Review by: Pastor Chuck
One of our home care groups went and saw Duvall’s, “Apostle” last weekend. They reported to me on Sunday that the Spirit fell there, right smack in the middle of their popcorn and their lives will be forever changed because of this flick. “Pastor Chuck,” they exclaimed, “You MUST see this film!” So, I viewed it Sunday night with my wife Toni and some close friends.
The good points of this movie. There are many.
It is certainly not an anti-christian movie. This is refreshing. In fact, Duvall himself has stated that he had always wanted to make a movie that affirmed and highlighted the best of Christianity as he has experienced it personally. Whether he has fully achieved this is debatable. However, the movie was intended to be pro-Christianity and you cannot miss this from start to finish.
It is, in my opinion, a sensitive and accurate portrayal of much of ministry today. As such, the Apostle is very much a story of our time. It is brutally candid and honest in its depiction of the fallen humanity resident in so much of “ministry” today, especially (at times) southern ministry. I myself was born and raised in the East Texas/ Louisiana bayous. Toni and I were constantly chuckling and elbowing each another throughout the movie. It is a wonderful and very sensitively told story. Duvall is to be commended on this.
It is a film that honestly struggles with the deep complexities of personal transformation in a modern and religiously confused world. You really get in to the Duvall character in the movie. I found myself throughout the movie, wanting to stop and just pray for this poor soul and counsel with him. You really want this guy to get it right. And in his own way, he makes a good stab at it. I have not seen anyone comment on this reality of the movie, yet, religious penance, it seems to me, is the central theme of the “Apostle.” He wants to get it right the best way he knows how.
This film has obviously been very personally meaningful to Duvall’s own spiritual journey. It is almost autobiographical for him. I do wish him well and pray he continues on in his pursuit of God. I also hope this film can somehow reach others in Hollywood, both actors and producers.
The things I’m really confused about: There are many but I will focus on just three:
THE NATURE OF REDEMPTION depicted:
Why are so many heavy-hitting evangelicals tripping over themselves to endorse and stand by this movie? It is, as I have stated above, a great movie as far as movies go. But does that then make it a biblically accurate portrayal of an evangelical understanding of redemption and salvation? Rev James Robison, for instance, seems to think this movie is the best thing to hit the big screen since Jesus of Nazareth. I demur! I do not see the true gospel of the New Testament, anywhere in this movie. This is a movie about personal penance, pure and and simple. Redemption with God cannot be bought. Salvation is in the appropriated work of Christ alone. This theme is entirely absent from the movie. I did not even hear it in any of the many (parroted) sermons (one of which was Robison’s, word for word.) throughout the movie.
The movie is a good movie as far as movies go. But I think evangelicals ought to bring a more sobering critique and enthusiasm than that exhibited, say, by the Robinson's of the world. To do less, is to confuse the nature of simple and scandalous biblical redemption in Jesus Christ.
THE NATURE OF PREACHING depicted:
Duvall has written: “I especially wanted to capture the rich flavor, the infectious cadences and rythym of good, down-home, no-holds-barred preaching.” And what KIND of preaching do we find in this movie? Well, according to Duvall, THIS is what “good” preaching is: Loud, yell and scream ridden, decibel piercing, glass-shattering, sweat-drenched, vein-popping, entertainment-focused, feats of well rehearsed, well timed and dramatically executed histrionics.
I have nothing against this type of preaching. And everyone has their own particular tastes in preaching and preachers. This is fine. But to suggest that THIS is what GOOD preaching is, is wrong. Preaching styles are as diverse as preachers themselves. That diversity is the greater glory of the pulpit.
THE NATURE OF MINISTRY depicted.
Duvall has written: This is the “story of a preacher. A good man but a flawed one—flawed as we all are.”
This movie is a cinematic rendition of the ole “Christians are not perfect, they're just forgiven” spiel, applied particularly to Christian ministry.
I, for one, have another take on the message of the New Testament. The Pauline message is this: Christians are forgiven therefore go and sin no more. I believe this movie portrays in an honest way what does happen so much of the time in the lives of ministers and ministry families: Sexual infidelity, marital pathologies of physical and emotional abuse, unabated anger, uncontrolled violence, and every other sort of ministry failure one can imagine.
But what does happen is a far cry from what should happen. Duvall never once ventures here in the movie.
“This a preacher with a lot of problems. You know just like you and me.” And then the movie ends and the curtain rises. Ministry, I feel, has now been recast into a mold fashioned by the lowest possible denominator and standard of calling and integrity. Is this what ministry should be? I believe that Duvall and especially Robison leave us with this impression.
Did I like the movie? Yes.
Did the Spirit fall in my popcorn? No. I still prefer Jesus of Nazareth.