Reviewed by: Ken James
Starring: Herb Porter, David Hudson, Tom Grant, Yvonna Lynn, Shebeta Carter, Jasmine Cardenas, David Hunter, Candy Campbell, AnnieScott Rogers, Maggie Nolan | Directed by: Michael C. Brown | Produced by: Paula Cantu; Mary Anne Coffey; Laura Knoerr | Written by: Michael C. Brown | Distributor: Testimony Pictures
“The Calling” is Testimony Pictures’ first feature length production. Unfortunately, it is marred by faulty theology, poor acting, directing and technical problems. Starring the likeable Herb Porter as Pastor William Jennings, it is the story of one man who feels the call of God to leave his Wisconsin family and church to walk across the country on a ministry tour with just $20 and a backpack. Sound crazy? Looking at the Old Testament Prophets God sometimes does call his people to do crazy things: Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years (Isaiah 20:3), God told Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1) and don’t forget the Prophet who was commanded to cook his food over a burning fire of human feces (Ezekiel 4:12). Strange indeed.
During the pastor’s journey by foot Pastor William creates quite a stir with the media. Leaving physical and spiritual healing after healing in his wake, journalists and reporters just can’t get enough of this “Miracle Man.” Who is he? Why is he doing this? Even the Christian camp is divided. One evangelical Christian talk show host out of California (could this be a jab at “Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff?) is bent on exposing this man as a false prophet, using deception and outright lies to get William thrown in prison for involuntary manslaughter due to advice he allegedly gave one woman to trust God for her husband’s healing and not go to the doctor. The case ends up in a courtroom climax where William refuses representation from a lawyer so as to prove his full trust in God for the truth to be heard and falsehood exposed. We can guess who gets it in the end.
Honestly, I was pretty surprised by this main theme running through “The Calling”. As one who does not subscribe to the “health and wealth” gospel and who firmly believes that such theology runs contrary to Scripture and can be very detrimental to its followers, teaching that anyone can be healed if they just have enough faith is appalling! Some dear friends of mine recently lost their five-year-old son to a rare genetic disease. They are among some of the strongest Christians I know and certainly believe that God could heal their son. Church elders, friends, family and literally hundreds around the globe were praying for God’s healing… God did not heal him. But in just five years, from birth to death, this little boy’s ministry touched thousands of lives. No, the disease was not from God. But disease is part of the fallen world we live in, a result of original sin. God does often use such infirmity for His glory.
Early on in William’s ministry, one crippled woman recites a mantra-like quip while reading and memorizing Scripture passages and posting them on her walls around the house. Verses like “…with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4) are all too often misunderstood and misused. (See Physical healing—Is it guaranteed in Christ’s atonement?) “The Calling” never shows us anyone who is not healed under William’s ministry, presenting a dangerous illusion that, with just enough faith, anyone can and will be healed. It just isn’t so!
This theme alone comes as a slap in the face to those in the body of Christ who do not practice the prosperity gospel. It is NOT “God’s will” for his people to be without trials. Before you label me a critic who doesn’t have faith himself, let me say I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be more faith in healing, more Christians willing to earnestly petition The Great Physician for healing and expect him to do so, and less criticism from the doubters camp toward those who do have effective healing ministries (Reinhard Bonnke for one). But we must remember there is much we will not know until we get to Heaven. Such division and disunity between brothers does little to further God’s kingdom.
Now touching on the technical quality of the film, let me quantify this by saying first that this low-budget production had only $160,000 to work with, so shooting on video instead of film was out of necessity. The cast also included about 150 Chicago-area church volunteers, with many of the principle roles having some stage acting experience. But translating that into a film setting can be a formidable task and sadly did not work here. (That kind of grassroots involvement alone can explain the box office surprise that “The Calling” reported in March of 2003 when it landed just behind Mel Gibson’s “We Were Soldiers” in the South Barrington, IL theater). Who doesn’t want to see a film, no matter the quality, that features a friend or fellow church member? The audio was amateurish, and numerous other problems plague this film.
So where does this leave us? With a film that is divisive among Christians, laughable among non-Christians, and more fit for Mystery Science Theater fare then true ministry. In a way I regret having to say that because I am a staunch supporter of Christian film, but I also believe in fair reviews. That said, we must keep in mind that God can and does use a plethora of ways to minister to his people. I know lives have been touched by this film, and so we give the glory to God for that.