American Gospel: Christ Alone

My four-year-old nephew knows that gardens are good, and rabbits are not. Rabbits who come hopping into the backyard to munch his mother’s garden are, in his own words, “badder than false preachers!”

False preachers don’t always come into our backyards and brazenly munch at our theology. But they do come to public platforms and bookshelves with some convincing arguments, some personal testimonials, and some Bible verses to back them up. American Christians are particularly vulnerable to Word of Faith/prosperity movements because we like to have our comfortable houses, and our God too.

American Gospel: Christ Alone (Transition Studios, 2018) is a recent documentary that cracks open the prosperity gospel (also known as the Word of Faith movement) and holds the contents up to the light of the real gospel.  This isn’t a light, cheeky whacking of bombastic prosperity preachers; American Gospel offers theological depth in a brief summary – for the average movie-goer.

The first half of the film concentrates on defining the true gospel. Interviews with well-known pastors and teachers (Paul Washer, Nabeel Qureshi, Ray Comfort, and many others) give an engaging description of the gospel’s key elements.  God is holy and just; we are natural rebels against Him. Jesus came to suffer and die for our sins; anyone who believes and repents can be saved through Him.

The movie’s last half mixes various clips of prominent American preachers (Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, and others) with a quick explanation of some of their core beliefs. I had a vague idea of what the prosperity gospel was, but I enjoyed having it clarified (and refuted) for me.  The movie also mixes in interviews with everyday Christians who don’t agree – Costi Hinn (nephew of the fabulously rich faith-healer Benny Hinn), Katherine Berger (a young mother with numerous illnesses), and others.

The videography in American Gospel is excellent. It’s always refreshing to watch a Christian movie that is actually done well. I especially admired the seamless weaving of interviews, beautiful shots, and animated graphics. Ideas can be difficult to present visually. How do you “show” a discussion about Catholicism being a “plus one religion”? You slide in some enjoyable animated graphics that keep the idea clear and the viewer engaged.

Since this is a documentary, most scenes stay for a few quick seconds then skip on to keep telling the story. Generally, the quick movement is enjoyable. The cuts of Reformed pastors and prosperity rustlers make a black-and-white comparison between one gospel and another. They even work in some clever humor (“I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT YOUR MONEY!”). Yet, it seems to me that such short clips hardly give the false teachers time to state their case – or finish a sentence. Maybe it’s assumed that we already know their doctrine? But it can start to feel like an unfair soundbite gimmick.

What does the prosperity gospel have to do with Anabaptists? For one thing, learning about it gives us needed insight into our own country’s culture. Also, the teaching of tele-evangelists is not as far from us as we would prefer to think. Moralistic preaching and a self-centered Christianity can be found in any church.

Your grandma can watch this movie; it’s completely clean (except for that one part where an emotional John Piper expresses himself in a surprising word). Your youth group can watch this movie – it’s passionate, well-done, and not cheesy in the least. You can watch this movie. All of us need a reminder of the beauty and power of the Biblical gospel because “the gospel is not just for lost people; the gospel is for Christians.”

Amanda.jpg Amanda Wenger is a reader. She reads the classics, the Bible, and the signs of the times. She’s probably read your Facebook page. But don’t read into that.

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