara, no believers offer spiritual counsel to the family or disciple them after their recommitments to Christ, and the Jordans respond in kind; by the end of the movie, no mention has been made of the family plugging into a local church.
By neglecting to place the Jordans’ story within the context of a church family, the Kendrick brothers could be leaving out a crucial agent of the biblical plan to bring spiritual renewal and blessing in people’s lives, and their latest film may foster rather than combat the church nominalism prevalent in American Christianity today.
A Powerful Weapon
Is War Room another glamorous Christian success story in tune with the tradition of the Kendrick brothers’ earlier films? In some sense, yes. Movies thrive on the dramatic, and the medium of film is ill-suited to accurately portray the everyday, seemingly mundane decisions of the Christian life.
War Room, however, is refreshingly simpler and more realistic than its predecessors: one family recommits to God, and while they see real change and growth in relationships, not all of their material questions are answered (though perhaps downsizing the house and selling the designer clothes would be a positive step in the Jordans’ spiritual and financial journey). In fact, Tony’s decision to do the right thing cost him his job, a notable deviation in storyline from previous films.
Yet God truly does transform the lives of His people, and communicating with Him through prayer enables Christians to face their struggles with God’s perspective. While God’s timeline for change in many situations may be a slower process than in the Jordans’ lives, the message of War Room, as expressed in the movie’s subtitle, is biblical and applicable: prayer is a powerful weapon. For that reminder alone, War Room is well worth your time and attention.
|Seth Lehman loves God, his bride, and cities, in that order. He and his wife, Heather, live in Bloomington, Indiana, where they frequent the coffee shops, sell at farmers’ markets, and seek to share God’s love with their friends and neighbors. Seth is a senior studying mathematics and working as a tutor at Indiana University, and he enjoys gardening, playing piano, and reading in his spare time.