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The Apostle

Review by: Pastor Jack Hayford

I’m not about to vie for becoming the Christian counterpart of Siskell or Ebert, but I was asked the other day if I would/could give an endorsement of the current film which has brought Robert Duvall an Academy Award nomination—“The Apostle”. I took the request seriously enough to review the advance video I was given. Then I said, “No.”

I WASN’T saying “No” to what I felt was the quality of the film. I was refusing to provide an endorsement because usually the “sound-bite” variety is what is wanted—as in “Great!”…“Two thumbs sideways!”…or whatever. So I said, “No,” because I was sure it would be a definite “Lose One” for Pastor Jack, since I didn’t know how I could briefly describe the reasons I felt this was a quality film without risking being seriously misunderstood.

Then a man called me. His name is Jim. He works in Hollywood, not simply as a guy trying to promote films, but as a committed, serious-minded, deep-rooted disciple of Jesus, seeking to bring the influence of our values into the Hollywood scene. He said: “Pastor Jack, I understand why you couldn’t give a “punch-line” endorsement, but I’m calling to ask if you would reconsider.” Then, he explained the obvious: “If believers won’t patronize films that are reflective of their values, it’s hopeless to ever believe Hollywood will move from its present “standards.”” He explained the dilemma of a great film’s “dying on the vine,” and having done so, I decided to write.

I said, “I’ll write if you'll publish everything I say.” Because otherwise, I felt sure I’d be misunderstood. So let me tell you why I think “The Apostle” is a film worth seeing.

Mainly because it’s honest.

Here is a “slice of life” of American Christianity that really does exist, and exists exactly as it’s depicted. I like the fact that, in this film, the highly-emotional, less-than-intellectual, explosive-and-effusive brand of spirituality it describes is never mocked. (In fact, Duvall, who not only plays the lead, but who wrote and directed the film, has expressed his deep respect for people of this tradition.)

The movie has two of the most impressive evidences of the way people “not that much different from us” show the love of God.

(1) There’s a magnificently touching scene where the preacher (Duvall, “The Apostle”) moves in on the scene of a tragic car accident, prays with the two of the victims, and then leads a dying young man to Jesus as Savior. While a host of viewers may see this as superficial, or others as merely a “religious schtick,” any believer in Christ cannot help but be touched by the sincerity and clarity, the genuineness and the honesty of the presentation.

(2) Later in the film, an infuriated man (who had earlier lost a fist-fight he picked with “The Apostle”) shows up at a church site with a bulldozer—ready to level the building in retaliation. To witness what takes place is only to see a beautiful dramatization of what the Holy Spirit motivated compassion for human beings can bring about. I liked what I saw. In fact, I wept.

But saying all that, I haven’t removed the risk factors from my endorsement. There is no question that some people will be offended—but in my opinion, it would only be because they came to the film with either a set of insecurities or unresolved irritations.

For example, as a Pentecostal, I could be offended because I might feel, “If I approve of any of this film, people will think I approve of everything it represents.” Well, I don't. And I don’t think I need to point out what features of the kind of ministry it reveals that I would not want to see mirrored in people I influenced for leadership. But there’s the rub: say, “I like it,” and somebody’s going to get on your case. (Oh, why am I writing this!?)

Further, I can imagine the possibility of an African American believer being offended. Not, of course, because there is anything of a racial slur, but because there are scenes that may seem to stereotype some facets of Black Christianity in the same way others could seem to stereotype White Pentecostals. But the truth is, the culture shown on screen, as I said before, does exist. And notwithstanding the possibility of seeming insensitive to those who might be irritated with the characterization of these groups, two things remain: (1) Neither group is mocked—only depicted; and (2) Both groups are shown as sincere—not as idiots or as charlatans, quacks or fakes.

“The Apostle” is not intended to model a biblical idea of Christian discipleship any more than it intends to mock it. It is simply a statement: “There are a lot of good people out there who love God and serve Him in ways that might not meet a more sophisticated society’s standards. And maybe God likes them a lot more than we think.

The movie never states that last sentence—not precisely, anyway. But I can’t escape the feeling that that’s what Duvall thinks. And even though “The Apostle” strikes me both ways—as an outstanding movie, but containing the seeds of a bewildering dichotomy of my values—I was inclined to come up with the same conclusion. I think God may think a lot more than I think of things I don’t think much of.

Draw your own conclusions: I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing, “The Apostle.” In fact, I feel like Paul in Philippians 1, saying “People may not like who I am or what I’m saying, but their criticism will draw attention to Jesus—and it’s worth it, finally. I think that’s the main reason this film deserves being seen—because it’s supporting something bigger than a movie: I think it’s supporting the vision of a lot of people I know who are saying, “Let’s try to bring something redemptive to Hollywood—Not just criticize it.”

Preferring to be in the film-renewing rather than the film-reviewing business,

Pastor Jack Hayford

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