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Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see Courageous, the newest movie made by the good folks at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. The movie opened at #4 at the box office and brought in 9 million, which is a step above Sherwood’s Fireproof (2008), and makes it #5 for Christian movie opening weekends (behind The Passion of the Christ and the Narnia movies).

I thought about doing a full movie review, but there are too many ways to approach this film. I could review it in the way I review other films (artistry, character development, plotline, message), or review it in comparison to the three other Sherwood movies, or review it in terms of its message and potential impact. In the end, I thought it might be best to come at the movie from all these angles. So here are “some thoughts on Courageous.”

  • Courageous is, by far, the best film that Sherwood Pictures has made. Facing the Giants was their break-out hit but was quite hokey in its concept and delivery (not to mention the prosperity-gospel message). Fireproof was a major leap forward, but Courageous goes even further. Alex Kendrick shows great improvement as an actor. The screenplay is several steps above Fireproof. The filmmaking of the action sequences rivals those put out by Hollywood. And one scene in particular (“The Snake Kings”) is laugh-out-loud funny.
  • The message of Courageous is timely. The importance of fathers and the difficulties associated with fatherlessness are underscored by realistic examples of family-life. I think John Piper is right: “I would willingly take anyone to see this film, assuming they can handle suspense. And I think the conversations afterward would not be superficial.” The conversations afterward may prove to be more powerful and life-changing than the movie itself. But it’s good to see the message of Courageous igniting important questions about fathers and families.
  • I get frustrated when Christians who bemoan the Church’s lack of engagement with the arts sneer at the perceived lack of artistry in movies like Courageous. It seems to me that whatever your thoughts on artistry and filmmaking might be, if you are looking for Christians to take a more active role in culture-making, then you should applaud and support anyone attempting to do something, even if you think the finished product could have been stronger. Evangelicalism has too many critics and not enough creators.
  • Courageous is heavily didactic and a bit preachy at times, but I found this style to be part of its effectiveness. It’s preachy in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was. Harriet Beecher Stowe was so passionate about the subject of slavery that she couldn’t help but begin sermonizing at times. The creators of Courageous feel the same way about the subject they are tackling. The purpose isn’t to create a classic movie but to get across a message. Seen in this light, it makes the didactic elements less distracting and helps make sense of the film’s purpose.
  • About three quarters of the way through the movie, the plot line meanders a bit. Fifteen minutes or so could have been shaved off the film and it would have been stronger overall. Still, the characters are engaging, and there is enough character development to keep viewers interested.
  • The truth that God raised Jesus from the dead is proclaimed after a tragedy. And the truth that the only way to escape judgment is by trusting in Jesus as our Substitute is presented in a way that works seamlessly into the movie. I was impressed by a scene in which one of the men complains about “feeling guilty,” to which the Christian replies, “I’ve got news for you; you are guilty.”
  • The movie puts major emphasis on fathers resolving to “call out the men in their sons.” The movie condemns passivity in men as the leaders of their homes. The filmmakers want men to step up and fulfill their duty.
  • One might quibble here and there with the emphasis on willpower – particularly when considering the pervasiveness of sin, but the script makes sure to ground good intentions in one’s relationship with God. “You’ve got to get right with God before you can get right with your son,” one character says. And the end of the movie features the main character calling the men of his church to step up and resolve to live courageously as fathers. Who will protect the family? “By God’s grace, I will!” he says. May all Christian fathers have such resolve!

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28 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on "Courageous"”

  1. Don Sartain says:

    Looks interesting. I can’t wait to see it!

  2. Brent Hobbs says:

    I agree with your assessment here. Definitely the best movie Sherwood has put out so far – acting, writing, production quality. It is well worth going to see in the theater. We took a group from our church on opening night and everyone really enjoyed it, from teenagers to a few in their 70’s and 80’s. The one thing I’d like to see change in future Sherwood movies is there seems to be too much crying in all of them. One gets the impression that if you’re a good Christian, you cry a lot.

  3. Trevin Wax says:

    Brent,

    I thought the same thing. Christians can be soft-hearted without having to cry a lot. These tear-jerking films are moving, but they make it difficult to watch twice.

  4. Jon says:

    Too true…”Evangelicalism has too many critics and not enough creators.”
    Nice review.

  5. Mike Leake says:

    Trevin,

    Even though Jon beat me to it…

    “Evangelicalism has too many critics and not enough creators.”

    Phenomenal line, and sadly very true. Great review, I look forward to seeing the movie.

  6. Scott says:

    Trevin
    You might want to check out “Seasons of Gray” it is a movie produced by Watermark Community Church in Dallas. It has had a limited release so far, but I have seen it and it is at th elevel of the Sherwood films. I believe they even hosted a Courageous booth at a conference at the church and have some kind of relationship with those guys.
    The theme of the movie is 1 John 4:19.
    Check it out below.

    http://www.seasonsofgray.com/

  7. I agree about the Snake Kings scene. It may be one of the funniest things I have ever seen in a movie. We were laughing so hard we cried.

    And I agree that Courageous was much better than Facing the Giants. Still…something is gnawing at me about this movie. Maybe it’s because I’m not a huge fan of resolutions, and the whole thing about the resolution the men signed reminded me of Promise Keepers, I think.

    To be sure, it was highly emotional…too much so, I think. And even though the main family encounters tragedy, there still seemed to be this underlying message that, if you acknowledge God, everything will work out ok.

    I’d like to see these guys try making something that has a redemption theme, but that maybe isn’t explicitly “Christian”. The gospel message might come through better and stronger than the acts of men…maybe.

    In the end it was still a good movie, and I would love to see the Snake Kings scene again!

  8. Beth Morris says:

    I totally agree this is one of the best. My husband and I viewed the film at a Pastor’s and wives retreat in the spring. The only thing I think might be important is we have some close friends that viewed it at the same time who lost their son a few years back and are still healing from their tragedy. The tragedy in the movie did bring up some feelings and hurt in them. If you know of someone who has lost a child and still healing from their loss, it could help them or it could bring up some feelings they might not be ready for. The film does show how the family healed and how they grew through the experience. So just wanted to say that it could really bring up some feelings that they haven’t felt in awhile or thought they were past. Thanks so much for your blog. Many blessings.

  9. Trevin Wax says:

    If the Snake Kings scene gets put on YouTube, I will link to it as a Friday Funny. It’s great!

  10. John Gardner says:

    I’ve not seen the movie yet, but am beginning to look forward to it. I’ve heard nothing but good reviews so far!

    I have wrestled with the same type of “critiquing vs. creating” dilemma with regard to music. I administrate a church-based music school, and am often asked whether we teach “sacred or secular” music. I usually respond that we teach “good” music and Christian discernment side-by-side. My hope is that one day we’ll see our students out in the world creating and performing excellent music that glorifies Christ, and using their gifts in the service of the Church as well.

    I was greatly encouraged by Andy Crouch’s book “Culture Making”, and hope to see many more culture-making Christians in my generation and the next! Crouch also recently weighed in on the Sherwood pictures, and said something very similar to your comment: “It is better to create something worth criticizing than to criticize and create nothing.”

    You can read the rest of his comments here:

    http://www.culture-making.com/post/sherwood_baptist_and_the_rise_of_culture-making_churches

  11. Dan Phillips says:

    Is the Snake Kings scene as good as the Tabasco-drinking scene?

  12. Justin says:

    Yes. =)

  13. Crystal says:

    Thank you so much for those comments, Brent and Trevin. I was really feeling unChristlike because I was finding it difficult to want to watch Courageous a second time, at least not right way. It was very emotional for me and although I loved the movie, I can’t watch it again at this time because it was such a tear-jerker!

  14. Crystal says:

    Dan, yes it was! It was absolutely hilarious!

  15. Keith says:

    Good review. Only thing is I wouldn’t shave 15 min simply because I could not chose what to shave. Also truth is always somewhat preachy no matter how you attempt to put it. Just want to warn folks to lean toward less detail this early when sharing so you don’t give too much away. Go Snake Kings!

  16. Roy says:

    I agree almost wholeheartedly with Trevin’s review here, and I think I’m more with Keith above regarding which 15 minutes you would shave. I had the opportunity to see the movie back in June at the SBC in Phoenix with the other messengers from our church here in Michigan. We talked the movie up quite a bit and even purchased 100 tickets to give away (50 to local law enforcement). I believe this is, without a doubt, the best movie that Sherwood has produced yet on every level, from screenplay on up.

    One of the aspects of the move that I really thought stood out was that not everyone who made the resolution stuck to it. This is reflective of real life. In fact, as the scene closes on the one deputy behind the glass at the prison, the viewer is left wondering if he will come to accept salvation. Very powerful, I think, because each of us can think of a situation with a similar unresolved end in our own lives.

    Thank you, Trevin, for such a thoughtful and straightforward review. Several good take away lines from it.

  17. James says:

    The Snake Kings scene is the funniest 5 minutes of any movie I have ever seen. My wife and I went with several couples from our small groups and the guys have made references since then referring to Snake Kings.
    When I left the movie, I told them the emotions I expect to have in 3-6 months I had in 2 hours of the movie. It was a roller coaster but the funny parts helped to temper the tougher scenes. Especially, since I am less of a critic and a ‘I only choose to remember the good parts’ kind of guy (consequently, I never recommend movies to people but this is the exception).

    SKFL
    Snake Kings For Life!

  18. Eric says:

    I was entertained by the movie well enough, but I thought the gospel presentation was very weak. There was no mention of repentance, and I don’t think they even used the word “sin”! Really? I was very disappointed, to say the least. Do we really expect to change people’s hearts without using the Wors of God?

    They referenced Scripture, at least. But James 1, Romans 10, 2 Timothy 3, and 1 Peter 1&2, make it clear that it is God’s Word alone that saves and changes us. Do we really expect souls to get saved and men to become better fathers by throwing statistics at them, rather than proclaiming and teaching God’s Word? No thanks.

  19. Ben Weaver says:

    Trevin, I agree with you and Piper about the conversations the movie can spawn after seeing it. For that reason alone I have been recommending it to all my friends.

    That said, I did have an issue with one man talking to a dead person. I also worry about the aftermath of this movie with men trying to be “better” fathers without Christ. The movie made it seem like there will be some kind of extra punishment for men who fail at being Godly fathers.

    Becoming a better father is something that should come out of love for God and what He has done for you. As you grow in the faith, things like patience, love, grace, and mercy will become more real in your life. You will lead your children the way they need to be lead out of love for the Savior, not because of a sense of duty.

  20. Steve says:

    Eric, respectfully, let me say that I loved the Gospel presentation in Courageous. It planted the truth without stopping the storyline. Even the Apostle Paul simplified his message sometimes to Christ and Him crucified. You don’t have to reference scripture to powerfully quote the truth of scripture. And repentance is definitely a part of salvation, but you can communicate a message of repentance without having to use the word “repent”. The New Testament book of John never uses the word “repent” or “repentance” anywhere in it. It uses the words “believe” and “receive” instead. That scene from Courageous communicates God’s punishment on those who are guilty. That every person will have to stand before God and be judged by Him. But that God loved us and sent His son Jesus Christ to take the punishment that we deserved and put it on Himself when He died on the cross. And that people need to accept Him, ask for His forgiveness and ask Him to save them. Millions of people are hearing these truths in theaters across the nation right now. Let’s pray that God uses this movie to plant/water seeds that will hopefully reap a harvest of changed hearts for His glory!

    Snake Kings for Jesus!

  21. Bitsy says:

    Hey, Trevor!

    Bill (aka HH) and I saw the movie yesterday… I totally agree with your review! And, yes, the Snake Kings scene was absolutely priceless!!!! :)

    We loved it! :)

    Blessings!

    PS – Like your site, btw!!! Very cool! :)

  22. Reid says:

    I cried alot myself. The movie touched me and moved me in so many ways. Men sitting on both side of me experienced same affect. Tears streaming. Can it be… true heartfelt feelings exposed through fervent faithful belief in God and knowing we all fall so short of being worthy of God’s grace? Awesome movie in every respect. I pray it finds a place in my sons viewing schedule.

  23. Shannon says:

    I agree this was an emotional film. If I wasn’t crying because I was sad, I was crying because I was laughing. I think that is a good thing though because being emotional puts aside those walls and makes you vulnerable. Not in a bad way, but in a receiving way. That message was so powerful to me, as a woman. I saw how I should be to my husband, and it was powerful to my husband to see how he should be as a father. We sat in the theater, my whole family, taking in what the emotional rollercoaster meant throughout the rolling of the credits and we weren’t the only ones. In a time where just about every kids show on TV shows the father as a bumbling idiot, we NEED this message! and @Brian, I disagree with the statement “there still seemed to be this underlying message that, if you acknowledge God, everything will work out ok.” Actually, for the guy in jail, it didn’t. But that was because he was not committed. If we trust God, then everything is not rosy all the time. But He will reward us and be with us always. That, I believe, is what the film meant to portray.

  24. Sean says:

    Good movie overall–but I do agree with Eric to a large degree.

    There was something lacking I noticed as I walked away. This movie played on a lot on the emotions and didn’t really hit consciences hard enough. I felt a lot more Scripture could have been used at points and I agree that the Gospel presentation was seriously lacking. I am glad they hit on a common misconception that many people have(the I’m good enough to go to heaven by good outweighing my bad) though! So don’t misunderstand me, I’m trying my best to be objective in my outlook on the film and I feel it really will just tickle consciences moreso than create actual lasting change in men. It’s just a movie, not the Holy Spirit though, so I keep that in mind.

    We do need to en’courage’ one another though–it’s a purely Scriptural command(2 Tim 4:2). I am myself a man, a husband, and in 3 months will be a father—and I’m in a body of believers that take this role seriously, probably much more seriously than even this movie takes it. So I will take this opportunity to exhort the men in here… take charge of your families as Scripture commands. Be the leaders, not just spiritually but physically. You are your children’s largest influence and they will be LIKE YOU. Your largest indication of your own life is your fruit, and that is your children in a family. Teach them, train them(not just discipline), and make sure they understand. I was brought up with discipline and light teaching–but no training or understanding. It speaks volume when a boy lives in a professing Christian home for 15 years of his life but didn’t have a clue what the Gospel was until I was 22 and found it on my own. Training requires work and time set aside, if your children are getting more time at their schools than with you–you’re probably going to lose this battle. Take them out of the schools if you have to, seriously–Jesus isn’t going to meet you one day and be glad you gave your child a secular education, but only be glad if you taught your child day and night about Him, His Gospel, love for God and neighbors, and His righteousness by obedience. These are the eternal things and we as fathers need to focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. One warning though, be prepared to receive much engagement, much controversy, much pain and suffering–it comes with the territory of following Jesus, Amen?

    2 Tim 3:12
    Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

    Amen.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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