Flywheel; Facing the giants; Fireproof
If you are in the habit of sitting down of an evening to watch a DVD with family or friends then you may have come across one or more films produced by an American group called Sherwood Pictures (not to be confused with Sherwood Films, a quite different Edinburgh-based entity).
Three feature-length films have appeared so far – Flywheel (2003), Facing the giants (2006)and Fireproof (2009). The third of these films features actor Kirk Cameron, a former atheist who made his name on TV in the comedy Growing pains (1985-1992) but is now working with the American evangelist Ray Comfort.
The films’ subtitles give some idea of the themes: ‘In every man’s life there is a turning point’; ‘With God all things are possible’; and ‘Never leave your partner behind’. The films have been moderately successful. They are now available in a three box set with many extra features including Bible studies. A further film (Courageous) is expected next year.
Whether you came across them by accident or design, you will have been pleased to sit through a heart-warming evening’s entertainment, without having it sullied by the nonsense that so often creeps into the average film on general distribution today. (Having said that, do note that the second film is a PG, probably owing to some of its themes such as infertility.)
The first film Flywheel (a flywheel is a car part, and serves as a background parable) is a sort of modern version of the story of the New Testament character Zacchaeus. The next film Facing the giants makes college level American football the background, as it focusses on the coach, his failing team and the greater issues he has to face. The third film (Fireproof) is set in a small town fire station, with its story of how a man’s marriage is saved, as well as the man himself.
It is not difficult to commend such films when they are so pleasant and wholesome. Although they are clearly low budget films (Flywheel was made for $20,000; Fireproof for $500,000; whereas an average Hollywood film today costs over $100 million), the production values are high, the story lines decent, the tone engaging, the acting mostly of a good standard and the action fairly well paced, although the dialogue is sometimes rather poor. The projects are evidently bathed in prayer and executed with great integrity.
There are some concerns, however. The films are the brainchild of two brothers, Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Both are pastors on the staff of a large and prosperous Southern Baptist Church with many ministries, in Albany, Georgia – Sherwood Baptist Church.
They say that the first film was prompted by a survey from the George Barna organisation suggesting that movies and television shows are more influential in American culture than the church. In light of that, says Alex Kendrick, ‘we decided as a church to step out in faith and produce a full-length feature film’. However, even if what Barna suggests is true (which is debatable), it is far from being clear that this is the right response to the problem. Certainly, it is hard to see how a local church has a New Testament mandate for such an activity.
Theologically, Sherwood Baptist Church appears evangelical. In the first film the health and wealth gospel approach is just about side-stepped, but all three films present conversion as something that happens quickly and definitely. They may betray signs of a decisionistic mentality.
Of course, the whole problem of how certain matters are presented on screen is a major headache. Kirk Cameron is apparently unwilling to do on-screen kissing. He is reported to have said that ‘In Fireproof, there is a romantic and touching scene where he (the character) kisses his wife. Because I have a commitment not to kiss any other woman, my wife Chelsea came in to the set and wore the dress my character’s wife wore.
‘We shot the scene in silhouette, so when I kiss my ‘wife’, I’m actually kissing my wife and honouring our marriage’. One admires such thought-through commitment, but wonders what Christian actors are doing when they are supposed to be praying in a film – something that happens quite often in these films and that you almost never see in others.
Are they praying or simply pretending to pray? Given that private prayer is to be a private matter, surely it would be better to avoid such scenes anyway?
If you are one for watching DVDs, these films will give you a few relaxing and thought-provoking hours. If you look further into them through the internet (www.sherwoodpictures.com) or the enhanced DVDs, you will discover the ministry tools that Sherwood Baptist Church are making available to churches and believers for evangelisation, strengthening marriages and similar goals.
Some will want to make use of such tools and one can see how in the context of an active local church they may prove useful. Others will see such an approach as a distraction and not something they want to use as a tool.
D. L. Moody is said to have answered a critic of his evangelistic methods once by saying that he preferred his own way of doing things to the other man’s way of not doing them. One is slow then to criticise what is clearly a sincere attempt to win the lost and to help God’s people.