“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
By Seth Dunn
Notes from Pastor Kevin Lea interspersed in bold italic.
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 stars Priscilla Shirer and T.C. Stallings as Elizabeth and Tony Jordan, a married couple with one 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 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 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.
Actually, one of my concerns with the movie is that there is no reason to believe that Tony and Elizabeth were ever truly saved at this point in the movie. An unbeliever watching this story would likely relate to Elizabeth and Tony’s initial attitudes about their problems, as being the same as their own attitudes in living a life apart from God in unbelief. If so, they could assume the moral of the movie is - if you are having family disputes and selfish fighting in your family, then all you need to do is empty the closet, start praying, start reading a Bible, and your life will get straightened out. How tragic to attempt this change of life by human effort only to find out it doesn’t “work” without first having a saving, spirit filled relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. Then, when they are standing before God on judgment day they say, “But I emptied my closet and prayed for my family just like War Room taught me to do, what more did you want?”
It would have been so easy for the Kendrick brothers to ensure the unbelieving movie goers would understand that the horse (biblical salvation) MUST come before the cart (prayer). For example, in the first discussion between Clara and Elizabeth over coffee, Clara could have asked, “I hear that you go to church every once in awhile and read your Bible sometimes, but do you really KNOW Jesus as your Savior? It appears to me that you don’t really have a heart felt love for the Jesus who died on the cross for your sins.” Then Elizabeth could have explained how she was truly a biblical Christian, or (better yet) she could have confessed her false, “religious” Christianity and then Clara could have led her into true saving faith.
Once true salvation is achieved or acknowledged, then an emphasis about growing in a prayer life can be made without confusing the non-believer who is watching the movie. (Ps 66:18, Isa 1:14-15, Job 27:9, Jer 11:11, Ezek 8:18, Mic 3:4, Zech 7:13).
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 own 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 than 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 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.
My concern is that Beth Moor is featured at all since she has been heavily influenced by (and joined others in advocating) the contemplative new age prayer and mysticism heresy. Some of these unbiblical ideas about prayer are on display in this movie. The reader can learn more by reading http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?tag=beth-moore and http://apprising.org/2012/01/06/beth-moore-and-john-piper-lead-lectio-divina-lite-at-passion-2012/
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 also shows mercy to an enemy who has treated him harshly and becomes the kind of spiritual leader that his household needs.
But he tells his daughter that he showed mercy because that is what he would want somebody to do to him. Again, this misses the mark about what happens when true, biblical, salvation affects the believer’s heart. Tony could have been scripted to answer his daughter with, “Jesus has forgiven me of my sin, changed my heart, and given me the power to love even those who could be my enemy. In love for Jesus, I did to him what I would want him to do to me.” (or something like that) Without this emphasis of a changed heart/life, it becomes a, ‘how to win friends and influence enemies’ golden rule moral lesson that any unbeliever could tell their daughter.
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.
As stated above, I disagree that the gospel presentation was “clear”
(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 he 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 this case I have to take exception with the author of this article. Jesus and the Apostles taught us to pray in His name. Paul cast out a demon in Jesus name
Acts 16:18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And he came out that very hour.
Paul was not “word/faith” but was using the gift of discernment to know that demonic powers were at work in this lady. He was led of the Spirit to exorcise the demon at this time, after several days of not being led to do so.
It would not be “word/faith” for a believer today if they discerned and are led by the Spirit to invoke the name of Jesus in a dangerous situation of being robbed by thugs. But Baptists who are also cessationists (meaning they don’t believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today) don’t believe that we can have a discerning of spirits or other leadings of the spirit in order to make a spiritual decision to step out in faith as Clara did. It would have helped if Clara had later said that she felt led of the Spirit to not give into the robbers demands, but to instead trust in the power of Jesus’ name.
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 a 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.
There is nothing scripturally wrong with repeating a promise of God (when done so in context), unless you think that the mere repetition is unleashing some mystical power (like Catholics with the Rosary and their Hail Mary’s, which is akin to the witchcraft of Dorothy clicking her shoes thee times in the Wizard of Oz).
I didn’t sense that Elizabeth was doing any more than coming under a deeper conviction of the truth of the biblical promise – that if we resist him (the devil) he will flee from us. And how do we resist? - by obeying God, trusting His word, seeking Him in prayer, and turning away from the works of the flesh, which she was starting to do.
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.
In general, I see these portions of the movie to be consistent with Ephesians 6 teachings that we are in a battle with the unseen spiritual world around us, not with flesh and blood.
As I have taught many times, the Bible is clear that demons are cast out of people, not cities, nations or houses. But the Bible (and facts on the ground) make it clear that demons can reside in places even if they are not possessing someone (Rev 2:13, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg8tvTvWx-w).
Therefore, it is not unbiblical to acknowledge the very real possibility that demons were feeling quite at home in her house when Elizabeth and Tony were living in sin and rebellion against God.
However, at this point of the movie she is convicted to start serving Jesus and is verbalizing that she knows what the devil/demons are up to and he/they are no longer going to be getting away with stirring up their flesh against each other. I can’t remember if she said this “in Jesus name” and if not, this too could have been better scripted along with saying “with God’s help” - apart from which we can do nothing.
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 and husbands should be sure to make sure that their wives and children are not confused by Elizabeth’s misstatement.
I agree. It is unbiblical for her to command Satan to go back to hell where he belongs since the scriptures are clear that we are not to make reviling accusations against angels/Satan (Jude 8-10). Who are we to order Satan around when it is God who is allowing him to be the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4).
This scripting is likely a result of influences by false teachers of the New Apostolic Reformation (Mike Bickle, Rick Joyner, C. Peter Wagner, etc.). Bottom line, the bible does not tell us to order demons around, but rather to resist them and then they will flee from us; a subtle but very important distinction.
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.
But God can and does at times work in mysterious ways. I know of many instances where God has used dreams to convict true believes with truth about their own walk or the walk of their spouse. In one case, a wife had a dream of her husband being with his ex-wife in an adulterous relationship. When confronted he confessed it and the details of the dream were true. Anyone who has read even a small portion of the bible knows that God can/does use dreams in believers and non-believers alike.
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.
I totally agree.
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 [Exerpts]
I deleted some of the author’s comments under this section to prevent taking part in his questioning of the producer’s motives. What remains of his critique should be prayerfully considered by the reader. I share his concern that the movie itself might not be as bad as where it will lead the unsuspecting and ill equipped sheep, who will attend seminars and buy books by Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, et. al. If you really want to know how to increase your prayer life and walk in obedience to Jesus, do what the Apostles commanded us to do, read the WORD OF GOD. Unlike books and movies by man, it is flawless.
With popular Christian media personalities Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore attached to the War Room project, Kendrick Brother 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
*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.