New Film “Woodlawn” Makes Me Ask: Why Have Christian Movies Gotten Good?

I love films…I’m a bit of a snob about it. I’m also a Christian…I try not to be a snob about it. I like really good films and I love our really good Savior. So I could name AFI’s top 100 films or talk about “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “The King’s Speech” (2010) but right now I want to talk about Christian films.

I remember growing up and even at six I remember thinking “these are pretty bad.” What I couldn’t articulate into words was that the production value was sub-par, the writing was stilted and un-realistic and the acting usually left much to be desired. I was six but I could tell. I knew the truth of God’s word and I loved the Bible stories I heard in Sunday School and I even kind of felt bad for being judgmental because I knew how Jesus could change lives, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that the Christian movies that were available (on VHS!) were poor excuses for the artistic beauty and creativity of God. Sure there was “Ben Hur” (1959) and “Chariots of Fire” (1981) but those were far and few between. Now I didn’t write this blog to bash all of the production houses and people with good intentions back then; I’m sure there was a struggle with budgets, not to mention overcoming the “devil-is-in-the-airwaves”* mentality of many Christians. But my point is that it has gotten better!

220px-Facing_the_giantsMy first memory of a good Christian film was getting roped into watch “Facing the Giants” (2006) at my parents church. My wife and I went a little begrudgingly thinking that we knew what to expect. But it knocked our socks off. It didn’t matter that it was about football (after all I loved “Remember the Titans”) it was a great story with a convincing gospel message. I had to know who made this! How did they get a studio to sign off? I started researching and come to find out it was a church! Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia created Sherwood Pictures  and with a budget of $100,000 they made an incredible film (that, by the way grossed $10,174,663 in the U.S.). Come to find out prior to that they made “Flywheel” (2003), which I still haven’t seen, but they weren’t done there. Subsequently they came out with “Fireproof” (2008) and “Courageous” (2011). Most recently we watched “War Room” (2015) at our church and I have to say I was again pleasantly surprised. It was such a moving story that both of my kids went home and wrote prayers for their closet (no spoilers, just watch it!) not to mention how the daughters competition turns out surprised me (again, no spoilers). Anyway, I went out and bought a copy for a person I know who doesn’t know Jesus. Great film.

How did this happen? I don’t want to come off as if Sherwood Pictures was our savior but they (at least in my mind) pioneered what it meant to make a good Christian movie. Now it’s 2016, everybody’s phone has a camera and anyone can grab an Adobe Photoshop or iMovie and throw something together. But it still takes a good eye, talented actors and good writing to make something that matters. We’re finally recognizing that a documentary of four college friends trying to figure out what the Christian life looks like in “Beware of Christians” (2011) or the scripted “God’s Not Dead” (2014) are valid and vital ways to communicate Jesus to others.


So now I’ve been hearing buzz about this film “Woodlawn.” It’s a true story about a high school in Birmingham Alabama in 1973 when forced integration created crazy conflicts. I’ve heard it’s the greatest Christian film ever made. Is it? I haven’t seen it yet but our church is showing it this Friday (3/25) night. So if you want to come to House of Grace in Hemet (4000 E. Florida Ave) at 6:30PM see for yourself!

But if you can’t come out then rent it and tell me what you think (in the comments below).

Mark Merrill hosts “Family First Podcast” and interviewed producer Jon Erwin (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out) about “Woodlawn” – Listen here. The podcast gives a description of the movie and some “behind the scenes” details on this incredible real-life story about how Jesus changed not only a high school but an entire town.

LEAVE A COMMENT! I don’t see a lot of Christian movies, what are some worth my time? What are the good ones that actually tell people the truth of Jesus while maintaining artistic integrity, award worthy cinematography and are technologically ground-breaking?


*When radio was first used for Christian broadcasts there was more opposition from believers than from secular groups because the Christians feared radio (quoting that Satan was the ‘prince of the power of the air’ [Ephesians 2:2])! Listen to my Early Church History Series by clicking here.



Devotional # 166. Luke 2:8-15 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional # 166. 12/7/15. Christmas, Part 2: Is it OK to celebrate Christmas on December 25th?

This week’s Reading: Luke 2:8-15.

Introduction: This week I was thinking about why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th . I’ve had conversations for years with friends who are of other religions that consider themselves Christians and are adamantly opposed to celebrating Christmas. Why is that? They say that nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Jesus and therefore we shouldn’t. Beyond that they say that Jesus was not born on December 25th so we shouldn’t celebrate then. They are right on both points: I can’t find anywhere that we are commanded to celebrate Christmas or that Jesus was born on December 25th. I’ll save the origin of Christmas for another time but it does bring up a good point: is it a sin to celebrate Christmas, and is it a sin to do so on December 25th ?
Let’s look at Luke 2:8-15. I love how excited the angel is when he finally gets to first proclaim that the Messiah has been born! You see when God first created Adam and Eve He didn’t make them robots He allowed them to make a choice whether to obey Him or not. But He is all knowing and so He knew that they would disobey Him, it didn’t take Him by surprise. He had the plan of humanity’s redemption before even time began. The first prophecy I see about the Savior is in Genesis 3:15. That’s telling of a time 6,000 years ago! And 4,000 years prior to Jesus being born. Humanity had been aching for a savior, so I believe there was very good reason for the angels to celebrate God’s long-awaited plan! We see this when the angel says it is “good tidings of great joy.” It’s OK to be excited that Jesus was born and that God’s will was done, that His plan had finally come to fruition in His perfect timing. And it doesn’t seem that this celebration was for the angels alone considering they imply (“you will find”) that the shepherds should go find Jesus and tell others about Him also, which they do (Luke 2:12,17-18). It’s starting to seem like less of a sin and more of a freedom! (By the way we see the Genesis 3:5 prophecy fulfilled in Luke 22:53).

If we certainly have the freedom to celebrate Jesus, now the question is, is there a specific time that we should celebrate his birth? Well, it’s true Jesus was probably born somewhere in our September/October (the Hebrew month of Tishri) and on top of that the first Christmas celebration on December 25, 336AD was when Constantine wanted to unite his people and took the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and the Christians celebrating Christ’s birth and put them together (Source 1). (I did a series on Early Church History that’s available on sermonaudio, if you want to listen see below under “References: sermonaudio”). So on the one hand 1700 years ago it was not a good thing to assimilate Christ’s birth into a pagan holiday. I’ve seen a lot of research stating that Christian leaders would squash whatever pagan religion was out there by taking over their celebrations and then informing people about Jesus. Granted this doesn’t sound much like the way Jesus told us to tell others about Him and there have certainly been abuses of what was called the Christian church over time but on the other hand I don’t personally know anyone who celebrates Saturnalia at this time. So I don’t know that the ends justified the means but I also don’t think we should just throw the baby out with the bathwater either (no that wasn’t a lame “baby Jesus out with the bathwater” joke).

Our current culture tells us that we’re all supposed to “co-exist” – that we can have our beliefs but that we can’t tell people their beliefs are wrong. Interestingly that’s exactly what Jesus did and told us to do. In Mark 16:15-16 Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus clearly gives humanity one path to salvation and that path is through Him and Him alone. Yes, throughout the Bible we see that people retained who they were: their personalities, their cultures, their families, but they also were told when they were wrong and heading towards disaster. In this case we know people are heading for hell but are we just supposed to shut our mouths, are we going to stop sending missionaries, are we going to stop taking opportunities like Christmas to talk to people about the love of Jesus? I really appreciate the candor of famous atheist Penn Jillette, of the magician duo, Penn & Teller when he said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize [share Jesus]? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” (Source 2). That’s so true!

So if in a sense Christianity has triumphed over a pagan celebration and taken it for itself than that pagan celebration no longer applies. And I would say if your motives are pure and you are celebrating Jesus’ birth then it doesn’t matter if you do it in July. But I think the bigger problem nowadays is the commercialization of Christmas. That’s what we really struggle against.

What are some opportunities that we can take advantage of during this Christmas season to proclaim Jesus and let people know about why He came to earth and how much He loves them and wants to have a relationship with them? Is it about getting a few gifts that will break? Is it about putting up some lights that will burn out? Or is it about something so much more than Black Friday and Cyber Monday and eating too much and getting a few days off work? One example I came across this week was a list of topics for the various parties we’re bound to attend during the Christmas season:

  1. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since last Christmas?
  2. What was your best Christmas ever? Why?
  3. What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
  4. What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
  5. What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
  6. What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?
  7. What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
  8. Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
  9. Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?
  10. Why do you think Jesus came to earth?
  11. Do you think Christmas is over-rated?
  12. What’s your favourite Christmas song? Why that one? Would you put a carol in your top 10?

(From: ).

What are some other ideas? Is there a way for you to share Jesus with others? Do you really hold the key to bringing people out of the rush and let-down of Christmas and give them the eternal gift Jesus gave so many years ago? The answer is yes!

If you have ideas on how to use Christmas time to share the good news with other go ahead and post them below in the comments!

Next week we’ll talk about where we got Christmas traditions like Christmas trees, Santa Claus and caroling. It may surprise you!



Sermonaudio: Here is the link to all six studies on Early Church History. Covering from the disciples to roughly present day:

Source 1:

Source 2: