The Profanity of Christian Films (that aren’t really Christian)


The Redemption of Henry Myers

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Network Premier: March 23rd, 2014
DVD release: June 10th, 2014
Dove Rating: 5 Stars for ages 12+
My Rating: 1 star for discerning audiences only

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It was a better quality film than most Independent Christian Films I’ve seen. The acting was decent, the cinematography was good. It was watchable…which is definitely a step in the right direction production-wise but can also be alarming if the message isn’t good.

The Redemption of Henry Myers was a film I wanted to like–and did enjoy at first. All the right elements were in place: basic character development, a solid character arc, endearing protagonist with shady backstory, antagonists out to get main character, main character that has to make big decision, plot twist that escalates tension, gripping scenes of powerful emotion, and finally, the heart-warming redemption of the main character that we’ve been expecting since reading the movie’s title. But all of this marked by the simplicity and profound naiveté characteristic of a manuscript written by a thirteen-year old girl. I’ve read a few, so I should know–heck, I’ve written a few!

But what passes as naiveté in thirteen-year-old girls is bad theology in adults. We are called to a higher level of discernment and must sift and test even the films that at first seem “good.”

I find that The Redemption of Henry Myers fails as a solid Christian film at two points: 1) in offering a self-help gospel that is fundamentally no different than the World’s and 2) in a weak depiction of human depravity that is also no different than the World’s.

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The first time we meet Henry Myers we see him involved in a bank robbery. He’s the outlaw that is restraining the really bad outlaws from killing anyone, pushing for the “clean-job” he signed up for. But while Henry is hiding the stolen money in a nearby church he is surprised by the sudden entrance of Pastor Shane. Henry trips on a bucket and accidentally shoots the Parson. Horrified, Henry grabs hold of and cradles the Parson, hearing his dying words, “you can change,” before taking off on the run from both the law and his fellow-outlaws. Long story short, he’s eventually taken in by a beautiful young widow named Marilyn and her two children who found him prostrate in the desert with a bullet in his back.

Marilyn claims that they live far away from civilization and rarely go to town (though the film later proves they weren’t terribly far away after all) yet Marilyn has no qualms about relinquishing her bed to a strong, rugged man she doesn’t know–but judging by the bullet in his back and the state of his wild, uncut hair, probably wasn’t on his way home from church–and sleeping alone in a chair just outside his unlocked door. She is not bothered in the least by her young daughter entering into this strange man’s personal space (whispering to him, helping him put on a sling for his wounded arm, etc) or her son spending long periods of one-on-one time with this man, setting fence posts, hunting, and so forth, after being in their house for little more than a week.

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In fact, Marilyn seems to be completely ignorant of what a bad man can do to a trusting widow and her equally naive children. Her only concern is the evil of the men coming after him not the potential evil of the man under her roof.

The “redemption of Henry Myers” was not so much a redemption of the man himself as it was a redemption of his past and its consequences because–you see, Henry Myers didn’t mean to kill Pastor Shane (whom, as I guessed the moment Marilyn came on the screen, was Marilyn’s late husband). It was an accident. That’s the basis of Marilyn and her son, Will’s, forgiveness–Henry didn’t mean to, he was in bad company and made a couple foolhardy choices but he’s a changed man now who, as the young daughter, Laura, tearfully explains, “don’t do bad things no more”.

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The “salvation” scene comes after Henry has established himself as a good man–a consistently good man since we first saw him try to prevent the banker’s death. There is no exploration of the darkness of Henry’s soul or his capacity for great evil. Henry Myers did not need to be delivered from his sinful nature–he needed deliverance from unfortunate circumstances beyond his control.

Problem #1

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The theme of the movie is “you have the power to change.” The Armenianism is not well hid. “Oh sure, God will help you change, but you still got to do the change’n on your own.”

Written in the Parson’s Bible were the words, “the greatest gift of God to mankind is the ability to change.” –Not grace? Not Spirit-enacted regeneration? Not even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Himself?!

When Paul preached Christ and the resurrection in Athens his teaching was strange to them–they recognized “this is different from what we teach.” It was foolishness to them.

Is the message of “you can change” strange to the world? No! The world LOVES to talk about self-improvement. They’re even fine with a “little Jesus sprinkled over it.” The false teachers of the Prosperity “gospel” movement will gladly speak of change in nominally religious terms, but at its core it is a twisting of the Biblical teaching of regeneration: an act of Divine Will to change a man dead in his sin and unable to choose to change.

Problem #2

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But even there, the film is dishonest, because Henry’s character never really changed. We saw him leave the company of outlaws, shave his unruly hair, don respectable clothing and learn respectable manners but at the end of the story he is the same man on the inside that we saw in the opening scene. The man who shot the rattlesnake and saved young Laura is the same kind-hearted man who tried to prevent his outlaw-boss from shooting the banker in the film’s opening scene.

Even though Marilyn proudly states that “God can forgive anybody and anythin’ they’ve done,” the meta-message of the film is that God only “forgives” those who are basically good to begin with. Those rare few who truly are evil such as Clay and Mac (Henry’s partners in crime) are summarily shot and no one ever talks about the possibility of forgiveness and “change” for them.

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We don’t see undeserved grace for a hardened criminal, we don’t see the resurrection of a sinner’s dead soul, we see a basically good person getting the second chance the viewers feel he deserves from the very first scene, because they know Henry “didn’t mean to hurt nobody”–unlike the other two outlaws. Henry was a victim of circumstances beyond his control. Not only did Henry “change” himself but Henry deserved to be forgiven.

What Do We Do With This?

Unfortunately, this film is an example of Christians imitating the same kind of cheap love the world has to offer–the only kind it has to offer. We expect this from the world but from Christians?

Ephesians 2:1-10 states:

“…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

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Despite the outward manifestations of Christianity–prayers, family Bible readings and the like–there is nothing Christian about The Redemption of Henry Myers.

There is no supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to change a man’s heart but rather, self-change. There is no spiritual deadness followed by spiritual rebirth but rather, a removal of external faults and circumstances that allow the inner man to shine. The Redemption of Henry Myers is about God looking down on men like him and smiling, “it’s ok, I know you meant well.”

It is a reproach upon the name of Christ that so-called Christian films have capitulated to and perpetuated the false gospel of the world, maintaining that “we’re all basically good people.”

The command “Thou shalt not take the name of The Lord Thy God in Vain, for The Lord will not hold him guiltless who taketh His name in vain,” though commanded of every man, is directed especially to those who call Yahweh The Lord their God. For those who call themselves Christians–yet teach doctrines contrary to the Word of God, this is gross and flagrant profanity.

The film is not “profane” in the way we normally speak of the term.

The manuscript for Henry Myers couldn’t get much “cleaner.” The saloon is strangely empty of cigar smoke. The outlaws order alcohol but never drink it. The potential harm Marilyn faces at the hands of the outlaws is limited to the non-sexual, as though nothing else besides killing her ever crossed their dirty minds. The supposed foul mouths of the outlaws is limited to bold declarations of “I swear! I swear!” –by what, we’re left to guess.

But the film is profane in a deeper thematic way, superficially less offensive to Christian viewers but infinitely more offensive to the God we claim to represent.

“Jesus warned about those who would be surprised at the last day to learn that their use of His name was vain. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!‘” (Matthew 7:21–23). Notice that these people are professing Christians (“Lord, Lord,” they call Him) and they even insist that they prophesied, drove out demons, and performed miracles in the name of Christ. They were using His name in vain.”

“With much of popular preaching and evangelism conforming to the mentality of the bumper sticker that sports “God is my copilot,” there ought to be little wonder why God’s name is not hallowed in our society. For it is not hallowed in our churches.”

Horton, Michael (2004). The Law of Perfect Freedom: Relating to God and Others through the Ten Commandments

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I find that the Bourne trilogy produced by secular Hollywood does a better job depicting the true state of Man’s soul than this so-called Christian film. In Bourne you have a man stricken with amnesia that gradually becomes aware of his dark past as more and more of his memory is restored. Jason Bourne was a trained assassin. He murdered countless lives. He wasn’t forced into it. He chose to be an assassin. But now he wants to give it up, he wants to turn his back on his hideous past and forsake it all. But he can’t. Wherever he goes they find him. Wherever he goes, the assassin’s steady hand and lightening-quick instincts accompany him. They are a part of him, they are him. It’s who he is. It’s not until the very end of the trilogy Bourne is finally set free. He finds out his true name. He hangs up his assassin’s gun and says, “I am Jason Bourne no more.”

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The source of Jason Bourne’s power to change and leave–not just his past but the darkness of his own soul–is a mystery to viewers because the secular industry has no better answer than the power of human will to change but the makers of the Bourne trilogy at least understood the true state of man’s heart which is more than the makers of Henry Myers did.

The only explanation we’re given for Henry’s involvement with outlaws is that his dad died when he was seven, he never knew his mother, never had anyone to read him the Bible and apparently fell into bad company. “Ah, poor guy,” right? We’re moved to explain away his actions and blame his bad choices on his upbringing not his greedy, sinful heart. Unlike Henry Myers, the blood on Jason Bourne’s hands is a result of a deliberate choice he made out of the darkness of his own heart. Jason Bourne is not a product of his environment. Henry Myers was.

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Bourne was a bad man who got a second chance most of us would have been hesitant to give while Henry Myers finally got the improved circumstances he deserved all along. For Henry Myers, it isn’t grace or even mercy but rather, finally getting the clean slate that was rightly his. The Sheriff’s pardon of Henry in the closing scene is superficial and inconsequential because even a secular judge wouldn’t pass a death sentence on a man who had accidentally killed a man.

There is, perhaps, a subtle allegory intended with the relationship of the Sheriff to the murderer and murder victim. Pastor Shane was the Sheriff’s son–Henry Myers was the man stained with his son’s blood, and it was owing to the legacy of the slain son that the Father-Judge pardoned Henry Myers’ crime. The metaphor lurking behind this triangle is brimming with potential but sadly does not deliver. The Father-Judge pardons Henry’s crime because Marilyn and her children convinced him that 1) Henry is a changed man and 2) Henry was not the bad man to begin with that they thought he was.

Here, pardon comes after sufficient merit has been shown, when the wickedness of the crime has been suitably eroded due to fresh information. The man, and Man collectively, if we accept the metaphor, are not as evil as the Father-Judge first thought. Neither man nor God condemns Henry Myers because there is no sin to condemn at all. And without sin there can be no redemption. No redemption is needed. The cross becomes an empty symbol, a nostalgic accessory, but no more. We can claim the buzz-words of “grace,” “faith,” “redemption,” “mercy,” and “forgiveness,” their meanings now verbicidally plagiarized, and maintain the facade of spirituality without the theological substance.

It is a sad state of affairs when Christians are finally given the platform they so earnestly seek only to abuse it by filling the screen with profanity worse than what they desired to replace, bringing a message that is no different than the world’s. We Christians are quick to boycott Hollywood but would we ever spurn a “clean, wholesome, family-friendly Christian film”? When will we stop giving approval to the blasphemy of “Christian” films featuring soft sin and cheap grace? When will we demand theological accuracy as well as cinematic skill?

Good stories are not merely the ones well-structured and well-produced, though that is a part. Good stories are good for us, they are not toxic to our worldview, they speak truthfully of the human condition, depicting sin accurately so grace may shine bright against the darkness, a hope for real sinners, and strange teaching indeed to the watching world.

Let us long for the day that God’s name is no longer blasphemed among the Gentiles because of us, a day when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). —Michael Horton

All photos from The Redemption of Henry Myers are from the film’s public Facebook page
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9 thoughts on “The Profanity of Christian Films (that aren’t really Christian)

  1. As soon as I read this post I thought of the concept of cheap grace that I read about in the introduction to Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

    “Anyone who truly understands how God’s grace comes to us will have a changed life. That’s the gospel, not salvation by law, or by cheap grace, but by costly grace.” – Timothy Keller, Foreword

    Great post!

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  2. Love this post Emily! I had heard about the movie and thought it would be interesting to watch, now I’m glad I didn’t. It’s just another cheap excuse for a Christian movie. Just once I’d like to see a movie, made by actual Christians, with correct theology and a story to follow suit. But the only way I see that happening is if we make one ourselves 😉

    Mariah

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  4. It’s like they tried to remake Les Miserables but without understanding that it was the free offer of forgiveness to the sinner while he was yet sinning that made the difference. Not grace to the good, but grace to the evil. And it would have made more sense to not have the women doing something completely stupid to ‘save’ him. Thanks for the review, I’ll stick with Jason Borne. 🙂

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  6. I actually liked the movie. Yes, it was “clean” . Yes, it had it’s flaws (what movie doesn’t?) . However, Christian filmmaking has come a LONG way. I don’t mind watching a “flawed” movie that isn’t filled with vulgarities and sex. A little less judgement and a bit more grace for filmmaker’s that are trying to change Christian films in the industry, would be nice. They should stand out, in my opinion. If a Christian film resembles a secular film, what has it accomplished? Realism? It’s no different than any other trash out there. As corny as some Christian movies are, I’ll take them over the trash offered as “good”.

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    • Thank you for the read, Sue! “[Christian films] should stand out, in my opinion. If a Christian film resembles a secular film, what has it accomplished?” I agree! When “Christian” films present messages that are no different than those of the world they have surrendered their witness. They are preaching the world’s false gospel not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians we must prize truth first. A film may succeed in other ways but if it fails the truth test, it has failed completely.

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