“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
War Room is the latest offering from fraternal film makers Alex and Stephen Kendrick. As is the case with their previous films, War Room is marketed to a Christian audience and written from an evangelical worldview. The movie features Priscilla Shirer and T.C. Stallings as Elizabeth and Tony Jordan, a married couple with a young daughter named Danielle. Though the Jordans are materially prosperous (Tony is a pharmaceutical salesman and Elizabeth is a real estate agent), their marriage is very unhealthy. The couple argues over money, family relations, has an inactive sex life, and pays so little attention to Danielle that the young girl feels isolated and unloved. To make matters worse, Elizabeth has foul-smelling feet (which are used as a comedic device throughout the film)
An old black woman, played by Karen Abercrombie, named Clara Williams befriends Elizabeth. The Clara character is a stereotypical older evangelical black woman with a notably active prayer life. Clara meets Elizabeth in the context of hiring Elizabeth to sell her house. The audience (and Elizabeth) later learn that Clara had been praying for God to send her someone to disciple and feels like Elizabeth is the answer to that prayer. Clara learns from Elizabeth that her family only occasionally attends church. Elizabeth rarely prays or reads the Bible; her Christian walk is lukewarm at best and she harbors animosity towards her husband and is constantly fighting with him. All the while Tony, who travels often for his high-pressure sales job is tempted to stray into adultery by a flirtatious and beautiful business associate. Tony’s Christian walk is apparently worse than his wife’s. He is doing nothing to shepherd and lead his family as the man of the household.
Elizabeth accepts Clara’s offer for discipleship and they began meeting together. Over time they develop a strong friendship. Clara shows Elizabeth her “War Room” and advises her to stop trying to fight her battles with her husband but rather let God do it. Clara’s “War Room” is a literal prayer closet in her house. She has several written prayers in the closet and spends regular time in it praying over them as well as reading scripture. Elizabeth creates a prayer closet of her own (cathartically removing her many material possessions from it) and adopts Clara’s practice. As her prayer life becomes more active, she is faced with (unseen) spiritual warfare from the demonic realm and faces an increasingly challenging marriage. Elizabeth faces the challenges, in the mode of a submissive and prayerful wife, and (SPOLIER ALERT!!!) her family gets a happy ending.
Overall the movie is well-done, entertaining, and carries a positive and useful message. It is a somewhat better-acted that the earlier Kendrick Brothers films which often used church members of Sherwood Baptist rather than professional actors. There is a good mix of humor and drama in the film. In contrast to other Chrisitan movies which are hokey and unrealistic, the plot of War Room is very believable. Many moviegoers will likely identify with the characters given that the temptations and situations they face are common to many families and professionals. Although the movie is as good as or better than other Kendrick Brothers films, those who have already seen the movie Fireproof may be a little disappointed in War Room. The plots of these two movies are very similar. In Fireproof, Kirk Cameron plays a man who puts his fate in God’s hands to save his troubled marriage. Shirer essentially plays that same role from a female position in War Room.
Further disappointed will be ladies who buy a ticket hoping to see a lot of Beth Moore. Although Beth Moore is listed as a featured star on the movie poster, her character is very minor. Moore plays a woman named Mandy who works at Elizabeth’s real estate firm. Moore has (what seemed to me like) less than two minutes of screen time over two scenes. She has a few short lines about maritial relations and is shown only one time afterwards in a very brief cut scene. Moore’s casting in this small role was obviously a ploy to sell tickets to Moore’s thousands of faithful followers and readers.
Positive Morals of the Story
The movie teaches several possible lessons. The Jordans’ obsession with money and career was destroying the quality of their family life and making their daughter feel almost unwanted. They had a bigger house and more possessions than they really needed but the people in it were neglecting each other. Like many families, they did not spend enough time praying together and studying God’s word; this is remedied. Furthermore, Tony confesses and deals with his sins in a very head-on and penitent manner, seeking reconciliation with those whom he has wronged. He shows mercy to an enemy who has treated him harshly and becomes the kind of spiritual leader that his household needs. Both Tony and Elizabeth are supported, throughout their trials, by Christian friends who seek to hold them accountable and positively influence their lives for Christ. The movie reminds Christians of who they need to be: people who pray, care for others, and disciple others. It also contains a clear gospel presentation. (I was personally convicted while watching the movie in that I sometimes do not pray enough about the things that concern me.)
There are several concerning elements of the film that one may or may not notice if he is watching the movie uncritically:
- In one scene a man attempts to mug Clara and Elizabeth at knifepoint. Clara rebukes the man “in the name of Jesus”. This kind of word of faith proclamation may work in the movies (and sometimes even in real life depending on a mugger’s background or God’s provision), however, a young person emboldened by the prayer theme of the movie may very well end up being stabbed if she imitates Clara’s example in real life. This type of subtle word faith proclamation may be lost on conservative Southern Baptist audiences but it will certainly be noticed by Pentecostals who go to see the movie.
- In another scene, Elizabeth is praying over the scriptures while Tony is on a business trip and out to dinner with a temptress. Elizabeth prays from the scriptures the phrase “resist the devil and he will flee”. She repeats this line of scripture a few times. In real life, Shirer is a proponent of contemplative prayer, a practice in which the prayer focuses on clearing her mind and repeating a specific phrase (similar to a mantra). Those who are not aware of the practice of contemplative prayer will probably not notice that this scene touches the borderline of that practice.
- Liz later leaves her closet and loudly proclaims Jesus to be the Lord of her house. She rebukes the devil and claims that her joy comes from Jesus. It is certainly true that the devil steals joy and joy should be sought from God and not worldly things. However, this scene is also strongly reminiscent of word of faith proclamation and excitability.
- During her proclamation of Christ’s Lordship over her home, Elizabeth tells the devil to “go back to Hell.” While it’s certainly reasonable to believe that this biblically illiterate character believes that the devil comes from or lives in Hell, this is not the case in truth. It is not biblical to assert that the devil comes from Hell. The notion that he does is a popular misconception. Men should make sure their wives and children are not confused by Elizabeth’s misstatement.
- After Elizabeth is mugged, Tony acts ambivalent. Later he has something of a dream or vision in which he sees his wife being mugged. As he walks closer to the mugging, he sees that the mugger looks just like him. This vision leads him to find Elizabeth’s prayer closet and start towards the path of becoming a better husband and father. Although symbolism is common in cinematic art, some people may be uncomfortable with the portrayal of this kind of charismatic activity as a plot point.
- A retired pastor buys Clara’s house towards the end of the film. He somehow senses that her “War Room” has been used as a prayer closet and decides then and there to purchase the home. It is not biblical to imply that certain rooms in a house are imbued with special prayer powers. Prayer closets can be ideal because of the isolation that they provide the prayer, preventing outside distraction. However, closets are not especially anointed places. (I predict that there will be a movement in many churches after the movie is watched to create prayer closets, prayer journals, and other things featured in the movie. I further predict that the paraphernalia to create these things will be offered for sale at LifeWay which is actively pushing the movie to local baptist associations.)
The Media Business
Unlike the Kendrick Brothers’ previous films, War Room was not produced by Sherwood Films. Sherwood Films is a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia at which the Kendrick Brothers have been employed as associate pastors for the past few years. Although the Kendrick Brothers are still active members of that church, they are not listed among its pastoral staff. The Kendrick Brothers recently founded their own film company, Faithstep Films, which produced War Room. Given that the Kendrick Brothers are now working for their own company, no longer producing movies while in the employ of Sherwood Baptist, they will likely be entitled to a greater share of the revenue from the films which they write and in which they act.
War Room stands to be one of the Kendrick Brothers’ most lucrative films. Both ticket sales and movie-related book sales should be substantial. The film is getting a heavy push from LifeWay Christian Resources. In association with the release of their movie, Fireproof, the Kendrick Brothers authored the best-selling book, The Love Dare. In association with the release of their movie, Courageous, the Kendrick Brothers authored the best-selling book, The Resolution for Men. It would be very surprising if individual Christians were not encouraged to set up their own “war room” prayer closets in their homes in the same way they were encouraged to take the “Love Dare” with their spouses and sign the “Resolution for Men” in front of their churches. A companion book, probably about the power of prayer, will almost certainly be published by LifeWay, released in association with War Room, and marketed as Sunday School material for the vast network of Southern Baptist and Evangelical Churches to whom this movie is marketed.
With popular Christian media personalities Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore attached to the War Room project, Kendrick Brothers’ book sales may reach an all time high. Shirer and Moore are well-known advocates of the controversial pseudo new-age practice of contemplative prayer. This is disturbing in and of itself given that Shirer and Moore are popular bible teachers. It is even more disturbing that these women are appearing as characters in a movie about the power of prayer. Shirer has already written a popular book on prayer entitled He Speaks to Me: Preparing to Hear from God for which Beth Moore wrote the foreword.
It’s important to consider that War Room is not about Priscilla Shirer but rather the character she plays, Elizabeth Jordan. It might not be prudent to avoid a movie simply because an actor who plays one of the characters has questionable religious beliefs. For example, it’s not incumbent upon a Christian to avoid watching Top Gun or Mission Impossible because Tom Cruise is a Scientologist. However, it would be prudent to avoid watching a movie in which Tom Cruise plays a Scientologist whose life is bettered by the practice of Scientology. Shirer, who heretofore was not a professional actor, was almost certainly selected for the role of Elizabeth Jordan because of her popularity as a Christian author who writes and teaches on the subject of prayer. Although the fictional Elizabeth Jordan does not advocate for contemplative prayer in War Room, the very real Priscilla Shirer does so in real life.
In addition to Moore and Shirer, Alex Kendrick has been keeping very suspicious company since he left the staff of Sherwood Baptist. In March of 2015, Alex Kendrick was a featured speaker at the “Missions and Marketplace Conference” in Chicago, Illinois. Among the featured speakers at the conference was well-known Word of Faith Oneness Pentecostal pastor and author, T.D. Jakes. Jakes produced the film version of the controversial heaven tourism book Heaven is for Real. This book was notably derided as “fanciful” by International Mission Board President Dr. David Platt during one of his “Secret Church” events and eventually banned for sale by LifeWay Christian Resources. T.D. Jakes is not only in the movie business himself but is well-connected with film magnate Tyler Perry. Perry recently came to Jakes’ church, donated $1,000,000 and slayed Jakes in the Spirit. Jakes may be a great connection for someone, like Alex Kendrick, in the movie industry, but his worldview is dangerous and unbiblical and he makes a lucrative living propagating it.
The Missions and Marketplace Conference at which Kendrick and Jakes spoke was hosted by Dr. Bill Winston at the church he pastors, Living Word Christian Center. Living Word Christian Center proudly proclaims on its website that it is a “Word of Faith, non-denominational, full gospel church.” Alex Kendrick, who was formerly employed as a Southern Baptist Minister at a very conservative church somehow made his way to speak at a, primarily African-American, Christian business conference hosted in Chicago by a charismatic Word of Faith preacher that featured other prosperity gospel speakers. Kendrick did so in the same year that he planned to release a move starring Priscilla Shirer, the daughter of African American megachurch pastor, Tony Evans. Kendrick is apparently seeking to increase his ticket and book sales in the African American Christian market as the overall Christian market shrinks amidst growing American secularism. To do so, he has made some very dangerous and even heretical associations.
The Kendrick Brothers have made very fine Christian movies in the past. However, having stepped away from the ministry of Sherwood Films, the Kendricks have made a movie with very suspicious circumstances surrounding it. Christian men would do well to make sure their families do not fall under the influence of the teachers with whom the Kendricks have associated themselves. Avoiding War Room altogether would be a prudent action. So, too, would carefully contrasting the positive parts of the movie’s message against the concerning ones to his family if one chooses to let them see it.
“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10
[Contributed by Seth Dunn]
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.