Genie Jesus and the War Room Problem

resurrection-iconNo matter what I say, somebody is going to be mad because people take their movies seriously. Try pointing out that the third season of Star Trek is pretty bad at a fan convention. They might agree, but the justifications will begin. How do I know? I have made the excuses. There is good to be found, if you are fan, even in Spock’s Brain. O.K. No. There is not.


We justify what we want to enjoy even when we should not.

War Room isn’t a good movie. I hate to say that War Room is not a good movie because I want to encourage Christians to make movies. The movie isn’t very well made, the acting is marginal, and the writing is wretched. Nobody talks like the characters in the film and the plot holes are very great. Trust me. If you steal drugs and money for your stash, you will go to jail.

War Room is a film that allows African-Americans a voice. That is a good thing, but a bad thing is that voice given To these characters is so sanitized and homogenized. This movie plays it so safe with the audience it hopes to lure that it betrays any authenticity.

If you enjoyed the film, I am not saying you are wrong to enjoy it. Enjoy. Yet know this: the fact that so many Christian films are wretched, overly written, and full of religious jargon is harming this generation. Do you want to know one reason for people leaving the church?

We have made wretched pop culture and called it Christian. We have taught lies and called them good theology. We have tolerated television preachers that shamed the cause of Christ such as Robert Tilton or Benny Hinn. I have a high tolerance for bad pop culture: I watched all of the third season of Star Trek and enjoyed it. I love the Hallmark Channel and I can watch any Christmas film.

The problem is not that cheesy is not sometimes fun (go watch Birdemic), but that cheese is almost all we have done. Nobody has to go to the multiplex to see Andrei Rublev every time. Sometimes we want some fun (Avengers!) or a date film (Notebook) and they don’t have to be great. I will watch any version of A Christmas Carol with you anytime. When  War Room is one of the better films in the genre, we are bloated on cheese . . . and it is American cheese not the real cheese.

I know some movies in the multiplex mock what we hold dear, destroy the values of the nation, and call evil good. We are tempted to love anyone who says they love us. But films like these are worse than honest hatred, because they are dishonest love. They tell lies about reality, God, and our own experience.

And yet . . . O.K. Perhaps things will get better. War Room is better made than earlier films from these producers. As I have suggested in the past, we can be patient while our younger filmmakers learn. We don’t want our criticism to cut off their experiments . . . as anybody who has ever taught student filmmakers knows. Nobody runs up to a student preacher and crushes him. Instead, we encourage and hope. War Room is  not a student film. . . Facing the Giants maybe, but this is part of a series that all contain the same basic error.

These filmmakers have had some time. They have made multiple films and the chief problem, the real danger, has not improved. The message of the movie is scary. The problem with War Room is that the Christianity isn’t really Christianity. Somebody is going to say: “Movies cannot contain an entire theology.” This is true. It need not. The difficulty is that all these films make the same mistake.

They worship Genie Jesus: not the real Jesus. Here is a basic fact: Christianity is a religion of the Cross. We take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Prayers are the work of the soul and all our prayers are answered, but some are answered “not yet” or with continued pain. God sits in the Heavens and governs the universe. He desires what is best for me . . . but also for every being in the cosmos. I cannot always have my way in the short term in a broken universe.

Prayer is not a short cut to my will, but it is a surrender to the Will of God. I have seen great miracles in my life: healing that cannot be explained, people set free of demonic oppression, and insights that can only have come from God. I have also seen people walk long hard roads, because other people around them are evil. To continually tell people that prayer solves everything is functionally a lie. Prayer does solve everything, but it does not keep us from needing to do what God has called us to do. We go to the doctor. We leave an abusive relationship.

When the film has a woman stay in an emotionally abusive relationship and pray, then the film is encouraging a thing that has harmed people I know.  I personally know women who stayed in the “war room” praying while their husband fornicated, spent their money, ruined their families, and then questioned God because He did not behave like Genie Jesus. The God of the Bible tells us to flee sin . . . including abusive husbands and pray for them from a distance.

Flee abuse if you can. Flee now.

Let’s be blunt: this is not so much a Christian film as a perversion of Christianity driven by a consumerist American heresy. We have reduced God to wish fulfillment and a person created in God’s image. Genie Jesus is not part of the Holy Trinity and if he exists then he is whimsical and unworthy of worship. Genie Jesus answers some prayers (Did the person pray hard enough? Use the right words? Screw up their faith to the sticking point?) while he ignores others.

Jesus of Nazareth suffers with us and does all He can. He desires no man to die, but is with every man as they die. He is not weak, He is strong enough to wish our eternal good and not our mere short term good.

Sadly, most “faith based” films are the products of a theologically impoverished Christianity that produces bad art. One suspects the profit motive is as great as the prophetic motive: sincere people will accept inferior films in the name of the message. That we turn of a generation and make our non-Christian neighbors less likely to be Christian matters little.

There will be exceptions to this rule. Nothing is so bad that God cannot use it to bless us. I once visited the church of a healing evangelist that Robin Williams ridiculed for years and saw God at work. The theology was dreadful, the antics clownish, and there was no justification for the corruption, but God honored the faith of the people in the congregation. Few pastors are so wicked that God cannot bring good from their evil.

If you were blessed by this film, thank God. If we both pray more, without ceasing really, great. But remember: we all reject arguments from others based on perceived blessings.

Someone will say: look how badly written this piece on bad writing is. And so it is. The difference is I am not charging you to read it.

This is a bad film. It is a film that might cause some women to stay longer in an abusive relationship. It is a film with a bad view of prayer. I don’t dislike it because it is simple, but because it is simply unreal. We often pray and things go badly . . . not because God is not listening, but because God is bringing what is best for us in an eternal perspective in the constraints of a free will universe.

The martyrs of Syria, Iraq, and Iran cry out against this facile film making. The martyrs of the Soviet Union cry: “How long Lord!” Meanwhile, the American multiplex spits on their suffering by pretending, somehow, they did not pray hard enough or in the right way. After many films, these filmmakers are still presenting Genie Jesus and not the Jesus of the Cross, the martyrs, and the real world.

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About John Mark N. Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. He is a follower of Jesus and a student of Socrates. He is also an owner of the Green Bay Packers. Opinions here are his own ... even Hope doesn't agree with him always.