The poverty of Courageous commitments

We had a rainy day up at the cabin and ended up watching the latest popular “Christian” movie Courageous. The movie came highly recommended by some of my friends. I have to admit I would have approached the whole experience with a critical eye. I like good movies. My wife and I like to get out of the house go for a nice supper and catch a good flick. We heavily rely on Rotten Tomatoes to filter out the brutal movies and rarely indulge in anything that isn’t “certified fresh.” We don’t always see things the same way as the critics in both directions. It has on more than one occasion led to us a fine evening of lesser known indie films at the Roxy Theatre.

You can tell Courageous has the same kind production values as the decent indie films which is kind of nice. One of the big action scenes was actually kind of engaging. The acting was uneven but at least it was acceptable in parts. The preachy dialog made me wince a few times.

In the movie several characters make a public resolution
to be better men, husbands and fathers.

My first thought is: isn’t the commitment to be Christ’s disciple enough? If it isn’t then why not? It reminds me of the commitments I would make in my younger days. Commitments and resolutions to quit certain bad habits, listening to the wrong kind of music and indulging in the wrong kind of entertainment. These commitments were usually made in spiritual afterglow of some kind of youth conference with a dynamic challenging speaker. After enduring a few years of this it became thoroughly tiresome. The commitment would last a few weeks, a few months, or maybe even a year. Then I would fail. I didn’t have the willpower left. Despite all my efforts to do it “in God’s strength” it was clear that it wasn’t happening. It seems as though “in God’s strength” meant doing all kinds of spiritual activities in my strength or order to “ability activate” God’s strength in order to attain a new level of victory! In the end it looked a lot like my strength all over again.

As I think about it even deeper I’m not sure the language of commitment is always helpful. It so easily falls in to the trap of willing oneself to a pattern of good conduct without actually becoming anything different. I can make a commitment to be like Christ without knowing Christ.

While Christian art is rarely subtle there are subtle undertones in the teaching of this movie. The unspoken message is this “you are not enough.” You are not enough of a man, you are not enough of a father, and you are not enough of a husband. Christ died to accept your punishment for not being enough, now you must now curry his favour and blessing by becoming enough.

Don’t think so? Watch this.

The text:

And we are inviting any man whose heart is willing and courageous to join us in this resolution.

In my home, the decision has already been made.  You don’t have to ask who will guide my family because by God’s grace, I will.  You don’t have to ask who will teach my son (and daughter) to follow Christ because I will.  Who will accept the responsibility of providing for and protecting my family? I will.  Who will ask God to break the chain of destructive patterns in my family’s history? I will. Who will pray for and bless my children to boldly pursue whatever God calls them to do? I am their father…I will.  I accept this responsibility, and it is my privilege to embrace it.

I want the favor of God and His blessing on my home.  Any good man does.  So where are you men of courage?  Where are you, fathers who fear the Lord?  It’s time to rise up and answer the call God has given you, and to say, I will! I will! I will!

Grace as described in the New Testament is charis and it means unmerited favour. In this movie grace is understood as something we invoke to enable us to live a holy life. This is where the great disconnect happens. God’s grace does transform us but it has always been unmerited and unearned. There is a vast chasm of difference between receiving God’s grace and trying to activate it. One involves human effort and striving. The other involves surrender, transparency and accepting oneself in their own brokenness. One leads to shame instead of wholeness, self-denial instead of true maturity, and ultimately fruitlessness instead of abundant life.

How does one tell the difference between striving and surrendering? Someone who is striving is trying to live up to a standard and needs God’s help to do it. Someone who has surrendered knows they will never live up to the standard and is actually strengthened by knowing they are loved anyway. The true essence of holiness is love. One doesn’t love until they know love. Knowing how much God loves you also changes how you view others. Everyone becomes worthy, everyone. The love of God lives inside you and now the “righteous requirement of the law” is fulfilled because you don’t need rules to guide your conduct, your love guides you.

The message of this movie is you should be ashamed for not being better. God will judge you therefore be courageous enough to make this commitment. Man Up and activate the favour and blessing of God in order to become better. It doesn’t work and it can’t work. It does nothing more than pile on more shame which makes you believe you are unworthy, unloved and distant from God. It undercuts the work of grace and leaving you fruitless. The message of Christ is that even while you were dead in your sins you were always worth something to God and never ever beyond his love. While God was once separate from you by the blood of Christ he has brought you near, he has always been with you and always will be with you because he decided you were worth being with. If you could just accept his love by faith, it would restore your relationship with him and you no longer have to be afraid.

  1. #1 by Tom on July 27, 2012 - 7:52 am

    Wow, very insightful that kind of sums up how I have been feeling for the last few years, (if I was just a better dad, or husband or whatever else) and if I just tried harder then maybe things will be better, but they just get worse. Thanks Leighton.

  2. #2 by Carmen on July 27, 2012 - 11:43 am

    Luke and I watched the movie last year and came away thinking that it was a very Americanized version of Christianity and one that involved a lot of guilt and works. It did indeed bring me back to youth rallies and pledges and reaching the right combination of deeds to “ability activate” God’s strength (great imagery!). Good review – I wish I had read it before I succumbed to peer pressure and watched it.

  3. #3 by Matthew on July 27, 2012 - 1:08 pm

    Duuude long post dad

  4. #4 by Mark on July 29, 2012 - 9:25 pm

    Hahaha, I love Matthew’s comment. Good on ya man!

  5. #5 by Dave King on August 8, 2012 - 9:14 am

    Well said. Amen.

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